Potting Pindi: Getting Hooked on Mud
Occasionally someone asks how I got so obsessed with adobe. Fact is I get obsessed only as the deadline for this column draws near. The rest of the time I split between a three-year-old, other members of my family and, if time allows, my business.
But the question is nevertheless valid. I do like mud, puerile as that admission might be, and fell into admiration of it as a building material indirectly. Admittedly, I grew up in adobe houses; first at 634 Garcia Street, then in a little three-room place next to the Agua Fria School, and then in a house my Dad built on West Alameda. There was a series of adobe rentals and an early Stamm purchase, but for the last 26 years, I must confess, I have not lived in a mud home. That, however, is a different story; here I will acknowledge my early archeological transgressions and relate how blood relatives insulted me into a career.
It so happened that, growing up in Agua Fria Village and then moving across the river to West Alameda, I was introduced early on to both indigenous Hispanic culture and prehistoric Puebloan remains. Within walking distance for a six- to eight-year old was an acequia that watered active fields, neighbors who built with adobe, and four or five archeological sites that never ceased to amaze. The ditch allowed my sister and me to indulge in limitless springtime water diversions, literally. But to me, the real fascination was with the relict mud walls and pot-shards at a place I later leaned was LA-1, that is, the first site surveyed and numbered by the Laboratory of Anthropology. Its local nomenclature was Pindi, apparently a name that in Tewa denotes an association with turkeys.
Unbeknownst to me, Pindi had been partially excavated by Stanley Stubbs and W. S. Stallings, and the report published in 1953 by the Museum of New Mexico. By the time that report came out, I was already three feet deep in my first exploratory test pit. It was very exciting. I found an incomplete skeleton and most of a Santa Fe Black-on-White bowl. I identified mud walls dating to 1350 C.E., a firepit full of ash, and the remains of a charred roof. My parents were very supportive and bought me trowels and buckets and screens to sieve for artifacts. Ten years later I took all that equipment on my first legitimate dig for the School of American Research in Hidalgo County. In the meantime, I pot-hunted.
Now, I know all of this is rather risky to admit. I plead ignorance, excitement, youth, whatever. It was also on private land and the owner smiled benignly on my adventures. Later by very few years, I would go out on weekends with archeologists from the Lab of Anthropology and truly egregiously pot sites such as Pottery Mound, Paa-ko and Los Oajes, all on public lands. Astoundingly, many of my professional mentors were serious collectors and took special pride in items they had found for themselves. You will be pleased to know that by the time I quit my career in archeology, in 1971, I had ceased illicit collecting and, in a born again sort of way, came to seriously disapprove. But the allure had taken hold and the dust of ancient mud walls was, by then, deeply inhaled.
Along the way, sometime during the Agua Fria years and probably about 1954, we had relatives visit from Kansas. They were appalled at where we lived, in three mud rooms with an outhouse in a village where English was a second language. My parents encouraged pride in all of that and so it was easy to blow off the disapproval. Until they made fun of our roof.
As children my sister and I had a book that we loved called Cocky Cactus. It was the story of a prickly-pear cactus living near what looked exactly like our Agua Fria house. In the drawings, Cocky stood next to a low mud building, a little the worse for wear.
From the roof sprouted grass, weeds and more cacti. That is what our house looked like, and my pride in place still includes that mental image. When our relatives belittled and derided a house that was sprouting, I was deeply insulted and never forgot the transgression. Years and several careers later, I remembered the slight when I had the opportunity to examine, actually excavate, a roof on an occupied home in Oraibi, Arizona. I turned that twenty minutes worth of work into a dissertation (not officially, and certainly not for a degree) on why earthen roofs have historically worked so successfully. It was sweet revenge to send that information on to Kansas.
It was an indirect route that led me to an appreciation of earthen architecture; one whose mile-markers were an illicit passion and an insult. That is the story. Clearly, it is a tale that I shouldn't tell my kids, let alone publish. Oh, well.