Mists of Time

Since arriving back home here from Taos, I have been reading a bit (in between catching up at work and in the studio and providing flexible, cheerful taxi services for my endlessly busy kids).  The first book is Edge of Taos Desert, by Mabel Dodge Luhan herself.  It’s a wonderful chronicle of Mabel’s first taste of Taos and how she came to live and love there with the kind of reckless abandon we might all wish to apply to our lives now and then.  If my clumsy musings in these recent blog entries have whet your appetite at all for New Mexico and specifically Taos, I highly recommend this book.

The other book I am reading (rather re-reading) is called Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  This hefty tome is a feminist take on the old King Arthur legend, to put it succinctly.  It’s been a favorite of mine over the years, specifically when I feel a brush up against the Otherworld… like recently with this trip to Taos.  There’s a play between two worlds in the Mists; the world of magic and the ‘real’ world of then modern day.  Only those schooled in how to find it may approach Avalon.  It is in danger of being lost forever.  It’s precisely this notion, along with a flexible view of time, that brought me back to this old favorite.   On some level, being a couple of weeks past now, Taos seems like my own proverbial Avalon.  A place away from any reality that I have here.  Everything is different there.  Time, the weather, my responsibilities, smells, food. Everything!!

The interesting thing about blogging the trip in this ‘bit by bit’ manner is that I am experiencing a falling away of Taos into the mists of my own memory.  I have re-learned the lesson that keeping an illuminated journal, at whatever level we are capable, is a way of capturing time in a bottle in a sense.  These photographs, while lovely (especially those from Julie!), simply do not do it justice.  They never will.  And the little drawings that I might share with you here, they will not do it justice either, at least to you the viewer…. but to me, they do.  Better than any photograph.  I can open my sketchbook and remember where I was, what the air smelled like, if it was a tad too windy to draw.  In the Mists of Avalon, specially trained priestesses utilize their magic to cross between the two worlds.  There is a heavy level of mystery to what they do.  To me it is not so mysterious.  Keeping a sketchbook, or merely the act of drawing itself, is capable of bending time and allowing us to travel between the worlds of the ‘real’ (news of war and economic downturn, daily commitments and appointments, weighty adult responsibility) and the ‘magic’ (creating our own news, spinning some fun into those daily commitments, facing our responsibilities with a sense of humor and more and more love)….. I ask you, which world is real?

But we should really re-enter the gates of the Mabel Dodge house one last time before I get back to the daily life at hand (which includes… some new art ideas, getting my Mammoth Cave Quilt tidied up and finished, diving back into some Irish Music…. and a head/chest cold that has me draggin’…..)

When I left you at the last post, we had finished what I consider the Marathon Day of our time in Taos.  We had gotten up that morning at dawn and not gotten back to bed until maybe 3 am the following morning (if the math serves me correctly, I believe we were up for almost 21 hours).  Wildly enough, I was not tired heading into the next day which sadly would be our final full day of the workshop.  The plan for this day included a visit to the ancient Taos Pueblo.

There are many photos and information you can find online about the Pueblo as well as information of the value of it to our world society as a dedicated UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I encourage you to check out the websites linked above.  Per the request of the woman who sold us our entry tickets to the Pueblo, I will not post any of my photos from our trip here on this blog.

Our amazing Mabel Dodge based pastry chef, Pamela had pointed us in the direction of her sister and brother-in-law’s gift shop earlier in the week and we were excited to track it down.  After a lovely tour of the Pueblo with our guide, a young college age Pueblo woman named Kyle, we walked around a bit to see if we could find the Dancing Hummingbird.  The Pueblo is not a big place but we did have trouble tracking it down… but once we did, we were rewarded with the best wares we had seen all day and of course a warm welcome from Pam’s sister Esther who treated us like old friends.  It is my hope that by next year’s visit, we will be!

I picked up this little pot in Esther’s shop.  She assured me that water from this cup would forever taste sweet and pure like New Mexico itself.  Sold.  🙂

The weather that afternoon was very different from that of the day before.  We went from unbearably windy and cold to perfectly clear with an entrancing sun and clear, bluer than blue skies.  A few of my students took it upon themselves to organize that evening’s meal which enabled me a few minutes of time with my own, sadly neglected, sketchbook.  There are few things I will do differently next year for this trip to Taos.  I will still guard this experience like a Wolf Mama, keeping it sacred and precious and filled to the brim with spirit.  I will bring even more suggestions and teaching moments to the table… but I plan to do less in the logistics department.  I plan to be a little more organized so I don’t feel as if I am herding cats half the time, especially at meal times!  My thanks to Penny, Stephanie and Linda for organizing dinner, and for the class as a whole for the magic of that final evening together.  It was a time of tears and laughter and plans for next year.

This group of people, including the three husbands who decided to come along, have become people I now count as friends.  They were a part of this amazing inaugural travel sketch trip that has been a dream of mine for years.  Thanks to them, other chronic goals and dreams of mine are feeling pretty excited about the possibilities ahead.  As exhausted as I (still) am post-Taos, I am basking in the afterglow of a job well done (for a first-timer at least) and already looking forward to the 2012 trip.  If you have any interest in joining next year’s adventure-con-sketchbook to Taos New Mexico, the dates are roughly June 17-21 (give or take, still working out the details).  Send me an email so that I can get you on the early bird list.  I will be cutting it off at 20.  We already have 13 potentials on that list.  No money or full commitment needed, I just want to make sure I don’t leave anyone out of the loop who is interested at this time.

There are still many adventures ahead for me this summer.  I hope to be over this gnarly summer cold soon so I can get some of my normal energy back and get crackin on the studio work that has been neglected in recent weeks.

I hope to have some things to show you on the Mammoth Cave Quilt (fondly called the MCQuilt around here) in coming days… as well as some other ideas I have brewing… I’ll keep you posted.


Stormy day

“Every one of us should risk living in the full flow of our own originality.  And never to compare yourself with anyone outside you but to trust that inner voice that is speaking to you and whispering to you from the well of great possibility that lives inside you.”     ~John O’Donohue

Day two of the Official Workshop began even before the morning meal was served.  Remember Lenny Foster from the library lecture I told you about?  Well, Taos being a small town, and his gallery being right down the lane from Mabel’s, we wound up catching up with Lenny and sharing with him how moving we found his artist talk and his work.  He invited any interested students to meet him at a picturesque little church located back in the rabbit warren of lanes and dirt roads behind Mabel’s to take pictures on that Tuesday morning.  In spite of some serious looking skies, or perhaps because of these skies, a few of us gathered early coffee and drove over to meet him with cameras in hand.

Behind Mabel’s is all Pueblo land…. except for a little road owned by the Catholic Church where worshippers can walk the stations of the cross.  Here is the view from that sacred path, across sacred lands to Mabel’s house.

The church, “La Morada de Don Fernando de Taos”

Classic blue door, of course.

The view back down the path to the church.  Check out those ever changing, dangerous skies!

Much about this morning reminded me of an area of the Smoky Mountains called Cades Cove.  Rich in both natural and human history with the mountains holding all the ancient secrets.

People come to pray here for their loved ones, often weaving together many different cultural and religious traditions.  Lenny told us these little bundles are more than likely filled with tobacco and many, many hours of prayers.  I found them enchanting.

And all of this before breakfast!!  My plan was to take students out for a field trip that morning to the Earthships, but with the unexpected rain we postponed until the afternoon.  The stormy skies stuck around but we managed to dodge raindrops and were treated to wild skies all day.  The wind was enough to wear us out, but the lighting and clouds in the distance were worth it.

On route to the Earthships we stopped at the big steel bridge over the Rio Grande.  Amazing vistas and crazy heights.

This little coffee vendor (below) is so very Taos.

As is this memorial to someone young who passed recently.  Grief made colorful and beautiful.  I suppose that is all you can do with grief in the long run, isn’t it?

And here are the Earthships!

They operate with systems that allow for heating and cooling, water filtration and food growth.  To me it seems like a perfect way to live.  It would be lovely to have one of these handmade homes here in Ohio I think.

The skies, so wild and lovely, beckoned to be considered for a little while.

This day, only day 2 of the workshop really, seemed to roll on and on forever.  We gathered as a group back at Lenny’s gallery for a condensed version of his talk from Saturday and a break from being out in the wind.  Pamela, the pastry chef from up at Mabel’s, sent cookies to give to him as she knows how much he loves her baking.  Again, the group was enchanted by this artist who spirits his art and arts his spirit with no apologies.  So inspirational.

That evening a few of us tracked down a sweet little restaurant called the Love Apple.   A local barista had said that ‘it’s up hwy 68 somewhere’ and that if we were meant to find it, we would.  Finding it was part of the mystery.  God I love Taos!  Love Apple was just that; juicy and full of love.  They built a fire for those waiting for dinner and allowed bottles of wine to be served outside.  Although the place was tiny, they seated about 9 of us together and dinner was magic.

We were heading into day 3…. a few of us finished up this amazing day with more wine on the little back porch of our Gatehouse, talking about life and art and the richness of it all, as many visitors have done over the decades.  Something about this place begs it of you, the questioning and searching that goes with it all.  Here are two articles that agree with me (and who’s authors write so much more eloquently than I to boot…)



More soon….




Time Bending

“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes equal distance into the world within.”  ~Lillian Smith

I am home.  And yet I am not quite.  There is just something about a visit to New Mexico that seems to alter a person’s perception of everything.  Time, space and relationships all seem to coalesce into realities that feed a new notion that anything is possible. I find that I am really missing my experience in Taos.  Wishing it were longer.  That I could do it over again and replay every detail just as it was.  And yet…. New Mexico seemed to come home with me as well.  Like rose colored glasses, I am still under a spell that blankets most things in a light of beauty.  As an artist, and especially one who likes to keep a sketchbook, I am pretty good at noticing the little things that bring beauty into my life.  To note them and to savor them is to note and savor life itself.  I am finding that this keen sense of beauty is magnified since my time in Taos.  I will continue below with more of the magic that was This Big Trip.  But first….

I am home:

And even with 100 degree heat and brutal humidity, I love this town.  I love the people who call me back home when I have been too far afield for too long a time.  I love that my little backyard mallard couple now have 7 beautiful little baby ducklings who are learning their way around our system of weedy waterways…

I love that I have dear friends who might live far away but come home just barely often enough that their young son knows his soul family.  I love that I can play music in a ceili band.  I love that I have even more traveling to do this summer….. but I digress.  Where were we?  Oh yes, Mabel’s.  Back to Mabel’s…..

There are drawings all over the Mabel Dodge house that are attributed to Mabel’s husband Tony Lujan, a local Pueblo Indian man, the builder of this great house, and the love of Mabel’s life.  These drawings, along with what I have read about Tony, speak to me of a rich inner life.

The Sunday of our trip was the day most of my students were due to arrive. Much time was spent preparing classroom space and supplies for their arrival.  Having a space that looks and feels worthy of artmaking is crucial to the artmaking process for me.  This gorgeous space in the Juniper House at the Mabel Dodge complex was just the ticket.

Each day we were greeted in the main house with meals that would make your mouth water.  Here is Mabel’s kitchen:

Next year I will have to get some more photos of the staff that make the magic happen at Mabel’s.  They were, every last one of them, wonderful.  One of the folks who works in the kitchen just happened to live a number of years in Cincinnati and is an artist herself.  I was a bit surprised to see her there, but was beginning by now to realize that there is a strange tie between Taos and the ol’ ‘Nati and I should just expect the unexpected.  Another, who would give French pastry chefs a run for their money, is a Pueblo Indian woman who guided us to the most amazing shop at the Pueblo.  But that is a story for another day….

Monday rolled around eventually and it was showtime!  Each day of the workshop we would meet after breakfast in the Juniper House classroom space to get warmed up with our supplies.  I have to admit, I got a little choked up each time my students would get all quiet and in the zone with their books and supplies.

I shared an exercise with them that I read about in a book by Dory Kanter that she calls ‘observation icons’.  The idea is to capture little moments of your travel time a couple of times a day and then add them to your journal.  I thought this might also be a way to get into the back door of art making because these little icons are so small (about 1″x 1″).  Too small for any inner critics to interfere.  I was right.  The icons were a hit and a great warm-up each day.  Here’s a sampling!

The classroom is wonderful, but the courtyard is even better! We were able to get outside and do some drawing of the grounds at the Mabel Dodge house.  Next year there will hopefully be even more of this.

In the afternoon of that first day, my new friend Kate came to talk with the group.  She is inspiring and so is her work and everyone thoroughly enjoyed meeting her and learning a bit about her process.

Later, as the sun was beginning to set, Kate took us to the famous church called San Francisco De Asis.

Pretty soon the New Mexico light began to work is evening magic.

There is so much mysticism that weaves in and out of everything in Taos.  Everyone you talk to has a very matter-of-fact approach to the daily unexplainables.  We received a gift of one of these little unexplainables in our gatehouse one afternoon in the form of this feather.  We were filled with gratitude.

More to come in the coming days.  I hope this finds you seeking, finding and spending quality time with, the magic moments in your own wild and precious life.







Taos Mountain Welcome

….. I left you with our weary bones soaking in the magical hot springs of Ojo Caliente….  But it was time to move on.  We were due in Taos!  While visiting Taos and getting to know the many and varied people who call it their home, I heard the expression “Taos Mountain has welcomed you” a number of times.  It is almost as if, had we not had the right attitude, or approach of spirit, we would miss out on the experiences to be had there.  Those who approach Taos Mountain thinking they are in control, or who have an agenda or some rigid idea of how things are to go are simply bound to be “spit out” by the Mountain Itself and the spirits who abide therein.  We were lucky.

The drive from Ojo to Taos is not a long one but it is desolate.  Three sets of directions put us onto some roads we weren’t sure of which led us down into the Rio Grande Gorge, across a small bridge and back up again into Taos Valley.   There are other ways to get to Taos that are a little longer, and a little less scary, but looking back this trek seemed appropriate.  We felt like we were entering another world.

(note the white knuckles…. there were no guardrails, no asphalt)

But of course we made it.  And I walked Julie up the hill from our little b&b for the evening to Mabel’s, where we would be moving to the following day and where we would stay for the duration of the workshop.  It was crazy cold that evening.  And windy.  But the sun has a way of hitting the Mabel Dodge Luhan House that makes everything beautiful.  Julie’s response upon first site of this magical place was, ‘I’m all in’.

The wind was indeed wild that first night in Taos.  I had the sense that we had been carried there on some Mary Poppins-esque magical breeze into this lovely world of sunlight and synchronicity.  Such is the spell that Taos can cast.  We awoke Saturday morning to meet up with Kate Cartwright, a local artist I have become friends with, at the Farmers Market.

This is a fabulous market! There are the usual items like early greens and sprouts, woolens and plants along with lots of other cool things from interesting sales folks.  This woman sold heirloom seeds.  And turkey wings and feathers with which to ‘smudge’ sage in a space:

Kate showed us around the market then took us to a place called El Gamal, a middle eastern restaurant and coffee house where I had the best macchiato EVER.  Seriously!  Later in the week we would eat the food there and it is equally as tasty.   After coffee we visited Kate’s tiny house and studio.  Her place is small but organized like a sailboat with everything in it’s proper place and space for everything.  Kate works in collage and assembles work that speaks to the spirit.  Below I am sizing up her little altars, deciding which one to take home with me.

Like many in Taos, Kate has blue doors for protection and beauty…

We couldn’t linger too very long in her tiny house and wee walled garden.  Back in town, at the local library, there was a lecture to attend.  Lenny Foster is a Taos based photographer and he just happened to be giving a talk and presenting a slide show that day.  Now let me remind you, Julie and I had not been in Taos for 24 hours yet by this point.  And here we were, soaking up everything the town had to offer like a couple of locals.  This is what people speak of when they say that Taos Mountain has welcomed us….

Lenny’s talk was inspiring.  The journey from his old life back east to his artful life now in Taos is a fascinating one which is captured by the depth of his photography.  As he talked, it was amazing to me that much of what he hit on, such as the need to nurture and not question our creativity, were themes that Julie, Kate and I had been discussing all morning.  Themes for our week.  It was magic!

After Lenny’s lecture, it was time to bid Kate adieu for the day and move on up to Mabel’s.  A quick look into the classroom at Mabel’s Juniper House took my breath away.  THIS was our WORK space!!!!!  How inspiring!! (We would make it even more lovely and elegant…)

Julie and I spent our first night at Mabel’s in the 3rd floor solarium which has 360 degree views of pueblo lands and mountains.

This is our view from the loo:

As the sun set that evening we attempted to capture what the light in the sky was up to.  Always a futile activity but it feeds the soul anyway.

I now know what ‘purple mountain majesty’ really means.

And now I have come to the end of the account of my first full day in Taos.  Hopefully you can see why each day needs it’s own post.  The days in Taos seemed to last forever.  D.H. Lawrence said “time is different there”, and he is right.  Without really trying, we packed more into each day than seemed humanly possible.  It’s as if time slowed to accommodate our wishes while there.

I am trying to figure out how to put a bit of this time-bending quality into my ordinary day to day now that I am back here at home.  So much of it is the simple approach to things that involve time, but let’s face it, the modern world requires us to show up on time.  Then again, perhaps by building more art time into our lives, more long walks with the dogs, or time paddling on the rivers, less time trying to watch the clock and simply ‘keep-up’ – maybe we can bend time just enough to slow down and live a little.

‘Til next time…



Returned. Changed.

“If you’re a truly lucky traveler, you won’t be the same person when you get home.” ~(reader submitted quote to the New York Times)

How do I even begin to blog about the trip to Taos, New Mexico last week?!?  A dear friend of mine would answer that question with this one: How do you eat an elephant?…. answer: one bite at a time.  So in the coming days I will share our time in Taos with you  here bit by bit, story by story, day by day.  There is much to tell.  Magic, new friendships, big skies, bigger dreams, art-making with the spirit in mind, amazing food, nourishing laughter (all the way from the gut)… and more.

But it all started with a few meetings at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in the weeks leading up to the trip.  (Special thanks to Julie, workshop participant, willing assistant, reiki master and fast new friend, for most of the photos below, as well as many to come in future posts.)

We explored available art supplies to find those we wanted to bring to our travel journal experience and began to ready our sketchbooks for the trip.  I call this pre-trip time ‘priming the pump’.  We must be in practice when we hit the road so that keeping an illuminated journal will feel second nature to us.  We met 4 weeks in a row (which I think may have been 1 too many after all!) and by the end of this time we had a sense of community among the students.  We were ready!

…. and then we were off!  Travel to Taos is the classic ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ type of thing.  We landed in Albuquerque, rented a car and drove north toward Santa Fe and on and on to a place called Ojo Caliente….

where we soaked our weary bones in hot springs alive with healing mineral waters that bubble up from deep inside the earth.

It is at Ojo that time began to bend and we proceeded to ascend toward Taos where Mabel’s awaited….

But that is a story for another day.  Stay tuned, I’ll keep you posted.