Nature, landscape, and animals are just as important to Kiowa history and culture as people. This shows the Kiowa veneration of the non-human world and suggests that the Kiowas did not consider humans, animals, and nature to be entirely distinct.
The stories that Momaday narrates include many instances of a blurred line between human and animal. In one story, a man turns into a water beast, and in another a boy becomes a bear. Spiders can be grandmothers and redbirds can be husbands and fathers to humans. Animals’ actions in Kiowa stories are often just as conscious as the actions of people—therefore, animals have as big a role in shaping Kiowa history and culture as humans do. Similarly, in Kiowa history, people and the landscape affect one another profoundly. Humans shape the landscape and nature (for example, by killing all the buffalo, or by clawing the sides of Devil’s Tower) and the landscape shapes humans in return (the Kiowas are carnivores and hunters as opposed to farmers because they come from a landscape filled with animals that they can hunt).
More than any other natural force, horses shaped Kiowa history and culture. Momaday is up front about the difficulty of Kiowa life before horses: hunting was arduous and travel was impossible. Horses rescued the Kiowas from the difficult landscape of the northern plains and “set their nomadic soul free.” Momaday suggests that it was horses that enabled Kiowas to find their destiny and dignity and to settle in their natural landscape of the southern plains. In other words, without the horse Momaday believes that the Kiowas would not have been able to fulfill their nature as a tribe. Because of this, horses were revered.
The landscape itself is also a central character of Rainy Mountain. Momaday’s poetic evocations of the landscape reflect the ways that the Kiowas venerated nature and defined themselves through place. When Momaday writes that “to look upon that landscape [makes you think that this] is where Creation was begun” or that “the landscape of the continental interior lay like memory in her blood” he is communicating that it is the landscape as much as anything else that has made the Kiowas who they are.
This focus on nature, landscape, and animals is part of the unconventionality of the history that Momaday is telling. In most western histories, humans are the central characters. They are distinct from nature, and they act upon the non-human world, not the other way around. The centrality of nature and animals is telling of the Kiowa relationship to the environment—the Kiowas see their history as inextricable from the history of the natural world, and, as such, their stories show Kiowa people to be blended with natural forces.
Nature, Landscape, and Animals ThemeTracker
Nature, Landscape, and Animals Quotes in The Way to Rainy Mountain
The buffalo was the animal representation of the sun, the essential and sacrificial victim of the Sun Dance. When the wild herds were destroyed, so too was the will of the Kiowa people; there was nothing to sustain them in spirit. But these are idle recollections, the mean and ordinary agonies of human history. The interim was a time of great adventure and nobility and fulfillment.
To look upon that landscape in the early morning, with the sun at your back, is to lose the sense of proportion. Your imagination comes to life, and this, you think, is where Creation was begun.
Although my grandmother lived out her long life in the shadow of Rainy Mountain, the immense landscape of the continental interior lay like memory in her blood.
There is a perfect freedom in the mountains, but it belongs to the eagle and the elk, the badger and the bear. The Kiowas reckoned their stature by the distance they could see, and they were bent and blind in the wilderness.
A hundred years ago the Comanche Ten Bears remarked upon the great number of horses which the Kiowas owned. “When we first knew you,” he said, “you had nothing but dogs and sleds.” It was so; the dog is primordial. Perhaps it was dreamed into being.
There was a great holiness all about in the room, as if an old person had died there or a child had been born.
The old men were the best arrowmakers, for they could bring time and patience to their craft. The young men—the fighters and hunters—were willing to pay a high price for arrows that were well made.
The Kiowa language is hard to understand, but, you know, the storm spirit understands it. This is how it was: Long ago the Kiowas decided to make a horse; they decided to make it out of clay, and so they began to shape the clay with their hands. Well, the horse began to be. But it was a terrible, terrible thing.
Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth, I believe. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience, to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder about it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of noon and all the colors of the dawn and dusk.
The falling stars seemed to imagine the sudden and violent disintegration of an old order.