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Warroir, Never To Be Forgotten

What about the astonishing sunsets from the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains or the heart-stirring views from atop this Rocky Mountain sub-range? What about the historic and scenic Turquoise Trail, a 50 mile Highway 14 byway through the Sandia Mountains in route to Albuquerque from Santa Fe, linking ghost towns, abandoned mines and communities of artists and mystics: In towns like Madrid, there are the old mines and collectible jewelry finds; in Cerrillos, the former booming capital, the remnants of 21 saloons, five brothels, hotels and a newspaper office exist, just perfect for filming movies like Young Guns and Young Guns II; and in  San Marcos, a “time capsule” preserves history and, excavation activities and archaeological studies analyze the cultural connection between Native San Marcos Puebloans and the Spanish colonists. And, what about the Pueblos- their history, culture and current day circumstances in the New Mexican landscape? When my dad died in the summer of 2016, I thought of the allure of Santa Fe’s, natural aesthetic environs, cultural leadership and, American and Native history preservation and, deduced that it was the place befitting to reconcile his loss. You see, Dad was a warrior, never to be forgotten.


Along the route from the Santa Fe Airport to my downtown hotel, “the land of enchantment” gripped my emotions. Inquisitive, I engaged my taxi driver in conversation: Look at how the junipers and the piñons dot the mountainsides and desert land.  What else could grow here beside dry brush and cacti? How varied are the colors of the soil in shades of brown- chocolate, caramel, ecru, sand, vermillion and russet. Notice its consistency, here and right over there- sandy, loamy, silty, clay, and lots of colorful sedimentary rock. I received an in-depth lesson on the Chihuahua Desert, the Rio Grande, the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Cerro Micho, and the area’s highest point at 7,326 feet, Caja Del Rio Plateau and more.  Awesome, this driver, was really a guide, versed in the region’s geography and physical attributes! Try to tour a local farm or ranch where produce, like chilies, corn, squash, tomatoes, grapes, fruit trees and other traditional crops are grown or where cattle, horses, alpacas and goats are herded, he suggests. This discussion, stirred the memory of how much my dad loved landscaping, gardening and the land, in general- flatland, hills and mountains, the red clay of his modest Mississippi roots to the black dirt he hauled in annually for his tremendous gardening efforts.  Fortuitously, I recently came across one of his last seed lists. It read: “Corn, lima beans, squash, tomatoes, collards, mustards, spinach, radishes, peach tree and peppers- bell, hot bananas, jalapenos, chilies.”


Settled, I took the afternoon to get my bearings in the city called “a city different” due to its winsome, creative and “be yourself” atmosphere. An exploratory walk covered the Plaza, which is considered the epicenter of Santa Fe, with adobe-styled museums, restaurants, art galleries shops, hotels and the Tourism Visitors’ Center. With unmistakable presence, the Romanesque Cathedral of Francis of Assisi, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, beckoned and, immediately upon entry, I offered a prayer and lighted candle for Dad. Above the altar of the Sanctuary, was the San Damiano Crucifix, a replica of the cross in Assisi, Italy, where it is documented that “the Lord leaned down from the crucifix and said, ‘Francis, go and repair my house.’” The altar screen, however, was the most captivating, depicting St. Francis in the middle of the reredos, surrounded by the saints of the New World and, designed for the 100th anniversary of the cathedral in 1986.


Crosswise to the Plaza, the New Mexican Museum of Art, as the oldest art museum in New Mexico, aptly recorded and presented Mexican, Latino and Chicano artistic creativity through exhibitions, art education programs and lectures. “Great artists don’t just happen any more than writers, or singers, or other creators.  They have to be trained, and in the hard school of experience.” So, said Georgia O’Keefe, the 20th century modernist painter, whom Santa Fe commemorates just a few feet from the Plaza at the museum in her honor. In the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the mastery of her painted Southeastern landscapes, skyscrapers, and flowers dominate the collections.


Within this complete afternoon, I passed, twice, to appraise the handmade art, jewelry and other crafts of the Native artists, stationed under the Portal of the Palace of Governors, which is also designated as the New Mexican History Museum. Once inside, the Lowriders Exhibition, with its customized and souped-up muscle cars, showcased, among other vehicles, a “tricked out” silver and purple Impala and a black and silver, restored 1948 Chevrolet Flatline. Here in this Santa Fe car-show of bombs, hot rides, classics and Euros was evidence of the formidable Northern New Mexico car culture; the generational lowrider identity that exists within many families in the high desert region; and, the seriousness of the lowrider crafts, which embodied intensely skilled craftsmanship in mechanics, hydraulics, painting and upholstery.  Affected by all this, a memory of Dad’s head-turning, brand new ’69 gold, Oldsmobile Tornado, cruising around the neighborhood, flashed, making me smile. I could envision him in his vehicle, hugging a winding, back road in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains or blowing out the 600 New Mexican miles of Route 66, past the neon signs, retro motels, trading posts and diners. No smile at all.


Navajo Malowe Ktoney wanted to be a jeweler, then a painter, but ended up a prize-winning weaver, learning from his grandmother’s loom. Northern Arapaho/Seminole Carol Emarthle-Douglas uses 22 basket weaving techniques to portray native women as cultural transmitters. Hopi/Laguna Puebloan David Dalasohya transfers oral historical accounts of his people to canvas with airbrush techniques. Each member of the Cochiti Puebloan Romero family, headed by Southwestern Association for Indian Arts’ (SWAIA) Best in Show Winner, Diego, strives to perfect an art form of choice. Yet, their substantial recognitions have not matched those of their awarded, contemporary potter, Diego, whose pieces command a “five figure” price. In Santa Fe, art expression is about tradition, cultural pride, esteem and self-determination. That’s what makes it a uniquely celebrated “high” and international art location. The best potters, the best weavers, the best Native jewelry workmanship, and the best “indigenous artists’ perceptions and expressions of culture”- that’s powerful stuff.  In addition, whether on Museum Hill in the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of New Mexico, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Museum of International Folk Art; or, in any one of the many art galleries, featuring Western, Native American, and contemporary art, along the iconic and mile long Canyon Road, the central theme of heritage, identity and self-actualization remain consistent.

Dad.  These are the shared values that he strove to instill in students, through decades of energy, creation, direction and implementation of innovative programs. He was a builder of minds, character and careers.  Ask Mamon Powers, Jr., former student and President of Power & Sons Construction, whose company will lead the construction of Chicago’s Obama Center.


About 22 miles northwest of Santa Fe, is the Idlefonso Pueblo, which is one of more than twenty Pueblo communities throughout the state and, one of the pueblos (also Nambe, Tesuque, Picuris, Taos, Santa Clara, Pojoaque and Ohkay Owingeh) guided by the esteemed Eight Northern Indian Pueblo Council (ENIPC). Pueblo leadership, historically, appears to be gleaned from this tribe, which- as with other Pueblo tribes- had regular warfare, resisting combative Indian Tribes, like the Apaches, Utes, and Comanches.  However, interestingly, most contemporaries consider Puebloans as having been peaceful, farmers, hunters, weavers and pottery makers.


Remarkably, Medicine Man and Spiritual Leader Popé transformed himself into a “fierce and dynamic” warrior and arose from San Idlefonso as strategy chief, leader and warrior, executing the 1680 Pueblo Revolt against the Spaniards. Popé, thereafter, conceiving plans for reestablishment of Indian customs, values and integrity, designed a blueprint for ENIPC’s eventual vision:  “To promote wellness and build upon spiritual, emotional, physical and mental well-being in order to encourage leadership among our communities." His hail to leadership parallels Dad’s societal contributions as he promoted self-development, creativity and achievement; instilled self-esteem and self-respect in many inner city youths; and, fought, steadfastly against drugs, violence and gangs in the Gary schools. Both, Popé and Dad devoted themselves to the preservation of future generations through visionary approaches.


In the week long reset, much else was covered:  UNESCO Taos, Santa Clara, Pojoaque and Nambe Pueblos, where the simplicity of life hit home; Chimayo, the historic Spanish town, where Hispanic master weavers live and work; affluent Los Alamos, known for its research and science based community; Pojoaque Cultural Center and Nambe Trading Post, both frequented by tourists and residents, alike; New Mexican State Capitol building, known as “the Roundhouse,” and touted as the only round state capitol in the United States;  Puye Cliff Dwellings, incredible ancestral dwellings of the Santa Clara Puebloans, which are officially acknowledged as National Historical Landmarks; and, The Railyard, 50 miles of property luring contemporary artists and art enthusiasts and accommodating a farmers’ market, art galleries, the Meow Art Collective, shops and restaurants. Oh, yes, I cannot forget the thrill of crossing the famed Rio Grande!


Prominent Canyon Road Vaillancourt Gallery owner and painter, Sandy Vaillancourt, shared the address of one of her favorite local spots, “Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse.”  There on several mornings, I explored works of Santa Fe writers, playwrights, and the Santa Fe Writers’ Project:


  • Cormac McCarthy- Novelist, playwright and screenwriter. All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, Blood Meridian (ranked as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century by Harald Bloom). Plays (12), Bios (6), Novels (6) and books of poetry (21). McCarthy describes Santa Fe, “as a place for unconventional thinkers.”

  • Michael McGarrity- NY Times best-selling author, former Santa Fe deputy sheriff. Novels (12 in a series, featuring protagonist, Kevin Kerney, as fictional Santa Fe police chief).  McGarrity says, “Santa Fe feeds your soul.”

  • Paul Horgan- Pulitzer Prize Winner in History for Great River: The Rio Grande in North American History (1955) and Lamy of Santa Fe (1976).  Published books (400), University honorary degrees (19), Papal Knighthood from Pope Pius XII.

  • Santa Fe Writers’ Project (SFWP) - A resource for writers, dedicated to the craft of writing, not making a fortune.


Dad, who was a writer at heart, would have been a perfect fit for SFWP, having developed programs like the first federally funded Teacher Corps Program, numerous engaging workshops for students, position papers and essays.  He was a lover of literature, poetry and anything about words- vocabulary, “word wealth,” enunciation, articulation, pronunciation.


Santa Fe boasts notable opportunities for rejuvenation, relaxation, healing and detox, all enhanced by an abundant amount of sunshine, ancient hot springs, fresh mountain air and spas like, Ten Thousand Waves and Ojo Caliente’s natural geothermal pools. I didn’t think I needed the spas but, the slower pace spurred many recollections of my dad:  Land lover, like the Puebloans; writer/ intellectual (University of Chicago), similar to the SFWP partners; builder/ innovator/educator, in his own right; leader and fighter, like Popé. Warrior, I will never allow myself to forget who you were. Dad .

Oran McCune
Hattie Heard McCune
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