Wabi-Sabi Anyone?

While wandering around the stacks of the Taos library the other day I came upon a familiar book, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. This could be my 3rd round of the “excitement of discovery” finding this book. Like running into an old friend. I thought to myself, why Taos is a very Wabi-Sabi kind of place, by its own definition. Aren’t we always talking about how we love the insubstantial elements of the beauty here, the play of light, the textured earthiness of adobe. And don’t we love the absence of things modern and slick and up-to-the-minute fashionable?

This might look familiar to those who frequent Ojo Caliente hot springs. It’s part of the iron pool. Here’s a quote from the book: “Beauty is…an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.” I like that beauty is not a thing of beauty, (like love is not a loved one). We know we can experience beauty just by walking outside at dusk and feeling the warm rosy light interacting with our familiar objects, like our garden or a fence. It’s the interplay between objects and the natural world, with a sense of time, the moment, the very vulnerability of our human existence. The sound of a raven or a mourning dove can evoke a similar Wabi-Sabi moment.

This was taken on the back side of the famous Trampas church. It’s obvious purpose is to drain water off the roof, but at the time I took the photo I was having a big “a-ha” moment. Everything about it was weathered, had a look of useful service and yet held itself together with a sense of quiet, understated dignity. The blue of the sky was held in pure focus by the arrow shape, almost as though the whole sky was coming down through that narrow channel.

This photo I took in the bottom of one of the ditches in the orchard under an apricot tree. Notice the state of decay in the apricots, from tantalizing juicy orange they have transformed into shriveled, aged grays and browns. Their textures are no longer smooth. The green grass tells the story that it is not winter yet, but the condition of these apricots portends more break down ahead for other fruits of summer. All these are Wabi-Sabi qualities. There is a tranquil sense of things portrayed as inevitable looking.

This Ganesha statue is rough in texture, has a noticeable chip in it that makes it a “2nd.” It’s about a foot high, and very heavy. It sits next to my front door and I wanted to elevate it. When I located the rock that has a strange pointy shape (in the middle) I just had to use it, as it seemed almost as significant, in itself, as the statue. There was a bit of suspense in incorporating it, since I also wanted the heavy statue at the top to look and be solid. I have felt respectful of the outcome of this project these past months. I wasn’t thinking Wabi-Sabi then, but now I see it fits.

It was painful to choose this last photo as there were several contenders raising their hands and waving them in my face. I just wanted to say a little on behalf of the book. The author, Leonard Koren, feels that Wabi-Sabi is important to talk about, to quantify, so to speak, because it is the last hallmark (my word) of traditional Japanese beauty. It roots are very ancient, originating with tea masters, priests and monks steeped in the traditions of Zen Buddhism in Japan. As a philosophy it speaks to an acceptance of the impermanence of life, a view of life that can embrace moments of loneliness and tender sadness. This very much appeals to my own sensibilities and I find it an aesthetic worth naming and claiming.

More Taos Farm Market – August

Last Saturday at the Taos Farm Market I met Jeff Nitz, a farmer who comes to the market from as far away as Abiquiu. I was impressed. As I started talking to him I kept seeing more things to like about him, his produce and his intensity and focus around farming. For instance, notice the miniature hay bales in the photo above. He has a little baler to make those and they do look great in his display.

And yes, this is Jeff himself. In the next booth to the west stands his friend and farming partner, Steve, who farms in Embudo. Together they make up Rio Arriba Farms, the name of their Community Supported Agriculture venture. In exchange for an annual payment they offer weekly produce for 22 weeks of the year (from May 18 – October 12). They even have a nice brochure and the CSA has a website. According to the brochure they both started their respective farms in 2002.

Not sure whose tomatoes these were but I loved all the variety of shapes and colors. I am growing my own so I don’t shop for them at the market. I have described my own “pioneer gardening” efforts in May, when I first arrived, all part of the Taos “new kid” experience. The soil where I decided to put my plants looked sandy and even gravelly to me, so I dug three deep holes in a row (for the 3 plants in 4″ pots) and added lots of amendments and some old compost I had discovered hidden behind some overgrown bushes.

Now they are as high as my shoulders, as I have trained them up a lattice of sticks held together with string. And I am harvesting a few every day. My secret? Each plant is surrounded by a “wall of water.” You can buy these and they come in packs of three. You unfold the tall ring, put it around the plant and fill the channels from the top with water. They stand up on their own, but I always feel better putting a couple of wood stakes in strategic spots. Both early and late in the season this keeps the lower end of the plant nice and cozy and helps it resist freezing or just the stress of a cold night.

Here’s how my plants looked in June. I learned how to “baby” my tomatoes up in Ketchum, Idaho, where the growing conditions are even more touchy for tomatoes, unless you have a greenhouse, of course. Still, people like me will try it every year. The last year I was there I did a big harvest of green tomatoes at the end of the season and enjoyed them ripening for many weeks. And they tasted pretty good. Still, we all know a vine-ripened tomato is one of life’s supreme pleasures.

With her parent’s permission I took this photo of this young girl leaning against a melon trailer on the outskirts of the market. It looked like her parents had been playing music just before I arrived. Dad was packing up what looked like a violin. Sorry I missed that.

Downtown Kit Carson

This Saturday I mis-read the paper and tried to attend an art opening at a gallery on Kit Carson Road. The good news is that it got me out exploring along Kit Carson. For some reason I’ve been reluctant to wander around downtown. Maybe when the summer tourists thin out? I love taking photos into windows so you get a mix of what’s inside and out. This reclining figure in one of the Kit Carson galleries captures the best of what I’m always looking for.

This is the look of the left side of Kit Carson Road as you start down it from the main intersection in downtown Taos. All along are old historic adobe buildings which have, over time, housed all kinds of enterprises, no doubt. Most of them are now art galleries, some full of small crafts items and miscellanea of the Southwest region and others offer fine art. The only place I found open was offering just about anything a tourist might want to buy on a trip to Taos. There were no customers and the salesman seemed eager to talk about the hot summer we’ve been having and the meagerness of the rain.

This is one of the many carved doors along that stretch of shops. This is the kind of thing I like. You won’t find it in a mall and it might be worth traveling to Taos to see, if it’s the kind of thing you appreciate. Really it is here and there and everywhere in and around Taos, though not with consistency. You have to stay alert for special hand-carved artistic accents on buildings, but you will be rewarded time and time again. Those moments are times when I remember to express gratitude for the lucky stars who guided me here.

This is the outdoor seating area, I believe, for Tazza Coffee, located on the opposite side of the street. Looked inviting. I am one who loves the concept of sitting in or outside a cafe, with a friend, enjoying some coffee or tea. It’s one of those luxuries that makes life feel abundant and full of possibilities. Back in Ketchum I indulged in this activity frequently, but since I’ve moved to Taos, not so much. And when I do I head to Cafe LOKA and find it meets my desire perfectly. I know Tazza has its fans, though, and perhaps one day I’ll meet someone who likes to go there and I’ll join them once in a while?

Speaking of possibilities, a friend took me along to the Sunday lunch at the Hanuman Temple in Taos last Sunday and an entire new world of possibilities opened before me. I ran into three friends there, one a woman I had recently met who saw my car’s 5B plates and approached me, guessing I was from Ketchum. She just moved here from Boise, Idaho. Anyway, I immediately felt at home, just as I had when I went several times to watch the Tibetan monks work on their mandala a month ago or so. There will be more about the Temple in future blogs.

August Splendor in Taos Farm Market

Seems everyone agrees dailias took the prize as queens of the market last Saturday. But flowers were abundant everywhere you looked, making for high splendor and a giddy feeling of joy. Even the vegetables looked brighter and were often displayed so beautifully you felt they were flowers too.

Case in point, this cascade of carrots. This came from a display on the far side as you enter the market run by two young men. They seem to be in the spirit of vegetables as the stuff of art. I can’t say I’ve asked, or know, where all these growers call home but I had a conversation with a young man who is farming in Las Trampas on an acreage that has asequia water. This is his first year there and he is planning to continue. Las Trampas is about 45 minutes from Taos on the High Road, and is famous for it’s beautiful adobe church built in the 1800s.

The photo above shows one of the two young men I liked for their artful displays of produce. Another place I’ve noticed farmers are from is Dixon, south of Taos down the 68, Dixon has a notably lower elevation which probably helps lengthen the growing season. I made a detour off 68 to see Dixon a couple of weeks ago for the first time. I was with some visiting sisters and we were making the loop around the High Road through Espanola and back up to Taos. I could see why people like it there. It felt sheltered and fertile and very quiet. Artists and farmers seem attracted to it.

No blog about the Taos Farm Market would be complete without mentioning Jeff and his partner, whose charm and reliability are only matched by their offerings. When I got there Saturday they had already sold all the tomatoes they brought, 32 pounds I think it was. They have a one-acre place where they live and garden intensively called Talpa Gardens. Their place is on the acequia and talking to Jeff I got the impression he knows how special his water is. They often sell out early so my advice is to be prudent and shop there first and “get it while you can.” Saturday I passed them by in my enthusiasm for taking photos and stopping for a short session with Bonnie, the palm reader. I later regretted my careless attitude. By the way, the reading with Bonnie was amazing! She’s there every Saturday. Take advantage.

Monsoon Season Rolls On


This year’s monsoon season has got the natural world smiling. Gardens, fields of alfalfa, weeds–all are growing at a feverish pace. Even the asequias still have a decent flow. Heck, a guy I was talking to who lives over by Penasco said their asequia ditches flooded about 10 days ago, causing a ruckus.

That water from above is loaded with nitrogen which plants slurp up greedily. They much prefer it to the hose. Full of optimism I’ve even planted what amounts to a smaller 2nd garden in the past several weeks and the conditions are great for seedlings. I’ve transplanted out sweet basil I started from seed with no problem lately. Being new to Taos I can only believe what I hear about the long fall season ahead, but I’m planting as though…

Two of my four sisters came to town for a visit recently and that got me out and about in my role of hostess. First place we went was the Sipapu ski area. The sisters may have a winter ski trip sometime, as they have in the past, and I wanted them to see this possibility. Plus, I had heard they had nice hiking trails. This photo comes from a trail up a ways north of the lodge. It followed a creek and we enjoyed the wildflowers.

Then we headed back to the High Road. This was taken just before or after Las Trampas, not sure. If you look closely you can see volcano-shaped Cerro Pedernal in the distance, one of Georgia O’Keefe’s favorite painting subjects. My sisters loved the Las Trampas church and we wandered around there appreciating the age of it and the blend of Spanish and local architecture.

After a stop at the Chimayo church we drove around through Espanola and up 68, then turned up the Rio Grand Gorge at Pilar. This was the highlight of the day. We found a way, walking up the old highway, to gain access to the gorge’s fast-moving water (above). We were all kids again exploring in a wild, natural place. It was late in the day and the skies were threatening rain, which made it all the more exciting. It felt like we were far from ordinary life, immersed in the magic of the river and the willows and the rocks.

Two days later found us at Ojo Caliente hot springs on a rainy afternoon/evening. This was our last night together and we couldn’t have ended the visit on a sweeter note. I hadn’t been to the place for about three years and approved of the huge improvements they have made in the reception area and the locker rooms. Everything feels very easy and pleasant there. The staff is very relaxed and warm. The pools are the same, unaffected by the changes, thankfully. I am looking forward to my next opportunity to visit there. Some friends are coming into town today. This could be my chance!