de Onate

Language becomes concrete, stories mythical

Recognition: ah, so that's a butte. That gorgeous red and white sandstone formation? It's a butte. The red could be limestone, the lighter colour, volcanic tuff. The entire landscape was created by volcanic eruptions resulting in lava flows that temporarily dammed sections of the Colorado River as recently as a thousand years ago. Mesa? Those are the large, flat-topped forms that rise from the floor of the canyons and deserts. Here, a wash, there the Rio Grande, clear and ripply enough for a fly fisherman on an October afternoon, between Santa Fe and Taos. A new sense of the Rio Grande, which actually begins in Colorado and only becomes controversial as a border when it reaches Mexico. As I discovered the reality they described, words read and heard became concrete. The sandstone bluff in El Morro is actually a cuesta that recorded the presence of the Indians who lived on its top and inscribed petroglyphs. Explorers, conquistadors, soldiers and settlers recorded their presence when they stopped to scoop water out of the reed-fringed pond at the base of the cuesta. Juan de Oñate, infamous for having slaughtered many, then amputating the right foot of 80 Acoma men over the age of twenty-five and enslaving the rest of the population as he brutalized his way to becoming the first governor of Nueva Mexico; that Oñate carved on what is now called Inscription Rock that he "pasa por aqui" in 1605.
Inscription rock

Pueblo, cliff dwellers. Images abound in books, on the internet, but standing inside one of the larger caves, looking out, establishes a human link to the past. I imagine a woman gazing through this same circular opening. She has climbed the cottonwood ladder from the narrow valley to bring food. Murmur of male voices as they discuss plans for the defense of the pueblo. They would not even have called it that. Pueblo is a Spanish word that came into use following the conquests. Words those Anasazi people spoke come from a language that has never entered common useage.
Dwellings in the volcanic tuff at Bandolier

Not like ristra, which is the term for a string of bright red chiles.  Or viga, a log or beam that supports roofs in adobe houses.

Cuesta, butte, mesa all consist of strong cap rock protecting softer rock beneath. Some mesas, are supported by exquisite columnar jointing that formed as lava from ancient volcanoes cooled.

Literature of the southwest? Not as familiar --at least to me -- as that of the southeast, from where the languid sentences of authors like Faulkner have threaded into our literary consciousness. But I found that southwest authors such as Rudolpho Anaya, immediately immerse a reader in myth. In the case of Anaya, myths with Mexican origin -- such as that of Quetzalcoatl.

"The power of Quetzlcoatl is of the blending or merging of dichotomies," said Anaya. These polarities, of God and earth, of spirit and flesh cooled, cooled off and congealed into rocks. La piedra mala (a stone with evil properties) is the congealing of this force into a rock which the poet or the writer has to reinfuse with life and mythology for the sake of the people. Rocks contain our history; they are almost a way of going back to collective memory."

Among the spires and the complex planes of the high desert, rich stories imbue the rocks with meaning.