October 6, 2000
As I went to sleep last night I made a pact with myself. If I woke in time to go to Mass I would. If I slept I would just go up for breakfast. I was awake at 3:00. I was sure I would fall asleep again and probably even miss breakfast. No luck. It was 5:00. I was pretending I was asleep when suddenly I had a tickle in my throat and knew I had to get up. This time I took the Coleman lantern to light my way and it was much easier to see where I was going up the road.
a strip of stars
above canyon walls
going to the darkened church
I arrived so early at the church that the chapel was only lit by candlelight. The priests, the few who were tending fires and preparing the Holy Communion table, moved about like ghosts in the dimness.
it slowly finds the faces
radiant with joy
When they turned on the tiny lights overhead some of the magic left. Somehow, the Mass today didn't drag for me as the previous one had. We were now four women guests!
out of darkness
people appear on a path
to the chapel
Because it was known that I was leaving today, a blessing was said during the Mass for my safe journey. I was very touched. Today I did not shock the Vietnamese priest with my religious status so he spoke the blessing with much more confidence and clarity. When he had raised the plate of host above his head, and the bell rang three times, it really seemed as if a mystery was occurring.
moving to the altar
At the end of Mass I sat as long as I could, savoring the feelings I had experienced. Storing up memories for all the days I would not be in this space.
with the smell
of candle wax
While I was eating breakfast, three monks whom I had not exchanged a word came up and gave me their whispered blessing. Brother Isaac and Brother Alerod also came by with their blessings and I was able to thank Brother Alerod again for the rosary.
the brothers' farewell
so few hours together
so many tears
I floated back down the hill to my room where I packed up, cleaned up. Dianne was in charge of preparing the rooms for new guests so I helped her.
a wooden crucifix
I asked the Aussie to come carry my suitcase out to the parking lot and he seemed glad to do something for me. As I sat under the lovely carved wood balcony of the front of the lodge several haiku came to me out of the quiet of the morning sun.
partly cloudy skies
the sunshine comes
is that Marilyn
coming down the road?
only canyon wind
the tree that grows
atop the mesa
heavy with wings
the aspen touched
by the All-seen
When Marilyn arrived she wanted to see my room, so we went back. Already it had returned to its previous scrubbed state but I felt that its energy had shifted. I knew that mine had changed a great deal in the five days it had sheltered me in all my moods. Then we went to the gift shop where I was surprised to see things I wanted which I have failed to find the day before. There was so much and I really hated to leave this place. By buying small bits and trinkets I was trying to take it with me. It was good to see Marilyn, who was raised Catholic pick out a stone studded cross and chain for her neck. How glad I was to be able to purchase it for her.
I later found out that she had been so frightened of the road back here that she had brought extra blankets, water and food and had left notices with friends to check on her if she failed to return in time. We did meet several cars coming in as we drove out (I think the week-ends fill up with local visitors from Santa Fe and Taos) but we had no scares or close calls. I felt the blessings from the brothers was keeping us safe.
The whole 13 miles back to the highway were peppered with the many stops for photographs. Remembering my last visit with Marilyn when photographing had become an 'issue' between us I was very thankful that since she had seen that I could take good ones (even ones she wanted copies of) so she was extremely glad to stop the car whenever I asked. She was so 'good' that when I would say "Stop" she would try to stop on the spot. I finally made it clear that my "stop" meant "drive to the nearest safe place to stop". So many photos of the transparent golden cottonwood trees outlining the curving river and following the twists and turns of the once might rush of waters that had carved out these cliffs. In places the river had made actual temples that only spirits could occupy.
At one place, people had started balancing rocks in piles along the road. I did not realize that this could be a meditative activity until Marilyn explained it to me by performing her own little miracle of stacking round rocks on top of one another.
Finally off the dirt road and on the smoothness of the Highway 84, we decided to make the short trip to Echo Amphitheater – in the opposite direction of Abiquiu. I was very glad to stay among the red canyons as long as I could because already, since turning out on to the highway, I was missing the very special scenery in which the monastery is nestled. Though the amphitheater was huge and wondrous, it lacked the holiness of where I had been. I shot off a quick couple of tourist shots and we zoomed out of there, turning south.
Marilyn had called, for me, to get a space for one of the tours of Georgia O'Keeffe's home, but could only get me on a waiting list. So we stopped in their offices before heading to the Abiquiu Inn for dinner. They had no record of my name on a waiting list. I was devastated and was trying to swallow my disappointment when the phone rang. The young woman talked to someone and then turned to us saying two guests had their flight delayed and would not arrive in time for their 2:00 tour. Even at $20. a person I was glad to pay for myself and to take Marilyn with me.
We proceeded to the inn's dining room, comfortable in a countrified way, where I finally got into the neighborhood of more protein. Two slivers of chicken breast started me off slowly on the path back to meat-eating. I cannot understand how restaurants act as though they are offering a healthy menu by leaving out meat and then frying the vegetables in a heavy oil. I enjoyed the food, anyhow and the cheerful atmosphere of the inn. Marilyn was very uncomfortable because all occupants were women and our being there together practically proclaimed that we were lesbians. As the meal progressed she became more and more tight-lipped until Craig, one of the organizers of Martin's workshop came by our table and talked to her allowing her to be her normal sunny outgoing self. As we stood around waiting for the tour bus to load, she stood farther and farther away from me as if she did not want the other paired women to include us in their category. I think that if I had not paid so much for the tour, she would have backed out of it at that point. Finally the guide showed up – Kathy in a huge straw hat, tight blue t-shirt, and skin-tight leggings, and we loaded ourselves into the bus. There was only one other heterosexual couple so Marilyn made sure we sat next to them.
Again we were warned that one could not take photographs in the house or grounds, that one could not video or even audio tape the guide's remarks and neither could one take notes! The rebels within both Marilyn sat up straight as we turned on our powers of observation. Most of what Kathy told us I had read in one or another of the several books about O'Keeffe that I had read so I mostly listened for deviations from the accepted stories. When the tourists began to get restless in the cooking heat of the bus, she wisely sat down and let the driver cool us off. As we drove down the highway, Marilyn pointed upward to the edge of a cliff overhanging the highway and said in a loud voice, "There, you can see the corner of her house." Kathy turned around in her seat and glared at Marilyn with her eyes narrowed as if saying. "Just shut up, smart-ass." I was snickering so much I missed getting a good look.
Georgia O'Keeffe's house is in the old part of the tiny village of Abiquiu which is up on the mesa above the highway. Most people buzzing by would not even know that a town with churches and several large homes is secreted away here. Again we were cautioned not to take any photographs of the village. It was not allowed by the inhabitants, we were told. Marilyn's mouth got tighter. She had taught classes up here, had been in the village on a weekly basis and knew this was not so, yet she did not say anything.
As we got off the mini-bus we were all eager to begin seeing something, but we led between a high adobe fence and a windowless wall to the garden. At the corner of the living room just beyond the big windows we were told to sit down to listen to the guide. By scooting to the far edge of the group I could stand in front of the windows to stare at myself staring into the room where Georgia had lived. There was a huge jade plant that looked to be the same one in the photos taken by Myron Woods in the 70s. Was it the same one? I let the droning of Kathy's voice become my canoe to cross time and space as I confronted Georgia in her own living room. She was even crankier than Kathy and I was glad when Kathy said, "Now we will go look into the roofless room." Oh joy. We were allowed to peek through a barred window into a tiny dirt-floored atrium. I was busy trying to get the lay of the room arrangements so the individual photographs I had seen could correspond to the reality. The complex is large (over 5,000 square feet) and full of ins and outs of the old original parts and those that Georgia had added on. The tourists again were getting restless in the sun as we were only led around through the garden (nicely planted and cared for with vegetables by a team of gardeners) but it was still just a vegetable garden.
Finally we were let into one of the inside atriums and I was ambling from one photo to another from Wood's book and was contented. Still, without going to any of the rooms, Kathy would talk about O'Keeffe's art, hand around books of her paintings. We would stare at blank adobe walls or the sandy ground and wonder where we were in the square of pale blue sky. After a circuitous route, we were let into the pantry! They still had some jars of herbs with Georgia's handwriting on the labels. People crowded on each other's toes so much that we could not really see anything so some of the people began edging into the kitchen. The other woman from the foundation office kept herding us together as if she was a sheep dog with an eye for secret cameras. When the most of us had wandered into the kitchen, Kathy finally joined us and continued her spiel from there. Here the most wondrous feature was the view. The house sits right on the edge of the mesa and overlooks the Charma River valley. Off in the distance we could see the white rock towers that we knew from the paintings. The kitchen, even as a kitchen, gave a feeling for Georgia's strong feeling for bareness and utilitarian form. From here we were allowed to look through a window into the dining room, and from a doorway, where we squeezed two at a time, we could stare through the dining room and down into the living room which we had seen from outside. Only our toes got over the threshold. At another doorway we could look into the roofless room that we had also seen from outside and at another doorway we could glance down into the Indian room (the place she supposedly let Indians stay when they traveled by). The fireplace and lack of sky was all that said it was an inside room.
Going out the kitchen door we could stand on the cliff overlooking Highway 84 and get an even better view of the white rock towers. Off to the right was the long adobe building where she had built her studio and bedroom. We were corralled into a tiny roped off area of the studio where there was one painting on the wall which I had never seen in any of the books of her art and wondered who had really painted it. We saw several large pots that were reputed to be Juan Hamilton's (the young man who took care of her in her final years). They were larger and better made than I had expected them to be. It was rather sad that the great help she gave him in getting shows with her reputation, all came to nothing when he finally got her money. I felt he was showing real promise. Again, this room showed the stern, strict, righteousness of Georgia's personality and yet there was a strong human element that was very fine moving among the stationary things.
Again we were led outdoors, and around this building where we were allowed to press our noses against the huge bedroom window. I was surprised that they left as her bed, the hospital bed, instead of putting back the bed she had used until that was necessary. I was able to see, on a far wall, the bronze hand of blessing that Ginger had written to me about and again I thought of her acting as guide for a group like ours.
All too soon for me, we were being herded back into the bus and within minutes were back at the inn where Marilyn and I sat in the shade to discuss what to do next with the rest of the afternoon. We thought of trying to get to the white rocks as Marilyn had been there once with some other people. But she had forgotten the way, so she went into the reception desk to ask instructions. While I sat there in numb tourist overload, it hit me what I really wanted to do. Within minutes we were back in the old village and Marilyn was showing me where she held her classes while I snapped photographs of the fine old adobe church. We saw no signs prohibiting cameras and no one paid any attention to my activities. We drove along the adobe wall of the O'Keeffe garden. When we saw an apple tree that hung over the wall had dropped some apples in the dry ditch, Marilyn pulled off the road to go get one. While she did that, I shot all the photos I wanted. Back in the car together she rubbed the dust off on her skirt and held out the apple saying, "Here, you take the first bite." "What?" I squeaked, "eat an apple from her garden?" Marilyn thought I was serious and groaned in embarrassment. The tour had elevated O'Keeffe so that she believed that I, too, treated her like a religious figure. We laughed but neither of us dared bite into the apple.
After we drove past the O'Keeffe place we wound around a small residential area and then the road began to climb sharply. We wondered where we were going, but were eager to see what was up ahead. Then at the top was an adobe church without windows. How strange, I thought. On the backside of the building were three black crosses on the edge of the cliff so that they were outlined starkly against the sky. Then it hit me. This must be the church of the Penitents, the group who practice flagellanti (whipping themselves with cords imbedded with cactus thorns and enacting the crucifixion on Good Friday). In Georgia's writings she had mentioned the eerie sounds of their chanting as they walked through the streets of the village during Holy Week. Even Ginger had heard them this year and had written of how deeply moved she had been hearing them pass by the house while she was guiding a tour group.
Returning to go past O'Keeffe's house, this time I had the courage to get out of the car and to aim the camera over the fence. Finally I felt I was getting my money's worth for the tour. Still, the desire was there to also see the white rock towers, so we began to drive off in their direction not really knowing where we were going but simply following a cardinal point. The rocks were fantastic. The sun kept coming and going behind a cloud so there was a constantly moving – rearranging of the shadows and their shapes. Which view was best or even closest to what the rocks were changed from shot to shot. I could see why they had fascinated Georgia. I was torn between getting off one more shot and hurrying off to Ghost Ranch for the start of the workshop. Marilyn balanced rocks while she patiently waiting for me.
The scene at Ghost Ranch was very hectic. Everyone knew Marilyn from previous workshops given by Martin so she was covered with hugs and news and I got my share of introductions. When I found out that my room was up on top of the mesa and that the dining room and conference rooms were on opposite sides of the valley floor, I tried to buy my way into a room closer to the activities but I was given to understand that it was impossible to change the arrangements which had me about as far from where I needed to be as possible. Marilyn was able to drive me up to the long, low camp barracks where we unloaded my stuff. I was just one room away from the heterosexual couple we had seen on the O'Keeffe tour. I rushed around grabbing the single bed closest to the window and piling my stuff in the top dresser drawer before my roommates arrived. Somehow this felt like my days at college or even worse, at church camp. The cement floor, the wooden walls with the studs exposed, the metal camp cots, the ugly battered dresser and pipe clothes rack were at least as old as I am and surely remnants of my youth.
I looked at the map I had been given and tried to figure out where I was, where the dining hall was and to guess how far apart everything actually was. Suddenly I felt very tired, discouraged, worthless and alone. As I looked down the mesa into the valley the distance seemed a long way to go for food. I began to think that even the opening of the workshop was not worth the trek down there and then the climb back up in the dark. Resigned to being my own entertainment I started off on a walk. I found a small rustic amphitheater with a great view of the cliffs (similar to the ones at the monastery but farther away and therefore not so impressive) so I sat down to watch the sun paint the red stone with orange and purple. I wondered how one could squeeze paint out of tubes in the presence of such light. As it began to get dark I headed back to the lodge named "prickly pear" with the intension of writing in my journal and getting a good night's sleep. However, a girlish looking woman was just arriving from Colorado. She asked me if I was going down to the workshop and I told her I was not because I did not want to make the walk down and back up in the dark. Since she had her car here, to unload her luggage, she offered to drive me down and even said she would drive me back up afterwards, no matter what the rules. I loved her fresh sparkling personality that was like a mountain breeze full of negative ions. She was absolutely appalled at the idea that I would miss part of the activities out of my fears of falling. She bubbled and chirped and I guessed her to be a good 35. As the conversation continued, on our trip down off the mesa, I found out she was 58! In her faded jeans and calico cowboy shirt she looked more like she had just left her horse in the barn than a class on Creative Writing at the University of Boulder. Because we had driven down, we were among the first ones in the conference room. It was her idea that we 'save' seats in the very front row – a place I never would have picked without her positive influence.
After my days of being alone, it was rather a bump to be surrounded by so many voices, so many beings, so much talk, so many vibes, just so much so much. Yet everyone looked to be an interesting person; each one I felt I wanted to know better. Our chatting was only curtailed by the arrival of the principals. Someone had felt the small stage looked too much like a computer salesman's conference so they had draped cloth, sarongs from Bali, and scarves willy-nilly above the flowers people were bringing for the ceremony. Three chairs and three mikes completed the centerpiece.
Martin opened by passing out cottonwood branches broken from trees on his new ranch. Everyone took one to use for blessing each other and the ancestors. It was a lovely way to get acquainted as we bopped each other with the leafy twigs. Soon the room took on a common green smell of trees and trail dust.
Then the three presenters introduced each other exhibiting their deep friendship and admiration for each other. I had heard the complete story of how Robert Bly had come to New Mexico almost 20 years, deep in grief over losing his son. Someone had told him of a shaman living out in a teepee on the reservation. At first Martin refused to see Bly but when he came back on the third day Martin relented. Martin was able to help Bly and from that time on, Bly began to work with Martin, even finally bringing him around to writing of his life that resulted in the book Secrets of the Talking Jaguar. Martin and Bly had conducted workshops in Minnesota each summer for the Men's Conferences. Last year, they had gotten together this meeting at Ghost Ranch with Gioia Timpenelli, a story teller.
I was surprised how tall Robert Bly was. Somehow his photos on the jackets of his books, in the loud vests, gave me the impression he was a small man with an inferiority complex. No way. He was bigger than life, very stern and strong and almost belligerent. He sat stone-faced wearing an orange-red patterned shirt, dark blue cords and the ugliest old decrepit Rebok tennis shoes. I have a habit of judging people by their shoes and he sank to the bottom of my esteem instantly. Gioia wore a beautifully tailored raw silk jacket over dark brown flowing slacks and trim Italian-made sandals. She had a marvelous jade circle necklace that hung low over her solar plexus.
Martin wore his newest jacket over jeans and a white poet's shirt. The jacket, another of his own creations was thick with military braid, frogs, and gobs of gold in addition to beading. It was an exercise in excess. His newest felt boots came up to his knees.
Gioia started out slowly by reading one of Bly's poems that told a story and then she told a story. Then explaining her own work, she emphasized that our lives were richer with story than the most elaborate fairy tale.
Next Bly read some ghazals from his newest book of translations from Ghalib – The Lightning Should Have Fallen on Ghalib. I enjoyed the ideas in the poetry but thought that for such a big man his voice lacked passion, power and poetry.
Next Martin launched into his story telling and proved he was the master of the art. He cried, he laughed, he shook the floor; the whole room vibrated when he stomped around in his greatness! The story was about a soldier who had a horse he loved very much, so much that the horse grew wings and carried him to many places. Beside the sea, a green woman came out of the water and the soldier fell in love. He marries the woman (his muse) and together they make marvelous journeys. Others seeing their happiness become jealous so they cut the wings off the horse that then dies. Undaunted, yet deep in his sorrow, the soldier makes a fiddle out of the skin and uses the tail for a bow. By playing songs he is able to get his muse back. Best story.
I was very touched when Martin talked of people who get the wings of their transportation to their muse cut off and then go on to overcome this disaster. I could only think of how my parents and my first husband tried to cut me off from my gifts.
I was very pissed with Bly when he asked what people wanted from the workshop and one woman said she wanted to learn about metaphor. Bly had just talked about his interest in metaphor and I felt she was trying to make a connection between her needs and what he was offering us. Instead of picking up on her gesture, he challenged her by saying, "How would you describe me in a metaphor?" The woman and the whole group was taken aback and everyone of us was glad we were not in her shoes as we were in her silence. Finally she said, "An oak tree covered with snow." He thought a second and then said she'd get a B (long silence) and then speaking quite loud "minus!" It was a verbal slap that made us cringe. My thought was at first that she deserved this for sucking up to the famous man, but the longer I thought about it, the more sorry I felt for the woman. To fill up the hole in the fabric of our togetherness three or four men spoke out saying they were here to learn from Bly. Fame sucks.
One woman here is absolutely gorgeous. Her head is shaved except for a strip of upright red-dyed hair like a mohawk. Her scalp along the strip is tattooed with a wavy navy pattern. Everything she owns has been carefully chosen and is of the very finest quality. She dresses like a Persian princess and I am eager to meet her.
As we were walking out afterwards, Hannah was standing guard at the many tables of books and tapes offered for sale. She smiled, remembering me from the Elk ceremony. I smiled at her, bowed but for some reason, refused to go over to talk to her.
Dina kept her promise. She drove me up the cabins and then, later I found out she drove her car back down to the parking lot and walked up the mesa in the cold and windy dark.
Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2000.
More from HOLY GHOST October 7.