Footprints in New Mexico

Rust Red Hills, by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1930. In the collection of Brauer Museum of Art, Indiana.
From the road outside Taos.

For many of us, the Santa Fe area is inextricably tied to the legacy of Georgia O’Keeffe, a 20th century pioneer of abstract modern art. Though married to famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe left him in New York in order to dwell in the American Southwest, where she felt most inspired. She eventually had two home/studios – one in a former Pueblo lndian village called Abiquiu, and one at Ghost Ranch outside Taos.

For my aunt, an artist who has long studied and revered O’Keeffe, a visit to the place where the painter lived and worked was nothing short of a pilgrimage.  For me, a surprise thrill came when I set out to visit some friends near Taos and found they lived on D.H. Lawrence Ranch Road. I hadn’t realized that author D.H. Lawrence spent any time at all in New Mexico, and in fact, his time here was less than a year. But his widow stayed for decades and willed the property to the University of New Mexico.

Lawrence, auther of Lady Chatterley’s Lover – which I read in high school – had been invited to New Mexico by patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Luhan, who also hosted O’Keeffe, Ansel Adams and a host of other artists and writers, including Aldous Huxley, who has left his footprints in my hometown of Ojai as a result of his association with the Happy Valley Foundation.

Why, I now wondered, was it such a thrill to me to be on the same country road as D.H. Lawrence? I had also loved living a block away from Christopher Isherwood’s apartment in Berlin and enjoyed the fact that Ernest Hemingway had written for the Toronto Star, the newspaper where I got my start. Something about crossing paths with these people, even years after they have died, enhances my experience.

Clearly, it adds to our understanding of artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams to witness, first hand, the landscapes that so inspired the works we have gotten to know in books, calendars and galleries. Likewise with the writers we love, to visit the places where they wrote brings us closer to them, as if visiting the home of a friend.

But as I travel through New Mexico, I also realize that the encounter with those who have been here before us also enlivens the place itself, infusing it with an added dimension. Santa Fe and environs, by virtue of those creative souls who chose to spend time here creating, has become more than a beautiful place with its own particular history. It is part of a larger conversation about life and the world that those in the fields of arts and letters have invited us into, wherever in the world we reside.

It seems  no accident that Georgia O-Keeffe’s Taos abode was Ghost Ranch. Her ghost, a creative spirit, continues to dwell here.

GOON DOG’S VIEW: Okay,  it was warm before, but now it is hot – so hot that I feel rather lethargic while hanging out at the Abiquiu Inn waiting for the tour to end.  Bowl of water, lap it up. Back in Santa Fe, the shop owners put bowls of water out on the sidewalk for guys like me. So many tourists, and craftspeople, and merchants and dogs in the Plaza –  a regular party going on here. OMG pigeons. I’m a born bird hunter. I can’t resist this. Tug all you want. By the evening I’m completely jazzed. People, sidewalk, people, restaurant patios, people, so much activity, so much New Mexican food. I can’t remember the last time I was this over-stimulated.  Ah, the back seat of the car, my home away from home, a place to relax in the air con, as we hit the road again. Tomorrow, she says, it’s Colorado – whatever that means.

Gunter, on D.H. Lawrence Ranch Road, near Taos. The gate was shut, but the ponderosa pines smelled nice.

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