The woman serves Tayo breakfast then busies herself carefully packing specific rocks and plants in muslin packages. Tayo thanks the woman and heads off on the trail. The drought and wind have warped the land so much that only salt bush can grow. Tayo turns his horse towards North Top, a mountain where Josiah always told a story of a hunter who found a mountain lion cub who, so long as the hunter would sing to it, chased butterflies.
The woman’s plants are another sort of ceremony that connects the woman to the land. Josiah’s story is associated with a place, showing how Native American stories connect them to the land as well. The story also explains how a hunter might escape an animal that might otherwise be dangerous, by treating it with kindness and respect rather than trying to harm it in order to preserve one’s own safety.
Most of North Top has been taken over by National Forest and logging companies. The white logging companies over hunt the land to feed their workers, and Tayo is sick at the lack of respect that white people show for this delicate environment. Tayo hopes to find his lost cattle as they graze along the southern fence line of the Texan loggers, knowing that these cattle instinctively head south to their first home in Mexico. The white man who built the fence, Floyd Lee, said it was too keep wolves out, but Tayo knows that it is simply an attempt to mark his territory.
The fact that the cattle are in the north proves they were stolen, as the cattle always head south to their homeland if given their own choice. Taking the cattle is another example of how white people in the novel take whatever they want with no regard for how that might affect other people. Likewise, white people like the loggers use up natural resources with no thought for the environment or the well-being of future generations. Instead of acknowledging the ways that a delicate ecosystem depends on everything working together in harmony, white people put up more fences and try to split the entire world into individual possessions.
As Tayo rounds another ridge, he sees his uncle’s cows in the distance. Tayo knows that the cows will always head south, so he rides to a southern point of the fence and hurriedly gets out pliers to make a hole in the fence for the cattle to escape through. Josiah had given the pliers to Tayo years ago, saying that you never know when a fence will get in your way. Before he can cut a hole, Tayo realizes that anyone might see him cut the fence in daylight and decides to wait for nightfall to herd the cattle.
Tayo symbolically breaks through the barriers that white people put on the world, welcoming many cultures instead of keeping each separate. Josiah gave him the tool to make the hole in the fence, just as Josiah’s relationship with Night Swan helped Tayo learn to cross the arbitrary boundaries that society puts between people. Still, Tayo’s caution is a reminder that the dominant white culture will react negatively to tearing down these “fences” between cultures.
Tayo rides along the fence until night falls and finds a spot next to a tree struck by lightning to make his hole in the fence. As Tayo cuts the wires, he wonders how his Uncle’s cattle ended up on Floyd Lee’s land. Tayo hesitates to call the cattle stolen, before realizing that he is buying into the lie that only brown people are thieves because white people always have money to buy what they want. Even white people suffer because of this lie, never seeing how they are tools that witchery uses to destroy the land. Tayo finishes cutting the hole in the fence and sets off to locate the cattle once again.
Racism against Native Americans (and all people of color) pervades everyone who lives in America, though Tayo has tried not to be a part of this damaging system. In order to break down a harmful hierarchy that places white people above all other people, it is necessary to recognize both that white people can be thieves and people of color may be honest and wealthy. The novel suggests that white people are so distracted by their own wealth that they do not see how their culture is actually empty in terms of true connection and empathy with other people. White people remain isolated by their fences while Tayo focuses on bringing those fences down.
As Tayo searches for the cattle, he realizes that he is completely within the present moment, not obsessing over his past or worrying over his future. This peace floods Tayo and he realizes that all the stories happen at once. As Tayo rides, he gets angry at the horse for stopping to graze, before remembering how Josiah had always taught him and Rocky that anger and violence accomplishes nothing.
Tayo’s epiphany about time highlights the way that stories work in the novel. Ceremony does not move smoothly through time, instead jumping forward and back as certain episodes in Tayo’s life or traditional stories comment on each other. The moral of these stories is always a moral that brings people in harmony with nature, rather than the anger that white culture has taught Tayo to feel against natural elements (like the horse) that do not bend to his will. That Tayo can see through his own anger is a sign that he is gradually bringing himself back to the old values.
Tayo lets the horse stop to drink water and is struck by a sudden bout of self-doubt. Tayo thinks that he should twist back together the wires that he cut and ride into the hills, forgetting about the cattle and Betonie’s crazy Indian superstition about a ceremony. Tayo thinks of the army doctors telling him that everything was superstition, from seeing Josiah among the Japanese to stopping the rain with a curse. Tayo is paralyzed by these thoughts and collapses into the pine needles under a tree.
In some senses, it is easier for Tayo to give in to white culture and believe the lies about useless Native American culture rather than spend so much energy fighting a powerful evil. White culture wants to convince Tayo that his Native heritage is crazy, because the less Tayo fights against white culture, the more power it will have. Tayo’s body gives up at these thoughts, showing that his physical health and mental health have a large effect on one another.
When Tayo wakes up, he sees a mountain lion walk through the clearing in front of him. Tayo calmly stares at the mountain lion, chanting a mountain lion song. The mountain lion gazes into Tayo’s eyes for an instant then disappears into the forest. Tayo dusts the mountain lion’s footprints with pollen, then mounts the horse once more and rides west looking for the cattle.
A mountain lion could have killed Tayo in his vulnerable state, but Tayo remains safe by following the old traditions. The mountain lion also seems to respect Tayo’s eyes, implicitly approving of cultural hybridity as a natural phenomenon. Tayo also gives respect to both the mountain lion and Pueblo rituals by marking the footprints with pollen, bringing him back into proper connection with nature.
Tayo finally catches up to the cattle again and starts to follow them as they head relentlessly southeast. Tayo stays far back so that the cattle will not spook or scatter, but pushes them gently towards the hole he made in the fence. Tayo slows his horse to give the animal a rest, then sees two armed men patrolling on horses in the distance. His horse takes off too fast and slips on the rough rock, throwing Tayo to the ground.
Tayo herds his cattle calmly, using the cattle’s own nature to get them where he wants them to go. This harmonious arrangement is far better for both Tayo and the cattle. However, the white men in the distance disrupt this balance and cause both Tayo and his horse harm. White culture again destroys the natural relationship and understanding between people and animals in the natural world.
Tayo wakes slowly, feeling as though he is waking in the Pacific again to a sun that is too bright. Tayo’s ribs hurt and he closes his eyes, ready to give his body more time to rest. A voice with a Texan accent breaks into Tayo’s thoughts, demanding to know why Tayo is trespassing. Tayo refuses to answer, hoping the patrolman will be so busy with him that they don’t notice the cattle slip through the hole in the fence over the next ridge.
Tayo is once again in the hands of violent white culture, as he was when he was a soldier in WWII, the “white man’s war.” Though Tayo is only retrieving property that belongs to him and his family, the white patrolmen see it as trespassing because they assume they own everything. Tayo hopes that this very arrogance about their natural dominance over the world will keep the patrolmen distracted enough that they lose the cattle, symbolically losing the chance to participate in the life-affirming cultural hybridity that the cattle represent.
A second patrolman rides up and tries to convince the Texan patrolman to go back to the truck so that they can help Tayo with his injuries. The Texan refuses, and forces Tayo to stand up and mount the Texan’s horse. Tayo manages to sit up, then vomits all over the side of the horse. Tayo hopes that chasing an Indian will prove to be too much trouble for the patrolmen this close to nightfall and they will let him go. The pain in Tayo’s head forces him to faint once more.
Now that he is back under the control of a white man, Tayo’s stomach is no longer able to function correctly, showing that being forced to follow the white man’s orders keeps Tayo from staying true to his Pueblo values and the traditional stories. The white man has all the power in this interaction, and chooses to be unkind to Tayo even though Tayo is clearly hurt, an example of how white culture at large takes advantage of Native Americans even as they have no sympathy for the struggles that Native Americans face.
When Tayo wakes again, he feels comforted by the solid land underneath his body. He feels as though he could sink into the earth and leave all barriers behind. Then he hears a truck door slam and the Texan talk about seeing fresh mountain lion tracks. The patrollers decide to pursue the mountain lion for its pelt instead of worrying about Tayo.
The natural world is still a comfort for Tayo, giving him strength. For the white patrolmen, the natural world is only a resource that they can exploit for profit. The white men do not respect the mountain lion, only wanting to kill it for its skin.
The next time Tayo wakes up, the patrollers are gone and there is a chill night breeze. Tayo can feel it is going to snow and covers himself with leaves to keep warm. Tayo thinks about how much he hates people like the patrollers who care nothing about the earth or its animals. He realizes that the white people only steal everything from the Indians because white people have nothing but emptiness inside them.
The land provides everything Tayo needs to stay safe and healthy, and Tayo is able to read the signs of nature in order to prepare for its cycles. This relationship of mutual care is fundamentally lacking from white culture as portrayed by the novel. White people in Ceremony subjugate other people because they do not know how to live with nature in this way.
Tayo gets up and walks southeast through the snow. He happily eats snow and thinks that the flakes will cover the mountain lion tracks and keep the mountain lion safe, but it will also hide the hole in the fence. Tayo eats piñon nuts and tries to find his way back to the woman’s house.
The snowstorm seems like nature’s response to the threat that the white patrolmen pose to Tayo and the mountain lion. While snow may seem like “bad” weather to the white patrolmen, Tayo sees that snow is necessary and can even be a blessing.
As he searches, he hears a man singing a Laguna hunting chant and sees a hunter across the next clearing. The hunter is dressed in traditional clothing with his hair long, and has a buck slung across his shoulders. Tayo tells the hunter that he is looking for cattle and the hunter tells Tayo to follow him to his house. In the hunter’s house, Tayo sees the woman he slept with just days before. They eat dinner together without speaking.
The hunter is a vision of Pueblo culture before the interference of white culture. Instead of being suspicious of Tayo as the white patrolmen were, the hunter welcomes Tayo to his house and gives him food. The relationship between the woman and the hunter is obviously close, but otherwise unclear at this point.
Tayo goes outside to help the woman shake snow off her trees so that the branches won’t break, and sees his horse in the woman’s pasture. Tayo watches the woman brush out her hair and feels oddly intimate with her. The woman laughs and teases Tayo about finding his horse and his cattle at her house. The cattle were herded into one of the woman’s paddocks after they ran down a steep gorge and were trapped by a cleverly hidden gate that locked like part of the canyon wall.
Tayo again cares for nature, acknowledging the responsibility that humans have to care for the land that in return gives them the resources for life. Tayo believes that the hunter is the woman’s husband, and feels that he has trespassed on that relationship by sleeping with the woman. Yet the woman is comfortable and wants to help Tayo, suggesting that the bond between the woman and the hunter is more complicated than Tayo sees. The woman and the hunter arrange their house and paddocks to work with nature rather than against nature the way Floyd Lee’s fence does.
The woman goes into the paddock to pet the cows, though Tayo is afraid of the large, half-wild animals. Tayo explains that his uncle wanted cows that would survive drought and the woman comments that these cows are tough indeed. She points out the scars on the cows’ legs from Texas roping – an inhumane practice where cowboys run at steers full speed trying to rope them down and call it “sport.”
The woman is completely comfortable with nature and treats the hybrid cows with respect, symbolically accepting the cultural hybridity that the cows represent. The white people who stole the cows used them only for their own amusement at great harm to the cows, showing how white culture is not a constructive environment for cultural hybridity or diversity.
Tayo and the woman go back to the house and Tayo readies his horse to leave. The woman assures Tayo that the cattle will be safe here until next spring. Tayo wants to tell the woman what he feels for her, but is afraid of both the man he thinks is her husband and the woman herself. Tayo sets off on the trail. When he turns back to wave goodbye, the woman is gone.
Tayo has accomplished his goal of finding the cattle, but he has not yet finished the ceremony that will bring him true healing. The cows still have to be brought back to Tayo’s ranch so that Tayo can also return home. Furthermore, Tayo still believes that he has gone against nature by sleeping with another man’s wife.