April 21, 2019
Hubris knew that something special was going to happen as he watched me hitch the horse trailer to my old Chevy pick-up, fill the water tank in the trailer, load a partial bale of alfalfa hay into the storage bay at the front of the trailer, load my saddle, headstall, and parka into the tack bay, put a rope halter on him and lead him into the trailer. I sometimes got the feeling that he really wanted to ride in the pick-up cab with me but, as long as I was taking him along on an adventure, he was happy to be in the trailer. We had a several hour drive to get to the mountains just northeast of the Taos pueblo in which my “wise old man” (and good friend) had built an all-weather hut where he could go to meditate on significant issues in times of trouble. My friend had spent his entire adult life as a “medicine-man” for the Taos pueblo people but had officially retired from that responsibility years ago when his people started to talk about putting a gambling casino on the pueblo reservation. He and I saw eye-to-eye on what gambling would do to the people’s culture. Given what was going on in our society, I was sure he would be in his hut.
The drive north from Corrales through Santa Fe to Taos would be a lot more interesting if I had a geologist along for the trip instead of an empty passenger seat. Simply put, it’s a drive of about 125 miles straight north, going up two thousand feet in elevation (5,000’ to 7,000’) and the mountains on your right go up from just above 11,000’ (the Sandias) to just over 13,000’ (Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico). The views while going up the long and deep canyon along the Rio Grande, which is roaring downhill almost as fast as you are going up-hill, just before you reach the town of Taos (In the Northern Tewa language, Taos means “place of red willows”), is well worth the cost and effort in getting there. My friend, who I had nick-named “Owl Man”, had built his hut on pueblo property on a mountain just east of the Taos pueblo. I parked our rig in a little bare space with a few horse hitching posts at the foot of the mountain, opened the back door of the horse trailer, and backed Hubris out, looped his lead rope around a hitching post, filled a water bucket from the water tank in the trailer and set it next to a flake of hay—both of which I put right under his nose. I got a nice little whinny of thanks. I ‘stretched my legs’ and gave Hubris a little time to stretch his before saddling-up for the hour ride up the mountain on the very narrow trail to my friend’s hut.
It was early spring in the mountains so there weren’t many wild flowers blooming yet. The trees, which seemed to be planted in rocks, looked healthy with patches of the late winter snows that were still not melted away. As we climbed higher and higher, the views of the lush, greening Taos valley behind us with the Rio Grande (rift) gorge running through the center of it north to south like a giant, deep, slash wound were spectacular! It was mid-day and the sun was taking the chill out of the high mountain air when we reached Owl Man’s hut. Hubris gave a whinny of recognition when he saw the hut through the trees and my friend was on the hut stoop with his arms out-stretched in welcome as we rode up to his hitching post. I dismounted, wrapped the reins around the post top bar, and took a little package out of my saddle bag and gave Hubris a long rub on his rump as thanks for getting us up the mountain. I always brought an ounce of special “smoking tobacco” as a gift to Owl Man when I came to visit him. After our usual welcome hugs, my friend suggested we go inside to talk.
Pueblo people, especially their elders or spiritual leaders, don’t enjoy conversations that get right to the point. My friend and I, in a very soft, slow, and relaxed style, brought each other up to date on our medical conditions, family activities and the climate changes we were experiencing in our part of the state. Then, when we seemed to have completed our introductory soliloquies we paused while Owl Man filled his little hand carved, wood pipe with a pinch of the fresh, green tobacco I had given to him, lit a long match with his thumb nail, held it over the pipe bowl and took a long, slow pull of air through the pipe to light the tobacco, inhaled and held his breath. After many seconds of what seemed almost to be a religious ritual, he slowly swallowed then exhaled a long, soft stream of white smoke that filled the room with an interesting but complex, and pungent odor. I don’t smoke green (or even brown) tobacco but I was very familiar with this odor and always associated it with the counter-culture of the ‘60s and the writings of Bobbi Ram Dass (alias of Richard Alpert). My friend sat quietly for a few minutes, looking down at his hands which were in his lap. Then, he slowly lifted his head and, with a strong measure of sadness in his voice, said, “My old friend, you have come to me at a time of great troubles in our peoples, peoples of your world and mine. Let us spend some time together discussing these troubles.” I said in reply, “Wise old Owl Man, I am honored by your invitation and I have come to talk with you for this very same reason, but I beg your pardon, I must make a short visit to your little house in the trees. Enjoy your smoke. I’ll be back in a minute or two.”
(And we’ll pick up this story of my conversation with my friend, Owl Man, in the next episode of The Lone Curmudgeon Writes Again. So hold on, and I’ll start again next Sunday.)
Copyright, April 21, 2019, Louis J. Christen