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nonfiction kimberly meyer Holy City of the Wichitas An omphalos is an ancient religious stone, hollow and often beehive-shaped, its surface intricately carved. The most famous one was discovered at the temple of the oracle, at Delphi, but similar objects have been found in Rome, Iraq, Egypt. According to the Greeks, Zeus sent two eagles across the earth to meet at the center of the world, and there the Greeks erected a stone, perhaps the world’s first omphalos, which they believed allowed them direct communication with the gods. The word means “navel.” In the Middle Ages, Jerusalem was considered an omphalos. To signify this designation , medieval cartographers frequently placed the Holy Land at the center of their maps of the world, where all the continents and rivers and seas met. These mappae mundi, while often adorned with precise geographic details, were attempts to represent an idea of God’s orderly creation| 57 58 | ecotone more than they were depictions of the world as it actually existed. At the center of their picture of the idealized world— and the center of spiritual existence— was the place of the birth and death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The United States also has a navel. It’s called Oklahoma, located, one might be tempted to say, at the buckle of the Bible Belt. But what I didn’t know, until I lived in Oklahoma the first two years of my married life, is that America has a holy city as well. Ours is the Holy City of the Wichitas, a rusty red granite replica of ancient Jerusalem. It rises from the scrub-covered foothills of the Wichita Mountains, which are named, according to Native tradition, for the tribe whose ancestors were born from the rugged rocks. In the Wichita story of the first creation , Kinnekasus, “Man Never Known on Earth,” created all things. In the beginning, land hovered upon the water , and darkness was everywhere. Kinnekasus made a man and a woman, and afterward they dreamed of things, and when they woke, they had those things of which they had dreamed. The woman was given an ear of corn, and in her heart she knew that it was to be her food. But they were still in darkness. Then the man dreamed he should travel east and so he did, and in the East he found another man and together they made a bow and an arrow, which they used to shoot and wound a deer. A voice told them that they had done well, and now the darkness could move on, and time began. Later, the man and the woman themselves became the light. Woman, the moon. Man, the morning star. The man they had met in the East became Kinnihequidikidahis, “Star That Is Always Moving,” and set off to follow the wounded deer and all the others of the herd, a chase that would last until the end of days. When we married, my husband, Terry, was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. We were stationed at Fort Sill, near the base of these same mountains in southwestern Oklahoma, just north of the Red River and Texas. From time to time, his unit would practice artillery warfare out in the desolate hills. They’d be gone for a week, no showers, eating prepackaged MREs, sleeping in their cramped Humvees when they could. Terry would come back with red dust rubbed deep into the lines of his palms, into the creases of his neck. One restless February, years after we had left Oklahoma and the army for Houston and civilian life, Terry and I returned to Fort Sill for the weekend with our daughters. We didn’t have enough money to go anywhere more exotic or enough vacation time to travel anywhere farther away. So we packed up our station wagon and drove north out of the Piney Woods of east Texas across the flat bottoms of the Red River under gray skies, in bitter winter. Cows in the fields bore the brunt of the cold wind, unbroken by any tree. Barbed wire fences anchored by cedar posts stretched off into the endless distance. Telephone poles like barren crucifixes...


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