I woke today and the song was Mistletoe & Wine – cliff Richards, I’d slept very deeply indeed, I said out loud “your kidding” I’ve come to expect something now and as I say it has some significance to the day ahead. I was puzzled, really puzzled, Cliff Richards? Then I sat up looked out of the window and across and the sage and sandy hills, to my great surprise were covered in snow, of course its Christmas Day and I’m at home. To be honest being at Helen-Marie & John’s definitely feels like Christmas. Another thought hit me too. It’s April fools day.
“Your having a laugh” I said and in all honesty I think they were, and John is one of the driest funniest people I know. He is an Episcopalian preist and Helen is my old boss from Plaza Resolana the old Ghost Ranch HQ in down town Santa Fe. I’d worked there for almost a year on reception after the ranch and done a few Christmas stints there. Happy days.
I’d set off from Ghost Ranch yesterday afternoon. I’d had a little trouble getting off to sleep last night, my mind busy, almost taunting me and missing my girl, it was late before managed to get off into a deep sleep in that solid firm wonderfully comfortable bed, nice to stretch out.
I Startled myself again when I stepped out again into the clear freshness and bright desert sunshine. A dash to the showers in my boots undies and t-shirt there was nobody about and it made me laugh. Then back to the room packed up my stuff and went up for breakfast, Scrambled eggs corn bread, loads of fruit and torrents of endless dizzying rivers of coffee. I needed it.
I then spent the whole of the morning and into the afternoon there writing in the snug and comforting library, tucked in there and peaceful. Popped across now and again to get another cup, I felt I had earned it, after all it had been my ranch once, I’d worked hard here, so it was ok, conscience clear.
I was supposed to be at John & Helen-Maries for 3.30ish, I’d called but no reply so no need to rush they were out for the day in Santa Fe back door was open if I‘d arrived first. I eventually Left the ranch around 3.30 it was quite a moment, all the family in the car, everyone holding their breath.
“What to say” I said “See you soon?”
I was looking back up to the dinning room hummingbirds windows rolled down just by the turning at the farm gate, pale sunlight shattering and glittering all across the place.
“Maybe” someone said
“Yeah maybe” I said “See you and thank you for everything”
Into gear, clunk, toes gently on the gas, slowly ever so slowly turned the corner and rolled our way up the stony road, a quick pause at the gates at the highway turned her left, foot down and Heading south now.
I know that section of the 84 I know so well, virtually every rise and turn. Just above Abiquiu before all the tumbling ramshackle houses start to close in and crowd the road, it’s just magnificent the way it coasts by the cliffs , rising and falling above the dunes and the dust. Last taste of Ghost Ranch, for a while anyway.
I stopped in Abiquiu that Bodie’s store to get a bottle of wine for that evening. A lady in there said
“Didn’t I see you at Ghost Ranch yesterday”. We chatted a little she was the lady running the arts work shop there. I told her I used to be the Wrangler there a few years ago and was just re-visiting.
Well she went into palpations “Oh My god those wranglers, oh my god” She said patting her breast as if her heart were literally going to give out.
“All the women are talking about them, they’re so.. oh my god, so Marlborough man”
I was honestly quite taken aback. I had chatted to them briefly that morning over by the coral before I’d left, they were chunky square jawed guys for sure. But like I say there is nothing like the faint smell of dry desert horseshit to get a girls heart fluttering, it’s true I’m telling you. One of the guys had said.
”Yeah we’ve done two seasons now and i’m hoping this is my life from now on”
So onwards down to La Mesilla, a right turn at the old cinema on the hill then 3.7 miles take the left fork. I was sure it was before Espaniola. So I’d stopped and asked where the old cinema was near he turning for Black Mesa. The sweet old lady looked puzzled for a moment, then for another moment that sweetness turned to a direct snake eye.
“There are so many Black Mesa’s around here and we don’t have an old cinema, but… the new modern one is on the south side of town.
Oh oh. They must have done it up since I was last here. She said it was “right there on the corner, traffic lights on the junction just as you said”
As I’d mentioned the other day about the road side grave markers coming into the Piedra Lumbra along the 96. Coming south on the 84 today towards Espaniola, there must have been around 20 grave markers between there and the ranch. John would later tell me it was drunk drivers mostly. I did sense a heavy presence along the road, the speed signs were all noticeably slower, max speed along most of it after Abiquiu was 45 which seemed strange after the usual 65mp.
I noticed a subtle parked cop 4×4 truck clock me, I worked hard on taking my foot of the gas. It’s easily done here, long straight roads, wide open land, the sense of freedom and all that, but beware you are being clocked in NM.
We rolled in, ticket free to John & Helen-Marie’s I remembered the landscape to their house ,no problem. Stepped out and there they were and to my great surprise Lori and her son Cassidy who is now 16 and I haven’t seen since he was 8. Wow. All stood outside their front door smiling, what a welcome.
It was such a delight to see them all again. I felt like the prodigal son or Tatter came to mind again. Just when you thought he’s gone. Here he was.
Helen-Marie is a fire cracker and came to work at Plaza Resolana to shake up the Ghost Ranch sleepiness there in Santa Fe. I loved her instantly, when Helen-Marie asks you to do something you know there is no question as I am sure John will testify. They are politically informed inquisitive bright and very very funny. Luckily when I first met John, I was a little nervous him being a priest and all, but instantly loved him too. I haven’t seen him for quite a few years but it was seconds before he had me laughing again. He is wonderfully irreverent.
Cassidy asked and I was glad he did, what an Episcopalian meant. John explained that it was part of the Church of England but ruled by Bishops, I have a feeling John has never been ruled by anybody except perhaps Helen-Marie and I’m sure he has enjoyed every minute of that.
It is perhaps rare to come across two people who have spent a lifetime together and yet there is still an obvious beautiful love in the house when you enter that emanates most certainly from them. I am sure there have been rough times as in anyone’s life, but I am sure that he has always made her laugh and I am sure she has always held his attention and healthy attraction for her. Some things are just apparent and obvious; they are healthy independently minded and solid
Helen-Marie has a wonderful infectious laugh and John chuckles with a warmth and always naughtiness that is so delightful when you consider them both deeply spiritual, who said it has to be stuffy, together they are irresistible.
I had worked with Lori too on the desk at Plaza Resolana and we had become firm friends. She looked great, white haired bubbly and yet somehow always thoughtful. It was good to see her interacting with her young man son Cassidy. He’s training to be an environmental engineer and she works these days as ‘Defender of the waters’ the Acecias as they are called are the ancient communal irrigation canals that still function as a tool to share and distribute the sacred desert waters. The conversation flowed just as easily easily and lightly over a wonderful meal in their beautiful home that looks out across the juniper dotted deserts hills towards Black Mesa, Though I passed on the chicken I got to taste the Green New Mexican Chile and cheese, salad and lots of prickly pear cactus, delicious, I ‘m always a little uncomfortable being spoiled, but if they couldn’t who could
Helen-Marie has lots of energy and is so bright, she’d be passing me various books and articles all evening, talking about films, Bernie sanders, Lori about the water rights Cassidy about the ocean solar and wind power, also their travels in India and Mexico and I about what I’d been doing these last 8 years.
It was john I think who mentioned about the ‘Negro Motorist Green Book’ A book or perhaps better, a pamphlet first written back in 1937 by a 44 year old man called Victor H Green for black people who wanted to travel the US and navigate segregation. He left me an article on the bed to read. It was fascinating and hard to imagine such a dark narrow mindedness in this beautiful land. For instance only 6% of more than 100 motels along New Mexico’s route 66 admitted black people back in the 20’s and 30’s. ‘Driving While Black’ faced being punished in many states as many whites saw the driving of a car as a white prerogative.
It’s final edition in 1967 was 15 pages full of information that pointed black people to safe hotels, restaurants, beauty parlors, golf courses and state parks and was sold annually 15,000 and at its height 20,000 by mail order at churches black owned businesses and Esso service stations which were franchised at the time to mostly African Americans.
Helen-Marie left me a couple of books to browse too The Rebirthing Of God by John Newall which I dipped into and noted for later and also a really interesting article about a group of Native Americans who were walking across the USA and had arrived in Santa Fe that evening. They were walking from San Diego California to the capital Washington to bring attention to substance abuse that is rife and generationally handed down on the reservations here. A man called Denis Banks, who had co-founded the AIM (American Indian Movement) movement in 1968 with at the time Minneapolis Native Americans, was leading the walk.
Apparently there were 47,000 drug overdose deaths in the US last year and he’d said ‘it is the most important issue facing Native people at this time’ I read that he was born in April 1937 which made him incredibly 82 and next day would be walking to the Sanctuario de Chimayo which was just up the road from where Helen-Marie & John lived. I thought I have to go and see if I can see them on the road.
Lori and Cassidy had gone earlier and I stayed the night. Helen had gone first to bed first, john followed a little later he’d gave me a warm hug and said “It’s good to be with you” the feeling was certainly mutual. I read what had been left for out in that wonderful bed with the beautiful star blanket pulled up around me. Then sleep.
I woke in the night I’d been dreaming of horses, it was a great dream and knew I should have written it down, I thought I’d remember, but you never do, do you?
Then as I say Cliff Richard? Mistletoe & Wine? But somehow as the day unfolded there really was a Christmassy feeling as I looked out the snow covered landscape towards Black Mesa the Santa Clara Pueblo and also what happened later that morning.
We’d had breakfast, Helen-Marie in red dressing gown John in Blue, which says better than I could so much about them. I wondered if it was on purpose. John had prepared breakfast whilst Cinderella their bright lovable poodle took the paper into Helen-Marie.
I sat and chatted with John at the breakfast bar while prepared breakfast, soaked oats, Honey, coconut, sliced banana and a little dash of sweet ground brown sugar
“We don’t just do oatmeal” he quipped dryly “We do production here”
I’d got my clothes out of the dryer, again, I allowed myself to be spoiled and it felt nice, I was folding my stuff and johns undies were in their too, I folded them too, much to his merriment.
I took off at around 10am intent on finding the walking Indians and, I don’t know, just say hello, wish them well, shake their hands, give them the food I had in the car. I just wanted to cross their path.
John had been mocking Helen-Maries sense of direction I’d gently come to her aid and said my girl was the same, but I reasoned later that girls get to multitask and remind us they are good at it, which my girl and present company most certainly were, and we get to give directions in which we are, thankfully pretty good at.
John had given clear details of the road along to the “3rd set of lights then turn left” he was spot on about it all, of course.
Then up onto the 503 through Nambe and into the Lunar otherworldly snow powdered landscape towards the shrine “de Santuario De Chimayo” which has been described as the most important Catholic pilgrimage site in the US. The area the soil itself has been ascribed many strange healing powers, the pilgrims take away a pinch of dirt from inside the little church from a little room to the side of the alter in the hope of a cure and by all accounts many have been reported. After what happened there a little later I forgot to take a pinch, but am not really in any need
Don Bernardo Abeyta one of the first members of the penitents built a little chapel here around 1810 He had wanted to build a bigger building and had needed permission and so reported to his superiors of many cures and of the many pilgrims arriving at the little sanctuary of Chimayo.
Some say of when the Spanish arrived here the Tewa Indians showed them a sacred spring with healing powers, some that the San Esquipula had appeared to and cured Don Abeyta. Some that a crucifix had been found out in the sands and had mysteriously returned to its finding place 3 times. Some say the crucifix had been found with the exposed body of a priest murdered and buried there by the Indians. Whatever the story it seems something special was reported to have happened there and so permission was given for a larger church, the beautiful Santuario De Chimayo to be built in 1814.
It was a wonderful drive, New Mexico has a style that simply seems to ooze out of the land the effect to be seen on just about all the people who live here. Land of enchantment it most certainly is. I didn’t drive fast, took care to keep at the NM speed limit but never saw the Indians. But it seemed in retrospect as if they were the nudge to get me to Chimayo that morning.
As I have said all along that if you have the right ears on you, it can be led to something wonderful illuminating and still surprising after all this time. It’s not an obvious thing, just an openness just going somewhere because you can, there is nowhere to be and so you can be. Inside hummingbird was full with family and we were all just quiet, coasting the hills and waves of that beautiful snow dusted land that day
I’d remembered Chimayo from last time but it hadn’t really registered Toady as we pulled in I was quite surprised by the big parking lot at the back. I hadn’t remembered that from last time. Also the fence with hundreds of crucifixes from I would realize later the pilgrims, you have to take into account here it still wasn’t sinking in I’d thought I’d just pop in and have a look, a light skim through the place as I had to be in Santa Fe that day and besides I was looking out for the Indians. I’d wondered if they’d already arrived
I went up to the ancient wooden doors. A notice said “mass in progress enter quietly” Now, something stepped in. I opened the door to be faced with the most beautifully decorated Hispanic church with its wonderful ancient painted wooden panels of Hispanic religious folk art. Self consciously, I looked for a seat and there about 4 rows back was a whole pew enough for the whole family. I tiptoed in and sat down. There was no stuffiness there, though it was a small church with about 50 people in, it was solemn but vibrant, I could feel it.
I watched and listened for a while. It dawned on me how lucky I was to have arrived just when I did. I closed my eyes and opened up. I’m not sure how long it was as I felt the energy moving in and me opening out. I didn’t quite believe what I was seeing, it is always that way with me, you’d think I’d got used to it by now.
I was looking at what appeared to be an undulating line from left to right, it was a line of light undulating against a deep dark blue background rather like the deep colour of an evening sky. I was puzzled, then my focus was taken closer to the rising and falling line and I could see it was made up of crucifixes of all different colours, each one different and each with its own light all in line swelling and rolling along like a wave. I didn’t understand it at that moment and I opened up my eyes as I sensed movement in the church, something was happening in the service.
I felt something move in on my left hand side
“JC?” I said
The feeling moved across my shoulder as if somebody had put there arm around me. It had been pretty cold that morning and though I wasn’t freezing in there, I began to get very warm, not warm, the word is I began to feel like I was radiating outwards. Glowing.
Everyone had stood up and we were supposed to turn to he person next to us and shake hands. There was only me visible on the long pew but I had the idea it was quite full, the family all in there and interestingly, nobody else tried to sit there with us
I turned and shook hands with a couple behind me and the guy in front who had been raising his hands, his eyes shone and he meant it when he shook my hand and in fact I did too.
We sat down and the priest continues with the beautiful mass.
I said quietly “Ok something for me that I’ll understand please”
I closed my eyes and in a few moments I was going deeper.
My point of view was coming out from between two great red cliffs, my view was lifted up and I was looking down upon a desert landscape dotted with Juniper bushes through the center of the land was the snaking sandy path of an arroyo, dry but, I could see the watermarks on the orange sand clearly, with a birds eye I followed the twisting arroyo to the foot of some hills and mountains and the path led up into them weaving and turning, the road lead to the blue sky’s.
I asked “Where am I on this road”
Nothing answered but I had a feeling it was towards the end of the sandy arroyo The mountains were to come, it was a clear road but a steep climb.
I felt movement in the church again, my head had fallen forwards, I opened up my eyes, everyone had stood up again. The priest was asking everyone to queue up for the body of Christ. I was more than happy to join the queue, why would I not, It was a beautiful ceremony, the people there positive and the energy peaceful and high, A lady let me in the queue, I reached the front in my leather jacket feeling actually quite easy and comfortable, held out my hands just like I’d seen, a disc was placed in my hands
“The Body of Christ” he said
I said “Thank you”
I turned and popped it into my mouth and let that wafer think slice of body dissolve as I walked back to the pew.
A little later as everyone was leaving
Someone whispered in my ear “Pilgrim”
The penny dropped, I’d picked up on the Church and the energies here the line of crucifixes where pilgrims walking to this holy place. It simply hadn’t dawned on me. Later as we drove back along the road looking out across the land, of course the land undulates the line had been rising and falling as if crossing the hills. How wonderful, I was thrilled
“Thank you” I said
“It’s ok” said the warmth
It comes in the most surprising ways but dressed in ways that can be understood, sort of matter of fact and that is the surprise. Helen-Marie had called me a pilgrim the night before. It had struck a chord and of course standing there in that place of course I was.
I find some deep comfort in these things and how it how it unfolds. Then again it isn’t comfort anymore, comfort is in my bones now, though confirming it most certainly is and of what is hard to say really, perhaps just, that there is more to us and the world around us, and that with a little time and effort it steps closer us to it and it to us. Trusting and allowing what ever is there to move in and what ever is within or around us to move out, and it does.
I walked around the pretty place now seeing it all,
The whole thing hadn’t really dawned on me on the way in, perhaps like running up those mountains and walking slowly back down, getting it then on the way out. It really took me aback.
I thought it time I was leaving anyway, We drove slowly and quietly back through the powdered landscape, looking for the Indians back down through sleepy Nambe and onto the busy 285 highway south through Pojaque I didn’t see them and gave up looking at the pink Posuwaegeh Bridge that spans the highway there. I laughed as I passed the landmark of Camel rock there as it was looking like Tortoise Rock these days. I chuckled to myself that a bi storm must have been and stolen its hump since I was last here. Up past Tesuque and the beautiful opera house where one of my favorite films “Crazy Heart” with Jeff Bridges had been shot and a place I used to drive bus loads of tourists up to during Opera week here.
I was content and happy all the way into Santa Fe, Love the place and I had old and dear friends waiting for me there.