Tributes to Frank

"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"

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Taos, New Mexico USA

 

 

                                                             

 

  Frank, Barbara and Joseph Gordon

                                     "The Westerner"

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’ fifteen acres. 

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. 

Stories.  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  

We gathered to hear him speak,

he who has, through the dust on his feet,

spoken to us of the earth

about other ways of knowing

about the spirit of the land,

the spirit within us

 

Up there where cloud shadows

are lifted from blue mesas by steep mountains,

up there where long pastures end in bright aspens,                                        

the Waters’ land is woven

into the fabric of fields and fences,

choke-cherries and rose hips,

                              

Up there, he spoke to us.

 

                                                    

 

 

Rejoice                      

 

  Tal Luther, Barbara and Frank, 1992

 

Tal Luther, Taos Friend

Frank 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 his writings.

Frank 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.

The twinkle in his eyes and his hearty chuckle mirrored his sense of humor and love of life.  He was a kind and gentle man.

During 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 of life.

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, we come

                                                to you today because you have

                                                tried so hard to explain our culture

                                                through your research.  You have

                                                made an effort for the Americans

                                                to appreciate us.  And we are here

                                                to thank you.  The Taos Pueblo

                                                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 here,

                                                Frank, and we are deeply grateful.

                                                You will be with us always.  Always.

                                                We love you, and we will be with

                                                you forever.

                                                      
 
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