Fall in my neck of northern New Mexico is about studio tours. Artists across valleys and in small communities display their creations & welcome visitors. It’s a decades-old tradition. Many of us regulars look forward to visiting our favs. Know there may be cookies, apples, or posole. One I’ve attended every year since 1994 is the Abiquiu tour in the Chama River Valley. These days as much for the place as the artists.
The Chama valley is where I take visitors. For me, it glows, and holds the magic of northern NM like no place else. Not even the dramatic stretches beyond that lead to Ghost Ranch. This valley speaks of land and people. Orchards, vineyards, lavender farms, the Rio Chama winding in big loops thru it.
Yellow is the color of autumn in New Mexico. We get a few russets, a bit of burnt orange, but it’s yellow that we see everywhere.
Sunshine groves of aspens that stretch swaths across the high mountains. Luminous golden yellow cottonwoods seemingly lit from inside that line waterways, sprout on mountain sides, cluster in valleys and on old homesteads. Fields & roadsides of sage green chamesa crowned with fuzzy looking yellow flowers. Mediums & neglected patches of ground covered with leggy yellow daisies.
The sky was clear the day we headed to the studio tour. Writing this, remembering how my friend and I felt lucky for such a day, I realize clear skies used to be expected. I couldn’t wait for it when I landed back here during those years I lived on the east coast. Then there was the year of wildfires. The smoke coming up from Arizona, and all directions around Santa Fe. But it cleared. Then (I can’t remember when), I noticed how many days the skies seemed bleached. A shroud of haze hanging on the horizon. It reminded me of my visit to the Grand Canyon five years ago. Me wondering if it would ever clear as the smoke from the electric power plant on Navajo lands continued.
This is smog from Albuquerque that blows up, my friend says. It’s smoke from the entire west up in flames, I think. We are all linked.
Our last stop on tour was the lavender farm. We sat at a table on the porch of the small wooden dwelling they call their teahouse. We sipped lavender tea, looked out on fields striped with rows of short domes of pruned lavender under a solid blue sky lifting to heaven. Light filtering thru the cottonwoods at the borders tinged the air golden.
A half dozen people sat or strolled about, quiet and mellow. So, when a woman came onto the porch and brightly proclaimed the sun strong for this time of year, she stood out. Not from here, my friend and I said. The sun’s always strong in the high desert, even in winter.
In 1993 I drove across country to live six weeks in the Berkeley Hills above San Francisco and get a hypnosis certification. I rented a small room in a house high above the bay, and 6 days a week drove over the mountain to the small town of Lafayette. It was a really small town then. Not having near the wealth that predominates the township now. I don’t remember much about the place, except the 2 pump gas station I filled up at. The first time I pulled in, I got out of the car. A guy who looked and spoke as if of middle eastern descent came over, chastised me, told me to get back in the car. It took me a moment to realize he was going to pump the gas. Full service stations had all but disappeared in North Carolina where I lived. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I’m not from here.’ The next moment has never left me. His expression and demeanor immediately changed, softened. His voice turned quieter, kinder. I’m not from here. He’s not from here. We shared something, including understanding that feeling of ‘not from here.’
This wasn’t what I thought about when the gal walked by where we sat, tho. ‘You’re covered with flowers,’ I said. She looked down at her blouse and the large, vibrant, clearly defined flowers on a white background. I guess I am, she said. She was from Charleston, SC, a place I know. We chatted briefly.
Somehow it came up – yellow is the color of autumn in New Mexico. I told her how the trees seem to be lit with thousand watt lightbulbs at certain times a day. She quieted as she looked across the grounds and up the mountains in the near distance. Noted one tree tinged russet. Then said she thought she’d hang around, not return to Ghost Ranch right away, as planned.
17 yrs. later, while in Bluefield, WV doing research on the coal fields for my second novel, a friend offered to help me see what I was looking at, as she put it. She interpreted the landscape and culture, gave me perspectives. Like the sun is always strong in thin air. My experience of the place and understanding of where I was shifted in magical ways. I wasn’t thinking of this, either, when I greeted the woman from Charleston.
In fact, I’m not sure why I spoke to her. It might’ve been a way to mollify my initial dismissal for myself. And I think it’s because I felt something in her besides the space she took. She truly was earnest and engaged with being there. And completely unselfconscious about it! I simply wanted to share what I love, that I’m always in awe of, so she could love it, too.
In the end, I gave her a way to see what she was looking at, like my friend did for me in West Virginia. And a way for us to connect, like with the guy at the gas station in California.
The experience at the lavender farm has dogged me for days, and just now I understand why. I talk often about observing with awareness. Awareness the key word. That experience illuminated a whole new level of what awareness means. It’s more than presence and noticing. It includes the meaning we don’t know. It includes the Other – nature, human, place, culture. It’s allowing our understanding to expand.
It’s the heart of the work I do with writers. Allowing their relationships with themselves, their work, and their lives to deepen & shift toward what they desire. Because unless a hurricane drowns your world or a fire swallows your life whole, change happens in shifts. And presence to the creative process is about flow. Constantly changing in small shifts.
It’s the questions answered in the retreats and workshops I offer, such as the women’s retreat with amazing visionary artist Kendall Sarah Scott that’s happening on the full moon in March. Questions such as how do we go toward what we’re drawn to? How do we see all that we look at, and engage with awareness? How do we take what we see, and deepen our relationship to ourselves and this world that seems to burning, drowning, and crumbling in so many corners? How do we find our allies, the ones who support us feeling stronger, more alive, connected, and full of good stuff?
It’s a journey.
Tell me. . .What sparks you when you look around?
I’ll tell you a secret. . .The field of alfalfa really was this green, the sky really that high, and those trees really that luminous.
**Special Thanks to my angel messenger this week: The woman from Charleston, covered in flowers.
Another small journey. Getting to Wise.
A Writer’s Life.
Like what you read? Sign up for updates in your inbox.
Looking for help with your writing or writing life? Click Here.
Like to Listen? Check out The Creative Life for People Living in the Real World.
Does the image of the Madonna speak to you? Join us March 1 -4 in Santa Fe for Madonna – Contemporary Ally for these times.
“The Writer’s Block Myth – A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom”