It was a Sunday afternoon, and the summer heat had already arrived. Outside on the porch, Pearl and Opal, aka the Gems, panted as they worked at perfecting their greeting skills.
I am a fan of keeping the Kokopelli doors open, so on this particular day I delayed turning on the cooler.
I like looking out across the porch and seeing the world cascade past. People enchant me, and I love them; their simplest eccentricities light me up and make me radiate with delight.
So, in an effort to capture as much of life as possible, I leave the trading post wide open whenever I can.
A few days earlier, a young woman had wandered into the store to inspect our Navajo rugs. Picking up one of the weavings, she noticed a thin line of contrasting color extending from the center design field of the rug across its border to the outside edge.
The woman gave me a questioning look and asked, “What is it?”
Remembering the legend of Spider Woman, a spirit being who taught that every Navajo weaving must be woven with a pathway in the border to keep the weaver’s spirit from being imprisoned, I said, “It’s the weaver’s pathway.”
Noting the continuing confusion on her face, I explained that a weaver’s pathway, or spirit line as it is often called, is associated with the Navajo belief that weavers should allow the energy and spirit woven into their textiles to be released.
This allows weavers to ensure the strength and imagination necessary to create additional art. The spirit line is in essence a safety valve which releases the pentup energy of the weaving, allowing the artist to rejuvenate.
As the young woman and I inspected the inventory, we noticed that approximately half the bordered rugs had a spirit line. I had realized long ago that many of the weavers were no longer including this customary element in their work. As is the case with many Navajo traditions, this one is on the wane.
Tradition is a slippery concept, so rugs without spirit lines do not necessarily bother me. Additionally, when dealing with Navajo culture, one has to keep in mind that traditions are constantly evolving.
In her book, “The Weaver’s Pathway,” Noel Bennett concluded that most Navajo weavers associate the line with a desire to avoid being trapped in your creations.
Some weavers, however, admitted that they include the pathway primarily because their mothers or grandmothers advised them to add it. They counseled that rug buyers expect to find it in Navajo weavings, and its addition makes their rugs more salable.
In 2003, Jana was beginning to wind up the research on her book “Navajo Ceremonial Baskets.” It seemed, however, that every time she answered one question, two new ones arose.
It was like a research Hydra which prevented her from completing the book. About that same time, I stumbled across an article by Rick Brenner from Chaco Canyon Consulting regarding project management.
Mr. Brenner argues that the Anglo culture could put the concept of a weaver’s pathway to good use. He stated, “We put much of ourselves into our projects, but we must remember to leave a way out, lest we become entangled in the work. That way out must violate the pattern of the work.
“An inelegance, asymmetry, or incompleteness, rather than being a sign of our incompetence, actually gives us a way to move to the next project.”
Frustrating though it was, after a time Jana realized that the open issues were actually a means of encouraging further exploration, more conversation.
She felt her book was really just the beginning of a dialogue. Released from her dilemma, she set about completing her project.
There seem to be certain universal principals that migrate across cultural boundaries. It just takes a little imagination to identify them.
Whenever possible I build pathways into my life. They are extremely useful. One of my personal pathways manifests itself in open doors, which allow me to experience the world fully and freely. Pearl and Opal seem to agree.