The Taos Pueblo Revisited

The occasion was the visit of an old friend who asked for my advice on things to see in Taos. I’ve been wanting to visit the Taos Pueblo ever since I arrived last May, but the time just never felt right. My last visit there was 6 or 7 years ago and I arranged my trip from Idaho to coincide with a Corn Maiden ceremony in the month of May. I had been very touched by the experience and grateful the people of the Pueblo allowed visitors to attend their obviously sacred ceremonies. This first photo shows the active Catholic church which stands near the entrance.

Just past the church we started to loop around the main “square” with a turn to our left. Immediately I spotted a man in the distance obviously building an adobe oven (horno). At first he seemed merely tolerant of a couple of “tourists” slowing down his concentration with their interest. But after some exchanges he seemed more willing to engage in an honest way about himself and his techniques for working with the clay. He introduced himself as Martin Romero, a potter. Apparently you have to go slow with the process to give the thick “bricks” of clay time to solidify before adding layers as you work upward. This horno had been under construction already for a week. For a small exchange he let me take this, and several other photos.

One feature of the Taos Pueblo that particularly interests me is their water which flows directly from the Sangre de Christo mountains rising to the east over it. The water is uncontaminated, thus usable for drinking. In today’s world this is basically unheard of–to know (see) where your water comes from and be able to use it just as it comes from nature. The river flows through the middle of the Pueblo bisecting it into two halves separated also by a large open space which allows for large gatherings of people during festival times. The next such time is around Christmas. Red Willows grow along the sides of the stream and there is an association between the plant name and the word, Taos.

This may be my favorite photo of all. Perhaps it qualifies for the Wabi-Sabi award, although if I think about it in those terms, the entire Taos Pueblo expresses that aesthetic (see a former blog about Wabi-Sabi). In brief Wabi-Sabi speaks to our longing for the rustic, for that textured aspect of beauty that clearly shows the effects of time, its movement  toward the eventual death or dissolution of all forms. It is a reminder of our personal mortality and there is both a sadness in it and an acceptance of it as truth, thus an authentic quality to its beauty.

I grew up in Oklahoma and as a child learned first-hand that the native people of our country had been, for the most part, abused and demoralized. It was obvious to my child’s mind that they were in the way of our country’s so-called-progress and it would have been convenient if they had all perished one way or another. Sadly, my dad, who must have been insecure, enjoyed reading aloud clips in the newspaper about deaths and other mishaps that occurred on the nearby reservations ostensibly due to drink. Meanwhile our well-endowed library (built on oil money) had beautiful displays of native crafts and artifacts. So there was a split for me. Indians were great and wise artists at some time in their past, but the ones still alive in Oklahoma were mostly poor and dispensable.

I am here in Taos to experience the other side of the story, not a perfect story, but a better one. Already I see the ancestors of oppressed natives here producing great art and honoring their traditions knowing they might have the best relationship to Mother Earth of all of us.