From its headwaters north of Crestone, Colorado south to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the northern Rio Grande region is becoming home to a distinctly southwestern Buddhism.

The Rio Grande in 1935. Courtesy of T. Harmon Parkhurst.
The Rio Grande in 1935. Courtesy of T. Harmon Parkhurst.

Drumbeats pierce the quiet of first light as fires appear at the top of a low mesa that hangs over the eastern edge of the pueblo of Jemez. The pink and yellow hues of the canyon are softened by the haze from the bonfires that line the roads winding between low adobe houses in the village. The people of the pueblo welcome Christmas morning as they have for as long as they have farmed corn along the river and hunted deer in the mountains.

From the smoke of one small fire comes a member of the Buffalo clan, his head covered in a hairy horned headdress, his bare chest smeared brown. Farther up the canyon, members of the Antelope clan, soft tails hanging from their belts, appear from the smoke of another fire.

The dancers gracefully descend from the hillside. They meet where the road enters the village and are showered with handfuls of dried corn, a sacrament delivered up from the land. Dancers and drummers face the eastern mesa, and Pueblo men sing an ancient prayer to welcome the rising sun.

The Pueblo people who were here first knew instinctively that spirit is tied to the land. Their rituals—annual, seasonal, and daily—invoke their surroundings. Mesas and mountains are places of worship.

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