Walls & Fences of Taos

When I consider all the places I’ve lived I have to say Taos stands out when it comes to the mystery and intrigue of its fences and walls. I recall an extreme place in Guatemala that had more walls than I had ever seen, Antigua, famous for its colonial architecture. I’ll just guess we can look to that colonial factor here as well. Another way to say it would be Spanish influence. And who knows where they got the idea of needing some privacy? Could be an ancient Moorish thing? Obviously I’m going out on a limb here.

I took this photo the other day around dusk near my house in Talpa. It’s a good example of something you see here often, the combination of the typical coyote fence (made with poles called latillas) with stonework. Obviously the stones came from the site. The effect is rustic, charming, and provides the desired privacy. It appears there is an old adobe wall to the right side of this, set further back from the road.

Here’s an example of an adobe wall affording privacy to a patio. I took this while visiting the historic Mable Dodge Luhan house, a beautiful campus that could easily be the subject of its own blog. I was very excited to see these painted windows, which also add another layer of privacy, one between the patio and the interior space behind the windows. I used these windows as inspiration to paint the glass on my front doors and found it an artistic and easy solution to one of my own privacy puzzles.

I could give several examples where an old church has a walled space around the front featuring this type of gated arch for entry. This photo is from Las Trampas, a historic town along the High Road that connects the highway to and from Santa Fe with Taos, providing a scenic alternative route between the two places. Anyway I like this architectural way of defining the space, not for privacy but just for a sense of formality, a notice that you are entering a significant field of focus.

This is the upper part of the gate into my back garden that provides entry other than through my back door. My house is a very simple and small casita but someone felt inspired to erect this overhead beam to accentuate the gated entry to my private outdoor space. So in its humble way this was done in the tradition of the previous churchyard entry. It gives a different signal than an ordinary, practical gate, more designed to keep out the neighbor’s dog.

Speaking of the dog next door…I hope you can see this one’s eye peeking at me through the fence. If I get within 10 feet of this dividing barrier he feels obliged to become growly and intimidating. Still, we are visually set apart, with just a speck of eye contact, by this coyote-style fence. I enjoy this tantalizing yet definite level of separation. I like the wood, not cut into boards, just taken as it comes from some nearby mountain forest. And that’s the way it’s done here.

Blue Doors of Taos

I’ve been collecting “blue door” photos since I moved to Taos last spring. The Taos Pueblo is a dream place for this and I made a special trip there expressly to take photos last October. It’s not news that there’s a tradition behind the blue doors and windows panes, gates and shutters. Old grandmothers (abuelas) will say they are meant to keep out evil.

This blue door is a landmark for finding my house. It faces the turn onto Maestas Road in Talpa. This door was my color reference when I decided to paint my doors early last summer (w/landlord’s permission, of course). And that brings up the question of getting the blue color right. Paint stores are not much help but if you take a photo of a door you like and submit it to them they will match it. Researching this blog on the internet I found that in Santa Fe there is a paint store that will sell you “Azul de Taos” paint, Big Jo True Value Hardware. They claim to supply the blue paint for the downtown historic and government buildings in Santa Fe.

Here’s a snapshot of my painted blue doors. For privacy I painted on the inside of the glass panes also, using the same paint for one of my colors. This is done with acrylic or latex based paints that are water soluble.

Also, I forgot to say that the owners of Big Jo in Santa Fe recommend that the blue paint be a matte type so the painted surface is not shiny. A technical detail, but one that this blog welcomes. We aim to cover the topic thoroughly. And by the way, I got this info about Big Jo from an online article taken from SuCasa magazine. They are experts on traditional design for New Mexico homes I believe.

This is the top of a door in downtown Santa Fe, the entrance to Father Sky & Mother Earth Gallery and Espresso. I would patronize them just to walk through this door and I also love the business name.

Also while scanning the internet for insights into the “blue door” mystique I found a blog by a man from New Mexico (now living abroad). In his 2008 blog on the same subject he claims that blue doors are a “tradition brought by the Spanish, originating in the Middle East, India, or further abroad.” They’re…”meant to keep the home free of malignant spirits…” A comment left on his blog from a reader said she had seen a lot of blue doors and shutters in Morocco while there.

I believe this was taken last summer on traditional Ledoux Street in Taos. I love the way the blue gate offers a view into the courtyard, letting you see the beckoning blue door beyond.

Well, needless to say I like blue doors. Some will even suggest that their sky blue color is associated with the Virgin Mary and offer her protection as well. One thing we’re all in agreement on is that the sky at high elevation places like Taos and Santa Fe is intensely blue. I’ll only add that the blue color looks aesthetically pleasing next to the warm tones of adobe. Amen.

Comanches Dance on New Year’s

It was around noon on New Year’s Day and I was driving along through Talpa on the 518 looking for some sign of the Comanche dancers. In luck, I approached a line of vehicles going the opposite way, headed by a truck with young feather-groomed people in the back. I pulled off the road and turned to join the line of cars and trucks. Following suit I pulled over and parked, got out and walked following those ahead of me. Everyone walked down this road to a residence. By the time I got there the drumming and dancing had begun and several photographing spectators were taking their shots.

What diversity of age and costumes here! Not to mention a great spirit of participation. These dancers and drummers started out at the St. Francis church in Ranchos de Taos at sunrise (around 7:30). The tradition is to dance from dawn to sunset on New Year’s Day. One could likely write a book explaining what this is all about and probably someone has. I found an article online that appeared in the 07/08 print issue of Ski Country magazine that I will offer as a link. It seemed to tell the story better than I could.

Here’s my short version:

Before the Spanish and Mexican colonists arrived in New Mexico there was a mix of Pueblo Indians and the wilder Plains nomadic type natives like the Comanches and the Apaches, to name a few. There were even some trappers and such in the mix. The Comanches (and Apaches) had horses before anyone else and they were, well, warlike and dominating in their ways. When it seemed a good idea to them they would steal from anyone, food or people as needed. So there was conflict in the region even before the Spanish and Mexican colonists arrived. Kidnapping and hostage taking was common and led to a blurring of original identity. In present time those living in the towns of Llano Quemado, Ranchos de Taos and Talpa participate in these Comanche dances in a spirit of reconciliation among those involved in past struggles.

I walked over to the west edge of the property and took this photo looking across a flood plain over to the town of Llano Quemado. The three towns, Talpa, Ranchos and Llano form a kind of horse shoe shape around this depression. The Rio Chiquito, which runs along near where I live flows into this area and eventually into the Rio Pueblo (which flows through the Taos Pueblo) and naturally ends up in the Rio Grande.

I drove around to Llano Quemado and took this photo looking east toward Taos. The residents of Llano get some great views of the Taos mountains. As you can see from the photos we’ve had some snow and it’s cold enough that it’s staying around. The high today was supposed to be below freezing, in the upper 20s. Still it was clear and bright, a sparkly day for starting a new year with optimism. I hope this blog will inspire many of you to do some independent research on the origins of this Comanche dancing tradition. I read that there is a resurgence of attention and energy going into its celebration in recent history and I can only say that I felt that in my limited participation today.

On my way home I noticed this group dancing in front of the Talpa church (which has services once a month). Turns out this was a different group. I had heard there was more than one.

Just before sunset I was sitting near a window where I could see the setting sun, and heard the unmistakable sound of drumming. I went outside to determine how close it was and which direction. As I stepped out the sound of the drums mixed with the crow of a rooster (from next door). I thought to myself, “where am I?” But I was pleased to be there wherever “there” was. Once the sun set the drums stopped, signaling the end of this year’s Los Comanches dance.