Taos Land, Light and Legend first place essay: El Río Pueblo
By Lyn-Li Torres Pugh
The Taos News, August 1, 2011

Editor's note: As part of the special section Land, Light and Legend: Be transformed in Taos, The Taos News held an essay contest. This essay won first place as rated in a blind judging.

During the Taos winter, sheets of ice as thick as adobe walls line the banks of the Río Pueblo de Taos. In places where there is only a foot of open space for water to flow through, El Río slithers like a snake, bending and twisting within the stronghold of the ice.

I walk to where the river splits in two – one leg to the south and the other heading due west. I hear voices up ahead. They are probably my neighbors. After all, I am walking on their property. I have just passed their "No Trespassing" sign and have squeezed my way along the tiny path between their fence and the water.

Since I live in the area, my neighbors are okay with me walking here. I am heading to a place just below their house, where ancient glyphs line a massive rock wall of dark brown and ochre. I go to this place on occasion in the same way that I go to the rocks on the property where I live.

There, the rocks flank the banks of the lindero that crosses a tiny tributary of the Río Secito and finally blends with the Acequia de Tres Hermanas. Only a few hundred feet from my house, a human figure is carved in the stone. It could be the image of a shaman aligning the powers of the universe through his crown and down into the earth, or it could be a woman giving birth. Standing in front of the figure, I ask questions about my life and about the land.

On this day, I ask questions to the glyphs on my neighbors' property too. There, however, I feel as if I am addressing an assembly. There are images of men riding horses, of crosses and spirals, of fish and little children. Standing before the rock wall, I feel as if I am in the midst of an entire community. I can almost hear them.

Today, I welcome their company. Coming back, I walk along the river's frosty bank and poke at the ice with an old stick. Near the Río Pueblo Bridge, I crouch down low, squatting to get a better look at a blue jay that has hopped onto a willow branch that extends out into the water.

Above me, lunchtime traffic goes by with honks and squealing tires. There was a time when these waterways were the lifeblood of the people. Today, the water is undrinkable, but not untouchable.

I scoop some of the icy liquid into my tender hands and let it trickle back down. It is this tiny stretch of water in the middle of the high desert that has transformed me the most. Putting my still-moist hands to my face, I breathe in. I am only a drop in that river.

Essay contest first place winner Lyn-Li Torres Pugh. Photo by Tina Larkin