The Dynamism of New Mexico’s Skies

New Mexico has always called me, yet somehow this is my first time here. I came to Santa Fe seeking an adventure, and also the companionship of a new yet dear friend, someone who happens to be my astrological twin. It is a strange, amazing experience to find someone whose life seems to be a synchronicity with your own, from the profound to the mundane: from taking nearly the same picture at the same time in separate places, to owning the exact same dress given to us by our mothers, to having parallel life-transforming experiences at the same time. As we spend each day talking and sharing our lives, I find myself at this point more surprised by the differences than the similarities.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

Flying out of San Francisco, as I did a few days ago, I always find thrilling, perhaps because the plane rises first over the turquoise waters of the Bay and for a moment no land is visible from the tiny window. As the plane arcs over San Francisco I am always surprised at how compact and familiar the seven-by-seven miles of my home city are, how easily I can recognize the contours and shapes of the cityscape. The ragged edges of the retreating fog I see have left my home in summer sunlight. The line of fog continues along the coast as far as the eye can see. Turning inland the landscape rapidly becomes the dry reds, yellows, and browns of a water-starved world. Checkerboards of farmland dominate the landscape, then give way to the tangle of hills and mountains. Further east the mountains are dotted with the dark of sparse tree cover. The occasional vein of snow lies in a forgotten alpine crevice. Then clouds roll in below us and the white is blinding. I retreat into Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

I arrived in Albuquerque and my friend and I drove north through the hilly desert landscape to Santa Fe and her beautiful home. The day unfolded idyllically, with yoga to shake off the air travel and a home-made dinner with kale, beat greens, and lettuce we harvested right from the garden outside. The rains started as we were eating, and our desert was a magnificent double rainbow arching across the sky. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. We went for a walk in a nearby park that is a prairie dog sanctuary where we traversed the spiraling path of a labyrinth crafted right out of the red soil, almost like it was part of the landscape. A single tree grew out from near the labyrinth’s center. To my amazement, this was the third completely unique labyrinth I had seen since arriving here.

July 4th, or Interdependence Day as the morning’s yoga teacher renamed it, we spent out in Glorietta on the land where my friend her partner are in the process of building their own sustainably constructed home. The area is forested but not densely; the hot sunshine easily passes through the pine and cedar leaves and branches to bake the red clay below. We walked up to view the deep hole in which they will soon put their home’s foundation. The house will be set beneath a towering ponderosa pine that seems to reign over the area. A small garden is thriving with squash and bean plants that have happily taken to the soil in this isolated location.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

A group of us, with members coming and going all day, spent the afternoon by a lovely swimming hole dug on a communal part of the property. A barbecue was burning most of the day by the waterside, and the food table was overflowing with abundance. The pond was a cooling relief as the day seemed to get hotter and hotter. Thick, lush grasses line the edge of the pond and the soft mud at the pool’s bottom is as gentle as a spa treatment. We swam and floated while a flock of swallows soared and darted overhead, occasionally diving down to the water’s surface for a drink or a bath. Staring up into the clear blue of the sky I felt a great sense of peace, watching the birds weaving their invisible wild weft overhead.

The blue stillness of the sky gave way to a live painting of dynamic clouds, shifting and turning over each other, changing shape and color by the moment. The day cooled into evening as the Earth turned away from the fiery Sun that defines the desert days, concealing it behind a stand of trees on the western hills. The twilight air took on shades of rose and violet, and a deep indigo spread out like ink on wet paper from the zenith of the sky.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

The following day, my friend and I made a road trip up to Taos, which I had been told by several people I had to see if given the opportunity. On the drive we passed a camel shaped rock, open fields with horses, red and gold desert plains, rising mountains, a wide winding stream. I really began to feel the magic of New Mexico, something that seems to spring from the alchemical mixing of the red land with the dynamism of the skies.

Taos is enchanting, its adobe style buildings the same colors as the landscape, with overflowing planters of flowers hanging from the wooden eaves surrounding the plaza in the town’s center. Artists’ tents were set up in the plaza where jewelry, pottery, and paintings were displayed. We wandered for some time, stopping here and there, following the shade from place to place. We had a long lunch at a restaurant off the plaza called G, where we split huevos rancheros and blue cornmeal blueberry pancakes. I don’t know if I could ever get tired of the flavors of New Mexico, the green chile that graces most dishes.

The clouds gathered in the sky and heavy drops began to descend as we left downtown Taos and headed west to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. As the two of us walked out onto the bridge the winds were so strong we had to hold onto the railing to not be blown off the sidewalk. The wind was powerful enough that it could even flutter my eyelids, holding them open to the spectacular view before me. The Rio Grande Gorge is a tectonic chasm yawning 800 feet below the slender span of the bridge on which we stood. The reddish-brown cliffs, dark in the stormy light, descended to a seemingly narrow river of silver-white waters. Lightning flashed in the distance illuminating looming, dark mountains while clouds raced like chariots across the sky. In this setting, the gorge looked less like it had been worn down over millennia by the perpetual flow of the river, but rather like it had been cloven by one of the mighty lightning flashes splitting the sky asunder.

Rio Grande Gorge
Photo by Becca Tarnas

Overpowered by the wind we retreated to the car just as the rain began to fall in earnest. Taking a winding route we searched for the Hanuman Temple that was located somewhere in the lush green valley between the gorge and downtown Taos. Our many mistaken turns, caused by a lack of street signs and a hilariously mis-proportioned hand-drawn map, took us past green fields and farms, some with horses and foals, others with herds of black cattle. The adobe houses looked almost as though they had arisen from the landscape itself, so well did they blend in. At last, just as we were giving up on the idea of finding the temple, the elusive road appeared to us and we drove up to an exquisite cluster of hand-built structures surrounded by an abundance of flowering gardens.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

Walking through the rain on a narrow path beneath plum and apple trees, we entered the Hanuman Temple where a brief ceremony was about to begin. A resident stepped forward to orient us, offering food and chai and the opportunity to explore the grounds. As singing swelled from the inner sanctum of the temple, we returned outside with chai in hand to see the open grassy fields and vegetable gardens. The land was amazingly lush compared to everywhere else I had seen so far in New Mexico. Following a strange bird call we found ourselves by a large sanctuary housing four peacocks. A tree grew in the center of the structure, and perched near the top was a large male whose magnificent tail feathers cascaded down the trunk. The smaller females were perched elsewhere around the sanctuary, or wandered along the ground below paying little attention to our presence.

We departed from the temple as late afternoon faded into early evening and made the drive back south to Santa Fe, all the while exchanging more parallel stories of our lives. The molten gold of the setting sun broke through the cloud cover creating a double rainbow that led us all the way home, its colored arches forming a gateway that we always seemed about to pass under, only to find it had once again retreated from our grasp.

Photo by Becca Tarnas
Photo by Becca Tarnas

7 Replies to “The Dynamism of New Mexico’s Skies”

  1. Hi Becca, What a delight to hear of your first trip to NM, the “Land of Enchantment.” Enchantment was my own experience of it during a week in Taos and northern NM last fall – including a mind-blowing day in Santa Fe, where I experienced a surfeit of beauty for the first time in my life. I’m not surprised by your fascination with the land and sky there, which I share, but I’m fascinated by your meeting your “astrological twin” – that’s very special, like magic. Thank you for sharing all that.

  2. Beautiful description of the richness of the land. I’m glad you visited Taos. I got close once but will have to experience it another day. Love, Mum

  3. What a great week it was, Becca! I just finally got home from my adventure out east to see my Dad and more friends and relatives, and reading this brought back all the memories of adventures we had together! She really opened up her colors for you, you know. New Mexico is usually never the same twice–it all depends on the eyes which gaze upon her mirrored eyes.
    See you in November

    1. Lara!

      This really was an amazing week. I was just reading over some of the journal entries I made during our time together and am completely in awe at the magic and connection that took place over the short span of time there. We really know how to pack in a great abundance of experience within a short time span!

      Knowing now that New Mexico is never the same twice I look forward to the next display of her beautiful colors!

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