The Element of Beings

Squash blossom necklace (Navajo, ca. 1900-1920). Silver, turquoise. MIAC Collection: 10273/12. Photograph by Kitty Leaken. Currently on view in Collecting Jewelry: Curator H.P. Mera’s Trip to Navajo Country in 1932 at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.
By Chela Lujan

I am grateful for the land, for my hands. Grateful for the browned earth hardened by the sun, scented with chamisa and sage after the rain. Palms thick as groves of chokecherry, gnarled fingers like piñon, they are an extension of my Creator and my creation. Worn with lines like wind-carved arroyos, their cracks collect dust from silver and stone which lie waiting to be turned and pulled like water moving through old acequias. Bright metals wanting to be shaped like the new crescent moon shining over fresh dirt turned earlier that day.

In the morning, before I sit upon my work bench, I will plant.

It is time to sow the seeds that will soon bring idea into fruition. These knowing-hands will gather materials to nurture squash, beans, and kernels of corn into towering stalks. Sisters collecting pollen to bless the morning sun. They will dry the labors of their love and grind azul gems into meal to become pudding sprinkled with juniper ash and honey sweetened by bees’ late-spring work. When the afternoon sun shifts through the windows, that is the time to collect strips of precious metal and chunks of stone from unmoving holy mountains to be spun into rows of beauty and protection, of grace and recognition. I will adorn these makings about my companion’s collar for her fingers to brush through raven hair and along the curve of her slender neck.  A curve I know just as well as the bows of silver pearls and petals I carve.

I make these works of life. With my hands, my eyes, my connection to the roots that bind us all together—Plant, Being, and Element. Together they join and create doorways that let us move in and out, come and go, yet always find a way back home. Back to the sacred ground and a warmed wooden bench and sturdy table. Back to the leather apron draped worn and patient in the corner. Back to the earth I’ve walked a thousand times, calling me to plant myself down like those seeds and harvest the thoughts I’ve sown. And when I tire of walking, I fly in dreams of things my ancestors may have seen, bringing them forth into the waking world. The button of a blouse, the curve of her neck, the buzz of a bee, the bitter taste of medicine awakening the spirit within me. The spirit which coaxes out the constant movement of strong yet nimble fingers from hands that will always remember these old ways.

They are brown like the dirt I call home, my hands. Warmed by the sun and worn by the elements. The bee whose spring honey sweetens my day sleeps cradled in a blossom of squash. The blossom that tells them, “Make me last beyond the drought, the monsoon, and the first frost.”

Chela Lujan is an artist, activist, and mother who gathers inspiration from her Chicana and N’dee roots, and from an upbringing on the Diné Nation. She resides in Southern Colorado where she runs a small-batch folk medicine and beadwork business.