Book Review: The Woman at Otowi Crossing


By Frank Waters

I discovered The Woman at Otowi Crossing in the late 1990s. It spoke to me in such a way that I wrote the executors of Frank Waters’ estate to get permission to use a paragraph in the flyleaf of my own book Calling Our Spirits Home—and they graciously complied. 

So all these scribbled pages, Jack, are to help you understand that an awakening or Emergence, as the Indians call it, is more than a single momentary experience. It requires a slow painful process of realization and orientation… How many thousands of obscure people like me all the world over are having the same experience right now? And for no apparent reason, like me. Keeping quiet about it, too.

                                                       —From Helen Chalmers’ journal in The Woman at Otowi Crossing

The book by Frank Waters is a fictional account of the real-life Edith Warner, there called Helen Chalmers, who ran a tearoom at Otowi Crossing, near both Los Alamos and San Ildefonso Pueblo, for more than twenty years until the Chile train line shut down. Set during the time of the research and development of the atomic bomb, it creates a juxtaposition between the ancient ways and beliefs of pueblo life, modern science and so-called progress. The secrets of those things kept hidden were in the air, the goings-on at Los Alamos as well as influences from her close relationship with the Pueblo people. They permeated Helen’s days in such a way that it created awakenings in her, what she called Emergences. The Woman at Otowi Crossing is replete with such rich aphorisms as the one below, reflecting, too, Waters’ own journey of consciousness.

 … Perhaps none of us really learn anything by degrees. We just keep absorbing things unconsciously without realizing what they mean. Till suddenly, for no apparent reason, it all comes into focus with a blinding flash… 

Historically, Waters’ book would be of interest, too, weaving in the likes of Neils Bohr, Robert Oppenheimer, local Pueblo people and others who frequented Helen’s tearoom. If you’re like me, then, after you read The Woman at Otowi Crossing, you’ll rush out to get The House at Otowi Bridge by Peggy Pond Church. It could almost be considered a companion, one not to be read without the other. Church’s book is a biography of the legendary Edith Warner, a complex woman who lived simply in an out-of-the-way place in a controversial time, and gained wide respect by those who knew her.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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