We’ve been living on Chamisa Trail for over a year now, and every day I feel grateful to be back in the San Luis Valley. My root hairs, after having been dug up from our home in Jaroso and stuffed into a traveling pot, are finally sunk into the ground again.
Last October and November when we were still moving in, I remember feeling as if the house didn’t know us, or we it, as if we were tuned to one key and the house to another. I remember asking Henry, “What are we doing living in someone else’s house?” But now the harmonics are resonant and clear, and our dreambodies know the way home.
About a year ago we started work on our 30 by 50 steel barn to turn it into a studio/gallery/classroom. First up, we poured a cement floor—a $7000 cement floor. Gulp. But weirdly enough, that financial gulp made the subsequent ones easier to bear as we built walls and a ceiling stuffed with insulation, hung a heater, wired electricity and installed lights. Besides being the best space we’ve ever had to create art, our studio has hosted a housewarming party, a retirement celebration for Carol, owner of Esperanza’s field mate Lucky, a house concert featuring two marvelous young singer/songwriters, and a watercolor class. May it host many other community events that have at their heart, art.
One of the first things I did last fall was plant a garlic patch in a spot that has never seen a garden before. Most of the land in the SLV is of poor quality, so gardeners must build the soil as we did for nineteen years in Jaroso, transforming it into deep, rich, sweet smelling soil we could dig with our hands. (Yes, I miss that, and our amazing greenhouse.) We got a dump truck full of sandy loam (pretty worthless in itself without lots of added organic material) and I gathered leaves and old manure from the field and worked it all in, like kneading bread dough. The garlic seeds and bulbils came from our Dolores garden and did well (unlike the rest of the garden due to first year blues, lousy dirt, and gophers), and now we’re peeling purple skin off of big pungent cloves and smashing them into our guacamole. Next year’s garlic is already in the ground, the compost piles are cooking, and hopefully next year’s garden will be better. (When and if we can afford it, a small greenhouse is definitely on my wish list.)
For a long while, I would think about my dear cousin in Dolores, the one whose vision of a horse ranch catalyzed our move there in 2013. I would worry over what happened and didn’t happen, and try to sort out why it didn’t work for Henry and me to live on her ranch, or work on it even after we moved down the hill. How much of it was her doing? How much of it was ours? Why did the core group that first assembled in the spring of 2013 all disperse? But I couldn’t help but notice that none of this fretting bore fruit, nor did any of my attempts to reach out to her. For another long while, whenever I would catch myself snagging on our “lost” year and my charismatic and complicated cousin, I would turn to the west and practice saying “I release you. I release you. I release you,” as I learned to do from a Joy Harjo poem. It would work until I snagged again. I wrote some dismally awful poems about it; suffice to say that one was titled “Slung Shot ‘Round the Dark Side of the Moon” and the other was an obsessive sestina (a strict poetic form tailor made for obsessions). But gradually, two things have become clear for which I am grateful. One is that my cousin has pulled toward herself exactly what she wanted: her son and his young family who are perfect for the ranch. For that blessing, I am glad for her. Second is ironically something my cousin often said: Rejection is protection. Ironically, if I take that to heart, then our brief infatuation and collision in the summer of 2013, and our subsequent withdrawal from the ranch and eventual move back in the SLV the following summer were about protecting Henry and me.
Moving back here to the place of her birth has been a godsend for Esperanza and me. One of the most confusing and painful things about living on the ranch was the realization that Esperanza and I were going backwards. Neither she nor I could handle the natural horsemanship clinics that the ranch promoted. I’m sure there are many reasons for this, but the few that stand out to me now include pressure, competition and agenda, all of which can foil the developing relationship of a young horse and her aging rider. As soon as we moved Esperanza off the ranch, our relationship began to improve. The irony is that we got closer because of her persistent health problems (which I have written about in a former blog post). Riding was out of the question until the last month before we moved back to the valley. I found a gentle woman horse trainer (off the ranch), the wife of my barefoot farrier, who was able to see what was missing or going wrong in our relationship, and in the simplest way possible suggest something—an approach, a gesture, a shift in timing or request—that made all the difference. This same horse trainer is now the owner of Esperanza’s filly, Cinnamon, and I know that she will have the best of homes in the best of hands. Because this horse trainer is a quiet introvert with no ambitious dreams to get “on the circuit,” she will probably not be well known, but she sure made sense to me and Esperanza. Now Esperanza and I are enjoying a strong connection. She is soft and willing in my hands. I can let the halter reins drop on her neck and ask her to whoa and back up just through my voice and shifting my weight. I can “close” one leg to turn her this way and that as we thread through the chamisa and gorse. She stands rock still when I get on or off bareback from either side, and she only fidgets a little when I cinch the saddle, which is a big improvement over our former struggle. All of this happened because I learned to give minimal pressure, avoid competition, and keep any agenda flexible.
As you might imagine, Henry and I have been through a hard couple of years. Now, in our thirty-third year of marriage, I believe we are stronger, truer, kinder, deeper friends. But the stress and burden of moving twice in a year (well, more if you count moving in and out of storage units) has taken its toll. That, and aging. Moving again is just about the last thing we would ever want to do. I am grateful for Henry every day.
Jobs for both of us have been harder to come by than I expected or hoped for, but I guess within the “real” economy here in the valley—where $15 an hour is a fairly decent wage even though it’s not a living wage (sorry Mr. Obama)—our struggle is commonplace. Henry has worked at a variety of jobs, including an alligator farm, the local food coop,and a greenhouse garden center, as well as landscaping, painting and handyman jobs. I have been tutoring at both ASU and TSJC (the local community college), and teaching through ASU Extended Studies as well as on campus. Earlier this year I applied for a professor position at ASU that was being vacated because my friend Carol decided to retire. To buff up my resume I published a compilation of short stories and ten minute plays (Coyote Points the Way: Borderland Stories and Plays), but I did not make the short list for the position; a PhD from out of the valley was hired instead. Of course this was very disappointing and I was bitter and upset for a couple of weeks until the wind freshened and my sails filled out again. Rejection is protection, right? I later got a part time position teaching English and Science in an adult basic education in a GED program at TSJC. I’m grateful for the work, and even though ASU isn’t hiring adjuncts next spring (due to low enrollment), I am trusting that something will come through.
I’m especially enjoying working with my incarcerated students through ASU, all of whom are telling important stories, and some of whom are working on writing chops any writer would be proud to trot out. For example, the lead sentence in one student’s paper is “My status as a felon seems to enter the room before I do,” and another paper he titled “Suicide is by 401(k).” Strong stuff, yes? How ironic that twenty-five years after I first entered a women’s prison to teach holistic health (including writing, of course), that people in prison would once again populate my life.
I’m grateful for sunny days warm enough to work on my marble goddess. I’m finding her final shape and beginning to hone her with 60 grit diamond pads. What a delight to see the crystal surface begin to hold the light. Of course there are stuns beneath the surface—leftover scars from the hammer and chisel—that mar the stone’s grain, and which I feel compelled to remove with excessive amounts of elbow grease. A good metaphor stuns are for those bruises that lie deeper than the skin’s surface.
I am grateful for early morning dusk when Orion, Jupiter and Venus are still visible. I walk out to the studio, coffee cup in hand, to paint for half an hour before school. As I straighten from the table, I watch the sky come alive with light and watch the horses munch on their breakfast. This ritual sets my days, points me in the right direction, reminds me who I really am and why. At first, the watercolor mosaics of horses felt like putting something shattered back together again, but now they feel like a true way of seeing and being in the world: Thousands of isolated events, ideas, people, color, sense, trials, failures, triumphs, heartbeats and breaths that come together as a whole.