Wednesday of our week in Taos was our "free" day. But we had an assignment. In the spirit of conceptual art we were asked to take a chance, step our of our normal way of doing things, and ride the bus. Taos is a small town. It has one main street. The "Chile Express" runs north and south in a loop. From the center of town and the plaza you can ride it north to the Taos Pueblo or south to the Ranchos de Taos church. It turns around at the post office. We could make this an all day journey or a quick hop. The idea was to be open to our experiences and engage with people. Observe. Record. I set out in the morning, finding this driveway mirror as a device for a self-portrait.
Here is my travelogue of the day:
My day of wandering started out with blue sky and a long, tree lined lane. A tree full of ravens, memories of a waxing moon behind a stormy night of cottonwoods bending to the will of the wind. Mindful of the poetry cabinet, I’ve been stopping every ten paces or so to jot down fragments of thoughts. I feel centered to be off on my own this morning. The quiet of my own company allows me to hear my own voice; without it I am lost. As I walk I am thinking about all the people and the artists that have come before me. Loving this place, the light, the churches, the mountains, the magic. This place has been their subject and the object of their desire.
Already I feel the heat of the sun sweating my neck. My hair feels hot. I arrive at the Loka Café to find an oasis of calm and shade in their lovely courtyard. A breakfast of just picked garden greens and ham quiche arrives in no time along with a pot of ceylon tea. A quiet intermission in the middle of this week of discoveries. A young mother sits nursing her baby in the leafy shadowy dance of the tree. She plays with her baby’s fingers as she contentedly nurses. The day is young like her babe, I want to tell her to enjoy this moment. It goes by all so fast. Now I text my daughter – that cold, impossibly distant (but efficient) communication pathway – instead of holding her to my breast. The tears rise as I write, feeling the sting of loss and distance. Enjoy the babe, hold her and be calm in the quiet moments, don’t hurry – time has a way of moving on without us.
Fueled for the journey my courtyard respite is over. I head over the plaza to sit for a while. The feeling of this plaza is restful. It is lovely to sit, rest and watch as the drama of everyday life unfolds. I pull out my new sketch book and really look at the Hotel La Fonda. I begin to draw the lines of this unique building and while I’m not getting it just right, the simple act of putting pen to paper has made me stop to really see what it is I’m looking at. A wave of gratitude washes over me. After a time, I stand up, take a step, and am once again in the flow of the drama of everyday life.
A few steps more and I am waving down the bus. The bus driver kindly stops and with one crisp dollar bill I can ride the bus out to the Taos Pueblo and back again. A bargain. The bus is empty except for one man furiously writing on some pages like an out of work screenwriter writing for his next meal. The bus driver is chatty and asks me where I’m from. “Will you be going to the Fiesta?,” he asks. “ I don’t know,” I answer. ”What is it?,” I say. He tells me all about the music and food and dancing. He thinks I’d really enjoy the children’s parade. The frantic writer is not blinking. He never looks up.
I step off the bus at 11:59 a.m. – it’s hot, dry and dusty. I get my camera tag, pay my admission and wander off to see the Pueblo. My pockets are bulging with the tools and treasures of my journey – pen, lense cap, glasses case, a $5 bill, a rusted bottle cap, a rusted piece of wire and a rusted oval of graphite colored metal – formerly a tin can. I wander to the old cemetery – the crosses stark against dried wheat colored grass and the hot blue sky above. Hauntingly beautiful in it’s starkness and finality. I meander down the narrow dirt path lined with old adobe buildings to the St. Geronimo church. It’s cool and quiet inside. The altar is peopled with a dozen figures, some native, some catholic. I pull out my sketchbook and draw a little locked cabinet covered with silver grey filagree and a cross. What’s inside and when does it get to come out, I wonder.
Some more wandering and photographing and it’s time to go. It’s hot. I’m dusty, thirsty and hungry. I park myself under a tree and pull out my sketchbook, waiting for the bus. In my line of sight is the ancient cemetery. I look and see and begin to let my pen break the white page with it’s black inkiness. It’s more than a pleasing activity and I am glad for the waiting time. Time to sit and see, a kind of trance. A gift. Not one I give myself often enough. It’s long past when the bus should have arrived. I get up off the hard rock that has been my perch and head to the admissions window to ask the lady behind the smoky glass if the bus stops across the street. “I think so,” she answers. “Hey, is that a sketch book?” she asks pointing to the one sticking out from underneath my arm. “Yes,” I answer. “I’m going to have to see that.” I hand it over like an idiot – feeling like a kid caught with contraband. She proceeds to tear out my two Pueblo drawings, saying that drawing or sketching is not permitted. “Really?” I ask. “It says right there on the sign” she answers. I back away feeling ashamed and ripped off. I walk back and look at the sign. No mention of any sketching activities being forbidden. I look through the hole in the smoky glass and mention this lack of sketching restriction on the sign. She’s insistent that it is not allowed. I ask her for my drawings back. She says no. I walk away, sad and mad. I’m certain she is in the sorority of the grim innkeeper. Rules. Power. Boundaries. They are cut from the same cloth – the grim innkeeper and the cranky lady of the smoky glass.
Back on the bus it’s cool in the air conditioning. I’m trying to let go of my feeling of being ripped off. It’s not easy. Then I think about the real power of the drawings, and I realize the gift is in the act of really seeing. Letting my eyes follow the lines and curves and shapes of the reality in front of me. That pleasure was mine in the moment. And that, no one can take away. The boundary of the Pueblo land invisibly slips into the land of Taos proper, where sketching and drawing are allowed. Encouraged. Again I feel grateful for this nomadic day, the gift of time alone and the chance to really see.
Taos, July 2008
This amazing Pueblo sits in the shadow of Taos mountain, with open space surrounding it. Children play in the natural plaza between the north and south structures. The waters from the sacred Blue Lake flow through it. Many people open their doors and you can walk into the cool adobe rooms where they sell very fine native art and crafts. I bought a beautiful silver and tourquoise bracelet from a woman who told me about her family.