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“The nomadic Chemehuevi navigated wide expanses of this arid terrain with songs. The songs gave the names of places in geographical order, and the place names were descriptive, evocative, so that a person who’d never been to a place might recognize it from the song. Carobeth Laird commented, ‘Nowadays when a song is sung, it takes great leaps from one locality to another, because there is no one who remembers the route in its entirety.’ ‘How does that song go?’ meant ‘What is the route it travels?’

Men inherited songs from their father or grandfather, and the song gave them hunting rights to the terrain it described. The Salt Song describes the route of a flock made up of every sort of land bird in the region, and it ‘travels all night, arriving at Las Vegas about midnight, at Parker towards morning and back home to the place of origin by sunrise. If the night on which it is sung is very short, the Salt Song may be shortened so that it will not outlast the night.’ The Mojave people just to the south had a turtle song that also lasted the length of a night or several nights.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “One-Story House,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost


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