It was 1993 when I first saw the ads in the back of Fine Art Magazine that read “Artist Communities in the mountains of New Mexico. Artists wanted in Taos, NM – Come experience the desert!” I thought about these ads all the time. I dreamt at night about what this place looked like, what my life could be like there.
It was Junior year of high school in a Quaker boarding school, and I constantly went over the plan. I was going to drop out of school and run to those mountains. I remember clearly the conversation in the school’s phone booth when my older brother convinced me to stay, to graduate, and then I could go. …but a year later it was my parents who begged me to go to college and not “throw my life away”.
I begrudgingly went to college and proceeded to survive in the darkroom and painting studio, all the while planning my escape to Taos. I *almost* dropped out again sophomore year of college, but was threatened with a financial disownment by my parents…and I was not brave enough at the time to cut the chord. I was, after all, an artist with an art identity crisis and money didn’t come easily.
Finally I graduated from college in 1998 and was gifted $500 by my parents to take my journey to Taos. I convinced a friend, who was on summer break from Warren Wilson to get on the bus with me and we took a Greyhound across southern Texas, Arizona and up through Albuquerque to Las Vegas, NM. There we would find a couple who graduated from my small Quaker college, Earlham College, and they took us in for a few days. The man kept a blind pet raven and the woman, who was an anthropologist, worked in a small museum in this sleepy southwestern town.
After a few days we could no longer resist the lure of Taos so we hitchhiked with a cable guy, in his cable van, through the mountains to Taos. When we arrived we headed to the organic grocery where we found a ‘roommate wanted’ sign on the bulletin board.
The next day we were renting half of beautiful large adobe homestead with courtyard and adobe walled yard. We shared the house with a newly single, 6th month pregnant woman, and the plan was to live there until the baby came to keep her company.
In our bedroom we discovered a false bookshelf that turned, it was a doorway. Behind it was an abandoned artist’s studio…paintbrushes, paint, and cartoon sketches. This originally was the home of Emery Hawkins and we were in his studio!!! He was a top animator and director who was established at Walt Disney and Warner Brothers…he was a key animator in Daffy Duck, Goofy, Tweety Bird and Sylvester etc…His home studio felt quite abandoned and we were to learn that he slipped away into the watery darkness of alzheimer’s and never packed up his studio. He had died in 1989 leaving his studio to sit there frozen in time.
We didn’t touch a thing. I was tempted, no doubt. Beautiful expensive brushes everywhere, tiny tins and containers from the 40’s…but the only rule we were given when we moved in was that if we came upon things left in the house from the original owners we were not to touch them. Plus, it felt like an artist’s code of honor that could not be broken. His remaining family was in CA and they were our landlords.
The next day I went to an art gallery and began to inquire about job opportunities. I bet you can guess what happened? I was laughed at, scoffed at. Who was I to think??!!! This was not the welcoming artist community in the back of the magazine. This was just another exclusive, elitist art scene like every other I’d encountered, but it turned out I didn’t like this southwestern style of art they were representing anyway. I promptly got a hostess and barista job at the notorious Bent Street Deli and soon learned that art was not the reason I’d been needing to get to Taos anyway.
The friend I’d come to Taos with got a job at a spiritual/new age bookstore where a Jewish guy named Ophir also worked. Just one month after we’d been in Taos it was time for a Shabbat dinner and my traveling companion, Sarah – also Jewish- was invited. Ophir happened to also have invited Chris Cosby. Around 1am that night I woke up to the sound of Sarah coming home. She said she had a guest who would be sleeping on our floor that night because he was in-between living situations. His name is Chris. I couldn’t see a thing because the room was dark, but I greeted him and tossed him a pillow. He slept on the floor at the foot of my bed…and everything between us that followed is a very a long and beautiful tale.
In the morning I recognized him immediately, but resisted because at that time I was convinced that I was still in love (and pining over) a guy from college. Within two weeks I would call my mom and tell her I’d met the person I would spend the rest of my life with, and with whom I would start a family with. She wasn’t too thrilled about this plan. Much to her dismay I cared more about this than actually getting a secure job, but obviously nothing about my journey with Chris has ever been linear, logical or conventionally safe.
Chris isn’t from Taos and his story of how he mysteriously ended up there at the same time that I did is just as magical— for lack of a better word. After living there together for five months we finally left. We were having a hard time finding a permanent place to live after our roommate’s baby was born, and we were tired of working in restaurants.
I’ve been dreaming of returning to Taos for 18 years. Taos was the sipapu for our family—our chosen family. A sipapu is an opening symbolizing the place where the Tewa tribal ancestors first emerged from the primordial underworld into the earthly realm. It’s an origin story, and Taos is the our origin story. I’ve built a garden to keep that landscape’s energy close while I’ve lived out my life in Memphis, TN. Our children have literally grown up knowing that Taos, NM is the place where it all began and today we’ve returned. June, 2017
Share on Facebook