Saturday, March 31, 2007

Taos Pueblo's Timeless Tradition

For more than 1,000 years, men from Taos Pueblo’s Red Willow tribe have run the Santa Cruz Foot Race in May and September, pitting those from the north side of the river against those from the south side. The race has no winners or losers. Rather, it is a religious ceremony and a kind of prayer for those who live on pueblo lands.

Runners congregate at either end of the race path. They wear multi-colored loincloths and ribbons wrap some of their braids and ponytails. Feathers adorn other jet-black flowing tresses. Wispy feathers cling to their skin, painted in geometric patterns of white, ash, and clay.

Pueblo women draped in brilliant fringed shawls stand tall, along second and third floor rooftops, in their white moccasin boots. They create a patchwork blanket of color against warm adobe, misty blue mountain peaks, and a cobalt sky. Sterling silver sparkles and turquoise blinks from handcrafted bracelets and necklaces.

Runners of all ages travel two-by-two. Bare feet slap the dusty path. Few men break a sweat in the chilly morning air. A steady gaze and single-minded focus etch their faces as chests heave, legs pump and hundreds of neighbors and visitors watch.

The women signal approval and encouragement with high-pitched trilling sounds that split the air – sounds as old as the race itself. Village elders flank the path, waving small leafy branches behind the passing runners, like gatekeepers at a horse race. One tiny participant hesitates to run through the noisy crowd, so a gray-haired village elder takes his hand and runs with him to the finish line.

Individual runners pass the enraptured crowd once, twice, three or four times before they stop. As the last runner finishes, participants from both teams gather for a celebratory procession through the pueblo.

An original, longer version of this piece entitled A Timeless Ceremony appeared in Potpourri, A Magazine of Literary Arts, Summer 2003, and won Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Journal Travel Contest.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Endless Night

Because my husband, Mark, and his coworkers sold enormous quantities of a product line, the wholesaler paid for all salespeople and their significant others to spend two nights in Las Vegas, at the new MGM Grand Hotel - plus airfare, ground transportation and meal costs. All we needed were suitcases and gambling money.

We arrived at the Grand in stifling heat, its vibrant blue glass forming angular outer walls. Graceful palms rustled and swayed in a slight breeze. We entered the hotel through the belly of a multi-story carved lion with enormous turquoise eyes.

Lights blinked at every turn. Insistent ‘ding-ding-dings’ rang as delighted gamblers eagerly cupped their hands below slot machines that regurgitated hundreds of tokens. Cheers rose and fell when blackjack players showed their lucky hands and craps shooters rolled winning dice. Cigarette smoke and clinking ice permeated every foot of the casino. And female gamblers still wore cocktail dresses from the previous night at 6 a.m.

With only two hours remaining in our whirlwind trip, Mark and I decided to try a slot machine renowned for high payouts. Our last few tokens rattled into the heart of the machine, he slowly pulled down on the golden handle, and we held our breaths. The first round of pictures stopped at a pair of cherries attached by their stems. Seconds later, we had another pair. Finally, the third cycle ended with a third pair of cherries.

As the dinging began I cupped my hands below the machine and Mark scrambled for a token bucket. We’d won back every bit of our cash, just in time for our airport departure.