Pulitzer Prize winning author N. Scott Momaday wrote The Way to Rainy Mountain in 1969 as an offering of love to his ancestors and living relations, the Kiowa people. The Kiowa live in what is now Oklahoma, though their ancient origins are in the Montana region. Momaday’s relationship with his land, the land of North America as he intimately experiences it, is rooted in the human being’s instinctual identity in place and peoplehood, a vital experience now forgotten among many contemporary Americans.
Rainy Mountain is located northwest of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma. The Kiowa people came to this region after encountering conflict with the United States Cavalry, who eventually forced the Kiowa into Oklahoma during the tumultuous 1860s, though migration began as early as the latter 18th century (the 1700s).
Momaday returns to Rainy Mountain as one returns to a home that is longed for, searching to understand his and his community’s storied places with maturing devotion to people and place in a new era for Indigenous communities. It is a journey that is a pilgrimage to his honored grandmother, now an ancestor who sleeps in the earth. Through finding her grave, his visitation here is also a way back to his people, the Kiowa, searching for their sacred story as told through their own lives in the language of landscape.
The next morning I awoke at dawn and went out on the dirt road to Rainy Mountain. It was already hot, and the grasshoppers began to fill the air. Still, it was early in the morning, and the birds sang out of the shadows. The long yellow grass on the mountain shone in the bright light, and a scissortail hied above the land. There, where it ought to be, at the end of a long and legendary way, was my grandmother’s grave. Here and there on the dark stones were ancestral names. Looking back once, I saw the mountain and came away.
This piece was originally posted online as an answer I wrote in response to a student question on enotes.com