The Upper Rio Grande Valley in Northern New Mexico is one of the world’s geographical gems. Anthropologists have called the Rio Grande, the “Nile of the Southwest” because of its thriving pre-Columbian culture, still alive and well in the remaining eight northern Pueblo communities. It is home to a still thriving “Low-Rider” culture, traditional weaving villages, Chimayo Chile, artist conclaves, ‘spiritual’ centers, reservation casinos and ancient ‘Anasazi’ sites.
The Upper Rio Grande Valley is also home to the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico, who escaped the Spanish Inquisition by becoming Catholics and moving to the most remote reaches of the Spanish Empire. And… one cannot live here and not be affected by the presence of “La Virgen de Guadalupe”.
Northern New Mexico defies classification. It lies well off the grid of main stream American culture. Even the one shiny new Starbucks in Española has a character of its own. Bumper stickers like “Carpe Mañana” and “El Agua Es La Vida” (Water Is Life), Indian, Chicano and Latino sculpture and murals, local music and traditional fiestas, Pueblo dances and ceremonial art all help to characterize this wonderfully undefinable place.
Stranger still is the presence of Los Alamos National Laboratory. The irony of the birthplace of the atomic bomb is not lost when juxtaposed with a history of counter culture, Hispanic pastoral tradition, indigenous rooted defiance and a still thriving Sikh community. Painters, sculptors, musicians and writers of all stripes have been attracted to this mysterious and beautiful land.
Yet, it’s just a place. Folks get on with their lives here like any other place. A tourist can drive right through it, noticing nothing unusual. And yet, it simply is not like any other place…
One of the villages located at the entrance to the Rio Grande Gorge is a jewel of a place called Velarde. In the Fall months of 2017 we were invited to come a second year and teach the Talking Hands Talking Feet curriculum called “New Geography” for the Kinder and First grade students of Velarde Elementary School.
We love this school. It is a village school with total enrollment under one hundred students. The teachers are caring, perceptive, compassionate educators. Even the janitor, whom we call San Juan, is a kind and principled presence. There is an essence quality that has imbued many of the folks native to northern New Mexico. A very practical, earnest and kind-hearted, straight-talking, no-messing sincerity beams from the faces of folks who’ve grown up well here.
So, here we were, teaching ‘New Geography’ in one of the most unique and layered geographies in North America! What a joy!
When we work, some teachers sit back and watch or catch up on prep work. But every so often we get to work with teachers who want to jump right in and participate with the students. What we do is experiential learning after all. At Velarde, we work with one such teacher, whose kind and loving presence is such a deep encouragement to these children.
So this year, with the encouraging presence of their teacher, we created a new song to help children understand maps. It’s called Bird’s Eye View.
If you think about it, a typical map is a ‘bird’s eye view’ of a place. Understanding a map requires a shift in perspective. From a distance, things look smaller compared to up close. From high in the sky, you can get a broader view. With practice, young minds are able to shift perspectives with ease. And the marvelous thing about getting an overview of a place is that it expands one’s world view, kindles curiosity and creates new neural pathways.
Finally, to have a Bird’s Eye View, requires taking yourself out of the center of the picture! It allows you to see the world with new eyes. We hope you enjoy the video documentary of the making of this special song.