I slept deeply last night and it took all my will power to climb out from under all the snug felt blankets Lori had covered the bed with. I was on a mattress on the lounge floor. Nobody else had stirred so I pulled my clothes on and stepped outside. It was startling, partly because I was still half asleep and partly because we really were up in the mountains, in what seemed to be a little wooden shack surrounded by Douglas fir trees, fingers of light resting on the still and dusty earth and a thick springy carpet of pine needles, a few pieces of felt hanging on a washing line, a trail to the ‘outhouse’ I couldn’t find last night in the pitch darkness, little patches of snow hiding out in the shadows, a pile of wood over by the house wall.
Lori had said she lived up in the mountains and though we drove up here last night through the twisting dirt roads it hadn’t quite registered maybe because I have driven quite a lot of winding roads these last few weeks and also perhaps I was keeping a close eye on Lori’s tail lights. It had been difficult enough finding Maries place back in Bolinas in Northern California but had Lori have took off ahead I would have been utterly lost.
I usually have pretty good sense of direction but getting back onto the main road was going to be trial and error never mind finding my way back later on that evening. I took a few wrong turnings ended up in another dusty driveway in front of another hidden wooden shack. There was it seemed a whole community up here hidden in the woods and forests above Santa Fe. It was really quite remarkable to me.
It wasn’t too long though before Hummingbird was coasting along a paved road wings outstretched, engine purring coasting down into Santa Fe. Up there the forests air was still in the cool shadows of the early morning, the sun was still making its way up Artist road and we met it about half way down Hyde park just about where the first glorious view of Santa Fe opens up. I have honestly always loved seeing the view of this city, across to the south the La Cienega the Placer Mountains framing everything. The volcanic peaks dotted across the valley in front and right below where we were swooping down like a spitfire pilot, the green of Santa Fe spreading out in between the flat adobe coloured roof tops of the beautiful place, all glowing golden orange in the fresh morning sunlight.
The last few days I have just been milling around town driving up and down Cerillos road and around Paseo de Peralta, Guadalupe and St Francis enjoying the suns penetrating warmth deep into my bones, the little city glittering, and as neat and beautiful looking as I remembered.
Some shrewd and forward thinking citizens had in years gone by pushed a law through that all new buildings had to be colored and made to look adobe. I can think of a few English towns where a similar law should have been passed consequently dim mindless town planners have got away with the criminal destruction of certain English towns and cultural backdrops. The result here though is that Santa Fe down town, really is a lovely place, a city where people generally seem to have a healthy pride in where they live.
I have always enjoyed the characters apparently blown over the Jemez or the Sangre de Christo mountains or flowed here over the continental divide or tumbled across the plains. Everyone who has lived here for some time will tell you it isn’t the land of Enchantment “it’s the land of Entrapment” If you stay a day too long you’ll never get away and somehow there is a truth to it. I call them affectionately ‘Cuckoos’
I’d arrived at De Vargas mall to an old familiar Starbucks to get some work done before Lori and I took off to explore the Acequia’s; the shimmering sliver threads of the water ditches that crisscross Northern New Mexico’s parched dusty lands
I’d sat in the sunshine. There were three guys sat chatting they all seemed to be in the wide-eyed moment of revelation. One of them with a wonderful slow flowing syrup voice was doing most of the talking whilst the other two seemed to defer to his greater revelation. I loved it
“I want the miracle now” He said “But what on earth do I want it for? Do I deserve the miracle?”
There was a pause; I held my breath
“The next chapter” he said “Is all about our response, and this, this is a gift and I’m not going to try to understand it. Just acknowledge what is” another pause and then he went on
“And what do you mean, what is? What is, has become totally twisted.. is that what is .. is?”
Sat there in the suns beam of the early morning, relaxed gentle and mellow in a way only Santa Fe could be, I was really charmed by them.
The speaker with the treacle voice went on “No, it’s what ever you experience, that is what is. Everything is what is and then you …. and then… and then you go; what is my response? .. and the response is…. This is a gift, not just for me but for everybody”
I had to agree. There are many philosophers wandering the adobe streets awaiting their moment to reveal. A chap Lori and I had met on Canyon road had said
“Peace is not the absence of war, war is a series of political choices and decisions. Peace though is a choice at every moment of every day” That one struck a chord too.
Then there is also Doug who I’ve become quite pally with in there too, creatures of habit we are. Doug is probably around 60 perhaps a little older, has round-rimmed glasses that he peers over, a striped western style shirt, a cream cowboy hat on with a Montana crease and a wonderful red paisley silk cowboy cravat with a grey waist coat. Doug looks great, introduced himself out of the blue asking me if I’d ever had carpel tunnel, he’d obviously seen me typing away, Told me of a healer a long time ago who had cured him of it.
He said “There are a lot of quacks out there but his guy was the real deal, he pulled on my ear lobes and pulled on my toes and I could feel all the pain just melting away, that was nearly 20 years ago now and I’ve never had a problem since”
Doug has offered to let me stay at his place “Out on 11 acres on a dirt road where I don’t even have to lock my door”. Sweet guy, we’re Starbucks buddies.
You never quite know who your stood next to is Santa Fe, the wealthy dress down and the poor dress up and meet somewhere in the middle, Little touches of south west style here and there, a trilby hat with a little belt of silver Hispanic buckles, a little old lady with a neat but wind blown hair style with a coloured Indian print waist coat. The backside of my trousers and knees were torn and hanging out but nobody would dream of turning me away here.
We’d been to a concert the other night at place called ‘Vanessie’ listed as an upscale restaurant and piano bar, a cello and pianist had been playing pop songs that were to be honest a little hard to recognize, it was all very fine but I fitted right in even with my ass hanging out.
Throughout the year there are various celebrations and events that keep the place energized and money flowing up the I-25 and down the 285 The opera season in July & August, the Indian Market in August, and the borderline pagan festival Zozobra in September to name a few. I mention them because it seemed when I lived here that the whole city gets involved in some way.
There are the million dizzying jewelry and craft shops all tinted in someway with blended together Native Americana, Hispanic and western style. It always baffled me to know where to start and of course there is wonderful art world here. There are some incredible artists who live and work in the area. A walk up Canyon road where it has become centered is a great day out dipping in and out of some of the most talented artists in the US and the world. I’d made a beeline for ‘Ventana Fine Art Gallery’ to see artists John Nieto’s work again.
I’d timed it right and the road was pretty quiet though it is always a relaxing place to be. I got whole galleries almost to myself and gallery owners welcoming conversational and glad to see you, as I said just because your ass is hanging out doesn’t make you poor in this town. A lovely man called Wolfgang Mabry at Ventana tried to sell me various pieces of Nieto’s work and were talking thousands of dollars, we chatted warmly and he realized that I was just a poor fan, he disappeared for a few minutes and came back with a colour zerox of a Sitting Bull picture that I’d been looking at and I obviously loved. I think I glowed. Also showed me some beautiful work
“You really should see.” He’d said ushering me through the gallery “By an artist called Frank Balaam from Blackpool England”
You can imagine my response. A very sweet guy and I wanted so much to buy something just because of him really; maybe I’ll save up enough one day. He showed me a beautiful book of Nieto’s work with many variations on the Sitting Bull picture that I liked so much. I found out Sitting Bulls second name (perhaps teenage name) was “Hunkesi” which translates literally as “Careful thought proceeds action” can you imagine being called that, my ears were ringing, I felt Big Name stood looking over my shoulder and he was most certainly approving.
I’d wandered up canyon road that day dipping into most notably La Roche gallery where there was absolutely nobody not even a receptionist, remarkable considering how well-known Laroche is, around here.
The Morning Star Gallery with incredible Native American antiques and works of art and again still and peaceful just me tiptoeing around. It was an absolute treat; the gorgeous Nathalie Western Style shop with beautiful women selling beautiful cowboy boots going for $1200.
I suppose art is personal and what one likes doesn’t touch another, what gets you, is personal. I have to say I was really taken aback by the richness, beauty and imagery in Longworth gallery. Really quite extraordinary with original works by remarkable Russian artist Vladimir Kush, Michael Parkes, Robert Bissell, and Kinuko Y Craft
I think my mouth dropped open and I was just stood looking at something when a faintly plummy English voice piped up cheekily,
“Do you know the artists work?”
I turned to find a lithe elfin looking lady with straight sandy colored hair almost down to the floor
I said “No I don’t”
She came back immediately “Well why not?”
I found myself explaining myself, she had me on the back foot immediately and so of course had my attention. Turned out she was from Oxford and had been here 30 years and more. Asked me as only an English person can if I was a tourist and again had me on the back foot and a feeling I had to explain myself, that no I wasn’t a tourist, that in fact I used to live here and I was revisiting.
“Oh really?” she said, lightning quickly “And what did you do here?” I explained as I felt I had to do to her that I used to be a wrangler up at Ghost Ranch and had worked down in Santa Fe for them for a while.
When I said Wranger she froze and just said
“Wrangler?” .. then silence..
I said “Yes wrangler”
She said “A Wrangler eh?” Her eyebrow rising. I matched her now and said
“Yes the wrangler there”
“Really, and what does a wrangler do?” she said with obvious joy and menace in her voice
She was great and I of course was spell bound and found myself explaining, rather like a naughty school boy, briefly what a wrangler did. Then when she seemed satisfied she told me that she’d had a stable out here for over 30 years had supplied horses to quite a few movies here. Told me about her two horses one a 17-year-old Andalucian and the other a 22-year-old Anglo-Arab that she had actually delivered. She missed England and showed me pictures of her English garden she’d had created out in the desert.
She turned out to be Lisa J Rogers the owner. Speedy bright and witty. She took the mick out of my northern English accent and so I out of her oxford plumy. Apparently her mum and dad had been well known in the theatre world back in oxford and Benny Hill used to baby sit her, how’s that for a name drop. The gallery was named after Longworth road in oxford where she was born and where her mother had died.
Lisa was a Hillary and fan and her view on American politics was this
“Change here comes from negotiation and compromise unless of course you’re a ginger and then you can just say, screw you”
She was fantastic, a surprising blast of my own culture and a great lady, good luck to her
My friend Lori is what you call a “Protector of the Water” How’s that for a job tittle and water in these parts is a big deal. So of course i’d asked her if she’d show me the Acequia’s ,the community operated waterways and ditches without which the holy city of Santa Fe would never have existed. The word comes from the Arab word as-saquia who it was who brought the technology to the Iberian Peninsula and which the Spanish then adopted.
Lori is part of the team that protects them here in NM. She’d picked me up and off we went laughing and wise cracking driving about the dusty lanes, back roads and fields around the Pojoaqui and Nambe pueblos, through the flickering sunlit cottonwood groves that cling to the Acequia’s giving welcome shade in the dry blistering heat of summer here.
Each piece of land has a few assigned days and amount of water a year. “Grandfathered in” as they say. A person called a ditch rider or mayrodomo or mayrodoma are there to make sure people don’t take liberties with allotted amounts and times Situated in the high desert, water is the most precious commodity here (come to think of it, anywhere really) but here everybody knows it and is aware of it. Lori told me the Acequia’s most have Hispanic names for instance ‘Acequia Madre’and runs the length on Santa Fe. There is the La Acequia de Chili y la Cuchilla, The Farmer’s Mutual Ditch is approximately 15 miles long with 200 parciantes. The native Americans did have their own Acequia’s before the Spanish got here and are still in use in the pueblos across NM. Most around Santa Fe though now belong to the Hispanic families or the ranches and farms that surround the city
Santa Fe is spreading outwards and so the big question is, where is the water coming from. The Santa Fe River is 46 miles long used to have an all year round flow down into the Rio Grand at Cocheti Pueblo until the 20th centaury when it became seasonal. It was named in 2007 as the most endangered river in the US, the river contributes about 40% of the cities water the rest comes from wells and as far as I can ever recall the river has been dry. Probably because of the Nichols dam further up above Santa Fe.
She told me the rule is, if you don’t use the Acequia that runs through your land for 5 years you loose the right to use it and the water right goes to the nearest pueblo, there are 7-800 of them and some are 500 years old and run for many many miles. I’d seen them before but it hadn’t really registered, I supposed because where I come from the dykes and the ditches that are so familiar to me are to drain water, the exact opposite of the Acequias, here they enable the desert to bloom.
It was a great day just pottering about laughing, I made some car food tortillas we stopped in at the fascinating and evocative sacred heart hispanic Indian cemetery at Nambe. which had some remarkable markers, one was a full model adobe pueblo house. Then later stopped in for a spot of wine tasting at the “Estrella del Norte Vinyard” very nice indeed.
Lori has brought her son up well, It’s been nice to watch her being a mum to her teenage boy, lots of love there. I get to be silly with Lori, she gets to laugh and we both get to talk. I had to my shame temporarily dropped the line with friends here in the US for a period, no reason maybe I had something to prove in London and so London life just took up any slack, I had been running so fast there for many years, now from here, it seems like a blink in time. It is proving to be that my roots here were and are deep and with the sunshine of laughter and the sweet rains of reminiscence the hardy branches of dear and beloved friends are in bloom again, it has made me very happy to be back on this road and with some people that is how it is isn’t it, like yesterday
I’d took off later to write at Denny’s agreeing to meet later at El Farol Santa Fe’s Oldest bar for some IPA’s. I was sat writing this when a Mexican guy slid up behind me, you know when you feel something is not quite right behind you. I looked up
“Carry on carry on” he said in his strong accent
He then slid past the table. He had a pale cream ill fitting denim jacket on with Guns & Roses written on the back in thick black marker pen and anarchy sign underneath, he looked desperately hungry, he went up to the next table and asked them very politely if they had finished, they said ‘yes’
He then bowed and took away their salad and leftovers and sat in another booth and just finished off what they had left. The old lady just kind of looked at me, she wasn’t threatened, just kind of bewildered.
I paused and then said, “Perhaps he needed it”
She said to her husband, “The gentleman at the next table said perhaps he needed it”
Her husband mumbled something and we both shrugged our shoulders while the Mexican guy went on walk about through the Denny’s, being extremely polite to everyone, clearing plates or just sitting down at other tables and finishing off the left overs , nobody batted an eyelid. It was cool really and I thought only in Santa Fe.
As I was about to leave the waiter said
“How was everything?”
I’d said in a very big hearted way “Everything was just great, I love Denny’s”
He came right back “Well Denny’s loves you”
Now come on it doesn’t get batter than that.Over later at the overpriced but very cool looking El Farol, the bar tender quizzed us on the meaning IPA and as a son of the Empire i answered him proudly. Lori and I managed to put the work to rights and released some old bats that had been hanging out in the subconscious bell tower for far too long.
Then Back up to the dark forrest’s the community, the coyotes and the bears.