Monday, February 27, 2017

The "High Road" to Taos

Note: My flash essay, "A Tip" was just published on The Burrows Review website  It's a totally different place and sentiment than what follows.

The High Road to Taos

“. . . the arrow went deep into the neck.”

In “The Way to Rainy Mountain,” N. Scott Momaday tells the story of his grandfather, Mammedaty, and a red horse. The book, originally published in 1976 by the University of New Mexico Press, is an interweaving of old story in the oral tradition of the Kiowa people, historical commentary, and Momaday’s personal remembrance. Nowadays, we would call it “mixed genre,” and each of the three voices has its own narrative within each chapter.  Maybe some of you remember it from back in the day, a time when the voices of Native Americans were beginning to be recognized in their own writing.

As Momaday tells it, “Little Red” was for many years in that corner of the Plains the fastest horse around; he never lost a race. “It was a small bay, nothing much to look at . . . White men and Indians alike came from far and near to match their best animals against it . . .” One day, when Mammedaty was trying to herd his horses, Little Red was acting up and wouldn’t go through the gate. He lost his patience and shot an arrow at the horse in anger and frustration. Instead, he missed him and the arrow went into the neck of the wrong horse: “. . . the arrow went deep into the neck.”

Years later, Momaday found Little Red’s bones in a box in Grandfather’s barn. Momaday comments: “I have often thought about that red horse. There have been times when I thought I understood how it was that a man might be moved to preserve the bones of a horse . . .” 

I’m traveling in New Mexico for a month and drove the “high road” through the mountains from Santa Fe to Taos in the northern part of the state where the Kiowa once roamed. I had been in Santa Fe for a three-day retreat at Upaya Zen Center for a program of “The Way of Haiku” with teachers Roshi Joan Halifax, Sensai Kaz Tanahashi, Charles Trumball, and Susan O’Leary. We read, talked, meditated in zazen, and wrote.

In Taos, I bought Momaday’s book at the op.cit bookstore, which has a wonderful selection of New Mexico-based books and local authors. When I read about the red horse, I thought of times I have shot the “wrong horse.” And then there are those times when I have preserved the bones of some memory and hid them in the back of the barn. Given my experiences of the past week, I wrote this in the tradition of the English-language haiku.

. . . "the arrow went deep
into the neck."    I have often
thought — that red horse, bones . . .


  1. Thank you for this journey into the mountains and reminding us of the story of the red horse. I will carry this question: when have I shot the wrong horse. Thank you.

  2. As always your words lead me to where you are. Absolutely gorgeous, I'm jealous, the wrong horse I suppose.