"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"
Taos, New Mexico USA
by Joseph Gordon, Professor Emeritus, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado
The last time a group of
teachers and I visited Frank Waters, he was gaunt and frail.
I am grateful that I have this final memory of Frank, sitting in his
house near Taos with his wife Barbara beside him.
So much of his long full life and writing were compressed into that scene
-- the Sangre de Cristo Mountains rising behind him and the meadows of Taos
Pueblo reaching out before him.
Frank had been resting when we
arrived; and as he slowly navigated the distance from his bedroom to the living
room where we waited, Barbara introduced us to some of the many artifacts of
Frank’s life in the room: bultos, kachinas, weavings, pictures, paintings,
and, of course, books. She also
told us about the Frank Waters Foundation, which is meant to encourage creative
persons by allowing them to live and work in quarters provided on the Waters’
As Frank entered the room, we
all rose. I think he was surprised.
He stopped and smiled. Frank
was a tall man, and he had a long neck that made him seem even more lofty.
Gradually he settled in his chair. Just
above where he sat hung Nicolai Fechin’s striking portrait of him.
We all sensed his pain from a deteriorating hip.
He adjusted himself, stretched his neck to its full extent, cocked his
head to better hear, and smiling from ear to ear, said, “Well, I made it.” You could feel the tension dissolve in our laughter.
For me there was something Homeric about Frank.
Not that he ever assumed an Olympian posture; rather he was always very
down to earth and friendly. I think
it was his years and the way he possessed them.
I had known him for thirty years, and he was over sixty when I met him.
For me a legendary past was a
part of Frank’s presence; and in his wake strode the shadowy people of his
memory, people that he’d brought to life -- historical and imaginary
characters -- who are now a part of his West: Billy the Kid, Martiniano,
Winfield Scott Stratton, Maria del Valle, Arthur Manby, Helen Chalmers, Mabel
Dodge Luhan, Joseph Rogier, D.H. Lawrence, and so many others.
For Frank these were not just ghosts from another time, but living
standards by which to judge present values, examples of heroes and villains to
use as models in plotting our future.
Frank was a westerner, and in
addition to his sense of past was his sense of place --the West.
He often described himself as a mountain man.
Here, as elsewhere in his writing, he was ahead of his time.
For him the vast western landscape is not something to be admired and
forgotten, as a tourist might, nor is it just background or atmosphere for his
characters. Frank believed that the
land was alive, the defining principle of his life and his character’ worlds.
In Mountain Dialogues he
says of the land: “Deep below the surface one can hear its slow pulse, feel
its vibrant rhythm. The great
breathing mountains expand and contract. The
vast sage desert undulates with almost imperceptible tides like the oceans.
From the very beginning, throughout all its cataclysmic up thrusts and
submergences, the planet Earth seems to have maintained an ordered rhythm.”
It was Frank’s hope, his
dream really, that before it is too late, we will struggle to a higher
consciousness of ourselves and our relation to this world.
If his dream is ever realized, Frank’s work will be an important
milepost on our journey; and future generations of readers will understand him
for what he was -- a visionary.
More than anything else, Frank was a teller of stories.
Mostly his stories are about the American West, but their message has
meaning for all people who cherish their own realized place.
“Thus have I often wondered how I happened to choose this slope of the
Sangre de Cristo Mountains for my home,” Frank once wrote. “But the first time I saw it on a walk up into the
mountains, something about it claimed me.”
The first time I met Frank was in his home at Arroyo Seco and my last memory of him will be there, too. “Here I stand,” he wrote, “sniffing the early morning breeze and spying out the vast landscape like an old coyote, as if to assure myself I am in the center flow of its invisible, magnetic currents. To the sun, and to the two oppositely polarized peaks, El Cuchillo and Taos Sacred Mountain, I offer my morning prayers. Then letting the bright warming rays of the sun engulf me, I give myself up to a thoughtless silence.”
from The Man Who Killed the Deer
THE SPIRIT OF FRANK WATERS
by Gene Berry
gathered to hear him speak,
who has, through the dust on his feet,
to us of the earth
about other ways of knowing
the spirit of the land,
spirit within us
Up there where cloud shadows
from blue mesas by steep mountains,
where long pastures end in bright aspens,
the Waters’ land is woven
fabric of fields and fences,
and rose hips,
Up there, he spoke to us.
Tal Luther, Taos Friend
Waters’ soul may have returned to the central heart, the source of all life;
yet his spirit will live forever in the hearts and minds of all of us who knew
him in person, and with those in the future who will come to know him through
had so many qualities that endeared him to us.
He was kind, loving, thoughtful, and intensely loyal to his friends.
His mind was keen and inquisitive, delving into ideas and by paths which
were foreign to our usual areas of experience.
He rejected the materialism of this age and the reliance of Western
civilization almost exclusively on deductive reasoning.
He relied a great deal on intuition.
In a sense, his thought became a blending of the best that Eastern and
Western civilizations offer. His
intellectual curiosity never deserted him.
twinkle in his eyes and his hearty chuckle mirrored his sense of humor and love
of life. He was a kind and gentle
his long productive life, Frank lived through two cataclysmic world wars, the
worst economic depression the world has known, the holocaust, the ethnic wars of
recent years, the Cold War, the death of civility and respect for others, the
weakening of traditional values and of authority, the birth of the atomic age.
Yet he retained what I believe was one of his greatest qualities: his
eternal optimism, an optimism that would do credit to a youth on the threshold
Frank’s mortal life has ceased. Our lives have been enriched beyond measure by having known him. Let us rejoice that his spirit will live on to enrich other lives for as long as printers’ ink and paper survive to bring his words to future generations.
from The Man Who Killed the Deer, Chapter V
With you Forever
by John Rainer, Taos Indian Elder
The historical hurt of the past is
still in our hearts. Frank,
to you today because you have
tried so hard to explain our culture
through your research. You
made an effort for the Americans
to appreciate us. And we are
to thank you. The Taos
members are deeply thankful for all
the effort you have made to have
the Americans understand us. We
are thankful for your pen and the
books you have written on the
Indians in hopes there will be an
understanding, not only of Pueblo
Indians, but the Indians of America,
and all humanity. You are
Frank, and we are deeply grateful.
You will be with us always. Always.
We love you, and we will be with
To return to a specific page of Tributes, click on a page number below.