The Taos Pueblo Revisited

The occasion was the visit of an old friend who asked for my advice on things to see in Taos. I’ve been wanting to visit the Taos Pueblo ever since I arrived last May, but the time just never felt right. My last visit there was 6 or 7 years ago and I arranged my trip from Idaho to coincide with a Corn Maiden ceremony in the month of May. I had been very touched by the experience and grateful the people of the Pueblo allowed visitors to attend their obviously sacred ceremonies. This first photo shows the active Catholic church which stands near the entrance.

Just past the church we started to loop around the main “square” with a turn to our left. Immediately I spotted a man in the distance obviously building an adobe oven (horno). At first he seemed merely tolerant of a couple of “tourists” slowing down his concentration with their interest. But after some exchanges he seemed more willing to engage in an honest way about himself and his techniques for working with the clay. He introduced himself as Martin Romero, a potter. Apparently you have to go slow with the process to give the thick “bricks” of clay time to solidify before adding layers as you work upward. This horno had been under construction already for a week. For a small exchange he let me take this, and several other photos.

One feature of the Taos Pueblo that particularly interests me is their water which flows directly from the Sangre de Christo mountains rising to the east over it. The water is uncontaminated, thus usable for drinking. In today’s world this is basically unheard of–to know (see) where your water comes from and be able to use it just as it comes from nature. The river flows through the middle of the Pueblo bisecting it into two halves separated also by a large open space which allows for large gatherings of people during festival times. The next such time is around Christmas. Red Willows grow along the sides of the stream and there is an association between the plant name and the word, Taos.

This may be my favorite photo of all. Perhaps it qualifies for the Wabi-Sabi award, although if I think about it in those terms, the entire Taos Pueblo expresses that aesthetic (see a former blog about Wabi-Sabi). In brief Wabi-Sabi speaks to our longing for the rustic, for that textured aspect of beauty that clearly shows the effects of time, its movement  toward the eventual death or dissolution of all forms. It is a reminder of our personal mortality and there is both a sadness in it and an acceptance of it as truth, thus an authentic quality to its beauty.

I grew up in Oklahoma and as a child learned first-hand that the native people of our country had been, for the most part, abused and demoralized. It was obvious to my child’s mind that they were in the way of our country’s so-called-progress and it would have been convenient if they had all perished one way or another. Sadly, my dad, who must have been insecure, enjoyed reading aloud clips in the newspaper about deaths and other mishaps that occurred on the nearby reservations ostensibly due to drink. Meanwhile our well-endowed library (built on oil money) had beautiful displays of native crafts and artifacts. So there was a split for me. Indians were great and wise artists at some time in their past, but the ones still alive in Oklahoma were mostly poor and dispensable.

I am here in Taos to experience the other side of the story, not a perfect story, but a better one. Already I see the ancestors of oppressed natives here producing great art and honoring their traditions knowing they might have the best relationship to Mother Earth of all of us.

Santa Fe Day Trip

En route to pick up my friend at the downtown shuttle stop I ran into a halt of traffic for this commuter train. It’s called the Rail Runner Express and there were lots of cars on it. Not connected to Amtrack, this train can bring you right into the heart of Santa Fe from the airport in Albuquerque (and back) if you time it right. Sure sounds like more fun than a ride in a shuttle van. Fortunately mine was the first car at the intersection so I could get this photo.

Walking from the shuttle stop to the Plaza we passed this corner cafe/gallery. Loved the name, first of all. The photo is catching lots of window reflections so has the effect of a collage.  We walked by it again on the way back to the car and decided to go inside Friday when we return to Santa Fe. More shall be revealed…

Here I’m shooting into the same window but isolating the painted clouds, the row of windows and myself. Like a dream image. I was feeling pretty happy to be with my friend, to have found a place to park. I was on “Cloud Nine.” It had been a couple of months since my last trip out of Taos, other than over to Ojo Caliente, so that added to the excitement.

This amazing small painting was in the window of the Mother Earth & Father Sky gallery/cafe. The mosiac of material (abalone shell?) seems to have been overprinted with the Guadalupe image, but the effect was pure magic. As you change your angle of reference so do the colors. It felt alive and the essence of beauty! My friend and I were equally appreciative and entranced.

Heading back to Taos we stopped at the bridge over to Embudo Station. The cottonwoods are glowing with their yellow leaves all along the Rio Grande. We were getting back to Taos a little later than planned and losing the light. Still I was determined to show her the road along the gorge from Pilar, always so inspiring to me. A visit to the Mother?

There was still light for the river to reflect and so the day’s pattern of capturing reflections with the camera continued. Which begs the question: are reflections real? What is real, really? All I can offer is that I seem to be finding reflections more these days with my camera-eye than ever before. Perhaps they offer a better mirror for what I am experiencing as real (more a view from the inner world?). Moving to Taos can have strange effects on people I’ve heard. Could be worse.

Waxing Moon rising over the east rim at sunset

Seeds–the Taos Art Show

Last Friday I attended a popular art exhibition titled “SEED 2” at The Stables Gallery.  The photo shows the entrance to the courtyard leading to the gallery. The last time I was in this attractive courtyard it was full of  artists and spectators during the afternoon Quick Draw event (see my blog). As you can guess both events were sponsored by the Taos Center for the Arts. The SEED show, now in its second year, even has its own website, www.seedtaos.org.

My favorite piece was this mixed media painting by Katie Woodall. She had several pieces that I thought were a glorious celebrations of this time of year (see my blog, Seeding the Fruitful Darkness). I heard about this show-to-be several months ago and asked if I could submit work but was told it was too late, but I could try for next year. Guess I’ll plan to visit their website and learn the details (linked above).

Claire Long Cote had this concept of tin-can-turtles carrying seeds or seed pods on their backs. There were LOTS of these in one corner. The variety of seeds was impressive and the turtles also were different sizes and shapes. An army of turtles really. I have always loved the symbolism of the turtle representing our earth planet. In this case it seemed like Turtle Mother became an infinitely divided force taking matters into her own “hands” to spread the seeds of new life all over the face of the earth. She was making sure the job was done well, far and wide.

My favorite seed of the season is the ancient and mighty corn. This was taken at the Saturday Farm Market the day after the SEED show opening. By the way you can see the show through October 30.

I have been working on a Corn Mother art piece (below) so currently have a poetic and mythological view of the subject. My choice was to use the Zuni style of depicting her with the front of her body represented as kernels of corn. One story is that a grandmother was able to provide corn each day to her grandsons but it was a mystery to them where she was getting it. Somehow their curious investigations caused the end of the magic, that the corn was coming from her own body. It sounded like something out of “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, but I checked and it’s not in there. I found my version online while searching “Corn Mother.”

This is the first of a new series of wood altars I am building. This is the Corn Mother I devised, a composite of corn symbols from a few different cultures. My next one, almost done, is Kuan Yin, and after that I plan a Virgin de Guadalupe and a Black Madonna. These will soon be available through my website (links at the top of this page).

Seeding the Fertile Darkness

This is one of my paintings, The Seed, the first one of a series I painted on a sabbatical in Todos Santos, MX, about 4 years ago. I had no idea how my paintings might look there, but this form sprang up, kind of a cross between a mandala and a yantra, both I had used in the past. It took me awhile to name it The Seed. I wasn’t sure for a while what it was, other than it seemed like the energy I felt where I was, Mexico. I had driven myself there, down the Baja peninsula, a older woman, alone. I was definitely on one of my once-ever-so-often solo adventures.

Toward the end of my stay in Todos Santos I did this painting, based on a real Aztec stone carving. I see it reflecting a shamanic process, the take-apart, meaning your normal order of who you think you are is undone, one way or another.

I bring up these paintings as they both refer to my topic de jour, our entrance into a time in the yearly cycle that points to maximum darkness, the longest night (Winter Solstice). Every phase of the yearly cycle has an energy, a gift for us, but this quarter might be the most challenging for us earthlings. It lacks an upbeat theme and it often seems we try to make up for it with holidays, like Halloween, Thanksgiving and the anticipation of Christmas. Each of these, in their own way, are determined by our culture to be compelling and socially significant. But are they distracting us from the real gift?

This was taken a month ago in the orchard near my house. Clearly rotting fruit (apples?) fallen from the tree above. I’m thinking SEEDS. Now seeds can form any time from early Spring through the Fall, and can come from fruits, vegetables, grasses, weeds, or trees. But Fall is the season I think of when I think “seeds.” Perhaps because I sense a tension in the garden for plants blooming late to hurry up so they can leave behind seeds for the rebirthing of themselves in spring. And so it is with us during this time. We sense the end of a cycle and the need to re-create ourselves. Here attitude is everything. Some of us relish long hours of confinement indoors focused on projects requiring long hours of concentration and focus, hard to come by among the more outwardly busy days of summer.

Being human we find ourselves wanting to expand and grow, like always, only now our attention is free to move inside ourselves. We are painting self-portraits now, not landscapes, looking for the truth about ourselves with the same interest we were just paying the annuals in the garden. We become the landscape, the map, the destination. We are engaged tourists inside our own unique world of stories, memories, aches and pains, unfulfilled longings, unrealized goals. There’s time to sort through ourselves and find some order, some peace with it all, so we can bring ourselves out again to answer the call to start from “seed” anew. And so I suggest we make our “seed of Self” during this quarter, and give it our best loving attention, as though our very lives depended on it.