Archive for February, 2007

Shadows on adobe

Last night and this morning, I have been concentrating on the soft (or sharp) shadows of tree limbs on adobe. I’m not sure why; I think there’s a poem trying to emerge. In the meantime, here are some images:






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Unintended consequences

Remember the flicker? I was so delighted to see that beautiful woodpecker perched on the tree outside my casita that I went into a sort of frenzy of planning for the next visit. This was my first foray into the world of bird feeding. (On Arlington Court, what with the cat population, the kindest thing you can do for a bird is to advise it to get out of town, pronto.)

At the local hardware store, I bought a metal container that accommodates blocks of suet or bird seed, and selected the “Woodpecker Mix” from many available choices. I brought it home and actually climbed up into the tree to affix the feeder to a spot that seemed ideal — high enough for a bird to feel safe but where the afternoon light would be perfect for photographing. And I waited.

I didn’t have to wait long for results, but they weren’t the results I’d expected. A day later, I came home to find my yard filled with birds. Not a flicker among the flock, unfortunately. They were all magpies and ravens — the former the egg-stealing meanies, the latter huge, black animals with enormous wing spans and harsh voices. There must have been thirty or forty of these giants. They are beautiful in their way, but I had my heart set on the flicker. The ravens showed no fear of me and did not fly away when I got out of the car. I could not help thinking of the Alfred Hitchcock movie that scared me out of my wits as a child.

At night, the ravens sometimes walk on top of my casita. It makes an unnerving noise.

By now, a couple of days later, the woodpecker mix is nearly gone. The raven population has decreased. But I haven’t seen a sign of the flicker. I don’t know; should I try suet? Bird lovers, I need advice.

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A tour of the Harwood Museum

Pilar and I strolled along Ledoux Street — the Taos equivalent of Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, although much shorter — enroute to the Harwood Museum. It’s a beautiful building (another fabulous adobe structure) that has been carefully preserved even as it has been remodeled and enlarged. The collections include paintings from some of the artists who contributed to the early heyday of the Taos art colony (late 1800s and early 1900s), as well as some of their models-turned-artists.

There’s a room of modern art, a serene octaganal room of minimalist Agnes Martin paintings, and, upstairs, a delightful collection of folk and religious art. There are also two galleries for changing exhibitions. While we were there, one was occupied by a photography exhibit featuring albumen prints by Zoe Zimmerman and the other by a multi-media installation from artist Sabra Moore.

I was particularly taken by the carvings on the second floor. Several were the work of Patreciño Barela, who lived in Taos. His carvings are often crude and sometimes appear to be unfinished (apparently he had an unhappy and chaotic personal life), but they are full of wit and wonder. I love them.

Here’s a sample. The “death-cart” theme is not original — it’s a popular subject — but the carving is very typical of Barela:


Another variation on the theme, by an anonymous artist (or one whose name I failed to write down):


Nearby, among the many religious carvings and retables, was this rather modern take on a statue of Christ:


Taos is full of wonderful wood carving, and some of it is on furniture. This chest of drawers, which stands in a hallway at the Harwood, was carved by a WPA artist during the Depression. I wish more of our tax dollars were being spent for things like this now:


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Happy Valentine’s Day


Not much more to say today! This lovely bunch of chili peppers was seen hanging above the door of an art studio on Ledoux Street. More about that tomorrow. In the meantime, I hope you’ve had a fantastic Valentine’s Day.

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Mud and miracles


Today we visited the Church of San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos, just a few miles south of downtown Taos. Built probably between 1813 and 1815, it’s one of New Mexico’s oldest churches. It is also considered to be one of the finest examples of Spanish Franciscan architecture. Georgia O’Keeffe, among many others, painted it. It is indeed a beautiful structure, with huge buttresses (one is made of 10,000 adobe bricks held together by mud) that give it a rounded, grounded aspect. It’s earthy, organic, and soaring — all at one time. And, almost 200 years after its construction, this is still an operating church, with a congregation.

No photographs are allowed inside the church, but take my word for it — it’s gorgeous. There are two retables, decorated wood frames that enclose paintings of saints or special symbols. The main one is said to have been brought from Spain, but the one that graces the north side of the cross-shaped building is perhaps more fascinating. It was painted by a folk artist who was well known in the early 1800s, Molleno, and restored recently by two Santa Fe artists, Luis Tapia and Fred Vigil. Beside the retable is a rather gruesome sculptural rendering of Christ on the cross, with lots of blood and gore, also by Molleno. Galina, the art historian, pronounced it a very fine artwork.


Outside, in the courtyard, is this statue of St. Francis. I was struck by his pensive expression and the position of his hands. Maybe he is waiting for a sparrow to alight, but it sure looks to me as if he’s looking at his cellphone and saying, “I don’t recognize that number.”

Inside the church office is a curiosity that we couldn’t resist, the painting of “The Shadow of the Cross.” If you pay $3.00 to view a 15-minute historical slide/tape show, you also get to view the “mystery painting,” an 1896 work on canvas by French-Canadian artist Henri Ault. It’s a life-size painting; Galina regarded this one as “not very good.” (On top of that, this is my photo of a postcard, so it’s also a poor representation of the original.)


But this painting is famous because of what happens to it when the lights are turned off. In light, the picture shows a barefoot Christ standing on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. In darkness, the background begins to glow and the silhouetted figure appears. Then, as your eyes get accustomed to the darkness, a ghostly cross shape appears behind the figure’s shoulder on the right side of the painting. The painting was exhibited worldwide in the early part of the last century, including at the 1904 World Fair in St. Louis. Then a wealthy parishioner bought it and donated it to the church. According to a brochure you can buy (for one more dollar), “It was painted before radium was discovered and when tested with Geiger counters, the results have been negative. No luminous paint has been developed that does not oxidize with time, yet this painting has continued to be luminous for a hundred years.” Go figure; we decided to just accept it as miraculous.

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If you visit….

My “fellow fellow” Galina Tuluzakova and I have established a nice morning routine. After our swim at the Youth and Family Center, we drive a few blocks to the Taos Visitor Center. Since I write copy for West Virginia’s state travel guide, I am already a big fan of visitor centers and know how helpful they can be.

And, as visitor centers go, the one in Taos is a gem. The people are friendly and helpful. The building is bright, clean, and full of local arts and crafts in addition to brochures, travel guides, phone books, and other helpful information. And — the part we like best — there are some comfortable booths equipped for computer-users with electric outlets, high-speed connectors, and free wireless access. And they’ve already told us they don’t mind if we come every single day!

So, if you’re planning to come to Taos, here’s my advice: Start at the visitor center. You’ll find it at the corner of Paseo del Pueblo Sur and Paseo del Cañon, a couple of miles south of the downtown plaza. And, if you happen to arrive in winter near the end of the afternoon, this is the sight that may greet you as you leave the visitor center and drive into Taos. It changes with the time of day and the weather, but almost every time we see it, Galina and I actually gasp.


Actually, I took this picture from the parking lot of Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, downtown, late this afternoon. Two women were standing there talking, and one laughed as she said to me, “You’re not from around here, are you? We’re sick of that view.” Imagine that.

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Theodore Roethke wrote, “All finite things reveal infinitude.” Sometimes I don’t even like seeing the big picture; instead, I’m captivated by those “finite things” that can be taken in with a glance. Later, of course, they may reveal infinitude. A doorway is an opening to forever. A serene face is an invitation to meditation. In that spirit, here are a few details from yesterday afternoon’s walk around Taos:




My dad called me yesterday afternoon — from the hospital. He’s in the cardiac care unit, and though he says he’s going to be fine and discourages me from leaving Taos to go to Florida, I feel very far away from him. So I hope those of you who know him (or don’t know him!) will send warm thoughts and prayers his way. As for me, I’m sitting by the phone; but since it’s a cellphone, I’m doing that while parked in my car in Taos Plaza, taking advantage of the town’s free wireless access.

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