It’s been two months since I left North Carolina and arrived in New Mexico, where life is more like Mexico than I ever imagined it would be. Spanish is a predominant language here. Indigenous Native American culture and artistry is powerful. Time moves slowly. There is no urgency and many people here say Taos means mañana. I am constantly reminded of the mantra told to me years ago in Teotitlan del Valle by my host family head Federico Chavez Sosa: Calma. Patiencia. Tranquila.
Life takes on a different meaning when the focus is on landscape and the whirl of city life is in the past. I’m utterly astounded by how the vastness of sky and horizon opens life to a defining purpose of expansiveness, the natural world, and infinite possibilities. Even as human life is finite, there is a sense of timelessness here that offers peace and solitude.
As I write this, a lone coyote dances through the sage brush traveling east to west toward the gorge. Only moments before, a white tailed rabbit came up to my patio door and peered in, ears and nose twitching in unison. A flock of magpies chatter on the fence posts. Small pleasures.
Out here on the Rio Grande River Gorge Mesa, I find comfort in budding friendships with people who are drawn here with similar vision, purpose, politics and lifestyle. I am also comforted by dear friends Karen and Steve who live a mile up the road from my rental house. I have known them for almost 45 years. She and I raised our children together, opened and closed a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school, remained constant and supportive. Their land has become mine. We walk the gorge rim trails, smell the sagebrush, look for Big Horn Sheep, comment on new construction taking shape.
This is a soul-satisfying place.
It is a small town. There is no Whole Foods. (There is Cid’s.) There is no shopping mall. My drive to town takes a good twenty minutes. One could say I’m isolated. And, this would be true, more or less. It is perfect for writers, photographers, creatives who find sustenance in simplicity. For my city fix, I drive 75 minutes to Santa Fe. I’ve been going regularly since I’ve had a steady stream of visitors. I’m not sure when the feeling of being on perpetual vacation will end.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
I’m here because of Covid. Sequestered for over a year in my Durham, NC, historic renovated tobacco warehouse condo gave me plenty of time to reflect. I felt trapped in an edifice of impenetrable brick with a view to the high school across the street, electric lines above, and elevator access to the outdoors. It served me well before Covid when I was spending more time in Oaxaca. Was Durham where I wanted to grow older? The question of values kept coming up. So, while my decision to move here was, by many accounts impulsive, I realized I wanted direct access to nature and a long view. After spending a month in New Mexico in November 2020, even before I was vaccinated, I realized that life here could be almost normal even in the worst of circumstances.
That’s not to say, I wasn’t scared of making this move — leaving good friends behind, a network of the familiar, with the best medical care in the world at my fingertips. I lived in North Carolina for twenty-two years, the longest sojourn of my life except for growing up in California. Fear is powerful. It freezes us and keeps us from exploring. It is also liberating if we allow ourselves to move through it and have confidence in our ability to adapt and thrive in new circumstances. I also realize I have the vagabond gene in my family. I have lots of practice making change. This is learned behavior. Over the years I have pried myself out of my comfort zone. This propels me forward.
Still, I continue to wait. Buying land and building a home is a process and anxiety provoking. After months, we have still not broken ground because the county has not yet approved the building permit. Lots of moving parts. Lots of puzzle pieces to fit in place. The bank cannot finalize the construction loan until this happens. The site cannot be touched until the loan is signed. Infrastructure needs to be put in place. The road I will live on, Camino Chamisa, needs to be grubbed out. A trench needs digging to hold the lines for well water, electric and fiber. Poco a poco. This is the main reason I cannot get back to Oaxaca. I’m waiting for this to start.
Covid Bonus: being closer to family.
In September, my son and his wife-to-be will move to Albuquerque. This is a gift beyond my imagination. When I committed to buying land and making the move, this was a dream, not a promise. He has approval to work permanently from home, and we know now that home can be defined as anywhere! My sister and brother are in California. They will visit in August. Durham was not on their travel radar.
When will I get back to Oaxaca?
It’s Dark Sky here. I am star-gazing. The Milky Way and North Star provide no clues for me, although the ancients grounded their beliefs in such spectacular displays. I know for certain I will be in Oaxaca in mid-October to lead our Day of the Dead Culture Tour (three spaces open). Returning this summer depends on timing to certify the construction here. Time will tell.
I guess the next best thing to being in Oaxaca, Mexico, is being in Taos, New Mexico. They call it New Mexico for a reason!
New Mexico Dry. After the Santa Fe Folk Art Market.
By Tuesday after the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market ended, most friends returned home or continued with travels. Market weekend was HOT, over 100 degrees fahrenheit with no rain, unusual for July when afternoon thunderstorms usually cool things off, they say. There’s no air conditioning here, my local friends remind me. Adobe, shade and water are the natural coolants.
The high New Mexico desert is beautiful, austere, the color of salmon, sand, sage and terra-cotta. Only the cloudless blue sky, jagged mountains and cottonwood banking the rivers give relief to the landscape.
Beautiful pottery comes from this region
It is big country with expansive mesas and tumbleweed. Still the wild west with scattered oases.
Cemetery, Taos Pueblo, with adobe chapel
I drive an hour and a half north across Native American pueblo land — Santa Clara, Tesuque, Pojoaque, San Ildefonso — climbing up through a mountain pass along the Rio Grande River Gorge to Taos to visit friends.
Native American Tiwa people live in the pueblo
Beneath the mountain, under a cloudless sky, I see dust dancing in the distance, a funnel cloud likeness of Kokopelli blowing his flute.
St. Jerome Church, Taos Pueblo with brilliant blue altar (no photos inside)
Despite the heat, it is easy to love it here, the mix of silver, turquoise, coral, casinos, fry bread, corn, indigenous pride and creativity, ripe nectarines and peaches — prolific local bounty. This is more than an enclave for opera and art aficionados.
Colors of New Mexico
The Taos Pueblo looks much like it did forty years ago when I first visited and felt drawn by the region’s history and her native peoples.
Taos Pueblo as it was
There are a few more tourist shops, but the pueblo is otherwise untouched except by bus loads of visitors who come in early morning to avoid the sun.
Tributary of the Rio Grande runs through the Taos Pueblo
It’s not difficult to make the comparison between Mexico and New Mexico both visually and culturally. Spanish is a primary language here, and roots go deep into colonizer oppression and conversion (read about the 1680 Pueblo Revolt).
Three foot adobe walls, wood beams called vegas to hold up cedar ceilings
From history, we know that political boundaries do not define the origins of people (think Maya people of Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala).
Hand-woven blanket. The Spanish brought sheep and looms to New Mexico, too
Descendants of Mexican landholders subsumed into U.S. territory in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase populate Nuevo Mexico.
Tiwa people of Taos Pueblo are known for drum-making
Taos Pueblo is a UNESCO World Heritage site
Many of my New Mexico friends are equally at home in Oaxaca, and it is easy to see why.
Stockade fence, adobe wall, irresistible texture
Just like Oaxaca, I love the colors and textures here, the traditions of the native people, their art and creativity. The synergy between these two places is strong and as I drive through the country, I have this feeling of peace and deep history.
Hand-hewn logs provide filtered shelter from the sun
At this moment, I’m in Huntington Beach, California, with my son Jacob. The ocean breezes bring chill to the air, even though days are warm. It’s great to be back in the land of my growing up and connect with family for more than a few days.
Turquoise doors, Taos Pueblo
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Mexico, Photography, Travel & Tourism
Tagged colors, history, Mexico, New Mexico, photography, pueblo, Santa Fe, Taos, Tiwa people, travel