View of Rancho de Taos, Taos and Sangre de Christo Mountains.
Taos New Mexico
©Stephen McDonnell 2003
Time blended itself in my mind, like
marbleized paper, first you drip colors onto water, and then
you stir them around, comb them into something new and beautiful.
They put marble paper at the end and beginning pages of old books
there must be a name for them. End pages? Now my memories
are like that, as I ride north from Albuquerque with my son,
earlier it was with my friends and my mother. All these travels
confuse me; my son is the same age as I was back then. We are
going to Santa Fea and then mabye see the dances at the Pueblo,
but I feel I have stepped onto a Hollywood movie lot, because
the bare landscape I knew is now strewn with billboards
solar powered and signs for Indian bingo, outlet stores,
the detritus of American civilization. We stop at Camel rock,
now barb wired off, to walk over discarded condoms, cans and
clothing. In the gloaming it looks like the old rock, but the
darkness hides the graffiti.
We take the back road to Taos, they advertise that it is cell
phone free, and it is like I am 18 again, the same age as my
son. It is strange as if I am reborn. The air is pure, the sky
cobalt blue and my son and I are arguing about driving the way
I used to with my mom. Deja vu. Soon the magic of the place works
its charm and my son is amazed, hard to do in a teenage, and
maybe he sees what I saw, feels what I felt.
My son tells me the Pueblo is different than what I depicted.
He says looking around to both sides of the pueblo, "I didn't
think it would be so big." To me it has shrunk, but I have
traveled and aged, life makes things smaller. Maybe not the Grand
Canyon. There are dark clouds over the Sangro de Christo mountains;
blood of Christ Mountains. A flash of lightning, thunder and
then they arrive, the dancers. We have taken refuge from the
sun with a friendly Indian woman and her daughter. My father
is one of the Shamans, she tells us and my son looks impressed.
I have told him stories, but tried to not over awe him. What
if he is disappointed, what if he thinks I am exaggerating? The
same sentiments I had with my mother, who had come here when
she was young and then dragged me to this old place. I had felt
a strangeness, as if this was like Stone Hedge, some forces welled
up from the ground and imbued it with an otherness that was hard
to describe. Did my mother feel the power too? She told me she
was descendant from a Cherokee chief, but was it a lie?
Sun is gone, in the sudden coolness, the corn dancers move
around the plaza, people cannot take pictures; few talk, as this
is a holy occasion. We have been or will go to San Juan Pueblo
to see the Buffalo dancers the same day, but here in Taos, the
past and the future are entwined. Rain drops fall on the dry
dusty ground, and I smell the smell it makes; not like a green
rain, but a starched thirsty rain, the ground sucks it in and
then goes back to being dry. But underneath, the water goes on,
down to the aquifer, a hidden treasure. In the dark mountains
the Holy lake is hidden from white eyes as well, because some
things have to be hidden to be understood.
We stop after Taos at a drive-in restaurant to order in the car,
my son marveling at the low rider cars, marvels at the looks
and sounds of the Chicanos. This is my past, I want to tell him,
so unlike what you have experienced and he wants to know it.
He had surprised me, " I want to go with you to New Mexico,"
and my heart had jumped in my chest. I fear if he will find it
humdrum? He listens to music on his walkman in the plane, trying
not to be with me. You see the Kachina dolls in the airport store,
they represent real dancers I tell him with too much eagerness
embarrassing him, and when he saw real ones he understood. When
he met my old friends and teachers, again, a light shown in his
eyes. So this is where my father comes from these are the
people who formed him, taught him and loved him. Even when the
creep tries to manipulate me, I have the force to say no, and
confound him (now I recognize the pattern of narcissism, they
use you and then abuse you). Afterwards my son asks me why and
I explain how some people just want to use you and you have to
keep up your guard, but not always, because there are good people
out there. Only it is so hard to tell who is who.
My son and I follow an old man in the Hilton who has a big
bosomed lass on his arm they are attending a rich man's
seminar - and we laugh at them behind our hands. We go swimming
in the hotel pool, dry air - hot water, mixed memories floating
by. I am taken for someone else, important, then I correct him
and he walks away miffed; my son sees what I have been telling
him all along.
We can't go back to the past, a strange land some writer once
described it as, but we can return to the same places and they
have changed just as we have changed and will never be the same
again. Our children take our places and make their own mistakes
and lead their own lives and sometimes we can bridge that divide,
like the day at the Taos pueblo, when the past and present fused
for a few hours.