license plates here are bright yellow; the logo is an ancient sunburst
symbol with four squiggly lines radiating in each direction, North,
South, East and West. Bright red letters spell out, "New Mexico, Land
of Enchantment." Indeed it is.
It didn't jump out and grab
me immediately, the enchantment. I head north out of the brown toned
Albuquerque desert basin on State Route 14, the Turquoise Trail, toward
Cerrillos and Santa Fe. The color changes gradually with each rise
in elevation, brown and red tones remain predominant but the green
tendency amplifies; another shade and hardly as lush as Columbia County,
but striking all the same. The landscape is dotted with sage, sparse
at first but as the altitude increases so does its abundance. I feel
awkward at first but quickly fall in love with sage, its beauty; low
brush clumps with exquisitely twisted woody trunks and long stalks
of wispy powder green leaves reaching skyward. When you crush a stalk
of velvety sage leaves in your hand you release a strong burst of
the plant's dusty aromatic scent. The sweet, smoky sage aroma is a
faint constant here, pervading the arid landscape air.
The town of Taos, New Mexico
sits on a high desert plateau at 7,000 feet; city limits signs don't
list population, they list elevation. The Taos Plaza is the town square
park with cottonwood trees and Chinese elms and benches, surrounded
on four sides by old adobe buildings. Most of the small business
district is adobe; in fact so is most of the town. The smooth, rounded
corners of these low structures bleed into the landscape. You can
pass an open field of sagebrush dotted with cottonwoods, piņions and
cedars and at first fail to notice the numerous adobe dwellings camouflaged
into the countryside.
The adobe home is ancient. In
the East we take pride in homes dating back to the 1700's and consider
the west a place of short history, perhaps a hundred fifty years of
settlement, but that's not quite true.
The Pueblo Indian Reservation
is just north of Taos. About a mile out of town, situated on the reservation,
is the Taos Pueblo. Within the low walls of the Pueblo are two large
adobe structures, each comprised of several individual buildings joined
together by common walls with no connecting doorways. Thirty-five
families currently reside within the Pueblo making it the oldest continually
inhabited community in the United States; you see these adobe structures
were built more than a thousand years ago. The inhabitants are the
Red Willow tribe of the Pueblo Indians. Their language is Tiwa, an
unwritten and unrecorded language that will remain so always, verbally
passed from one generation to another. The Red Willow Creek passes
through a spacious open plaza that separates the two large structures.
The creek flows from the nearby Sangre de Christo Mountains to the
East of Taos and is the tribe's source of drinking water. There
is no running water or electricity within the Pueblo. The people living
here are self contained, content.
Adobe is earth, straw and water
mixed together and poured into forms. The bricks are sun dried then
stacked and bonded together with the same mixture. Often the walls
are several feet thick, thus cool in summer, warm in winter, practical,
inexpensive, simple and efficient and more that ten centuries old.
The Spanish Conquistadors arrived
around 1615 and built a mission using the Indians as slave laborers.
In 1680 the Pueblo Indians revolted against this slavery and lived
peacefully until 1847, when another rebellion took place. The U.S.
Cavalry destroyed the small mission leaving only the bell tower standing.
The tribe converted the ruins into a cemetery, which is still in use
No coffins are used. The deceased
is wrapped and buried. In time, when the wooden cross marker rots
and topples, it is removed and eventually another individual is interred
in the same location.
Francine our raven-haired guide
has a quiet manner and a polished subtle sense of humor. When asked
by one of the tourists if they only ride horses and ever leave the
Pueblo, she responds, "Oh, we have cars. We go to the laundromat and
Wal-Mart just like everybody else."
During the two hours I explore
the Pueblo, one thought persistently haunts me, the thought that I've
been here before. Standing in the plaza taking the photograph seen
here, I'm hit with a long forgotten memory. In 5th grade, as a project,
I built the Taos Pueblo out of mud and sticks on a three-foot square
sheet of plywood with two other students. I read everything about
the Pueblo Indians a 5th grader could find, studied the Edward Curtis
photographs, even ground corn meal the way the books said they did.
A smile visits my face with this retrieved memory. The sound of rushing
creek water fills my ears, I scan the village, terracotta, sand-toned
adobe structures and a green pasture that stretches out behind the
Pueblo all the way up to the Sangre de Christo Mountains. Two lone
cumulous clouds glide across the clear azure sky. "Maybe that's why
I feel I've been here before," I mumble quietly to myself. Maybe it's
Another postcard, Enchantment
II, next time From The Road.
to Road Archive