Remembered Earth: New Mexico's High Desert on WXXI-TV

Remembered Earth: New Mexico's High Desert on WXXI-TV

Sun, 04/11/2010 - 3:30am

Shiprock, a volcanic peak sacred to the Navajos as Tse Bitai, the "Rock With Wings," rises from the surrounding desert in New Mexico.

Credit: John Grabowska

REMEMBERED EARTH shows how mankind has used this land and continues to rely upon it.

Once in our lives, we ought to concentrate our minds upon the remembered earth. - N. Scott Momaday

The words of American Indian author and poet N. Scott Momaday, writing of the land he grew up in and still calls home, echo amid the cliffs, lava flows and signs of ancient human activity on the high desert plateau of northwestern New Mexico.

REMEMBERED EARTH: NEW MEXICO'S HIGH DESERT airs Sunday, April 11 at 3:30 a.m. on WXXI-TV (DT 21.1/ cable 1011 and 11).

Filmmaker John Grabowska sought out the Pulitzer Prize-winning Momaday to frame and underscore REMEMBERED EARTH: NEW MEXICO'S HIGH DESERT, a film about the land that forms the area in and around El Malpais National Monument near Grants, New Mexico.

The stunning camera work of Steve Ruth teams with Grabowska's vision to capture the essence of the intense and ancient landscape in a film the Washington Post calls "poetic, breathtaking and ingenious." Original music by Academy Award-winner Todd Boekelheide enhances the visual experience. Native-American actress Irene Bedard (Disney's Pocahontas) narrates.

"The endless beauty of northwestern new Mexico has attracted artists, photographers and writers for decades. D.H. Lawrence moved there to write, and it's where Georgia O'Keeffe did her painting. Ansel Adams photographed the region, and Tony Hillerman set his novels in this part of the country," Grabowska says. "It is ecologically and culturally diverse with an unbelievably beautiful landscape."

The high desert plateau country, more than a mile above sea level, presents images that have become part of the iconography of the American West. Grabowska notes that Hollywood has used the area almost as a character, "burning the images into our collected memories." He inserts clips from two vintage movies into the modern film, each picturing the same formations, to demonstrate how cinema has helped shape many national perceptions about this land.

Along with a wide assortment of wildlife moving through the scenes, Grabowska and Ruth show the patterns of a place where rock, sand and sky often dominate the scene, mixed with open stands of evergreens in the higher elevations. "Scale is compounded in this fractal landscape where structural elements of the earth are exposed to the open sky," Grabowska writes. Cinder cones and mountain peaks punctuate the horizon. Canyons slash through the terrain. Signs of water are evident in the evolution of rock that was once part of a sea. What water remains is found in streams and sandstone potholes.

REMEMBERED EARTH shows how mankind has used this land and "used it hard," and in fact, still uses it - to nourish livestock, extract minerals, live upon and seek recreation. Images record the traces of vanished people who left rock art and later built communities.

"I am who I am because I have been there," Momaday quotes from his essay. "It is here that I can concentrate my mind upon the remembered earth."