The Chaco Canyon Tapes

Interrogative Imperative Institute

Purpose, identity, meaning, valuation, understanding, justice, freedom, responsibility, potential, commitment and choice are very much at the heart of The Chaco Canyon Tapes


This story of spiritual awakening, together with its concomitant thematic explorations, provide a context for reflecting on matters of fundamental concern to all of us.


The Chaco Canyon Tapes is a difficult book to categorize. While it has the appearance of a novel, the work is really a series of essays focusing on an array of contemporary issues.

In fact, the novel-aspect, itself, constitutes a distributed essay which weaves its way through the different dimensions of the book. Simultaneously, the story-line provides an emotional/creative center of gravity which is intended to help stabilize, as well as lend both a source of coherency and accessibility to, the various topics developed throughout Chaco Canyon.

In its capacity as a novel, the book traces the journey of a psychology professor, David Phelps ... a journey which traverses a path from an initial agnosticism, at the story's inception, to a budding acceptance of spiritual possibilities, at the story's conclusion. In its capacity as a series of essays, the chapters constitute a series of experientially-based, contemplative exercises that are shaping and coloring the central figures's spiritual transformation.

The story ranges across an assortment of kidnapings, murders, mysteries, intrigues, rescues, and relationships. The plot development, characterization, dialog, as well as the dramatic tension and resolution of this story are employed to induce readers to undertake a quest somewhat similar to that of the main character. However, the reader's journey need not be so much a matter of following the travels of David Phelps, which extend from agnosticism to belief, as much as it is a journey of opportunity to engage, from a spiritual perspective, a set of important, interrelated issues of our times.

This is not a book of metaphysics, theology or religious polemic. Rather, it is an invitation to experience, within determinate limits, a certain kind of spiritual orientation and ambience while pushing against problems which frame human existence. The book is over six hundred pages in length.

The Call of the Owl - An Excerpt from: The Chaco Canyon Tapes

I don't know how long I have before my wounds succeed in their coup d'etat of my life processes.

On the other hand, maybe one of the search teams will find me before I die at my own pace. I'm sure any of those who may be looking for me would be quite eager to help escort me to death's doorstep, and beyond, in order to expedite matters. In either case, the time left to me is a rather tenuous commodity.

Not too long ago, time seemed to stretch out and disappear into distant mists of possibility. I hope there is enough time to fulfil my final responsibility.

I suppose what follows is something of a death bed statement which, traditionally, has been accorded a certain legal standing of some weight. Apparently, the assumption is that someone who is about to meet his or her Maker will not lie. I've always felt the assumption was rather argumentative and, as the lawyers say, calls for conclusions based on facts not yet placed in evidence.

Be that as it may, there is something which needs to be said before my time is up. What people do, if anything, after hearing these tapes, is up to the crosscurrents of their hearts and minds.

My name is David Phelps. I'm 48 years old, unmarried, and slightly overweight for my six feet. Qualities which, under the circumstances, are not likely to change.

I'm an assistant professor of psychology at a small liberal arts college just outside of Boston. I am pretty ordinary in most ways, although I do possess what people in my trade refer to as an eidetic memory.

Essentially, this means that I can recall many, if not most things, with an exceptional degree of clarity, detail and accuracy. While the passage of time has dimmed this facility of memory somewhat, it still remains largely intact, and I believe this ability may serve us both well during the process of relating that which follows.

My main area of professional interest is clinical psychology. Among other things, this field of study explores the theories, research, problems and issues that surround, and permeate, therapeutic settings- e.g., mental hospitals, clinics- as well as the dynamics of therapist-client relationships.

In fact, my story really begins with a person who was seeking this sort of help, or so I thought. She came to my off-campus office toward the middle of what, up until that time, was shaping up as an uneventful June day.

The spring semester had just finished at the college. I was in the downtown office to look after some administrative details concerning the few clients who had been coming to me during the school year.

By mutual agreement, we all had decided to take the summer off and meet again in the fall. In most of these cases, a lot of constructive progress had been made during the preceding year. Nonetheless, everyone felt the time away from therapy would be beneficial and allow us each to come back to the sessions with a rejuvenated commitment to continuing the work.

I heard a soft knock on the door. "Come in", I shouted out.

The door opened, and a woman poked her head through the opening in a sort of tentative kind of way. She had a quizzical look in her eyes.

"Dr. Phelps?"

"Yes, please come in." I motioned her to a chair near my desk.

She sat down, gave the room the once-over and, then, seemed to become preoccupied with the exterior of her purse. Presumably, she was gathering her thoughts and feelings in order to figure out what to say to me.

She was silent for a few moments. Several times, she raised her head and cleared her throat, as if to begin to speak.

On each of these occasions, she looked into my eyes for a few seconds, like she was looking for a sign of some kind. Or, perhaps, she was wondering to what extent she could trust me. She, then, averted her eyes and lowered her head again.

She appeared to be in her mid-forties, a little over five feet tall. Her body, her whole manner of appearance, seemed vulnerable. Yet, there was an aura of peacefulness draped about her, like a loose fitting gown. In addition, there was something exotic in her facial features, but I couldn't place her ethnic background.

Finally, she spoke. "I hope I'm not interrupting anything or keeping you from your work."

"Not at all. I was just going through some administrative work and, quite frankly, I welcome the break.

"I don't care for this paper work stuff and often look for ways to procrastinate before getting down to the nitty-gritty. So, you are fitting into my strategy quite well." I smiled slightly and tried to look at her in as warmly and receptive a way as I could, without overdoing it.

A subtle current of humor rippled through her eyes and disappeared. She continued to hold my gaze a little longer, still seeming to search for something below the surface.

Finally, her focus changed, and she stared out the window behind me. Her eyes had a distant look to them, then they focused on me again. In the interim, she seemed to have come to a resolution about whatever it was she had been debating within herself.

"Dr. Phelps, I need some help."

My initial thought was that her timing was bad. After all, despite my tendency to procrastinate, I had been doing my best, during the last several weeks, to disengage myself from official commitments for the next month or so.

I was mentally tired and somewhat emotionally fogged in. I needed some down time.

I was about to explain to her my situation and recommend she see a colleague of mine who had an office on the floor above me. Instead, my curiosity and professional ethics came to the rescue.

The thought crossed my mind that, perhaps, at least, I should try to assess what kind of help the woman was seeking. After that determination, I could decide what, if anything, I might be able to do to assist her, including, possibly, still referring her to my colleague. Moreover, I ought to be sure that no crisis intervention- e.g., suicidal tendencies, psychotic breaks, rape trauma, etc.- was warranted.

After only a few seconds of pause, I said to her: "Well, before we try to see what kind of help is needed, maybe you could help me by filling in some background information concerning yourself."

She nodded her head briefly in assent and, then, became a little guarded. "Dr. Phelps, I'm sorry, but before we go on, I need to know how much this is going to cost."

While looking for a pen that worked, I said to her: "Let's not worry about that right now. I will say, however, that most of the therapists and counselors who operate in this office building, including me, have sliding scales to accommodate different income levels of people who are seeking help.

"So, I wouldn't worry too much. I'm sure we can work out something with which we both can live.

As a sort of addendum, I looked at her and said: "Most of us in this building also work on the instalment plan with no money down. We try to be as user friendly as we can be."

For the first time, a smile flickered across her lips. My afterthought appeared to relax her a little.

Having located a working pen and a pad of paper, I leaned back in my chair, crossed my legs and balanced the pad near my knee. I began: "Perhaps, we could start by you telling me who referred you to me."

She looked uncertain how to respond. As well, there may have been a trace of embarrassment present.

"Actually, Dr. Phelps", she finally stammered, no one referred me to you. I saw your name on the board in the lobby downstairs. In fact, I was just walking around and happened to see the sign outside your building concerning the therapy and counseling services being offered. I walked into the lobby and, for some reason, your name stuck out."

I'm sure I must have looked a little deflated, but I recovered quickly and said: "It's always nice to come highly recommended. I imagine you must be busting with confidence in what I can do for you."

She laughed. It was the laugh of someone who liked to do so.

I continued on. "Let's start over- hopefully, on less risky grounds. What's your name?"

"Beth Idaho, Dr. Phelps".

"Please, let's drop the 'Dr.' thing. If it is alright with you, why don't we just make it Beth and David?"

"O.K.", she replied.

"Beth, why don't you tell me a little about yourself. You know, things like: what you do for a living; where you come from; where you went to school; how many people in your family, that kind of thing."

She seemed to think for a moment about the sort of information I was seeking and, then, began. "I'm Native American. The particular nation or tribe to which I belong will be meaningless to you since it is not a well-known heritage, even among many Native peoples.

"There aren't too many of our Nation who are left. We're kind of an endangered species. The Spanish, the settlers, the calvary, miners, epidemics, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, corporate interests, forced displacements, alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide have all taken their toll."

There was no undercurrent of hostility or bitterness in her tone or words. She was merely relating historical truths.

"My mother and father both have passed away. My father was beaten to death outside a bar by some white guys who hated Indians. My mother committed suicide about three or four years after my Dad died.

"Both my Mom and Dad had been taken from their families by the government and placed in boarding schools far from their families. They were both sexually and physically abused at those schools.

"They were indoctrinated by the teachers to be disgusted with their Native origins and to assimilate into the white way of thinking about, and doing, things. Their Native names were replaced with English ones."

I interrupted: "Is that how the name Idaho came about?"

"Yes", she confirmed. "I have a Native name, but it is hard for speakers of English to pronounce correctly and, so, to save everyone a lot of embarrassment, the name 'Beth Idaho', is used in most circumstances, except with my brothers".

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