Today I was reminded how important speech and language skills are in passing along culture. School is not in session this week and for our Fall Break my husband and I are vacationing in New Mexico. This afternoon we visited the Taos Pueblo and met a man named Richard who lives there. He was born sixty-two years ago in a little room on an upper floor of a three story adobe above the shop where he was selling his silver necklaces. He told us he had spent his childhood in the pueblo and loved growing up there. I didn't see any crops nearby so I asked if they used to cultivate the land. “We had lots of crops when I was a kid,” he said and he told a story of riding a wagon filled high with grain which toppled over when they took a turn too sharply. His dad was furious and it took he and his brother a long, long time to reload the wagon. His face looked younger as he spoke and he laughed at the memory. I asked if his family and community had many stories they passed along through the generations and he shared one of his grandfather's – one that became his own. Sitting around a campfire one evening his grandfather solemnly spoke of meeting a giant up in the hills surrounding Taos. Robert hadn't believed it was real when he was a child but one day, as an adult, he met the giant himself, or one of its relatives. He was hunting alone in the hills and shot a deer. In the early hours of the morning, he heard a noise and smelled a powerful odor. He turned and saw the giant about 10 yards away. It made a horrible half-scream, half-growl and Richard froze, gun in hand. Paralyzed by fear he was unable to lift his rifle but he could speak. He called out to the giant and told it he meant no harm, had no desire to shoot it, and was only passing through the hills. The giant charged down the hill toward the deer that lay a short distance away. It didn't stop but merely reached down, lifted the deer, and flung it over its shoulder and continued running up and over the hill.
These stories added a dimension to our understanding of Taos. To the beauty of New Mexico was added a sense of the culture and history made personal. Now whenever I wear my handcrafted necklace, I'll think of the story given to us by Richard. I'll think of the hairy giant that roamed the hills above Taos. I'll also think of the stories that are passed down from one generation to the next and connect us to one another.