Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Navajo: The Long Walk

By Kristy McCaffrey

The "Long Walk" was the incarceration of the Navajo Indians at Bosque Redondo—near Ft. Sumner in New Mexico Territory—from 1864 to 1868, after which they were released and allowed to return to their lands in northern Arizona Territory.

James H. Carleton
In 1862, Colonel James H. Carleton asserted the authority of the Federal government within the Arizona territory. He designated himself military governor, contending that Arizona was in a chaotic state with no civil officers to protect life and property. He acted swiftly and harshly against Confederate sympathizers as well as desperadoes. Soon promoted to Brigadier General, Carleton spent the next four years attempting to subdue the Indians of New Mexico and Arizona. Practicing a policy of extermination, he felt that the lines of communication to the increasingly valuable west coast needed to remain open. This mostly affected the Apache Indians in southern Arizona.

Because of the treachery of both the military and the Apache, no one could be trusted, and extermination and ejection from the land was practiced on both sides.

Kit Carson
During this time, the Navajo became more aggressive. Due to troop removal to aid the Civil War in the east, they believed they were defeating the white man. In 1863, Colonel Kit Carson was appointed by General Carleton to organize an expedition against them. Carleton notified the Indians that they had until July 20, 1863, to surrender and go to the Bosque Redondo Reservation in New Mexico. If they refused, every Navajo male capable of bearing arms was to be killed. The Navajo didn't take the threat seriously.

With 700 troops at his command—along with Ute Indian scouts who were eager to fight and were highly effective in tracking the Navajo, whom they considered their enemy—they managed to kill or force into surrender all Navajo outside of their stronghold, Canyon de Chelly. A small number managed to escape and flee south. All means of livelihood for the Navajo were destroyed—cornfields torn up and thousands of sheep slaughtered and left to rot in piles. Carson managed to break the spirit of the Navajo. So began "the Long Walk."

The Long Walk wasn't a single event. From 1863 until 1866, well over 50 treks took place from northern Arizona to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. Sometimes there were just a handful of individuals, other times there were hundreds. The trip took several different routes, beginning in the Fort Wingate area (New Mexico), heading toward Albuquerque, and then branching south to the Bosque. If the Navajo survived the journey, they faced utter desolation at the Bosque. It was flat, barren, and the nearby water in the river alkaline.

They were incarcerated with Mescalero Apaches, an old enemy, leading to inevitable clashes. They also suffered repeated attacks from the Comanche. The soil was unproductive and couldn't support them, forcing the government to provide them with rations. A smallpox epidemic further demoralized the Navajo in 1865, costing more than 2,000 lives.

In a rare move, the War Department concluded that the Navajo could not be self-sustaining on the Bosque. In 1868, the Navajo were permitted to return to a defined portion of their homeland, and they were provided with liberal federal assistance to help them gain their footing again.

The Long Walk inflicted enormous suffering and trauma on the Navajo, and is still spoken of today. But it also focused the spirit, dedication, and loyalty that the Navajo have to their lands and their culture. Today, they are the largest federally recognized Native American tribe in the United States.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Irish Fairy Tales

By Kristy McCaffrey

The Irish have a great lore concerning fairies. It is believed that fairies are “fallen angels who were not good enough to be saved, nor bad enough to be lost.”

The Tuatha Dé Danann (an ancient supernatural race that resided in Ireland according to Irish mythology) became the fairies that are spoken of today. The Tuatha Dé Danann represent the main deities of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland.

The king of the Tuatha De Danann--Nuada--led his people to
victory in war but lost an arm when one of the Fir Bolgs
sliced it off.
The Irish word for fairy is sidheóg (pronounced sheehogue). Fairies are daoine sidhe (deenee shee), meaning fairy people.

Fairies live on the earth and the visible world is their skin. We travel among them in dreams. They occupy themselves with feasting, fighting, making love, and creating the most beautiful music. Among the fairies live the lepra-caun, also known as the shoemaker. Maybe they wear their shoes out with so much dancing. Near the village of Ballisodare was a little woman who lived among them for seven years. When she returned home, she had no toes for she had danced them all off.

Fairies have three great festivals during the year—May Eve, Midsummer Eve, and November Eve.

On May Eve (April 30, also called Beltane), the fairies fight every seventh year for the best ears of grain. An old man once described how the thatch of a house was torn off during such a scuffle, although to anyone else it would have been seen as simply a great wind.

On Midsummer Eve (between June 21 and June 24, the Summer Solstice), bonfires are burned to honor St. John and this is when the fairies are the happiest. Sometimes they steal beautiful mortal women to be their brides.

On November Eve (October 31, also called Samhain—pronounced sow-een), fairies are at their gloomiest because this is the first night of winter. They dance with ghosts, and witches make their spells, and pooka abound (hobgoblins). After this night the blackberries have been spoiled by the pooka and can no longer be eaten.

Up the airy mountain,
            Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a hunting
            For fear of little men;
Wee folk, good folk,
            Trooping all together;
Green jacket, red cap,
            And white owl’s feather!
                                    ~ From The Fairies by William Allingham

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Works Cited
“Tuatha Dé Danann.” Wikipedia. <>
Yeats, W.B. Irish Fairy & Folk Tales. Fall River Press, 1892.

Photo Credits

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Master Switch Of Life

By Kristy McCaffrey

P.F. Scholander
In 1963, Per Scholander, a Swedish-born researcher working in the United States, discovered a Master Switch of Life in vertebrate animals—a defense against asphyxia. For humans, it’s a nod to our dormant amphibious reflexes. In simple terms, it’s the body’s response to being underwater. As soon as we place our faces in water, an onslaught of physiological reflexes affects our brain, lungs and heart. When your mother told you to “splash water on your face” during times of upset, she was on to something.

What happens to the human body as it enters an arena usually reserved for marine life? As a diver descends, blood begins flooding away from limbs and toward vital organs. This shunting—called peripheral vasoconstriction—from less important areas helps keep the brain and heart oxygenated longer, thereby extending the amount of time a diver can remain submerged. When a diver descends to 300 feet—a depth frequently reached by modern freedivers—vessels in the lungs engorge with blood, preventing them from collapse. The deeper a human descends, the stronger the peripheral vasoconstriction becomes. What’s curious is that Scholander found that a person need submerge only his face in water to activate these lifesaving reflexes. But these responses can only be triggered by water and it must be cooler than the surrounding air.

A freediver.

Today, freedivers exploit the Master Switch to their advantage, but it isn’t without risk. Here is what occurs in the body as a swimmer freedives:

First 30 feet: With the lungs full of air, the swimmer must paddle to descend.

Once past 30 feet: The pressure on the body doubles and the lungs shrink. The swimmer is now in neutral buoyancy and feels weightless. It’s here that something extraordinary happens—the ocean pulls the diver down. Swimming is no longer required.

At 100 feet: The pressure triples and the ocean’s surface is barely visible.

At 150 feet: The diver experiences high levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen in the bloodstream, causing a dream-like state.

At 250 feet: The pressure is now so extreme that the lungs shrink to the size of a small apple and the heart beats at half its normal rate to conserve oxygen. Some freedivers report heartrates as low as 14 beats per minute

At 300 feet: This is where the Master Switch really kicks in. There is a free flow of blood and water into the thoracic cavity as the chest collapses to half its original size. The effects of nitrogen narcosis are so strong that divers forget where they are, what they’re doing, and why they’re in such a dark place. Hallucinations are common, as is the loss of motor control.

As a diver reverses and begins to ascend, the Master Switch also reverses. The heart rate increases and blood floods back into the veins and arteries and organs. However, the lungs ache to breathe and the vision fades. The chest convulses from the buildup of carbon dioxide. A diver must hurry or risk blacking out. If a black out occurs, a diver can stay submerged for up to two minutes. At the end of two minutes, the body will wake itself up and breathe one last time before death. If a diver has been rescued and carried to the surface by this time, he or she will inhale much-needed air and probably survive. If the person is still underwater, their lungs will fill with water and they’ll drown.

Humans connection to the ocean runs deep. In the womb, we grow within an amniotic fluid that is similar in makeup to ocean water. At one month, an embryo will grow fins first, then feet. At five weeks, that same embryo will have a 2-chambered heart, akin to a fish. Human blood has a chemical composition similar to seawater.
A blue whale.
Ancient cultures knew all about the Master Switch and employed it for centuries to harvest sponges, pearls, coral, and food hundreds of feet below the surface of the ocean. We carry within us latent abilities that connect us to the whales and dolphins, a key from our distant past.

Works Cited
“Freediving.” Wikipedia. <>
 Nestor, James. Deep. Mariner Books, 2014.
 Scholander, P. F. “The Master Switch of Life.” Scientific American Magazine. December 1963.

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