What Men Call Treasure: The Search for Gold at Victorio Peak

David Schweidel and Robert Boswell’s What Men Call Treasure: The Search for Gold at Victorio Peak

Why does New Mexico lend itself so readily to treasure stories? Have you ever hunted for treasure in New Mexico or elsewhere?

In general, caves and mining claims seem to be associated with many treasure stories. Caves are places where treasures can be hidden and mining claims are essentially places where treasures are found naturally. Furthermore, another influencing factor is Hispanic culture in general. Spaniards are culturally associated with treasure seeking behavior due to their associations with piracy and gold. Since New Mexico in the land that is the confluence of these notions, treasure stories are only natural to the state’s culture. The land is rich in natural resources and poor in Western civilization and European establishments of government, education, etc. As a result, the idea of finding treasure, whether it is a natural resource or a hidden hoard, becomes one of the only ways that poor people in the area can become rich. It reminds me a little bit of the lottery craze. It seems that only poor working-class or unemployed people ever win. Why? Because they’re the only ones that play.

The obvious love of quick wealth aside, what do you think treasure hunting might reveal psychologically about treasure hunters?

Treasure hunting seems to be an American ideal. The whole notion of why poor people came here and continue to come here (though not so much anymore) is this notion of the American dream. As a result, on its most primal level, treasure hunting is the distilled notion of the American dream.

As with the American dream, treasure hunting can easily become an obsession in the same way that investing in a Ponzi scheme can become an obsession. People see red flags that there is no treasure or that the investment is a Ponzi scheme but they ignore them. Why? Because they’ve already put in so much that the idea that they’ve wasted the last ten years of their life or threw away 100 grand is so ;devastating that they would rather continue on the path rather than face reality. As a result, it is easier to believe that something is indeed out there.

Anaya’s Albuquerque and Culture

Anaya’s novel is named after a place, not after a character or event. Why?

The novel is named after a place, Albuquerque, because the city’s culture guides the story as a whole. It represents the conflict of multiple cultural identities and the conflict between the past, the present, and the future. It seems to me that, Albuquerque, as a city, is on a similar journey in search of its identity that Abran is on. It is also trying to reconcile its heritage with its present-day development and the direction of its future.  As a result, the title is a metaphor for the city and the protagonist, and the journey that they both go on.

Ultimately, what does the novel suggest about this kaleidoscope of cultures in a large, modern city? What perspective do you gain on Albuquerque?

Domenic is an interesting example of what the novel suggests about culture in a large and modern city. He is determined to be recognized as a descendant of a Spanish Duke in order to gain wealth and status. His drive is an example of basic human greed for power which typically comes with immense pride (pride in things that one has no influence over, like ancestry). Instead of trying to do something to honor his ancestors, he uses their name in a blasphemous and perverted way (I think, of course that depends on the ancestors). In terms of what this suggests about the city at large, it suggests that Albuquerque is populated by people who only appear to be different on the surface. Its leaders may have a particular and unique heritage but the greed for power is unfortunately common to all cultures throughout the world.

Anaya’s Alburquerque and Identity

Who is the protagonist of Anaya’s Alburquerque and why? Briefly describe that character.

While Albuquerque as a city and a setting emerges as a character, the main character is Abran. As a protagonist, he is a poor young man who faces many conflicts. These conflicts are both internal and external and they stem from his immersion into Albuquerque’s high society and his search for his father.

Albuquerque as a city becomes another character in the story. It is divided and subdivided into different sects, cultures, religions, ideologies, races, and social classes. Though Albuquerque is not exactly an antagonist as a character, it is also not a protagonist. The city is haunted by its past just like Abran is haunted by his. In a way, it is as if both Abran and Albuquerque are searching for their futures.

Ralph Ellison once said that the quest for identity is the central quest in American literature. How does Alburquerque illustrate that thesis?

Alburquerque is divided and subdivided into different sects, cultures, religions, ideologies, races, and social classes. The city is haunted by its past as it searches for its future. Development is pushing out the old and replacing it with the new. But there is no guarantee that the new will be better and once the old is replaced it can never be restored. “ ‘Just don’t let them get to the pueblo land,’ he said. ‘If you give up your land, you die. The developers have built clear up to the Sandias. Now they’re buying up the downtown barrios’” (14).

Here, development is associated with white culture and the white man’s way of doing things. The white man doesn’t really care about the historical significance of the city because it is not his historical significance. I think that this is the primary difference between how restoration and updates are done in Western Europe and how they are done in America. For example, last summer my husband and I spent a month in the UK. We saw and heard of many updates and construction of new buildings in London but the development did not come at a cost to history, at least not that much. The city and the government care about preserving their history and the balance is carefully maintained using committees and governing bodies.

The main problem with how things are done in America is that the people doing the development are not connected to the history of the place. Therefore, they could not care less about preserving it. In a small way, Anaya performs his own redevelopment by restoring Alburquerque’s original spelling. The restoration allows him to connect people to the city’s historical past, the past that instructs its identity.

Hillerman’s Skinwalkers

How is the land or nature itself presented in Skinwalkers? Why?

The land and nature are used to create the mood and to contribute to the sense of mystery and the unknown that is the driving force of the novel. In particular, nature is used to foreshadow and metaphorically represent the scenes. On page 73, “As far as Chee could estimate from thirty miles away, no rain was falling. He studied the cloud, enjoying the range of blues and grays, its chapes and its movement. But he was thinking of more somber things.” Here, Hillerman is foreshadowing what Chee is predicting, that there are more somber things to come. Chee is a tribal policeman who represents traditional Navajo beliefs. Since he speaks the language and understands the rituals, he appears to be more connected with nature. Therefore, his thoughts about nature and what they represent for things to come are more believable.

Discuss the theme of harmony in Skinwalkers. What causes disharmony? How is harmony to be restored?

The cause of disharmony appears to be human obsession. This can be obsession with the body, the self, or any other particular fixation. Chee has certain worries in his life. He’s worried about the killings, he’s worried about his relationship with Mary Landon, he’s worried about his mother’s Alzheimer’s, and he’s worried about his cat’s strange behavior. These worries are made worse by fixation and the inability to accept the world as it is. As a result, his life becomes filled with disharmony. But harmony can be restored once things that caused disharmony are identified, understood, and accepted.

Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and Laguna Pueblo

What do you think is the central conflict in Tayo, the protagonist of Ceremony? Why is it so difficult for him to resolve this conflict?

In Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, Tayo exists in two worlds, Native American and Caucasian, and he is torn between his past and his future. He goes to war and comes back to a place where he is not accepted by Caucasians unless he’s wearing his military uniform. In a way, he feels that he will never be part of the white world even though he served in the military with the rest of them. Another central conflict to the story is identity/purpose. War gave him an identity and some purpose but now he is back he feels purposeless (this is likely true of all veterans). On a larger scale, the conflict is also between Native Americans as a culture and America as a predominantly white nation.

The Anglo world is portrayed from the point of view of an antagonist. It is blamed for the troubles that come with the Native American existence. Furthermore, the Anglos are blamed for destroying Native American lands, culture and traditions and replacing them with their own (mainly Christianity). As it often happens with many antagonists, white society also appears to be envied for what it has been and for what it represents. In this case, envy seems to be concentrated on white women and the Native American desire for white women.

The Anglo world is also portrayed as busy and detached. They appear to be separated from reality and unable to relate to how the world really functions. In a way, it reminds me of what many Republicans say about Mitt Romney. Besides being removed from reality, white society is also blamed for destroying Native American lands, culture and traditions and replacing them with their own. (Also like Mitt Romney and Wall Street element that he represents). In addition to this, white society is also represented as something to be emulated and desired. For example, Aunti emphasizes her Christian faith and denounces traditional beliefs.

Laguna Pueblo is a place of conflict. It is torn between the past and future and between the Native American world and the American (white) world and even between paganism and Christianity. It is also a world that is dealing with returning veterans and people have seen big city life and feel stifled in their small-town. Many young people in the tribe want to escape to Albuquerque but few manage to make it past Gallup. People need to be able to be “of use,” as John Irving writes in Cider House Rules but the reservation gives people a little hope to be “of use.” As a result, there’s a lot of hopelessness and drunkenness.


Edward Abbey’s Brave Cowboy and Industrialization

The novel portrays the main character struggle with 20th century industrialization. He yearns for a different life that is more agrarian in nature. Someone said that it he represents a struggle between city and country folk but I think that he actually represents a struggle against the suburbs. I’m not sure that it is New York City or Boston that he’s really against but rather the suburban strip mall America in search of a city/town. Personally, it is this part of America that I despise. There are so many places in the country that look like suburbs around DC with the nearest city being 500 miles away. This is sad because strip malls are an awful way to organize. Large Cities and small towns have more in common than both of them do with strip malls. Cities and towns allow people to come to one place to socialize and shop while strip malls make them drive from one store to another within the same complex. This facilitates anti-socialism, detachment, and discontent without really providing the tranquility of a quiet country life.

The Sheriff is a dynamic character who is somewhat conflicted over his feelings toward the cowboy but not really. “Johnson spat; his instinctive sympathy for the hunted man was darkened by a scornful pity closer to disgust than compassion.” I think this conflict comes from the fact that he sees him as a symbol of America but also as a symbol of anti- government rebel. In that time, antigovernment meant leftist but in today’s world antigovernment means the right wing. What is ironic is that today, members of the Republican Party are both highly organized and “traditional” in their values and also anti-government.

Edward Abbey’s Brave Cowboy

I love the way that Edward Abbey describes setting in the Brave Cowboy by incorporating it into the action. He has a connection with nature and incorporates the main character into that world. As the reader, we see what he sees in a realistic and authentic way. It isn’t romanticized which is what makes the process of industrialization even more tragic. Someone had said that his descriptions of Mexicans make them seem lazy. This might be true of his true intentions, I’m not sure, but I also think that it is a natural product of a detached style of narration. Burns is in getting too involved with the people or industrial world around him, he just observed in the distance, as an outsider. Therefore, he makes observations that someone is fat or skinny or tall or short.

Burns is resourceful and independent with a strong sense of right and wrong. He is wild in the way that he can live in the wild but not in his demeanor or judgment. He lives a solitary life but one of an individual and an outsider.

He reminds me a little bit about this guy I read about online.


I encountered the Horseman in Laguna Beach riding along the Pacific Coast Highway. He was ahead of me moving at horse speed. The traffic, hurried as always, slowed to a pause and then pulled around him. As I pulled past him, I could hear the clip-clop of the hooves of his mount and his pack horse. I glanced into the rear view mirror after I got ahead of him and saw the blinking red and blue lights and heard the short bleep of a siren tapped once. He had been pulled over by the Laguna Beach police for an interview. I pulled in around the corner, walked back, and joined a group of citizens already watching this encounter. The Horseman was riding to Texas. He said he’d started at the Canadian border. The cop asked him why he wasn’t driving. He said he didn’t have a truck and a horse trailer, just a horse, a pack horse and a dog. His plan was simply to ride the coast to San Diego and turn left.”