Enchantment

Part I


The 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 today.

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 something more.

Another postcard, Enchantment II, next time From The Road.

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