Thursday, December 15, 2011

An adobe Christmas...

This time of year has me longing for the American Southwest so strongly it is almost painful.
Monument Valley

 I used to be the proud owner of a beautiful store that sold Native American art and jewelry.

My store at it's height

In the late fall/early winter I would take a trip to Arizona and New Mexico and visit many of the reservations purchasing lots of beautiful art work to bring back to my store for the holidays.  I would take my truck, sleeping bag and all the extra money I could scrape together and off I went on a most marvelous adventure.
My truck at the end of my trip

For me the fall and winter mean the colorful ropes of bright red chili ristras as well as their piquant delicious smell, frosty mornings snuggled in my sleeping bag in the back of my truck with a thermos of hot tea and smelling the fragrant pinon wood burning all throughout the southwest.  This is perhaps one of the strongest memories I have and really it goes even further back to when I was a child and my parents would take me through Arizona and New Mexico on the way to visit family in Colorado.  To this day when I smell pinon smoke it almost brings tears to my eyes I love it so.  Most folks in the southwest burn pinon, juniper and cedar in their fireplaces so much so that that there will be a blanket of blue smoke in the valleys throughout the southwest.
Near Taos, New Mexico

I would sleep inside my truck surrounded by all my treasures and ropes of chilies, listening to the sounds of nature, and smelling that most divine incense.  I would go onto the reservations sometimes needing my four wheel drive to navigate the muddy, snowy roads, and connect with the local artisans, buying the most beautiful things.  My heart remembers the woman I would buy pottery from on the Acoma Pueblo who would give me fry bread as I poured over all her wares.
Acoma pueblo
 (Above and below) Taos Pueblo

Buying heshe necklaces from a Santo Domingo gentleman who's family have made the same style beads for generations.  Finally stopping at Maria's for soupy style pinto beans and soppapias with honey at the end of a long day.  I also love the mixed colorful history of the southwest.  The blending of 3 distinct cultures (the Indians, Spanish and the Anglos) into one unique and magical group.  The non Indian characters that settled there in the distant past were a fiercely independent and mostly respectful solitary kind.  They revered the quite desert, the scrubby pine covered surrounding mountains, the high thin clear air, and the indigenous cultures that lived there.
The Rio Grande river

They were an eccentric group to say the least and make for some wonderful tales.  One of the more colorful personalities was Mabel Dodge Luhan, an east coast wealthy socialite of the 1920's that found herself in Taos, dumbstruck by the stark beauty of the high desert.  She eventually married a Taos Native American and lived her remaining life as an aficionado and patron of the local arts.  She hosted in her modest adobe home most of the notables of that time, everyone from DH Lawrence to Georgia O'Keeffe (before the artist settled there herself).  Mabel wrote a series of books detailing her move and subsequent life there which starts with "Winter in Taos".  It is fascinating reading and can be found on  Another author (who can also be found on I absolutely adore is Dorothy Pillsbury.  She too fell in love with the area around Santa Fe and Taos and settled there in the early 1940's.  She wrote beautiful simple essays of her lovely quiet life among the three cultures there.  Many of her short stories were published in various newspapers but also into three books starting with "No High Adobe".  I think these stories convey more beautifully than any other what it must of been like to live in Santa Fe when it really was a sleepy little Spanish town.  She also captures for me what I love about the Native American Pueblos and the smaller outlying villages not so popular as Santa Fe and Taos.  She lovingly conveys their dignified quiet way of life that is as ancient as the human story, a life that is lead more in balance with nature, respecting the rhythms of Mother Earth.  I read her stories often this time of year and remind myself of my wonderful trips and of a healthier way of being during the holidays.  I will leave you with one of her lovely short stories hopefully bringing to you a gentle peace and the flavor of the old Southwest.

From "Star Over Adobe", by Dorothy L Pillsbury
"In the midst of a changing world, we keep a three-culture Christmas in northern New Mexico.  Three peoples of us live here in the shadow of great mountains.  Out skins are bronze, or brown, or white depending on whether we live in a sun-mellowed Indian pueblo, in a remote Spanish village, or in an "Anglo" and Spanish town like Santa Fe.

Each of us keeps his own Christmas according to the traditions of our three different peoples.  But through the years there has been much mingling of customs until Christmas in northern New Mexico has become a heady mixture of all our folkways.

On the afternoon before Christmas, we look out on the wintry landscape and become suddenly stricken with nostalgia.  Most of us are in the midst of preparations for our own Christmas.  We keep thinking about huddled adobe houses in many a Spanish village back in the hills where dwarf pinon forests sparkle with snow.  We remember the aroma of an entire village where pinon smoke floats like incense from each squat chimney.  We hear the tinkle of goat's bells in corrals and the strumming of a lone guitar floating down the snowy roads.  Almost before we know it, we find ourselves in a car and headed for Truchas or Trampas or a dozen other likely places.

The village beside the little frozen stream looks like a mica-spattered Christmas card.  Weather beaten doors are shut against the cold, but in many a window blooms a forest of geranium plants in old tin cans.  Between scarlet, pink, or white blooms may stand a hand-carved saint or an angel gazing mildly at a straw-filled, doll sized manger.  

Children run back and forth between the houses, slamming doors behind them.  But not so quickly that we miss delectable odors--meet balls simmering in a sauce "muy, muy picante" and little three-cornered pies bursting their seams with apples and brown sugar!

Night has fallen darkly over old Santa Fe as the homeward-bound car tops the last ridge of hills.  Through a mesh of lightly falling snowflakes, all the buildings of the ancient capital seem etched against the sky in strokes of light.  Flat roofs and archways leading to snowy gardens, squat chimneys, and out-of-plumb walls are outlined in shadowy candle gleam from sand-ballasted paper-bag lanterns that give the effect of parchment shades.

In the ancient plaza, three peoples cluster around the Anglo Christmas tree.  Rosy-cheeked bemittened children tug at restraining parental arms.  Spanish-speaking "muchachos", shepherded by black shawled grandmothers, stand big-eyed, the snow clinging to their long eyelashes.  Indians in from nearby pueblos stalk about taking in the sights.  The women's high white boots look whiter than the snow.  Their shawls of red, purple, and green, and the men's bright headbands, make splashes of color under the lights.  Christmas in three tongues, the folkways of our three peoples unite to make beautiful the Night of Peach in old Santa Fe.
I hope you are all having the best of holidays!