Karla Sanders




Illustration for my Memoir of America series, #4 place portrait - Mesa Verde National Park

Illustration for my Memoir of America series, #4 place portrait - Mesa Verde National Park

Have you heard of the film and word Koyaanisqatsi? It’s a Hopi word meaning life out of balance, which is a curse that fell upon people who lived in the third world, long ago. As a chapter of the origin story goes, people began disrespecting each other and the earth, and among the chaos only a few humans remained uncorrupted. These were led by Spider Grandmother up a long reed way up into the sky until they reached the fourth world, our current world today.

I listened in Mesa Verde National Park as a park ranger interpreted this tale and pointed to the sipapu, a hole in the floor of a ceremonial room where the ancestors of the Anasazi crawled from. Around 1300 they vanished. A leading theory is that drought forced them to move on from the complex civilization they developed, and their descendants today include the Hopi who have kept their stories alive despite the crush of European oppression between the 18th and 20th centuries.


The story of the third world is quite relevant to our times today, it seems more prophecy than origin story. The raven is my own addition in the illustration, which represents prophecy and insight in some ancient traditions. The legacy of our ancestors is the world we hold in our collective hands today; what will we do with it?

The film Koyaanisqatsi is a mesmerizing tapestry of nature footage juxtaposed with scenes of society, from industry to shots of massive groups of people moving at high speeds. Together with the music of Philip Glass, the film documents our modern era in a way that words cannot. What strikes me is the jarring contrast between human and nature and the sense that humans cannot live in balance with our natural world, though we are made from it.

Certainly the Anasazi tried. They built structures in and out of the natural cliff faces, whereas we today build massive skyscrapers that jut from the earth like unwanted growths of a disease. For as much as I admire the human’s innovative spirit, our way of living is a plague on all other species. Instead we must use our creativity to think like nature. We need to understand what happens when species have too many babies, when we rely too much on one non-renewable resource, and when we alter the balance of ecosystems.

I’d like to believe I am standing in a pivotal time of history. From my parents’ generation onwards we are waking up from the illusion of the industrial revolution. Our information age is spreading the harsh reality even as other nations continue to industrialize in the massive footstep of America. We see the consequences of our ways and wish to share this awareness and initiate a new way, but the responsibility is overwhelming.

I know what many of my peers feel. What can I do as a single small person, against a tsunami wave of conflict? Most of us are just trying to keep our head above the waves of bills, demands and worries our way of life has created.

There is no way to wrap these thoughts up with a neat bow, but I must say that I am still hopeful. Because of art and all its diverse forms. Because of the genius in scientists and musicians alike. Because of the mastery behind Koyaanisqatsi the film, because of how many people love and cherish our natural world. Most of us don’t want to harm; we were born on a locomotive hurtling down tracks laid down by centuries of development and human-focused desires.

So with this knowledge we must band together, find the Spider Grandmothers and grow strength from numbers. If you’re reading this and agree, write to me and share your ideas. There are amazing projects out there that need our support. People are trying to develop better and more creative ways of building, producing and consuming. They don’t have a voice in the mainstream media, but they are there.

Don’t lose the faith, let’s let nature guide us.