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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The house made of dawn is made of "pollen and rain." The hills are multicolored and horses of several colors are grazing on the plain. Abel is running. At first he runs hard and breathless, but then he begins to run easily. He is far enough out that he cannot see the city any longer. It is dawn and the road takes him to clusters of juniper and mesquite trees. The sun goes behind a cloud and then comes out again. Abel is naked to the waist and his arms and shoulders have been marked with burnt wood and ashes. It rains. It is winter time. He becomes small in the landscape and looks as if he’s standing still.
The prologue has a strong tone of reverence for the land. Abel seems to be someone who has been away from the land for a long time and is returning. His running is represented as a sacred act of marriage or reunion with the land.
BOOK 1: The Long Hair: Watatowa Canon de San Diego, 1945
CHAPTER 1: July 20
The landscape is made up of a river valley with scattered hills and fields. The land is worked by poor people, who create small and irregular plots for their fields and who harvest their fields by the light of the moon. They see the harvest as a gift from God.
It is hot now at the end of July. An old man named Francisco drives a wagon led by a team of mares along the river. He stops and gets down to check a trap he has set for a bird. He’s disappointed that it caught the wrong kind of bird. He wants a mountain bluebird so he can make a prayer plume. He disentangles the bird and lets its body float down the river. Then he re-ties the trap with a larger loop to avoid the same mistake in the next trapped bird.
He gets back into the wagon and drives toward San Ysidro. He sings to himself of his grandson, Abelito, who is coming very late. As he drives along, he remembers a race he ran when he was a young man. It was run along the same river road. He had rubbed himself with soot and ran at dawn. He had overtaken Mariano, who had a reputation for being the best of the long-race runners. Years after that race, he had drawn a picture of a runner and had written the year 1889 under it.
Francisco crosses the river at a bridge at noon and notices that no one is outside in the heat, not even the children who often chase after him making fun of him. He can hear car tires as he approaches the junction. His ride has been seven miles. Just after one o’clock, the bus arrives and Abel gets down. He’s drunk. Francisco feels the stares of the other bus passengers and he tries to act nonchalantly about his grandson’s drunkenness even though it makes him so sad that tears come to his eyes. He gets Abel into the wagon and heads them back toward home.
The first chapter of the novel features Francisco, an old man who remembers his youth when, in 1889 he won a running race over the swiftest runner in the region, Mariano. Momaday conveys Francisco’s character largely through his actions and his memories. Before he does this, however, Momaday describes the landscape of California which shapes his characters so subtly. The description of the landscape melds into a description of Francisco’s actions in untying a trapped bird and letting it go. This scene is described in the slow time of the everyday. It’s clear that Francisco comes to this spot often to deal with his trap. He traps birds to prepare prayer plumes.
The contrast between Francisco’s prayerful meditations on the land and Abel’s drunken slobbering as he falls from the bus steps jolts the reader into a recognition of the time period of the setting. The time seems to be the 1930s. It is clear that Francisco has had to adjust to the encroachments of European Americans. This reality is given in two hints: he is made fun of by the town children and he is conscious of the image he and his grandson present to the other bus passengers.