The Road to Taos

Heading north on 84/285, while listening to singers belt out lamentations of love in Spanish on 89.1 “New Mexico Radio,” the flat roads out of Santa Fe broke into a carnival ride through the mountains that, for a “flat lander,” presented a navigational challenge nonexistent in the sunny state of Florida. The terrain was rough but the traveler was willing.  Rocks of every shape, size, and shade of brown, threatened those curious enough to venture down this two lane stretch of highway.  Cars with the Texas state flag waving proudly in the breeze were hell- bent on passing the driver in the green Buick Skylark who could only think to say, “Wow!,” as each bend in the road presented a new glimpse of a southwestern world that previously existed only in Ansel’s black and whites.  The sidewinding snake curved along the base of the mountain and demanded that the driver pay attention for fear of missing the turn and careening off into oblivion.  The test was worth it because the end of the journey led to the beginning of another.  It was the road to Taos.

 There were no signs or banners announcing the 14th Annual Taos PowWow.  The signs to the right of the main road pointed straight ahead to the reservation.  As this was the only indication of any kind of celebration, I proceeded due north.  Within two minutes, I became aware of the fact that I had actually driven onto the reservation itself, with no PowWow in sight.  The only house around was on the right and , as it had a sign hanging from a tree that read “Indian Shop-since 1950,” I felt certain that my asking for directions would not be a first time occurrence.  I opened the screen door and my ears were immediately bathed with soft music coming from a CD player to my left.  Looking around the shop I saw that there were stone carvings and pottery to the left and cases of jewelry to the front and right.  Every space, including the walls, was used to display instruments, dream catchers, belts, weapons, paintings, photographs, and newspaper clippings,  Like Dorothy in reverse, I realized that I had entered a world I had known before. 

“Hello.  Excuse me.  Is anybody here?,” I asked to no one in particular.  I heard nothing and turned to leave.”Can I help you, young lady?”  An elderly gentleman had come from a back room to greet me.  I told him that I was looking for the PowWow.  “You’re lost,” he said with a grin.  Not wanting  to appear rude, I asked about the store itself and decided to stay awhile and chat.  Five minutes into the conversation I introduced myself.  His name was Tony Reyna.  “That is my white man’s name.  My Indian name is Cheto, “Hunter’s Talk.”  He looked to be about 70 years old.  A friendly man, he was open to answering questions I had about the objects on display in the house-store.  I began to ask questions about specific words, “I’ve never driven around this part of the country, I noticed signs that said “pueblo” or “reservation.”  “Is there a difference?,” I asked.  “I don’t use that word.  I call them Indian lands,” he responded.  His back stiffened and the look on his face grew more serious.  Having never met a Native American, it was difficult to know which were the appropriate words to use.  As it happens, Tony Reyna was a former Taos Pueblo Governor.  I began to ask more questions about his life and he could see that I was genuinely interested so he began to give me a tour of the store.  He explained with obvious pride that there are 19 different groups of Pueblo people.  He belonged to Taos.  Pointing to a spot on a yellowing photograph, Tony showed were he was born and where he now lives.  He said I couldn’t go there.  From the back room he brought out a photograph of a younger Tony standing behind his parents.  The faces seemed quiet and did not reveal the spirit behind their eyes.  They were neither happy nor sad.  “My father.  He was a good man.  This music.  My mother used to sing this song to me in the kitchen when I as a little boy.  My nephew is playing that song on the flute on that CD right now.  Here is a book of pictures and poetry that he wrote called A Song for Mother Earth.” 

The shop was filled with Tony’s family history.  It was alive and real.  I couldn’t get enough.  I asked more questions and Tony looked at me and said, “You’re a happy little thing, aren’t you?” We both giggled and he took a postcard with his picture on it and signed it for me.  “You should go to the PowWow now.  You will learn many things.  You’ll have fun.” After purchasing some earrings for my nieces, I said good-bye with a wave of my hand.

……to be continued…..

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