"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Saludos a Nuevo Mexico

"God's Country."
                  That’s what my Dad called New Mexico where I grew up.  If I  don't return at least twice a year I find my spirit drying up.  Why? How do you explain  such power?
Perhaps by sharing it, which is  why I've  taken students on study tours to Northern New Mexico. They skim the surface for a few days and return with a lifetime of memories and stories. For me though, New Mexico is like a longtime love--it is always deep inside you. 
You drive only 500 miles but go back more than 500 years in time, essentially to a foreign country.
          What is it? The geology--the blue mountains, the rugged red sandstone cliffs, the distant mesas, the rainbow-colored sedimentary rocks, the black lava and the volcanoes, the wide open plains, the withering deserts, the green-fringed rivers,  and turquoise.
The all-determining sky, the towering clouds and sunlight and radiant light and piercing stars and cool air and smell of pinon and juniper and the fall colors of aspen and cottonwood.
The ancient land leaves its imprint on those who survive there, seasoning the posole--the stew of cultures--not a melting pot, because, the Indian, the Spanish, the Mexican and the gringo retain separate, but New Mexico-distinctive, tastes. And a melded language, including a state constitution in both English and Spanish.
Santa Fe,  the “city different,” celebrating its 400th year as the oldest capital in what is now the U.S.A. Taos Pueblo. The poetry of other names adds to the flavor. The red Zuni sun symbol on the yellow flag, Los Montanas de  los Sangre de Cristos, the mysterious Anasazi, , the Conqistadores and Coronado, the pueblos like Santo Domingo and Jemez, Onate, Archbishop Lamy, small Catholic churches at Las Trampas,  Truchas, Penetentes, El Camino Real, the Palace of the Governors, La Fonda Hotel, the mining ghost towns like Cerillos, arroyos, frijoles, ancient Indian cliff dwellings at Puye and Bandelier,  and adobe bricks, and crumbling adobe walls and more adobe.
Places of power and mystery draw believers--like the Jemez Caldera near Los Alamos, Chaco Canyon with its ancient sun clock, Pecos pueblo and its kivas, the sacred Turquoise mountain of the Navajo, and the Santuario de  Chimayo and its miraculous healing earth.
The White culture is the shallowest, only recently marking the land. The ruts of the Santa Fe Trail, Los Alamos and the bomb, UFOs, the 75 mile per hour Interstates, and artists like Georgia O’Keefe and D.H. Lawrence.
The Spanish heritage permeates everyday life and religion and language. But the oldest and deepest of the cultures is the Indian. You realize its power and depth at Taos or attending  pueblo feast days at Jemez or Santa Domingo or others. The feet of hundreds of  dancers in a thousand colors with many thousand bells and feathers throb on the dusty plazas to drums and chants older than memory. Sacredness and mystery that goes back far before Christianity. Where time changes-- our "civilization" is  so recent, and temporary
            The Land of Enchantment--a breathing land of miracles and magic–a posole of cultures fertilizes the imagination of those who harken. 
Bienvenidos a Nuevo Mexico.

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