William Edelen: My Natural Habitat… A Writer’s Kiva

The Contrary Minister

During the years that I have been writing for the Santa Barbara NewsPress, as well as my weekly essays published on my previous website there is one question that has been asked of me many times in one way or another: “I am interested in the work environment of writers, artists, or the study of people who create. What is it like where you work? What stimulates your creativity?” I can strongly relate to that question. I have long had an interest in the studios and studies of writers and artists. I have many excellent books of photographs and texts devoted to that subject.

My study is a “writer’s Kiva.” A Kiva is a spiritual room filled with sacred objects in the Pueblo traditions. When the wife of an Elder of the Taos Pueblo in Taos, New Mexico first came into my study, she said, “I have not felt so much spiritual energy except in the Kiva’s of the Pueblo.” That is what I feel. Writing is a deeply soul searching activity. It is a place for reflections and creative intuition. Writers need a sense of place to get their words on paper. It should be a happy and joyful place. Mine is.

There are two traditions that prevail throughout my entire study and patio. The traditions of West Texas ranching and the American Indian. When you enter my study you go through a door with a “horse stick” above and you will walk under it. The “stick” was created by an artist of the Ute people in Colorado. His name was “Grey Feather” and he gave it to me after my lecture at the University of Colorado, Pueblo. The “stick” has a carved horse head on one end with the rest being covered with horse hair and prayer feathers. Feathers were called “the breath of life” in all Indian cultures. “The Breath of Life” is the title of my latest collection of essays published in 2013 following my own personal encounter with death.

On the left, as you enter my Kiva, is the skin of a Siberian Wolf hanging on the wall given to me by the wife of a Taos Pueblo Elder who gave me the honor of being named a “brother” with the name of Thunder Hawk. Past this, on the wall, is a framed letter to me in longhand from Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas inviting me to spend a day with him at his summer cottage in Goose Prairie, Washington. It was one of the most remarkable days of my life.

On the right is a 25 foot wall filled with books from floor to ceiling with the subjects that have filled my brain/mind and soul. The American Indian… Western history… Mythology… the Anthropological study of religious traditions… Biography…   Art…  Essays of Loren Eiseley… Frank Waters… Lauren van der Post… Stanley Kunitz… Eric Hoffer… Rene Dubos… and on including the 12 volumes of Robert Ingersoll.

At the end of the bookshelves is a solid glass wall, from floor to ceiling leading out into my patio and atrium. One of my passions in life has been Horticulture, with my first degree in that subject from Oklahoma State University. My atrium is filled with ferns, jade plants… a fountain where my finches love bathing and drinking. They are all safe from the summer desert sun. I am reminded that Stanley Kunitz, twice Poet Laureate of the United States, also found his reflections and inspiration in his garden. On the opposite wall from my bookshelves, in a corner, is an L shaped desk with my computer in the corner and the desk extending along both walls… plus more bookshelves.

All of my summer boyhood days from about age 6 through high school were spent on my grandparents’ homestead outside of Jayton, Texas. It is an area of giant ranches. It was magic. No water… nor electricity… no plumbing… wood stoves… oil lamps… only water in cisterns and rain barrels… it was a young boy’s heaven on earth. The cowboys taught me to ride and how to be safe around horses.

My study is filled with mementos and artifacts of those magical days. The head of a Texas Longhorn, above my computer, looks down at me. Steer skulls adorn the walls, as well as on my patio. It looks a little like the home and studio of Georgia O’Keeffe. A “Running W” branding iron given to me by the manager of the legendary King Ranch is here. Other branding irons and barbed wire decorate my patio, with carriage wheels and wagon wheels. On my wall is a coil of rope used for roping with a beautiful horse tail hanging next to it.

On my desk, by the computer, is one of my most cherished pictures. There are two magnificent horses. I am on one. On the other spirited sorrel is Rollie Campbell, age 90, the owner of the great Circle C ranch of Central Idaho… sitting straight in the saddle… silver hair flowing. From time to time he would invite me to go out and round up cattle with him. The winds drifting across that meadow carrying the good smells of cattle and horses still come to me on this day looking at the picture. In front of my computer is the sacred pipe of Frank Waters given to me after his death by his wife. Nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in literature. You must read “The Man Who Killed the Deer.”

The traditions of the American Indian saturate my study. Navajo rugs going back to the 1920s when the weaving was guided by the spirit in the weavers brain. On the floor beautiful hooked rugs, created by my former wife, Elizabeth with Indian themes and sacred symbols. Her rugs were chosen to be shown in the Art Museum of Boise, Idaho… but we moved to Palm Springs before the scheduled date.

On the left over my head is an authentic copy of the shield of Crazy Horse, the brilliant holy-man, warrior, of the Lakota nation (Sioux). An accurate translation of his name would be “the enchanted one” or “the mysterious one.” On the walls are other shields… breast plates… an Apache basket… Ravens and feathers.

The animals I grew up with in West Texas are all here with their energy. Horned Toads on tables and desk… a folk art reproduction of a Javelin, the wild pigs that would send a horse crazy… two frozen rattlesnakes in a striking position. These were all my boyhood friends and their spirits fill my study with energy. Jim Harrison, the author of “Legends of The Fall”(movie and book) in his memoir writes of his study and the same feeling: “I am surrounded by my sacred objects… a bear tooth… a raven feather… holding these in my hand enlarges my consciousness…” On my desk are also a Red Tail Hawk… a sculpture of a Bison… (there are no “buffalo” in America and never have been… the sacred animal of the Plains Indians were Bison.)

An important part of my study reminds me of my days as a Marine Corps pilot. One picture with my Corsair F4U fighter plane and another with my favorite of all planes, the F7F Tigercat… twin engines… tricycle landing gear… and in addition to the picture is a large model of this airplane. It is a gorgeous airplane even by today’s standards.

My study is filled with inscribed pictures of me with friends who have been a part of my life… all giving me much encouragement to continue on my own spiritual quest. There is Frank Waters… Buckminster Fuller… Walter Annenberg… Chuck Yeager… Barry Manilow… Charles Schulz (Sparky) of “Peanuts” fame and wife Jeannie… (who often spoke at my Symposium in Santa Roas.) There is Vine Deloria, Lakota scholar and author of “God is Red”… and “Custer Died for Your Sins”… there is Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman, a full blood Lakota who was “Ten Bears” in the movie “Dances with Wolves”… a portrait of me by renowned Hollywood photographer Michael Childers.

You have now been my guest in my natural habitat… my writer’s Kiva. For those who have asked about where I work and write, perhaps this column will make some contribution. It has been a genuine labor of love for me to write this and share this part of my life with you. That is unusual for me. I am by nature a very private person. I thank you all… who take the time to read the words and thoughts that pour out from this room… my space.