For thousands of years his people built the drums of legends
Drums of cottonwood and elkhide
Clear, strong voices that sang out to the spirit
In the most sacred of their ceremonies.
He, like his ancestors, is a drum-builder.
Born of the Cochiti pueblo,
One of three remaining drum-building elders.
Building drums in the Old way.
A cane helps him walk and stand.
He expects that soon he will lack the strength to build more drums.
He said so without remorse and welcomed us into his home.
There we exchanged culture and stories for hours.
His wife showed us pictures of their children and grandchildren.
They talked of powwows and crafts and tribes.
They make us laugh warning us about crafts
made by "Korean tribes."
He handed me his latest drum and talked about drum-building.
How the cottonwood must sit outdoors for a year before becoming a drum.
Those people at Taos rush theirs using green wood...
which will shift under the pressure of the elkhide...
and eventually crack and split.
He builds his drums the Old way.
He offered me a beater, which I refused.
My hands had been exploring the feel of this drum.
I began tapping out a beat with my fingers, bouncing them off the drumhead
Weaving contrasting tones from different parts of the head.
He had never heard sounds like this from one of his drums.
Even the rhythm intrigued him.
"Is that African?" he asked.
I was tempted to answer, "Acadian Funk."
He was surprised and fascinated by the concept of community drum circles.
He couldn't imagine all those diverse people drumming together.
In his world, a drum is a chalice at a mass.
In mine, it is a shared goblet at a crowded table.
And he "gets it."
He saw the wisdom and the value of it
and thought it a wonderful mission
to bring people together.
And I imagined... "Different Drummers: Southwest."
After handshakes and hugs, we left the home of Gabe and Katy.
With a gift for being a guest in their home.
He made us promise to call him when we got back to Maine
so he'd know we got home safely.
And I kept that promise.
Then I learned to build Cochiti beaters
To honor my adopted Cochiti grandfather
So that my new drums could sing
In the Old way.
© Rick Cormier, www.DifferentDrummersDrumCircles.com