Walking a delicate line – Kaya McLaren
By Kaya McLaren
At times during the writing process of The Road to Enchantment, I walked a very delicate line. I wanted to set this novel near the Jicarilla Apache Reservation in northern New Mexico, I lived and taught for three years. This sounds like a simple endeavor, but it wasn’t, because there are so many things in the landscape that do not belong to me — namely, Apache culture.♥
I’m not an expert on Jicarilla Apache culture. There are things I will never understand and I know that. I also know that Apache culture does not belong to me and I do not have any right to profit from it. Native Americans are justifiably protective of what is sacred and what is left. Decades ago, when I was an archaeologist and digging up artifacts that did not belong to my ancestors, all that did not belong to me was clearer. When writing this novel, I had to attempt to untangle the knot where the Apache culture and my own life story had come together, and I don’t truthfully know whether I succeeded.
The three years of my life that I spent there do belong to me — and they don’t just belong to me, but they became part of me. I have this idea that geography is who we are — or at least a huge part. Our environments ask different things of us and that shapes us — as individuals and collectively. Sometimes I entertain the idea that if I’ve spent three years on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation and one year in Mexico, maybe I am 3/47ths Apache and 1/47th Mexican, but I know it’s not that simple. In some ways, the years spent in these places had a much larger impact on me than other years. In other ways, due to being an outsider, the depth of my experiences in these places were limited and therefore, so my understanding.
I felt profoundly fortunate to see and experience a part of America that few ever do, to come to know and feel at home in that community. I wanted to share my very favorite things about that place with the world so that others might also see it in the very best light, and be more prepared to see my former students and my friends as individuals, to see their strengths, their gifts, their hearts — and perhaps most of all, to see the common ground of our most basic human experiences.
In addition to being the author of five novels, Kaya McLaren is an art teacher, a massage therapist, and an archaeologist. She lives in the orchard country on the edge of the mountains in North Central Washington State with her Mexican stray dog, where they enjoy playing outdoors.