The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections of Desert, Sea, Stone, and Sky by Ellen Meloy

I was lost but knew where I was. They were not lost but did not know where they were. – Anthropology of Turquoise Ellen Meloy

17673I picked up the Anthropology of Turquoise in a book store in Grand Canyon Village on a camping trip, expecting a study of turquoise. What I got was so much better than that. (Even though I’m still looking for a book about the significance and usage of turquoise around the world!) Meloy is a colorful character and it was fun to see snippets of her experiences and thoughts throughout the book. Anthropology of Turquoise reads like almost like a journal filled with experiences, reflections and a random spattering of facts about history and society.

Meloy comes off as humble in the face of nature and the environment, yet cynical of human advancements and jaded about human encroachment. There’s an old episode of Bones, “The Skull in the Desert”, season 1, when they talk a little bit about desert dwellers and their attitudes towards outsiders. Meloy reminded me of that. Her connection to her land, her little piece of this world, in the American Southwest desert is obvious and for her like a comforting blanket, a sanctuary. The desert is sacred to her. Meloy’s trips outside of her safe space offer an insight into what “home” means for someone who is so rooted into a particular place. People like me, nomads, don’t necessarily understand that sense of place. Home is where the people I love are and a place in time when I felt safe. Home isn’t a place on this Earth, not to me anyway.

Anthropology of Turquoise is written with a sense of melancholy and nostalgia. The theme of growing older is interlaced with the reflections about plant life, genealogy, ecofeminism, travel and numerous other things about life, like online shopping screw ups. Meloy definitely struggles, not with age, but with the perception and the loss of physical and mental acuity that comes with growing older. Age, as in human growth and development isn’t the only age related theme in the book. Meloy delves into her ancestors histories, using genealogy to explore her own history but how her family has changed and is connected to the world outside of the desert. Meloy also talked about time and age in how the desert changes, how the inhabitants change and how humans have changed that world.

This is not a page turner, but it isn’t meant to be. The chapters should be taken in smaller doses so the reader really delves into Meloy’s world and writing style. The part I love most about Meloy’s writing is that she’s sharing her thoughts and experiences in terms of color, she’s experiencing the world through color. The visuals she brings to mind are beautiful. Meloy also has a quirky sense of humor especially in her interactions with others. Anthropology of Turquoise was slow and it did take me a while to get into the book and truly appreciate it.

There are so many great quotes from the book so limiting it to just one was difficult. I decided to use the lost one (above) because I relate so well to it and the one below because it resonated with how the world is moving at the moment, with a sense of rushing forward and leaving knowledge and animal guides by the wayside.

Today is my birthday, and during its twenty-four hours nineteen species will become extinct.

Look into the eyes of a domestic sheep and you will see the back of its head. Look into the eyes of this bighorn, the black, curiously horizontal irises set in amber orbs, and you will see a lost map to place, a depth that we may extinguish before it touches us. The bighorns’ tenacity to this paltry remnant of wildland inspires as well as frightens me, for like them I cannot abandon the geography that feeds my every breath.

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