The Way to Rainy Mountain by N. Scott Momaday

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Where is Rainy Mountain and why does Momaday return there?

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laurniko eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Rainy Mountain is located northwest of the Witchita range in Kiowa County, Oklahoma. The narrator returns there to visit his grandmother's grave.

Rainy Mountain was a landmark for the Kiowa people, from whom the narrator is descended. He says that it had some of the harshest weather in the world, including blizzards and heat. Momaday says the Kiowa are people who prefer the summer and deal with the winter. 

Momaday has a lot of love for his grandmother, who died after a long life. After his grandmother dies, Momaday first goes to her house where there is nothing but quiet. The next day, he goes to Rainy Mountain to see her grave. He writes:

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.

To view Rainy Mountain's location, click on the Google Maps reference link.

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In the prologue, we learn the reason why Momaday returns to Rainy Mountain:

I returned to Rainy Mountain in July. My grandmother had died in the spring, and I wanted to be at her grave. She had lived to be very old and at last infirm.

Momaday also tells us that Rainy Mountain rises out of the plain in Oklahoma, northwest of the Wichita Range. Rainy Mountain represents an old landmark for the Kiowa people, from whom he is descended. Rainy Mountain is described as an inhospitable place with difficult weather. However, Rainy Mountain represents an important link between him, his grandmother, and the Kiowa culture in general.

In fact, although Momaday does not speak Kiowa and has a scarce understanding of his identity, he returns home precisely to honor and explore his Kiowa origins. Most of what he knows of Kiowa culture was passed on to him through his grandmother; she was the one who told him about the history of the Kiowas and their legends. 

Momaday's journey is a pilgrimage of sorts, which allows him both to honor his grandmother's memory and to pay tribute to his Kiowa heritage. After this, Momaday returns to his own life with a stronger understanding of Kiowa culture and of his own identity.

Further Reading:
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Scott Momaday describes the location of Rainy Mountain quite precisely in his book The Way to Rainy Mountain. He says that:

A single knoll rises out of the plain in Oklahoma, north and west of the Wichita Range. For my people, the Kiowas, it is an old landmark, and they gave it the name Rainy Mountain.

The Wichita mountain range is a mountain range located in southwestern Oklahoma. It consists of igneous rocks that were uplifted 330 to 290 million years ago and have since gradually been worn down by erosion. The peaks average approximately 2,000 feet above sea level. Rainy Mountain is slightly to the northwest of the rest of the range. It is located in Kiowa County, Oklahoma, and served as a landmark and spiritually significant site for the Kiowa people. 

The narrator returns to the mountain to visit the grave of his grandmother after her death. It is part of his physical and spiritual journey to reconnect with his people and their origins. 

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Momaday tells us this in the first two paragraphs of his Introduction. Rainy Mountain is a special place to the Kiowa people, the author’s Native American ancestors. It is a rounded hill that stands alone but near the Wichita Mountains in southwestern Oklahoma. Below is a link to the nearby national wildlife refuge. Rainy Mountain is not part of this protected land; yet looking at the photographs on this site will give you an idea of the terrain.

The author goes back to Rainy Mountain one July, after his grandmother has passed away. She was his last living link to the traditional ways of the Kiowa. He wanted to honor and remember her as well as the many others who had gone on before. The cemetery is located near the mountain. Momaday’s return was part of his longer personal journey of tracing the historic migration of the Kiowa from the headwaters of the Yellowstone River in western Wyoming and Montana, east and south through the Black Hills and plains to Oklahoma.

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