Christmas Day dawned overcast. I looked up at the mountains and predicted snow. We drove up the scenic Rio Grande Canyon to Taos. The backseat fell asleep. As usual.
Before heading to the Pueblo for the dance, we took a detour to a bridge over the Rio Grande. The rest of the party walked across it and took photos of the 400 hundred foot gorge.
The Pueblo was performing the Deer Dance. They do not allow photographs of it. The walks around the Pueblo had been shoveled. Some people used the mounds of snow to gain a better vantage point for the dance. Many of the residents stood on the roofs of the lower units and on porches of the second story to watch.
The Deer Dance is performed by many tribes throughout North America. Each group has its own variation, but generally, the dance is meant to honor the deer and to bring good luck in the hunt for the coming year.
At Taos Pueblo, the “Clowns” built a very smoky fire. I saw them throwing branches of evergreens on it. Smoke in many cultures is purifying.
The Clowns have several roles in the dance. I heard a parent warning a child that if she didn’t behave, the Clowns would take her away. A woman refused to come out of the restroom because she was afraid of the Clowns. I know that they have some function in “policing” the behavior of the tribe, but it is more one of upholding social mores than in punishing miscreants. Unless you count being ridiculed as punishment.
Two lines of women, dressed in their traditional off-one shoulder costume danced into the plaza following a drummer. Did I mention that it was snowing? They looked cold. The costumes were of many different solid colors with bands of embroidery at the hem and top. They were carrying a sprig of evergreens, a rattle, and over one arm, a colorful blanket. They danced in an oval and then the two halves danced up the center, following two women dressed in white. The women formed a circle around the dance floor. They wrapped up in their blankets, but kept their rhythm.
The Clowns escorted the deer dancers into the circle. The clown’s faces were painted white with black patterns around their eyes. They wore little on their torsos, but a cloth wrapped partially around them. Their hair was tied back with corn husks, and they had what looked like hawk wings on each side of their head and down their arms.
All the dancers wore warm-looking leggings and thick boots.
The Deer Dancers wore the heads of deer or buffalo on their heads with the rest of the skin over their shoulders and down the back. Their torsos were awrapped over the shoulder and around the waist. They carried two sticks that they used to walk like an animal. The deer were lead by two older men wearing white antlers whose torsos were painted white. They looked cold.
Men of the tribe formed a line across the entrance to the dance floor. Tribal policemen were there to keep the crowd of visitors away from this walk way. My impression was that they were there to keep the visitors under control; the residents, under the sway of the Clowns, knew how to behave. The Deer Dancers moved in a group around the dance floor. The Clowns would capture one of them and try to force their way through the men at the entrance. The men at the entrance tried to keep them in. If the Clowns succeeded in breaking through, they would carry their prey away, presumably to a warm place to wait for the next dance. If they couldn’t break through, the dancer returned to the dance.
One of the Clowns was a very witty fellow, judging from the laughter that greeted his comments. I don’t speak the language, so I don’t know what was said. There was a lot of foolery between the Clowns and the spectators closest to the dance floor.
I was told that the different dance beats were meant to imitate the gaits of various prey animals.
As we started down the canyon, the backseat passengers began to bicker. I suggested that they go to sleep. “Please.”
Here and there, the canyon floor widened. Small towns and farms filled these flats. In the cold, winter dusk, they looked cold. I thought how much warmer the occasional apartment house looked. The Pueblos were built to conserve heat. They were a much more communal society than the Europeans who invaded them.
We had dinner at Denney’s. :-(
This has been the most difficult blog to write of the whole trip. The one describing the day following this one was much easier, and indeed, done sooner. Standing in the snow, watching a very old dance that has the force of a religious observance was an awesome experience. I have tried to get in as much detail as I can, but the words are inadequate.
My daughter and grandson decided to try snowboarding at Ski Santa Fe. We drove them up to the ski lift, stopping to rent equipment. A 19 mile drive sounds like nothing, but over icy roads, it was a trial. It snowed all the way. For the first time, the backseat didn’t fall asleep in the car. I guess I should have been more apprehensive, but I have complete faith in my son’s driving.
He and I adjourned to a couple of nice, warm museums. After a good lunch in the Museum Hill Café, we visited the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art. Both had fantastic exhibits. The Folk Art Museum had a display of doll houses arranged as though it was a block in a town, complete with painted yards, streets, walkways, people, (dolls) and toys -- horses, wagons, etc. An imaginative exhibit. The houses were all different and all lovingly crafted. It looked like a turn of the 20th century scene.
I could have spent the entire time we had in that museum, but the Indian Arts Museum had an equally enthralling exhibit, Here, Now & Always about the cultures of the Native Americans of the Southwest. As a native Oklahoman, I’ve always been more interested in the Southeastern tribes, but on this trip, I’ve become interested in the Pueblo Culture. When I was a child, the story told when I visited Mesa Verde was that no one knew where the residents went and why they left. It is now pretty sure that they merely migrated to the various Pueblos and Pueblo ruins in the southwest. We still don’t know why.
It snowed the entire time we were at the museums. All too soon we had to leave to pick up the rest of our party. It was a long, cold, snowy drive up the mountain. We were fortunate to follow a snowplow. The road up the mountain was icy. There were quite a few cars coming down. One car had driven into the snow at the verge of the road. We didn’t quite make it up to the pick up point. My son decided that it would be better to walk the rest of the way than to take a chance on getting stuck.
I could tell that they had fun, but we still had a cold snowy drive down the mountain. We were fortunate enough to get behind another snow plow. Or maybe it was the same one. No tracks could be seen on the other side of the road, the one we had just driven up. The snow had covered them.
By the time we got down we were ready to call it a night. We ate an interesting dinner at the Flying Tortilla adjacent to our motel and turned in.
Following a snow plow down from Ski Santa Fe