Archive for March, 2007

Sound and sharing

A few days ago, when I went out to take my laundry off the clothesline, there was a musical instrument sitting on the lawn beside the clothesline. It was a sort of electric guitar on a stand, and it belonged to my next-door neighbor, Mark So. And it was playing a one-note composition (I think the note is F-sharp) he had made in dedication to my laundry and my new fascination with watching my laundry dry. He even wrote out a “score” for me to keep.

Yesterday, my other next-door neighbor, Paul Rudy, treated our whole group to a one-hour sound composition he has created while staying here, a “suite” of sounds that he described as a sort of movie-without-visuals. It was indeed evocative — sometimes disturbing, eventually redemptive.

Both of these kinds of “music” — compositions without a distinguishable “melody” — are new to me. Even though I probably won’t be moved to emulate them (I’m a folkie for life, I think), hearing them has enlarged my capacity for listening: the intersection between sound and art is larger than I’d imagined.

Last week, I met an Austrian woman at the visitor center, and we have become friends. Verena is a sound healer; she has a array of instruments, some of which she brought to my casita after we took a walk today. Others, because they are large, have been left behind in Austria while she is traveling, but luckily she had pictures of them stored on one of those wonderful little flash cards you can plug into a USB hub on just about any computer. So I was able to see a picture of an instrument that is also a table (like a portable massage table). The client lies on the table, and Verena plays a series of tones on strings that are underneath the table.

The instruments she brought to my casita included a Native American flute and a small drum, some rattles of various styles and sounds, a brass bowl, some small brass cymbals/gongs, and a very tiny, wonderful instrument, a silver ball less than an inch in diameter that makes a beautiful, shimmery sound when you hold it in your hand and jiggle it.

We had a “potluck lunch” (she brought soup and zucchini and bread, I provided yogurt cheese and avocado, olives and chile/garlic paste). Afterwards we had a lovely hour or so of sharing: poems, pictures of her homeplace, and even some drumming and singing. Not to mention savory ginger-carrot soup, stir-fried zucchini, and bread with delicious spreads.

I’m tallying up the “sound adventures” of the past three months, and I’m amazed: voice lessons, Al’s piano studio, the flickers’ drumming on trees and metal pipes, the chip-chip of the downy woodpecker at the bird feeder, and now these most recent sound experiences. I have a feeling that, in the future, when I think of Taos, it won’t be just the mountains and the skies I remember.

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More abstract art

On Monday, I took my second hike along the west rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, this time with Pilar and her brother Roy, who was visiting. We got a little further, and we took a great little side trip into a tributary, where we could walk across a stream (mostly dried up right now) at a point just before it drops off dramatically and merges with the larger canyon. The rockface was wonderfully painted by lichen and water:


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Millicent Rogers and her museum

I’m so glad I didn’t miss this museum! It is in a rambling adobe house (built room by room, according to the former owners’ whims and needs) and is chock-full of several different collections — Navajo and Pueblo jewelry, Pueblo pottery (including prehistoric), Hopi and Zuni kachina dolls, textiles, basketry, historic and contemporary santos (religious images) and much more.

Millicent Rogers herself, who began the collection, was a fascinating, beautiful, and obviously very talented woman. Like Mabel Dodge Luhan and Helene Wurlitzer, she seems to have been “called” by the high desert landscape and the spiritual qualities of this place. She died at the age of 50, after a life plagued by illness. A letter she wrote to her son Paul, just before her death, in which she tells him not to mourn because she feels her commitment to the New Mexico earth will only bring her closer to heaven, is among the most tender and eloquent pieces of writing I have ever read. Another of my favorite things at the museum was a selection of her own illustrations of a Hans Christian Andersen tale, which she did for her children.

Within a room of retablos (images on wooden boards) and bultos (free-standing religious images) was this rather gruesome representation of Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno:


According to the accompanying label, this and other images of Our Father Jesus the Nazarene were produced for use by the confraternity of Los Hermanos Penitentes. The figures have moveable joints at the shoulders and elbows so that they can be placed in different positions. These images are part of the ritual re-enactments during Holy Week, and dressed in appropriate garments during the rest of the liturgical year.

I’m not sure if this one is wearing Holy Week garb or other “appropriate garments.”

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Hurray! Hurray! Michael and I just clicked the Travelocity button to order a plane ticket for him. So he is really coming out here to spend a few days and help me drive home in early April. I’m so happy. I’ve been feeling just like this prairie dog:


I don’t know whether the locals appreciate them (they do dig some pretty extensive holes), but I am delighted every morning, when I drive to the swimming pool, by the sight of these little guys sitting out in the sun. Sometimes I count six or seven in one large field near the local high school. I love the way they look so alert. I suppose squirrels look this cute to someone who doesn’t see them every day.

And, as you can tell, I’m getting eager to see West Virginia again, even though I have loved every minute of my residency in Taos. The writing has gone well (less than I’d hoped but much more than I would have accomplished otherwise), and I have made wonderful new friends, and I have enjoyed basking in the sun and hiking and watching my laundry wave in the Taos breeze. But I’m ready to see the Kanawha River, and Virginia bluebells and jack-in-the-pulpit and all my other favorite wildflowers. Ready to eat some ramps and hear some old-time music and look at the gardens of Arlington Court.

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The other day I noticed that one of my tires had a slow leak. I took it to a place called M&M Tires, where it was expertly repaired within a few minutes by owner Bonifacio Martinez. While he worked, we chatted, and he remarked that, had he been unable to fix it, he might have donated the worn-out tire to the Earthship community, a few miles outside of Taos. I was fascinated by what he told me and decided to visit.

The Earthship community is a collection of unusual homes that look, at first glance, like something from a strange dream. They are organic in shape, studded with bottles, and partly buried in the ground. These are Earthships — passive solar structures that do not use any conventional power or water source, thanks to a combination of ingenious design, recycling, and solar and wind power. Water comes from snow melt or rain collection, and is used four times before it is finally discharged in a conventional septic system. The houses are amazingly pretty inside, airy and not at all dark.


The walls are made of recycled tires, aluminum cans, bottles (sometimes placed so as to let light in), and adobe, which is then oiled on the inside surfaces to make it darker, the better for absorbing sun and maintaining heat. Here’s a cutaway view of a wall:


Sloped windows on the southern side collect sun and also nourish the gardens that provide food, purify water, and beautify the space. When the sun is too intense, or to retain heat after dark, the windows can be covered:


The houses are wired with conventional electric outlets and the appliances are ordinary, albeit energy-saving models. They are priced competitively: a 1,200-square-foot home in this community might cost $200,000 (this includes all labor, the most expensive part of building an Earthship). Members of the Earthship Foundation have built them all over the world, and also are available to teach others. They have also published the building plans in several books.

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A grey day in Taos

It’s something I haven’t experienced much here: actual cloudy weather and rain. Yesterday, in fact, the rain was accompanied by thunder and hail. It was quite wonderful, if only for the novelty, and it made me miss West Virginia’s more changeable weather.

Today, enroute from a visit to the Millicent Rogers Museum (more about that soon), I was struck by this study in greys and browns:


A little further along, I came upon a descanso. These roadside memorials are very common (sadly, all too common) in this area, and mark the place where a person has died, usually as the result of a car accident. We have similar roadside memorials in West Virginia. This one is on Millicent Rogers Road, but two new ones appeared on Kit Carson Road this week, about a block from where my casita is, after a car swerved and killed two people who were walking beside the road. Whatever else it may be, Taos is not a very safe place for pedestrians.


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Rio Grande Gorge walk


Pilar and I decided that we wanted a walk, but a not-too-demanding, level walk. We found the perfect hike at the state park/rest area beside the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, just a few miles from Taos. We didn’t walk all nine miles, but we probably went three miles in one direction and then retraced our steps. We made good walking companions: although we both appreciate the drama of that big crack in the earth, neither of us felt compelled to go anywhere near the edge. We didn’t even walk out on the bridge, where you can stand right above the gaping hole. We both agreed: life is scary enough as it is.


The landscape, aside from gorge itself, was a mystical flatness punctuated by sage. It smelled wonderful. The gorge was, as you see, deep and dramatic:


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Although I’ll be in Taos for a couple more weeks, my thoughts are turning toward home. And, among the things I’m anticipating, when I get back to West Virginia, is watching the progress of a new venture founded by my friend Michael Davis.

Water Gap Retreat is a brand-new series of weekend workshops at Michael’s Shavers Fork riverside property near Elkins, West Virginia. The workshops — led by artists that include Jude Binder, Doug Van Gundy, Anita Skeen, Ruth Blackwell Rogers, Mimi Kibler, Scott Weaner, Jim Van Gundy, Michael and Carrie Kline, Kate Long, Robin Kessinger, and yours truly — will focus on many topics, from mountain geology to mountain music, from writing poetry to baking bread, from origami to organic gardening.

Workshops will begin on Friday evenings and end Sunday after lunch. In between, the time will be filled with campfire gatherings, morning yoga sessions led by Irene McKinney, workshop sessions, field trips, and — this may be my favorite part — fabulous, healthy food prepared by some of the best cooks I know. Even the sleeping quarters are special: riverside camping structures designed especially for Water Gap Retreat by architect Bryson VanNostrand, featuring Michael’s shibori-dyed fabric and Laurie Gundersen’s handmade rugs.

The Water Gap website is brand new. Check it out if you have a chance and let Michael know what you think.

Here’s a picture of the river taken from Michael’s property. It’s a great place for swimming, floating, and fishing, too.


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We will not be silent

On Saturday evening, a friend in Charleston sent me some photos of the war protest activities at home, including a photo of peace cranes and a section of the “wall of names” of the thousands of U.S. men and women who have died in Iraq. On this fourth anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, it seems appropriate and important to share pictures of protest rally that took place where I happen to be. All across the country, in small towns and large, good and patriotic Americans are outraged by the actions of the current president and administration. Some of us, like myself, were too timid or too self-absorbed to participate from the very beginning, but little by little we are catching on.

The rally I attended took place on Saturday, March 17. It was a Taos-style event: great music, artful posters and banners, many outrageous costumes, and more dreadlocks than I’ve ever seen in one place.

The local chapter of Code Pink sponsored three huge puppets — Peace, Truth, and Justice (representing Sadako, Amy Goodman, and Rosa Parks, respectively).



The next photo is of Jeff Conant, a local man who has received some press for speaking directly to Donald Rumsfeld (who has retired to Taos since his resignation) when they happened to meet at a Taos ski resort and telling him that he considered him a war criminal. Conant spoke briefly at the rally; his dog barked enthusiastically.


A friend who went with me to the rally remarked, “You can tell this is Taos; even the protest signs are works of art.” Some of them really were.



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The truth is, this is the first time I have taken time to look at them. They’ve probably been there all along, but I am usually rushing around doing what I consider to be important, and birds were among the many things that got out of my way as I hurtled forward. Luckily my three months of unemployment have apparently coincided with a time of migration and mating, and I’m smack in the middle of an 18-acre plot of trees and brush that is essentially a nature refuge. If I haven’t mentioned it earlier, I have also been finding time to read books (including a couple of worthless mysteries and a few delightful children’s books) and to watch my laundry wave on the clothesline. Watching laundry dry outdoors: I guess that’s the ultimate definition of relaxation for me.

In my fantasies, I’ll somehow maintain this sense of ease and all-the-time-in-the-world attitude when I go back to West Virginia and my regular work schedule. Probably that won’t happen; probably I’ll get caught in the seductive whirl of earning a living and doing all the other things I do to keep from being still. But, even if that happens, I’m so grateful that I got to enjoy some stillness here, and I know I’ll carry some part of this experience with me for the rest of my life.

Last night, five of us from the HWF went to an art opening, then out to dinner at a fantastic pizza restaurant. (Julie and Anita, I ordered a slice of green olive and spinach pizza, yum!) Maybe it was the company, maybe the two beers, maybe the “mudslide pie” (coffee ice cream and Oreo crust drizzled with chocolate and topped with whipped cream) that we passed around the table, but I laughed harder than I have laughed in a long time. A foursome of young people, spring breakers spending a week on the ski slopes, seemed amazed by us. You could almost hear them marveling, “You old guys are having a really good time, aren’t you?”

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