at Francis Point

I thought we might have missed the wild lilies (Erythronium oregonum) at Francis Point. It’s become our habit to walk to see them over the Easter weekend and this Easter we were in Edmonton watching the magpies in the trees around Brendan and Cristen’s house. But we walked out this morning and were lucky to find a few lilies still in bloom.

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It’s a beautiful place to walk. You make your way above the rocks where at low tide the gulls can be seen feeding on starfish (I know, I know: they’re called sea stars now but old habits die hard…) and will look up with their thoats ridiculously distended. Sometimes there are seals or even sea lions passing though it’s more usual to see a boat — a pleasure craft, a fishing boat, or else this:

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This is a view across Georgia Strait to Texada Island. We’ve always called it Georgia Strait though there’s a movement to include it in a wider area which supporters want to term the Salish Sea. When I asked Kevin Paul, a poet and linguist  from the WSÃ ,NEC Nation on Saanich peninsula (the same area where I spent my teen years), what he thought of the idea, he laughed. He said Salish was a controversial term to say the least and that the body of water I was referring to had different names for different times of the year, used by different Nations, and that it also depended on what you were doing at the time.  But some things don’t change. The wind, the flowering arbutus, the gulls, the constancy of the wild lilies, the way the heart opens to all these things on a bright April morning.

“…the dream and the light softly fading”

Sometimes a song is all it takes. Sometimes it takes you there, to the moment when you drove down highway 518, through snow and deep forests, across the Mora Valley, through soft grasslands fringed with Ponderosa pines, piñons, those fragrant junipers, to the high desert where the unexpected was waiting: the beautiful plaza of Las Vegas. And it was all there, in Ian Tyson’s “Road to Las Cruces”:

On a high plateau out of Anton Chico

I see the dust of a herd coming through

The dream and the light softly fading

My horses will not stand

They wish to go with them

Riding for Alex Carone on the road to Las Vegas.

It’s a song I’ve loved for years though I never had a clue that it wasn’t Nevada he was singing about but that town a few hours from Albuquerque. And not too far from the Conchas-Pecos branch of the legendary Singleton Ranches where there is, indeed, an Alex Carone working as a manager.

In the second-hand stores near the plaza in Las Vegas, there were saddles, some of them broken-down and cracked, some of them in pretty good shape. I saw a bridle with silver conchas and many pairs of cowboy boots. There were paint ponies in a field on the way to Montezuma. You could smell history in the air, though maybe not everybody’s history. Not mine, I know, but that didn’t prevent the yearning.

Today I’m putting away my suitcase, the books I bought, and catching up with work at my desk. I took a moment to photograph the little Acoma rain pot that I bought from its maker, Emil Chino, at the Sky City Mesa. It stood out on the table he presided over — a few big ollas, some seed pots, and an assortment of the rain pots. I wish I could read the imagery a little more fluently but I remember Emil pointed out the rain, the clouds, some ears of corn. And for now, that will have to do.

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the smell of piñon smoke

In one of geographic shifts that we’ve become accustomed to, that we adapt to so easily it seems, I am watching snow fall outside Brendan and Cristen’s house in Edmonton and realizing it’s only about ten hours since I woke to the most beautiful moon over Albuquerque and watched the sun rise from the plane as we left New Mexico. Only twenty four hours since we ate lunch on the patio at Mas while the soft leaves of an olive tree planted within the patio area shook in the breeze and small sparrows waited for us to drop crumbs from the sesame lavash we’d ordered with our mezes.

Yesterday morning we left Las Vegas and stopped at Pecos National Landmark to walk and explore. It’s the site of a pueblo dating from 1100 A.D., a high place, with views down to the desert and to the mountains in every direction. Its population was 2000 or more and there are two mission churches, one built over another destroyed in the Pueblo revolt in 1680. People lived there until 1838 when the last occupants went to Jemez Pueblo to join relatives there. It’s a place you can easily understand the “why” of — why people chose its location, why it was settled for so long, and how it would live long in the memories of anyone who’d ever been there (us included, I suspect).

Here’s what you see, looking up to the pueblo site:

P1090984And here’s the light in one of the reconstructed kivas where we climbed down and understood why the Pueblo creation stories tell of people coming up from under the earth to live on its surface. (The kivas are still used for ceremonial purposes.)

P1090988Already I miss New Mexico’s red soil, the grey chamisa, the mule deer with their curious faces watching from the roadsides. I miss the juniper and piñon forests, particularly the ones on the road up through Madrid and Cerillos, the bluebirds at Bandelier, and the field of elk we saw on our drive to Cimarron the other morning. I loved our room at the Taos Inn where the smell of piñon smoke from the fireplace scented the room in the most seductive way so that I imagine now I can smell it in my clothing. (Wishful thinking…) I loved the friendly servers at La Boca in Santa Fe and the wonderful food they brought to the table and how the Spanish wine we ordered was perfect with the food. When I opened my suitcase in the pretty room Cristen and Brendan had ready for us, I smelled the chili powder from Chimayo and maybe, just maybe, that piñon smoke.

books along the way

Sometimes I wish I read less. I panic when I have nothing to read, no pages to turn in my bed at night, my own  bed or a strange one. I brought Lilac and Flag by John Berger along with me but finished it two days into this ten-day (thus far) journey. I’d read the other novels in the trilogy, Into Their Labours, but somehow not this one. And JB is probably my favourite non-fiction writer or maybe I just mean favourite writer. Period. You forget what genre you’re reading — and it doesn’t matter, though universities are debating the fine points of creative non-fiction, the lyrical essay, documentary journalism, et. al. What is legitimate, what isn’t. What you can say and what you can’t. So there was Lilac and Flag for the first three days and then a visit to a bookstore in Santa Fe for Linda Hogan’s The Woman Who Watches Over the World, which is wonderful. And (because we were on our way to Taos) a biography of Mabel Dodge Luhan, which I’m reading right now. I walked over to her house last night and tried to imagine DH Lawrence in its garden, listening to the same magpies I was listening to.

A little while ago, we went into Tome on the Range, here in Las Vegas, and wow, there were tables and shelves of books I had to restrain myself from buying — because of space, mostly. My suitcase is already bulging and we will be going to Edmonton from here for five more days, which means more stuff (though I try to resist; but who could resist the Acoma pot from Sky City Mesa or the linen dress from Santa Fe?). But then I saw a beautiful edition of When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice, by Terry Tempest Williams, a writer I’ve always loved for her rich sense of the natural world and how our bodies respond to it (and our minds, too). So I bought it, of course. And couldn’t walk by a Willa Cather I haven’t yet read, The Song of the Lark — because I have had her Death Comes for the Archbishop in my head over the past ten days, travelling this landscape which Father Jean Marie Latour travelled through in 1851.

viva, Las Vegas!

Yesterday we drove through a high pass (9.000 feet) in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, to Cimarron, New Mexico for lunch. John read in a guide book about its storied past, the hotel which housed various outlaws (Jesse James, Billy the Kid, etc.) and where Buffalo Bill convinced Calamity Jane to join his show. It was very quiet there, the outlaws all long gone (though some have bedrooms named for them in the St. James Hotel, built in 1872). And the hotel is beautiful — and quiet, yes, with just a few people eating in the dining room and a few more in an adjacent room, would-be bartenders  taking notes while a man walked them through the state liquour laws.

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We left our little room in the Taos Inn this morning, driving through another high pass where my ears complained until we descended (but only a little) to Las Vegas, a town which feels a bit like time forgot it. It’s high desert here, and so beautiful. 6,424 feet above sea level…We found a room in the 1882 Plaza Hotel which hosted dentist Doc Holliday and his girlfriend Big Nose Kate, Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Mysterious Dave Mather, Hoodoo Brown, and Handsome Harry the Dancehall Rustler in its day.

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A friendly woman in a nearby shop wondered if I’d ever heard of the United World Colleges — which of course I have because son Forrest attended Lester Pearson College of the Pacific in the late 1990s… — because she said that the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West is in nearby Montezuma. So we drove out and although it’s not a day when one can tour the campus, the kind security guard let us drive up to take a photograph of the main building.

P1090970We ate our lunch on a patio overlooking Las Vegas’s spacious green plaza, overhung with huge cottonwoods. Who knew this place existed and that we would find it in time to enjoy the sun in the shade of its old buildings.

high road to Taos

After a little run to Abiquiu (necessary after seeing the views of it at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe and yes, the cottonwoods were just coming into leaf in the same bright green as G O’K saw them all those years ago), we took the high road to Taos. We avoided this fate —

oopsand drove happily through Truchas and Las Trampas, eager to find a cup of espresso. And we did, at Penasco, along with a slice of the most delicious chocolate cake at the Sweet Nymphs Bistro:

sweet nymphsThe cake was the opposite of the dense flourless tortes which seem to be all the rage these days. It was three layers, at least 7 inches high, with gorgeous buttercream. And Anik, if you’re reading this, you would love this little place with its shelves of cookbooks like Carol Field’s The Italian Baker and Marcella Hazan and the other books which set the trends, not follow them. You would love the menu of sophisticated brunch foods and L. would love the paper covered tables with crayons in a little cup for idle moments.

In Taos, our room in the old Inn was waiting:

fire in our roomAnd after a walk through town, we’re “resting” before dinner. The menu promises rabbit and rattlesnake sausage. Stay tuned!

postcard from Los Alamos

I’m not sure how we ended up here apart from the fact that it’s near Bandelier National Monument where we spent the morning hiking. We thought we’d booked a hotel in White Rock, near Bandelier, but apparently the reservation was actually for this hotel in Los Alamos, home of the Manhattan Project.

Bandelier was just marvelous. Many years ago we visited a cliff dwelling site in northern Arizona (I wrote about this in an essay in Phantom Limb) and were fascinated and (I confess) bewitched by the mystery and beauty of these ancient villages of the Ancestral Pueblo people. I’ve read House of Rain by Craig Childs in which he travels the four corners area and further south, in search of the village sites and roads of those people. I loved every page. It’s a mystery — why the villages were abandoned, where the people went. But maybe not such a mystery, as a recording in the Bandelier Museum suggests. “We didn’t go far,” the man said. “We went to Cochiti, just over the mountain.”  We drove through that pueblo the other day and it’s good to know that the spirit (and DNA) of the people who created this beautiful complex of houses and cliff dwellings has only shifted location a little.

P1090834It was hot, there were whiptail lizards in the rocky areas by the Frijilos Creek, and oh, the smell of Ponderosa pines and juniper in that dry warm air!

Los Alamos is filled with nuclear physicists, apparently — the woman in the visitor centre told us there are more PhDs per capita here than anywhere else in the nation. So I imagine they’re the ones drinking coffee in the Fusion Cafe and sampling the fine range of beer in the brewpub where we drank a pint before going for dinner at the Blue Window Bistro (spinach salad with gorgonzola and walnuts and lovely pears, eggplant and portobello napoleon, and a chicken enchilada).

And who, I wonder, was drawn in by the sign at the Camel Rock Casino, just north of Santa Fe, advertising a Lent Special?

To Taos tomorrow, and Abiquiu, with a stop at Chimayo for some dried red chilies to bring home.