“You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come, to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until it’s calmness can claim you.”
My yearly pilgrimage to the Land of Enchantment began with a few days of solo travel, enabling my body and soul to sink back into this place. The last year has been a challenging one in many ways, not without its bright spots as well, and I had been craving time and space to sit with the everything of all of it. New Mexico has a way of giving us what we need.
I drove and drove, many long, mindless miles, embracing the quietude that comes with such spacious landscape.
Chaco Canyon is a vast and far-flung destination but worth the effort it takes to get there. With a near full moon upon us, the regularly scheduled star gazing tour provided by the National Park Service, instead became an evening walk amongst the ghosts of this strange land. Haunted and beautiful, indeed.
By the time I made my way to a charming little Super 8 in Bloomfield, NM that night, I had been up for 22 straight hours and slept, dreamless.
I found Chaco to be a mixed bag of ancient history, natural splendor and cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, I was grateful for the opportunity to visit and experience this Unesco World Heritage site, and to the NPS for their careful and respectful stewardship. And yet, more than one ranger remarked that native people in New Mexico and beyond have stated that these places are meant to fade back into the ground after they have served their purpose – all of their great mysteries, feats of architectural engineering and ghostly human stories lost to the sands of time.
I left Chaco a bit conflicted about it all yet enchanted all the same with wonderings about what sorts of people lived or worshipped here and what we might have in common. It was so good to be out in the wide open spaces of New Mexico with the vistas both outward and inward it provides to a tired soul. Grateful for my solitude and art supplies, I soaked it all up.
Then, just like that, it was time to head to O’Keeffe country….
I was fortunate enough to snag a ticket to a “Special Tour” of Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio led by a personal caretaker of Georgia’s and her brother, who worked the gardens in her later years. This tour worked magically into my schedule for traveling to Taos to teach the following week and so I invested in it.
There is such serenity to O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu home. Her aesthetic was modern yet earthy – timeless, really. No photos were permitted of her indoor spaces but I was captivated by the light, the serene colors, and the fact that she too kept jade, aloe and other such plants that many of us keep in our own homes. She collected stones and bones and other things she found beautiful and surrounded herself with them. Knowing this about her and seeing these collections in her home and just outside felt very personal, artist to artist.
I was captivated by the sense of this place.
Eventually, upon arrival back home here in Ohio, I chuckled to see that my own hollyhocks had bloomed while I was away, and I was welcomed by my own ghostly skull….
I’ll admit to geeking out a bit while in the home and gardens of this iconic artist. I stood in the very doorway Georgia herself had found compelling enough to paint again and again, exploring its shape and form and depth.
It was like standing in a portal of history. And I have always been a lover of doorways to other worlds.
These few days could have been ‘enough’ to fill this empty artist’s cup and set me to painting once again. But alas, I had not come to New Mexico for the making of my own work. I was here to teach.
Taos has become my home away from home in the years I have spent teaching there. Much like Georgia O’Keeffe herself, the lure of New Mexico brings me back time and again, every summer, and each year I discover more captivating beauty and I continue to build community as well. Mabel’s family has grown and changed with the newly employed and the newly born, yet Mabel herself is still in charge of the place and I was welcomed home with open arms.
I took to getting settled, washing the dust of the road off in my familiar claw foot tub in Tony’s bathroom upstairs, and unpacking all of my boxes of books and supplies – readying the classroom space for a week ahead of work and wonder.
By day I worked and by evening I caught up with dear friends. It had been a year since my last visit and that is far too long. I was caught up on the latest dog walking paths, and introduced to new dirt roads and rushing riverbeds. I held a new Little Bird and gleaned a small smile from her. I was told with a wink and a smile that if we only found a little slice of land, that we too could build a small adobe space of our own near town, and that I’d have all the help I’d need for this handmade home. I’ll admit I am tempted.
Soon the beautiful people attending my workshop arrived, some new to me, others who’ve been before and return home to Mabel’s to renew their contract with what has become sacred work. I no longer question this truth -that what I do in these workshops is indeed a sacred kind of work.
What started out, for me at least, as a way to get to know the world and to slow down and take it all in with the wonder that befits it, has become an intense practice of creative mindfulness. On the one hand, I’m introducing and sprucing up the old lessons of composition and perspective, line quality and color theory. And yet, on a much deeper, richer level of the soul, I am working with people to disengage their inner critic (just give her a cookie and a window to sit by, she’s been hard at work and deserves a break, don’t you think?), to tap into their birthright of creativity and the act of making something which makes a heart sing.
Occasionally, we worked in our books from memory, such as when attending a sacred Corn Dance at the Pueblo and we must only capture images in our mind’s eye. I will note here that all of the images below are now in the private sketchbooks of these artists, as records of the day’s experiences. Very different than taking a photograph, which is prohibited on feast days. We have a deep respect and regard for this notion.
But mostly, we studied from what we had in front of us there and then. The Mabel Dodge Luhan House has much to offer in the way of beauty and things to pull into our sketchbooks and so we did.
We discussed how to capture that sense of ‘hither, thither and yon’ which beautiful landscapes provide us with. Otherwise known as ‘atmospheric perspective’.
We worked and played each day, sometimes into the night. I was a bit manic with the magic of it all to be honest.
But I love this work and the people who are drawn to it. I had to milk the time there for all it gave to me! I even found time to settle in to a tune or two with the local session players who welcome me every visit ever so graciously. For this I am deeply grateful.
As the week went on we sketched and laughed and drew and painted and ate good food. We were treated once more to a visit to my friend Harold’s herd of buffalo which everyone enjoyed. There was a morning visit, and an evening time as well, as the buffalo are shy and do not accept great throngs of visitors. Small groups met Harold at his ranch home where we caught up with him and the herd. Grateful for the grace of these magnificent creatures and that of their farmer/steward.
Too soon, as always happens, it was that time.
Time to toast to a week of work well done. With dinner created for us by chef Jeremiah Buchanan whom we collectively adored!
We shared our books around and traded addresses and gifts such as a wee concert by Marty Regan who is a musician by trade.
It was time to pack up the classroom and mail home my supplies. I was grateful for the help and company of a few students who stayed around for an extra day to assimilate all we had learned together.
And it was time to visit a few more places before we had to leave this Land of Enchantment. Like the breezy hillsides of the DH Lawrence ranch.
I needed to take the time to sit by the river at the Pueblo and promise that I would come back. To memorize the sound of its waters which have come to me in dreamtime at times.
Time to ponder moody skies which seemed to beckon “Come back and paint, quietly.”
On my final evening in town, with all of my company scattered to the Four Directions, the skies opened up with the great gift of a thunderstorm. This brief storm was filled with ethereal pink light that I longed to paint somehow.
A friend of mine asked me the other day during our very ‘middle-age-appropriate’ discussion of “What Are We Doing With Our Lives” if I didn’t think that being a good teacher might be Enough. I had been filling her in on the Taos trip and what a deep success I felt it had been all around. I was telling her how enriching it is to teach something successfully, but that I have been struggling to make the switch back over to being a maker-of-things. More specifically, a painter and maker of pictured-stories for small humans. I feel blocked creatively, as if in all of the beauty found in the creativity of others, my own quiet artist self has taken to the hills. I am seeking to woo her back home to roost. I love being a teacher. And I am so excited that my spring trip to Guatemala next year is already sold out and that next year’s Taos trip already has some takers (and I haven’t even listed it yet!!). But I long to paint. And write. And draw. And I must trust this longing, even as I pursue my work in these amazing workshops. And so, no. I don’t think it is enough.
I think part of this perceived block is just my inner-processing of what was a stupendously amazing trip back to a place which I love dearly and work which excites and challenges me. A painter friend of mine reminded me to be gentle with myself. That teaching takes a lot out of an introvert. That making the switch back to quietude takes time. And so I have been being gentle. I have been holding off making this post about it all because in some way, to write about Taos time is to shut a lid on it until next time. Buttoning that space up so that I don’t lose track of it between now and next year. I hope to get back for a visit between now and then if I can. Perhaps even for a workshop with Solange Leboucher who is a practitioner of Polarity Therapy which I have come to lean on as a tool of the soul when I teach out there.
I don’t know. I do know that if feels good to get back here on this old writing space and share some photos and to attempt to convey in some small way the gratitude that I have for the work that I do. I marvel at the scope of it sometimes, even as I ask more of it.
Til, next time….. enjoy this summer’s travels no matter where you go.
pps. And these words, from Millicent Rogers…..
“Did I ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly, passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was part of the Earth, so that I felt the Sun on my Surface and the rain. I felt the Stars and the growth of the Moon, under me, rivers ran. And against me were the tides. The waters of rain sank into me. And I thought if I stretched out my hands they would be Earth and green would grow from me. And I knew that there was no reason to be lonely that one was everything, and Death was as easy as the rising sun and as calm and natural – that to be enfolded in Earth was not an end but part of oneself, part of everyday and night that we lived, so that Being part of the Earth one was never alone. And all fear went out of me – with a great, good stillness and strength.”