Thursday, March 26, 2015

Holed Up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

I sat staring at the rain drizzling down the windows. Long wooden paned glass wrapped around the room at the top of The Mabel Dodge Luhan House. The old wood floors creaked as you'd expect from an old Adobe built in 1918. For years I have wanted to sleep in the solarium room. It's always booked but I finally snagged a reservation in time for a spring break retreat. Marveling at the Sangre de Cristo mountains out to the northeast shrouded in fog, looked like misty Appalachians, not an ordinary scene in New Mexico. To the west lies the Rio Grande River Gorge and the Brazos Mountains jutting out at 11,000 feet. Taos valley is covered in sweet sage and pinon and the giant cottonwood tree that looms over the solarium room is showing signs of tiny green buds on silvery twisted branches. On this first day of spring it seems only natural to sit and listen to the rain. Magpies show their irredescent blue feathers as they fly, then perch and stare at me through every window. I watch Ravens break off twigs and fly back and forth, adding them to their nest in another tree.

The rain has stopped and in it's place comes a burst of sunshine. On the Taos Plaza shop owners fling open their doors and turn their signs from Closed to Open. Reminding me of a scene from the Johnny Depp movie 'Edward Scissorhands', every one of them at the exact same time start sweeping their portion of the sidewalk. I walk by and one man stops sweeping, looks up at the sky, then at me and gestures "happy spring!" I smile so big and return the salutation. That's what I love about being in Taos. Everyone always seems so happy to be alive. World Coffee serves a Sweet Mexican Mocha that cannot be beat, anywhere. It's this tiny little shack on the corner of the plaza, packed with hippies, tree huggers, shining, smiling faces and friendly chatter over a Mumford & Sons song playing in the background.The girl who made my mocha, it happened to be her birthday. When I looked into her clear green laughing eyes, I saw the happiest person on the planet. C and I grabbed our hot drinks and drove out to the Rio Grande Gorge bridge. Another houseguest at the lodge had told us about a white horse she had seen in the sage flats at the bridge just yesterday. I wanted to find that white horse.

There was no sign of a white horse.

We took the meandering road up to Arroyo Seco, a sleepy little artist village with funky shops and the famous Taos Cow where they make their own ice cream. I'm going to tell you something that will probably sound dorky but I always have to stop in the Taos Cow just in case Julia Roberts is in there picking up pastries and espresso or ice cream cones for Hazel, Henry and Phinnaeus. She does live there, America's Boho sweetheart, tucked high up in the mountains above that town. We enjoyed the most delicious homemade cinnamon roll as we sat outside by the creek, waiting for Julia to show up.

There was no sign of Julia Roberts.

Evenings were spent by the kiva fireplace writing and reading. Burrowing ourselves into comfortable old leather chairs and making numerous trips to the kitchen for hot water and tea, C and I would occasionally look up from what we were doing and smile at each other in the silence. This was a good place to come to. Sometimes you just have to go away from home to find your place in the world again.

On a different note, my mom can walk now. Without all the details, here is what we've discovered: honestly, we thought she would never walk again. It did not look good two months ago, what with a broken spine in two places and the long and slow healing process and a lot of uncertainty. An extremely motivated and encouraging physical therapist got her up and walking. My mom got her strength back, her confidence back. My younger brother, Jeff, who is an athlete, stood by her side and showed her some excersizes she could do. He gave her small hand weights for strengthening. She took his arm and he slowly walked her around the kitchen. I'll never forget the day she told me "I walked eleven paces today!" Since then, she's been to see the finest Neurosurgeon in all the land and this is what he said: "It is nothing short of a miracle." Now, everyday my mom goes to the Clubhouse pool and walks in water. My dad is right there with a nice fluffy towel to wrap around her when she gets out. They are really getting back into the groove again.

The weather was perfect. It was sunny and crisp with fine clouds and a soft breeze. Just as we crossed the New Mexico border into Colorado we meet up with the wild horses of the San Luis Valley, also known as Wild Horse Mesa. They had their backs to the snow covered peaks of the San Juan Mountain range. We pulled over and walked out in the field towards them as they drank from a canal. There were ten horses altogether. Bays and Sorrels with white blazes and stripes down their noses. I have since learned from an observant girlfriend that there are a couple of round bellied mares, that foals are in the future. There were a couple of shaggy young ones, too. I kept my eye on one who was caked with mud and walked with a limp. Oh, I wanted to help somehow! Was there something in it's hoof? Was the leg sprained? There was nothing I could do. That is nature. That is the life of a wild one.

The dirty white horse was the ring leader, it was obvious. We could see he had wise eyes. We could see he was older. His dingy yellow twisted and tangled mane hung down to his thigh. He was a very good boy. After an hour, he made a move and the rest followed. They all turned and walked away. We thanked them for letting us spend time with them and then we headed back to the car.

Clomping through Rabbitbrush we stumbled upon a bleached carcass. Wild horse bones. A perfect white skull with nice teeth and a faint smile. C and I looked at each other and smiled. In the silence.





















Saturday, March 14, 2015

Take 'er Slow

"I want my life to be a celebration of slowness.

Walking through the sage from our front door, I am gradually drawn into the well-worn paths of deer. They lead me to Round Mountain and the bloodred side canyons below Castle Rock. Sometimes I see them, but often I don't. Deer are quiet creatures, who, when left to their own nature, move slowly. Their large black eyes absorb all shadows, especially the flash of predators. And their ears catch each word spoken. But today they walk ahead with their halting prance, one leg raised, then another, and allow me to follow them. I am learning how to not provoke fear and flight among deer. We move into a pink, sandy wash, their black-tipped tails like eagle feathers. I lose sight of them as they disappear around the bend.

On the top of the ridge I can see for miles.... Inside this erosional landscape where all colors eventually bleed into the river, it is hard to desire anything but time and space.

Time and space. In the desert there is space. Space is the twin sister of time. If we have open space then we have open time to breath, to dream, to dare, to play, to pray to move freely, so freely, in a world our minds have forgotten but our bodies remember. Time and space. This partnership is holy. In these redrock canyons, time creates space--an arch, an eye, this blue eye of sky. We remember why we love the desert; it is our tactile response to light, to silence, and to stillness.

Hand on stone -- patience.

Hand on water -- music."
Terry Tempest Williams, Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert

Friday, March 13, 2015

While The Icicles Melt

It's busy around here. Already, I'm making runs to Goodwill, clearing out closets, rummaging through boxes, saying out loud "Get rid of it!" I'm not a pack rat. If I haven't worn it in a year and a half, I really do get rid of it. I've always thought that if we just had one or two 'outfits' to wear, I'd be just fine with that. Those pioneer women wore the same dress everyday! I'd choose my baggy jean overalls and a peasant top. My Levi 501 hole-y cut-offs (they're dreadful) and that very thin off white T-shirt (that I wear three times a week) that reads 'Earth Day Everyday'. Oh, and the Navy Blue sweater my mom knitted and my Chuck Taylor's. I'd have to keep my UGG's and all my do-rags. Well, that's not bending the rule too drastically. So, now that Spring is here I'm boxing up clothing, an assortment of coffee mugs and baskets of pinecones that I've collected and saved for twenty years. Like Lucy in 'The Long Trailer', she hauled around rocks. I have a thing for pinecones. But, now I'm giving them away, along with the three hundred maps I stashed in that cupboard. And maybe it's time to say adios to that dying Totem cactus there in the corner. Spring cleaning is taking over.
I have this weird way about me. My house has to be semi clean, bed made, chores done before I start any project. Like painting. Or writing letters. Or reading for that matter. So, after I crawled around on my hands and knees, swiping up the constant dust bunnies that collect along the edges of the hardwood floors, after cleaning up the kitchen, feeding the squirrels, and taking the trash out, I set up my table easel, grabbed my palette knife and starting squeezing tubes of paint.
All winter I've been staring at a Gustave Baumann woodblock print. A pure golden scene somewhere in New Mexico, a pueblo or a small village at the foot of the mountains. I wanted to paint that postcard. I was eager to start blending color, building texture, scraping in a mountain crevice using the flexible metal blade. I couldn't wait to smear a mixture of yellows into the foreground. To add some turquoise doors to the adobes.
It's easier for me to press paint into the canvas using a palette knife rather than a paintbrush. My hand trembles when I use a brush. It's more lightweight than the knife and sometimes the brush shakes right out of my hand. It goes flying in the air, landing on something nearby that you don't want paint on. Like your cat, or that nice hand woven Zapotec table runner from Taos. Whereas with the knife, I can really grab hold of the handle and be firm and intentional, creating the texture I want. I don't know why my hand shakes. Like I've said before, it could be from drinking coffee, the beloved brown serpent, but even in the afternoon when I don't touch the stuff, there's still some shaking going on. One thing is for sure, I am not giving up the bean.
I get the urge to paint sometimes. The hopefulness of turning a stark white canvas into a masterpiece. Ha! It's the process of mixing creamy colors, smearing on a bright green tree, slicing an edge to mudcap, becoming more alive in creating a turquoise sky. There will always be a turquoise sky.
When we moved to Wyoming over a decade ago, I was so taken by the scenery and all the wild animals, I started sketching everything I saw while sitting on the banks of rivers while C fly-fished. I was using charcoal sticks then. Black ash lines of canyon walls and blending in shadows with my fingertips. Then C surprised me with a wooden box of oil pastels. I had 200 colors to play with. Determined, I became a pastel artist and some of my best artwork resulted in using chalks.
Then I discovered Jennifer Lowe. You've probably heard of her. She is a well known artist from Montana. She tells stories with her whimsical drawings, using vivid color and texture in the most unique way. By that I mean, she uses livestock (cattle) markers to paint! Take a gander >

I was completely inspired and impressed with this woman's imagination. Her subject matter spoke to me. I became obsessed with her paintings and ideas, her playful pictures of wild animals frolicking under the moonlight.
Naturally, I was gifted my very own set of "hide markers" by my sweeter-than-pie and always encouraging husband. He knew I just had to try that. I admit it, I'm a 'borrowing' artist. Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as having said that "good artists borrow, great artists steal."
Who doesn't borrow ideas, anyway?

If you aren't familiar with who Jennifer is, she also wrote a beautiful memoir of the times before and after the tragic mountaineering accident that took her husbands life. He was the climber Alex Lowe. I won't reveal any more than that. You just need to read her story.

Forget Me Not: A Memoir

by Jennifer Lowe-Anker and Jon Krakauer
I brought this book home from the library. It has some of the most INCREDIBLE photography I have ever laid eyes on. I sometimes forget how lucky I am to be able to live on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains.
A particular image in the glossy pages of that book remains open on the table. I love moose. As much as mustangs. My game warden friend, Bud, gave me this moose antler for my birthday last year. His wife is one of my best friends. We all get together and have lunch at the gas station and then go for drives along any old dirt road we can find. Bud knows where all the animals are. He's a good friend to have!
I'm thinking of painting that antler turquoise, hot pink and tangerine.
How could I resist bringing home coffee with the name Kicking Horse? Lingering on a Sunday morning C and I drank some (it's delicious) and talked about our upcoming summer plans with the Red Desert Mustangs.

Silver Stag Protector necklace. A gift to myself. I needed him, those antlers, powerful and protecting, hanging around my neck. I already feel the sacred energy of the crystal head. Handmade by the sweetheart-silversmith-of-the-desert-oasis, Ashley Weber And...before they were all gone, I snagged a Rain in the Mountains T shirt in gray, my favorite color. Well, besides turquoise. Brittan's designs are rocking and rolling big time right now!
Check out those icicles! They were thick and five feet long, hanging right outside the bedroom window. Our house is old and poorly insulated but it's unique. It's not every day you find a Santa Fe Style adobe on a street on a prairie.
It's 60 degrees outside today. There are no icicles, no patches of snow but plenty of birds singing praises to spring and a sky the color of Paul Newman's eyes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Road To That Creek

"Notice the people who are happy for your happiness, and sad for your sadness. They’re the ones who deserve special places in your heart." ~ Author Unknown
I'm talking about you! All of you kind souls who have been with me through the good times and the arduous times.
You remain in my heart. I know I am the lucky one.
This is Kate. I call her Creek Kate. Her other name is Friendy. We've been friends for a very long time. She's an artist, a free and gentle spirit, an unpretentious yoga guru and my partner in crime.