Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Winter is keeping us inside a lot causing time to lose its sequential nature: days seem scrambled at random, but I think we have been back in Taos for two weeks after two weeks in Cottonwood, give or take a few days. As I was mentally comparing the features of my two favorite places over coffee this morning I realized Taos seems to exist on a different dimension than the rest of the world, probably why it seems like home to those of us who lack a sense of membership in the “real world?”

Occasionally I feel claustrophobic here. In the early days, this place was miraculous. I could hardly believe that I was living in a place quirky enough to eliminate the cultural, economic and professional stereotypes of that other world that I came from. This was planet Taos.  I mentioned the claustrophobia thing to a friend who has lived in many parts of the world including Taos and she suggested that what I was experiencing reminded her of life on an Island. I suppose this means a small island since we all live on North America, i.e., Turtle Island. Although I’ve never lived on a small Island I’ve often wondered if it wouldn’t feel like entrapment after a while.

Taos changes on you. Sometimes it feels safe, cozy and magically protected from the impersonal demands of the outside world and then one morning you wake up to Shangri la over taken by a black magician with a sense of humor. It’s either a trickster or that egregious Spirit of the Mountain. However, I’ve noticed that small mountain towns all have some of this “crazy kinfolk” feeling. However, here It’s different than just a normal dysfunctional family, because there is also an element of witchy glamour. I mean glamour in the old sense of enchantment.

When I was a teenager in Denver, I got a first glimpse of the outrageous side of the Taos spirit. A couple moved next door to us. The man was from Chihuahua and the woman from Taos. She was a great cook and shared fresh tortillas, beans, and occasionally green chili, but she was also tottering on a narrow ledge. We gave her privacy and never said anything when she shared (frequently) that some relative was witching her, and often witnessed her doing counter witching ceremonies in the back yard.  I suppose it was her way of staying in touch with home.

Encouraging Mid-winter View
For some reason this brings to mind the distinctiveness of Taos houses.  Something about them resembles Hobbit Houses. There is more going on than merely the characteristic combination of Spanish, Moorish and Indian architecture. Of course, I’m talking about the old ones. However, there is more involved here than mere passage of years. Time for these houses is architecturally compressed, and sometimes it’s impossible to know if a house is 20 years old or 200 years old. To be fair, this is true of all of northern New Mexico, even in Santa Fe’s old neighborhoods.

Taos houses are often cute like Hobbit Houses with irregular walls, wavy floors, meandering rooms that roam here and there, probably each added to an original one-room structure as the family grew. Doorways between rooms can be any number of shapes in the same house and the walls may be white wash or various bright colors such as blue, purple and yellow. The furniture is generally an offbeat mixture of the local folk version of Spanish Colonial, Mexican, second hand store American, and contemporary WalMart. Heating is often an adobe horno (called a kiva fireplace by relators) or a wood stove. Water and plumbing are usually dependent on crossed fingers and wiring is something you’d rather not know about. 

Our house in town is a newish adobe (only seven years old) Habitat for Humanity house in an area that was sagebrush and chamisa ten years ago. I look around the house and notice that Taos style is already setting in.  This house contains personal history through the Taos filter. There are drums, rattles and fans on the walls now along with our paintings and pieces dating back to my Denver life.  Furniture from my childhood home, mom’s last apartment and things brought back from Arizona. The oriental rugs came from mom’s house, my last Denver house and PQ’s dining room. I look around and realize that I purchased very few pieces, mostly from WalMart, yard sales and second hand stores. The house is personal history but it would never blend the same way anywhere else. The Taos house spirit gives its own abiding personality to each house. There is something endearing about Taos houses even when the roof leaks, the electricity goes out and the cesspool overflows.

The Dining Room Table
Despite all this, Taos homes don’t look poor or ugly. Oh no, I don’t want to give that impression. Even the pell-mell but organic architecture and furnishings are not ugly just as the natural landscape is never ugly even though rugged and sculpted by the elements.  I think that is the key. Nature is the designer and arranges everything, inside and out. The superficial poverty and rough clad individuality is just a mirror image of nature trying to hold its own and make a statement against the lopsided rule of technology and money. Maybe we are helping to balance the bigger world. Yet, its serious work and now and then we need to retreat to Arizona for rest and realignment. 

Magical things happen to us in both Taos and Cottonwood/Sedona. It seems that it is more intense as we move back and forth between them, and the magic is still teasing us with tempting promises of more, at least for now.  Here in Taos it is snowing again. We are spending most of our time indoors and PQ has turned our dining room into a studio.  He has a lot of painting to do for an upcoming show in Jerome Arizona in May.