Dang. Life keeps happening. And weather. After days and days of weirdly warm southwest weather, winter appears to have remembered this part of the map. She’d been drowsing in the memory of autumn’s lush colors, no doubt. Remembering the heavy scent of the dying oak leaves, the heady fragrance of creosote in the breeze. All curled up in the cattail rhizome, nesting like the marsh wren. And then as those soggy reeds sunk onto the lagoon, maybe the spikes pushed on her, woke her, and she said, “Oh shit!” Overslept again.

I am so like winter sometimes.

Those who do not reside in these arid parts of America the beautiful duly wonder what in the heck is this woman talking about, winter in the southwest. The desert? What?

Yes, oh, yes. We have winter, albeit a sleepy one this year. Winds whip and snow accumulates, or rain pounds roofs and roads grow slippery, just like the rest of the country.

But oh, the palette of the southwest winter; it is the most beautiful for me. This landscape I love has its dramatic moments, those so familiar to the world. The stark red rocks of Sedona, the stripes of the Painted Desert, the silvery slopes of Wolf Creek Pass, or San Francisco Peak. Rock formations so bold you’d think the planet had been turned inside out.

But it is the more subtle views that I cherish. The simple glimpses. And their ability to calm my soul. They remind me of the importance of in between. The moments before next. And after.

So winter rose, and she’s been dancing around like a crazy person. The skiers are sliding, the shovelers are shovelin’ and the likes of me? Well, I, of course, end up on a road trip and get stuck in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Poor me, right?

New Mexico is an old friend to me
and it is where I will land eventually
for the palette, the quiet, and the red chile.
Oh, oh. I feel embraced
when I travel the roads north of Santa Fe.
Sorry to be so cliché
but Georgia O’Keefe, that gal,
what can I say,
she had it going on.

Image result for georgia o'keeffe new mexico landscape

And it is that, that artistic inspiration, that draws me, and drew me, to my poet friend’s home, to offer condolences for the loss of her artist husband. There we sat across the table from each other in her ranchette. With the dogs at our feet, one fighting off the grim reaper, and two donkeys staring at us through the window. “They don’t like the grass hay,” she reports. “But the guy who delivers alfalfa has pneumonia.”

And then we are quiet. For it is pneumonia that took her husband from her. And then we write. We immerse ourselves in words. Coffee. Rich food. And words. And his artwork. And the new grand baby who is a tiny perfect picture of the large man her grandfather was. It was all so poignant I felt like butter melted on a plate.

We wrote together as we did for years, years ago, when our girls were experimenting with cartwheels and dress up and magic shows. And we were years from even imagining divorce or death or donkeys, or having yet come to terms with the desert. All that it offers us, the antithesis to the city lives we led when we were just girls, growing up, back east.

We wrote and we read aloud; Sylvia and the baby listened or nursed or went on with all things young motherhood, all things new life.

We quickly discovered that we read the same books, and that actually, we listen to them on CD in our cars as we commute to our jobs. Including a recent re-visit to Empire Falls. A return for us both because we love flawed characters, those in the novel, and in our own lives. We worry, early in the morning, writing or staring, about our own flaws, owned or un-owned.

We discovered, also, that neither of us eat wheat, or like to get drunk, nor do we mind dog and cat hair everywhere. We pined for old friends from Las Cruces, the other life and friendship we shared. And we vowed to visit some again. And each other. Again.

She remembers our girls not connecting, I remember them as solid. Together we can’t remember the English professor’s name, and we simultaneously shout out the name of his red-headed lover.

Oh. Reconnecting. We talked of death a lot, and alcohol, and babies and politics and how much we don’t know about any of it. She has returned to church. I shared that I sat in the new Catholic church, Immaculate Conception, one afternoon upon my return from a visit back home. How I appreciated the solace of an empty altar, and rows of bare pews still echoing that morning’s questions and whispering hesitant faith.

Her neighbor brought us warm scones, and we forewent our shared aversion to wheat, and bloat, and dove in like school girls. My boyfriend took us to dinner and filled us in on recent politics that we had missed in our twenty-four hours of ‘yes.’

She feels like she is  going a little bit crazy, sometimes. I can only nod. Yes.

I feel a little bit like I never ever want to leave this place, my forehead lined with a plan for a return. A forever return. Yes.

She noted how much death I’ve witnessed. Yes. I noticed how Tom doesn’t seem to yet be gone from her or the house. And that may never happen. Yes.

I promised to return, she promised to come to the Verde Valley. She will walk the lagoons with me. Witness the cattails that can hide a wren, a rabbit, or even winter. Maybe my winter eagles are her summer ones. I am south of her after all. We will squint our wrinkled eyes and scour the trees for a sighting. No matter the season.

Re-connections, good ones, always spur promises, and they buffer the road home, ease the work of emptying the suitcase and doing the laundry. Cleaning the windshield from six hours of Mack truck spit.

Disconnections happen after a while. Not like hanging up, but just getting on with dogs and donkeys and jobs and another load of laundry or another crockpot of red chile, from New Mexico, with pork. Yes.

Image result for chimayo, nm landscape 101

When You Get to Chimayó . . .*

When you get to Chimayó on NM76, pass the left turn to the Santurario and continue on 76, pass the Chili Red Tavern on your right, then turn right where the railroad tie garden thing with the Chimayó sign is.

When I get to Chimayó
I do find two donkeys, little ones
and two rescue dogs, two cats
sunning in their own apartment:
rent $900, they’re way behind
I’m told, and I see Michelle
and Tom, painter and poet
loving the land and families
or most of them anyway
“We’ll be here.”

          Continue up the hill — bear to the right — and so on. Turn right to stay on Co Rd 101 (just stay to the right until you get to our house — there’s a CR 101 sign where the road turns from pavement to dirt — our fence line will be to your right, then you’ll go around a muddy, rutted corner).

When I get to Chimayó
the road to their house is rutted
not grated again, and that doesn’t always make it better
anyway I’m told, they live simply this pair
and find solace in success, and the maintenance
of avoiding arrogance and pride,
and feeding the animals
and their crafts.

          You’ll see Tom’s studio sign on the right then our fence. The gate might be closed — so the dogs don’t chase cars — but it won’t be locked. Just open the gate and drive through down the driveway.

When I get to Chimayó
I find no ivory tower
or even a big house up on the hill
just a dusty assemblage
of structures and function
and art and poems
and photos of all the girls
who have struggled
and surpassed unchecked expectations.

          Destination will be on the right. You’ll find us.

When I get to Chimayó
I hear about the drugs
that make this economy thrive
made their daughters brave
how they all survive
in this wonderful and lawless little place
where purple irises grow wild
dogs, too, and blue skies
never ever fail.

          We’ll watch for you.

When I get to Chimayó
I find my old friend
skinny and fit as she ever was
competitive and right
patient and determined
to age only in her ability
to let those less-desired moments
of life slip on down the acequia
on down her tight runner’s legs
and to never die.
“I just don’t want to die,”
she says.

         See you tomorrow.

*Directions to the Holland house, provided on a visit before Tom died, and the directions didn’t change with my recent visit. But now, Tom is gone, and baby Aurora’s smile is filling the space.

  • Top painting by Tom Holland, you can find more of his work at TomHollandSouthwestArt.com
  • The next is by Georgia O’Keefe
  • The last is a photograph that I found on the internet and forgot to note the artist, and then couldn’t find it again. My apologies.

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