There was a sign I noticed propped up outside the open door.  It was a white sign reflecting the late morning sun with black, hand painted letters.  It read, “Real Indian Stuff For Sale Here.”  I couldn’t resist.  I went inside.

When I spotted the sign I was standing in the middle of the open, dirt plaza at the Taos Pueblo, three miles north of the town of Taos in the high desert of New Mexico.  Taos PuebloI was standing there contemplating the large 1000 year old, 3 story adobe structure.  The brightly painted turquoise doors delighted me.  The adobe stands out.  It is at the same time in contrast and in-sync with the green beauty of the Sangre de Christo Mountains in the background; the occasional passing cloud painting dark green patches across portions of the mountainside, magnifying the 3-D effect. 

Behind me the Rio del Pueblo rushes by.  After ten centuries this stream continues to be the water supply to the Pueblo’s thirty-five families.  The winter’s heavy snowfall, still evident on the high peak rising above the Pueblo this first week of June, has swollen the small stream to the edges of its banks. The river banks had been fortified with additional red earthen mounds and in certain places filled in with sand bags; supplementary preparedness against possible flooding. The rushing water spoke with a soothing voice, about an octave lower than the whispering of wind through the cottonwoods.  The cottonwoods profuse white cotton fluff floats through the air and nestles itself in the corners of each building.

I find it odd as I write this, that I recall few names of the people I talked with at the Taos Pueblo that day.  My conversations were not conducted as a journalist digging for a story, but rather as one human being simply conversing with another.  It was the connection that took priority in my heart that day.

Around the plaza in ground level sections of the buildings are small simple shops.  It is the way the families who live here earn their living. The first shop I ventured into was run by a Tewa woman with a happy open face, I’ll call her Ester. She was outside talking with a friend or a cousin perhaps as I went in.  Cell phone reception, you see, is not good inside the thick adobe walls.  These ancient walls keep out the cold, the heat and cell phone signals, a blessing some would say.

One room of her shop contained a large tribal drum, standing on its side, with the skin perpendicular to the floor, it was better than six feet high.  A sign warned that it was OK to tap the drum to hear its sound, but caution had to be exercised because if it fell on you would surely cause serious injury. I gave it the lightest tap with my index finger knuckle, the sound was a deep baritone rumble of delightful thunder.  

After browsing I purchased a CD of Native American flute music.  Ester and I chatted during the sale’s transaction.  I expressed my desire to attend a Christmas Eve celebration at the Pueblo.  Her face lit up.  She pointed to a painting on the wall, “That’s just what it looks like.  There are large bonfires around the plaza; the men compete now to see who can build the largest.  Pillars of smoke rise high into the night sky, just like in the painting.” She again points to the deep orange and red hued painting.  Her eyes glow as if she were staring into the fires at that moment. “There is a Mass at 4:00 O’clock, so come early or you’ll have to park way down the road.”  Mission at Taos Pueblo

Ester tells me she was born and raised in the Pueblo, her family has lived there for many generations. “I went away to college, wanted something different, new.  But I came back to visit and I realized I had to stay.  My family is here.  Nearly everyday there is a birthday or anniversary or some reason for a small celebration of life.”  She smiles at the thought images behind her eyes, “Family and friends and a place that holds this beauty, what is there in life that is any better?” Her smile is wide and honest.

Now I smile, “Nothing,” I say.  “You are very fortunate.”

The homes in the Taos Pueblo have been passed down generation after generation for a thousand years.  There is pride and simple strength in their deeply rooted assurance in family commitment.

At the center base of the main building is the shop of a woman I’ll call Bread Woman.  She is easily in her mid-eighties, a small woman, who sits on an old chair near the door of her small white room.  Every day she rises early and bakes small loaves of fresh bread and pies.  She is proud that 17 years ago New Mexico magazine did a story on her.  She has it posted on the wall for all to see. “They called me the best bread maker around,” she beams.  I buy two pieces of the thin, golden crusted peach pie.  She opens her small worn metal cash box and one bill at a time she counts out the change. “Be sure to go next door, my grandson it there, he makes the best fry bread in the Pueblo.”

“Your grandmother told us we had to try some of your fry bread,” I say as I greet the man in the next stall.

He smiles warmly, “Yes, my grandmother is my biggest supporter.”

As we wait for our freshly prepared fry bread, a young man comes in to pick up a bowl of chili he had ordered earlier for his mother.  “How much?” he asks when handed the steaming bowl.

“Oh, I don’t know,” the owner’s soft voice replies. “Bring me a cookie or something, I guess.”  There is an ease at the heart of these people that is enviable and endearing.

Yellow Hyena-like dog sleepingI take the fry bread topped with powered sugar and sit on a log bench near the river, my backs to the river so as to watch the Pueblo’s activity.  I must explain here there are no leash laws in Taos; dogs are allowed to run free here, just as we were all intended to be.  I often refer to Taos as the ‘Land of the Three-Legged Dog.’  There is a price to freedom, especially in an automotive world. But that is not so here at the Pueblo where things are slow and contained. 

A yellow hyena-like dog with faint tiger stripes comes by looking for a handout. He is wary, nervous and a moment too late; I’ve just consumed the last bite of the fry bread.  Bread Woman was right, it was delicious.  I point to a small piece that has fallen to the ground in front of me, but he is distrusting, becomes skittish and runs off.

Just as I pop the last morsel of tasty peach pie in my mouth, another dog stops by.  He is a long haired black dog, part chow.  He stands there watching me. “All gone pal, but you can lick my fingers if you like.”  I hold out my hand, open.  He sniffs pauses then licks the sweet remaining bits from my finger tips. He turns his black eyes to me.  I brush over his forehead and scratch behind his ears. He remains still, at ease just standing there, then after several minutes, he looks at me again, kicks his left rear leg under his belly and sits at my feet.

For the next ten minutes we sit together, just watching the unhurried activity of the plaza.  I catch myself feeling compelled to say or do something, the way people feel obligated to fill in the silences in conversation instead of just being. I fought the urge, settled further into the moment, just watched and listened.

Two girls, one on a bicycle and in possession of pure innocence, the other on foot dancing along beside her, pass by laughing playfully.

Read Page 2