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for people who care about the West

A window into other ways


Thank you so much for publishing Leath Tonino’s “The Anthropological Aesthetic” (HCN, 11/28/16). Reading it was akin to looking in the mirror and reclaiming the deepest part of myself, which I had foolishly gotten too far away from. I spent the late ’80s and early ’90s in a graduate anthropology program at the University of New Mexico, reading reams of ethnographies, such as the one Tonino describes, high up in “the stacks” of Zimmerman Library. Regarded as a musty, dark trysting place for gay couples, among other things, to me it was a temple. I still own every volume  of ethnography I ever bought; I still own a copy of George Murdock’s data compilation of all of it, The Human Relations Area Files. To say these texts saved my life is an understatement; as Tonino so eloquently points out, they provided a whole different way of being on the Earth, of being human. I grew up in a fascist household of sexual, emotional and (to reinforce the other two) physical violence. The upside to Donald Trump’s election for me has been that it is forcing me to retrench into what saved me in the first place: anthropology, the sacred feminine, fiction by hitherto unheard of writers of color from places like South Africa, and nature, nature, nature and nature. I recently took a kayak out among the mangroves of Sarasota Bay, Florida. I might as well have been a Miwok on a tule lake, watching osprey dive and ibises pluck the sand.

Kate Niles
Durango, Colorado