I just went out for a quick errand…basically needed more double stuffed EL Fudge and caffeine free Diet Coke. Would you believe Market Basket only had regular and not double stuffed? Wasted trip and I hate going there as it is. But I lucked out on the way back and caught an NPR program doing a piece on Georgia O’Keefe.

I never actually got into her artwork. But I have always found her interesting as a person and I completely understand the magic of New Mexico which can overcome you. It’s coincidentally always this time of year I miss it most. Christmas time out there leaves an impression despite there not typically being snow, you do feel the spirit of something when there. Perhaps it’s the red chili wreaths or luminaria lighting pathways to churches. Maybe it’s the spirit of the dead wafting through cooler air. There’s just something which makes your senses a little more aware.

When I speak of the beauty of NM, I am mostly skipping over Albuquerque where I lived for awhile (although Old Town gives you the feels.) It’s an interesting city but it really just serves as a springboard to other locations in the area. Do you have asthma? I do. It’s not bad, more of a nuisance but do you know the moment after you use your inhaler or you nebulize and your breathing starts to clear? That’s what it feels like to enter NM. It’s a clearer breath which flows through you. Maybe it’s the space, the never ending sky and horizon….it feels like weight lifts off your chest and you can take a huge deep breath and stretch your arms out, over your head or even twirl around and not hit anything. Giant, airy space….breathing room.

I can remember that feeling when I drove over the border. I can remember it every time I walked out of the airport. It was always a spiritual and grounded feeling. Surprising, considering the ocean is more my home than anything and there is no ocean there. In fact, not much water at all. I used to laugh when I’d see boats hooked up to trucks on the highway wondering where they were going…probably Havasu, Arizona or Lake Powell, Utah. Even without water, the desert feels like another home to me. It’s a different energy. I think the spirits of the dead, the Native American are all around you. All their beliefs, respect for nature filter through you as you breath.

It makes so much sense that an artist like O’Keefe found herself there. The piece I listened to today talked about the period when she started painting bones….basically skulls and bones she found on her desert walks. Her critics thought she had become obsessed with death but that wasn’t it at all. She always pointed out that the bones she collected were once living. She would place remnants on her windowsills to maintain that feeling and art. I actually get it. If you come in my house, you see skull references in many places. I can’t tell you exactly what makes them speak to me but I can tell you it has nothing to do with morbidity. It just comes from feelings I try to recapture from my time out west.

I love my beaches but I would argue the Southwest can be far more beautiful than any beach I visit. It’s a very different beauty. With the beach, I feel total relaxation and some trepidation towards water. I love basking in the sun for as long as it’s out. I enjoy a quick dip in the water so I can dry off napping in the sun. It feels a little like savasana (sp?) but better if there isn’t a snoring man around which there ALWAYS is at yoga which I deeply, deeply resent. It’s hard to get the full effects of yoga because I get angry at the snorer every time. Anyway, that’s the beach. I pretty much just sit and stare and meditate at the beach.

In the desert, I want to explore, to search, to feel. There is a spirituality I experience there understanding how much came before me. You actually do see reservations out there, a reminder of the existence of Native Americans and the traditions they keep alive despite what we have done to them. The poverty, the abusive family structure many now experience, the addictions and all too often interrupted lives. It’s a place where you can experience awe and shame in the same minute. You can feel hundreds of years blow right through you depending on the expanse you are looking at. I do pay close attention to Native American beliefs….seek out their writers. I think it’s shameful what we stole from them. I revere them for fighting back.

There’s also the Mexican influence and Day of the Dead belief I very much buy into. I think it’s beautiful to celebrate your dead, to believe they can come back and visit you….to make it a positive. Death is sad and something I fear and ponder the older I get. What if you get one day a year where you can come back and visit upon your loved ones in celebration? What a wonderful, optimistic, colorful belief.

I once visited the Georgia O’Keefe museum in Santa Fe. Again, her art didn’t do much for me. Not a big fan of artistic vaginas which is pretty much what all her florals were representing. But her personal artifacts, her life….that was compelling. I know what it’s like to desperately love a man who won’t let you got entirely but will cheat on you constantly. He’s ok with you being away but he’s not ok with you ever totally moving on from him.

I had a pretty spiritual experience in that museum I have never told anyone about. I can’t remember if I even mentioned it to my friend who was there with me. There were old letters on display she had written back and forth with other artist friends. One of those friends was a photographer no one knew except for my ex who I had partially used this move to get away from. It was an obscure artist who shared the same last name as my ex and was very hard to find evidence of. I was able to track down one book and gave it to my ex as a gift but still don’t ever run into anything from this artist/photographer. To find myself in a museum 2300 miles away reading a letter exchange between him and O’Keefe stopped me cold. It was almost frightening to experience such a random connection …to literally experience one of those life circles spinning right around you connecting you to someone in another time zone living another life a couple thousand miles away who you would never intend to see or speak to again. I can’t do the moment any justice when trying to explain it but it was potent enough for me to recall it image for image 20 ish years later. I remember the display, the colors of the wall, the floor, the feeling of the air in the room. I experienced that cliche of wondering if we were ever crossing each other’s minds at the same time or looking at the same moon at the same time. Because what else would have put me right there in front of that letter from that photographer in a place I would never have been had it not been I moved there to escape that relationship?

I want to be back in the desert so often. I have so much trouble breathing in my life. My life basically feels like it’s filtered through asthmatic bronchia. I have small flickers of spirituality which burn out as quickly as the movement of a lightning bug who is never in the same spot when you decide to look for it. I can’t breath it in through my nostrils here the way I could there where my lungs felt clearest (forget I was still a smoker out there.)

The smell of piñon was my favorite scent of all time. I have tried to buy piñon incense but it’s never the same. After a rainfall there , you could smell juniper permeate the air at its strongest. Another smell I can’t replicate here. I ache for those smells all the time. A thunder storm was magical there. You could see lightning across the horizon. You can’t see it the same way here; only in pictures. And sunsets….nothing at all here like one out there. Honestly, what’s impressive to you here is not much to me. I remember the purple velvet shadow cast across the bottom of the Sandia mountains which gave way to lilac a little higher up, then a couple shades of pink higher up from that. The whole town changed color at sunset and it was never hard to find a spot to see miles and miles and miles of it.

I can recall a holiday party at my boss’ house up in Placitas. The drive to her house was almost mystical. Here, you drive through a bunch of street lights, lefts and rights around buildings, houses, etc. and then you arrive at a house which looks like the other 30 houses on the street. You know where the party is because all the cars are parked outside that one house. Getting to my boss’ house was lots of windy roads surrounded by the pale rocks and red dirt, punctured with greenery sprouting from various crevices. There was only the one house for at least a mile so if you passed it, you realized quickly it had to have been the house because you weren’t going to come upon another one for a few minutes. You drove tentatively for fear of another care coming from the other direction around the sharp, elevated corners.

Inside and out to the back deck, the view was dark and quiet. You could see some lights denoting where the city was you had just come from but felt a million miles away from it….a completely different world. The house was gorgeous and she had one of those fireplaces you see commonly in the Southwest but never here. I felt spirits there for certain when we were outside. Sadly, a few years after that, she lost the love of her life to suicide and eventually had to leave that home as life changed so much for her after that. But I am willing to bet his spirit is still there as he was larger than life in spirit when alive. He has just joined whoever else we could feel out there back then. I know that sounds crazy but when you are out there, you feel it. You are just one layer of life wandering the desert. You are not alone there and you sense it.

Even on highways out there, exits can be 20 minutes apart if not more. Cell service doesn’t work. You see all sorts of rusted out broken down cars and trucks abandoned just off to the side of the road. They have been there for decades without anyone bothering to remove them. It’s kind of creepy and the thought definitely crosses your mind that you hope your car is in good shape and you don’t break down because you could actually die there waiting. That is not an exaggeration. And yes, my car did break down out there once. That’s a story for another day – one I usually tell when I need to demonstrate my grit and determination to keep at my goals no matter the obstacle. That experience will tell you just about everything you need to know about my character and outlook on life. It also explains my obsession with watching my gas tank and why I like to refill at half a tank a lot. I never understand people who run out of gas here. They need to do a Southwest sabbatical and that will teach them.

Every time I think about doing a trip on a 3 day weekend, it’s the desert I want to go to. What paralyzes me from executing is I never feel like 2-3 days is enough and I don’t know where to go. ABQ is an easy place to land but I would have to rent a car to get up to Santa Fe and most likely Taos where I never visited when I lived there. I regret that. I did White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns to the very south. I did Santo Fe multiple times as it was only about an hour away. Did the Grand Canyon 6 hours out, Durango 4 hours out, the Four Corners, Lake Powell in Utah where I discovered no, not every town or destination has gas stations, hotels and restaurants like New England. That ended up being like a 4 hour backtrack but was one of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. My sister still laughs at how I thought the person living in an airstream trailer in the middle of nowhere surrounded by red rocks and endless Canyon was the luckiest person alive.

Or, there’s Joshua Tree out by Palm Springs I wouldn’t mind trying. But I don’t really know where to start with that. I think any time I go back to the desert I need more of a “retreat” than a 2-3 day trip but then I don’t want to lend the 1-2 weeks doing that when I use the big amounts of time for Europe to experience, cultures, art and landscape I have never seen. So I end up making no decisions at all and sit in my house like this 4 day weekend where I have done nothing but buy a tree, go to the grocery store twice, buy some sweaters, make a rigatoni casserole and wear my pajamas for several hours of the day.

But, I do appreciate that NPR was able to bring me back to that place in my head today. It was a transformative time in my life for adventures and seeing things I never would have gotten on a plane to see. I found my spiritual connection then and beliefs which connect to me in ways my own religion has failed me over the years. I know you see those movies where a couple guys go into a sweat lodge out in the desert, do some drugs, hallucinate and emerge transformed. It’s totally like that there except you don’t need to go into a sweat lodge and do peyote to feel it. It’s around you all the time and you just need to step outside for a minute to experience it. I miss it so much. I really do.