Sunday, August 30, 2009


KIVA (KEE-vah) “In a Pueblo Indian dwelling, a large room used for religious and other purposes” from Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.

“A Pueblo Indian ceremonial structure that is usually round and partly underground” from Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary.

“The underground ceremonial chamber of the Hopi and other Pueblo peoples. Used for ritual, ceremonial and sometimes social activities.” from The Fourth World of the Hopis: The Epic Story of the Hopi Indians as Preserved in Their Legends and Traditions by Harold Courlander.

Original Cistern. Photograph taken by J. David.

It took 35 years to put this old worn out cistern to a better use. It had many cracks and no longer held water. Always reluctant to dispose of, tear down or destroy anything, I protected it as I had old boards, cedar posts, farm and ranch artifacts, kitchen utensils, tables and chairs, etc. It’s not easy to hold on to a lot of “stuff” and still keep a property looking neat and clean. That’s why we see those mini warehouses springing up everywhere.

In our travels we saw one cistern similar to ours converted into a mini tropical garden, at another location a small greenhouse. While both of these were very creative and well done, neither would work for us due to a lack of running water, electricity or just the remote location of our structure. Not until 2003 while on vacation in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona visiting Indian ruins did we actually see and sit inside a real KIVA. It wasn’t round nor partially underground so it didn’t exactly fit any of the dictionary definitions.

Originally, there was a well with a windmill that brought water up to this cistern. The water was released by a float, like the one that’s in your toilet, and filled this stone trough so that domestic (mostly goats and sheep) livestock could drink from it. Look closely on the picture and you can see the date of construction – May 19, 1936. The cistern is approximately 100 foot in circumference and 21 foot in diameter. The stone walls are 20 inches thick. This, when full, would hold between 11,000 and 13,000 gallons of water.

Doorway. Photograph taken by J. David.

We knew that whatever use we put the old cistern to, we would have to have a doorway to get into it.

Now comes 2004 and Margaret’s cancer. The prognosis is bleak – two weeks, maybe two months . . . but a miracle happened! With a drug named Irissa, Margaret’s tumor count began to drop and drop and drop. I got Leroy, Steven and Scott to cut the doorway and make the door. Every day I encouraged Margaret, “You’ve got to see the door.” – I repeated this daily as a challenge to her, to live and to see another one of our ideas beginning to take shape. . . I pushed her wheelchair to the cistern and the door. She loved it and we began talking about what came next. For me, this was a Selah moment.

Photograph taken by J. David.

It took some time to gather the stones and build the seating circle. I took Margaret daily to see the progress. Could this become an observatory? A place for story telling or singing? . . . Singing was soon tested when Mary Kay Sexton brought members of her singing group, The Fried Angels of Love, out. It was wonderful! Their harmony echoing off and around those old stone walls. . . . A few weeks later, one of our 5th grade classes from Metz Elementary School in Austin was here for three days and two nights. Colleen reversed the schedule so that I could do the family culture program at the Country Store and then to the cistern for story telling. As darkness fell and with a fall chill in the air, the fire felt good and the kids warmed up to telling stories. That night I learned that 45 kids could be seated in the KIVA. They didn’t want to leave.

J. David. Photograph taken by Carolyn Conn.

Margaret’s getting better by the day and hospice care says “We’re not needed here anymore.” Margaret returns, true to form, and invites every one of her women friends to a Winter Solstice Party – potluck dinner followed by a powwow in the converted cistern. Somehow the invitations got out of control and dozens, many unknown to us, showed up in Indian garb and with war drums! I mean EVERY word of this! I’m the only warrior in attendance. This was a powwow to be remembered! A fire in the middle was contained in a great round iron disk, inspired by wine, war drums and perhaps joy over Margaret’s recovery a conga line formed and Indian yells or maybe they were speaking in tongues – I don’t know, but I joined in! Deer hunters were awakened from a half mile away and I was told some reached for their guns!

Photograph taken by J. David.

Well, you can understand how the old cistern became a KIVA in the true sense of the word – a place for rituals, ceremonial and sometimes social events. Come and see for yourself.

P. S. Thanks for the many responses and prescriptions for my shingles. The pain is finally under control using very strong drugs, but they also keep me dizzy, dry mouth and extremely tired. I feel stoned all the time!

Most interesting remedy suggested: “Soak the sores with apple cider”!

1 comment:

Colleen S. Gardner said...

Now we just need to get a picture of the firepit in the middle with the kids sitting on the bench to make your Kiva story complete! I liked this post very much -colleen