Taos (Book Exerpt)
March 12, 2011
Motel De Fernando
Taos, New Mexico
First this was God’s Country, and then the Indians shared it. Later the Spaniards came and called it home. The people who settled here built their humble cabins and adobes in the valleys and canyons, along the river or near the water. They raised their crops and their families and they blended into the landscape. They lived almost as harmoniously with the land as the Indians who came before them. Even now they remain here and their crumbling dwellings are as much a part of the history of this place as the ramparts of the cliffs, beautiful in their history and making a statement that few may ever hear.
Sometime in the last fifty years this place was rediscovered and the influx has been ruinous. It didn’t start here, I had to drive through Santa Fe first, then battle my way through Espanola and past the Indian Casinos before I arrived. I found a brief respite as the river and mountains narrowed the passage where a few old adobes still sit and then rolled back into the roar of civilization. The spread of development is so broad that the valley is packed with commerce. I have to wonder where the beauty went as it is only preserved by the mountains that surround it as they are too steep and rocky to be built upon.
It is still a pleasure to be here. I love the drive up across the mountains and the high plains of New Mexico. It was a four and a half hour drive through Corona and Duran and the pinion juniper country before the highway broke over the top to the rolling grasslands. Further north it turned back into the trees and the mountains in Santa Fe County and then into the winding river and the Rio Grande Gorge which I followed to Taos. This is grand country here if not for all the people! I am taken aback by the masses and it seems they have almost ruined this place!
As the road leads into town there are ruins, the eyesores created by the final holdouts that still live along the highway. They are comprised of crumbling adobe houses, a travel trailer scrawled with graffiti and clusters of rusty cars and trucks. Ahh, but education brings wit to a people who are far from lacking in intelligence and humor and a hand painted sign says this is a “Historical Marker”. It should say hysterical instead for it expresses both interpretations of the word, it is funny yet maddening at the same time. The custom and culture of the valley has been mangled beyond repair and this place, as with the youth it has spawned, offers a stark reflection of the same.
It seems I have caught a glimpse of an evolutionary process. One catches glimpses of the dying culture as they gaze upon the wizened faces of the older people driving their aged trucks. I quickly note their sculpted high cheek bones, the dark hair and skin and the deep brown eyes, saddened by the years. The elders are still staunch Catholics and hold to their traditions, but you can see the strain in the younger people also. The men are slim and lean and the girls are beautiful but there is defiance in their eyes. Their rebellion makes them tense and angry and gone is the calm demeanor of their parents and grandparents. They are ready to fight but cannot pin down their enemies; they are outnumbered and have already been overwhelmed. Their only recourse is rebellion and they make a statement of it.
There appears to be no solution to this and I am saddened by it. These people, as the Indians before them, have been conquered. With the exception of a select few who have managed to shelter and educate their children to the old ways they have lost control of their destiny. Education and tradition are the keys but they are being lost in the battle against drugs and alcohol and the apathy of a damaged culture. If the children have something to grasp, if they can see beyond the challenge and not be allowed to feel poor in comparison to their wealthy neighbors and instead recognize the richness of their heritage they might stand a chance. Even if the old adobes that sit on their property seem archaic to them they are still theirs and they have a far greater value than the dollars they represent. The trouble is that as the land values increase the taxes will bleed them dry. The security of the Old Spanish Land Grants are a mixed blessing, it keeps them from selling their land but is a double edged sword. It preserves the family tradition while trapping them in the midst of the urban blight. I am not sure that even I could survive that!
If it were I there would be new stucco on the walls of the historic homes and the orchards and gardens would flourish. If there was room there would be horses and cows grazing the pastures. I would live as they have lived for one hundred years and I would find a way to capitalize on that. I would go to the Farmers Market and make sure everyone knew who I was and I would find a local vendor who would do the same. “This”, I would say, “Is Taos. Taste it and know it for what it was, not what it is!” Maybe it is almost too late for that, but there are still these beautiful old adobes along the river gorge and they could not touch me there. Nor could they touch my children! It is easy for me to say, I am a Gringa from New York and a daughter of immigrants…….