The Quality of Light
Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. ~Willa Cather
Picture crystalline waters at the source of a frigid mountain stream formed when snow cries during the first warm rays of spring. Picture a turquoise ocean offering a warmth as welcoming as an amniotic bath birthing a blue as succulent as the first kiss with a person who perfectly fills the void in your soul. Mix them together with curls of airy bird down and you will begin to understand the near perfect light and wispy cloud sky engulfing you when stepping off the plane into Northern New Mexico.
This was our 2nd trip to New Mexico in 2018. We visited the Southern part in May. That trip we disembarked in El Paso a scant four miles from the Old Mexico border and drove up into New Mexico. The New Mexico light did not seem as brilliant as this trip. I’m guessing it’s either because there was a gradual transition from normal light to New Mexican light so we missed the dump an ice bucket over the head experience. Or the 1000+ foot elevation increase exponentially improved the North’s light quality.
Either way, I was mesmerized the moment I stepped into the light and walked the next few days in a hypnotic trance. It did not matter that we were in the middle of a 600,000 person city emitting citified pollutants. The light burned away all particulate that would diminish the radiant glory.
Sounds like I am describing an encounter with God?
Well, my mind was swamped with emotions I can only describe as arriving home after an interminable absence, bruised and battered then being embraced by Mother’s loving arms. Home? Yes. It was my first trip to Albuquerque and I had not felt this much at home since the moment I awoke in the backcountry near Moab Utah, crawled naked out of my tent, and, for the first time, set eyes upon the redrock giants worshipping the Great Mystery. It is a feeling I relive every time I return to the Moab area.
So, why does Alburqueque feel like home, too?
It may very well be the Albuquerque proximity to Southern Utah allows me to feel the aura radiating from the land that embraces me in spiritual concupiscence. Come to think, Navajo lands are close by and, at points in history, encompassed the entire area now known as Four Corners. First humans emerged somewhere on what is currently Navajo lands. Which means I would likely feel home anywhere close to the navel. Which is why I feel an at home intimacy.
Intimacy with land?
I think I was born here in one of my past lives so experience a connection like nowhere else on earth. I am not an adherent of reincarnation. But, I can fathom no other explanation. Looks like I need to move into the area, connect with the umbilicus, and spend a few lifetimes in deep contemplation. Even if I don’t ‘see the light’ I will be connected to the center of the universe.
Whatever, the reason, it feels good to be home. And the light was spectacular. No wonder Georgia O’Keeffe chose to live her until her death at the age of 98.
Georgia On My Mind
My first memory is of light — the brightness of light — light all around.
I’ve read Georgia O’Keefe painted in New Mexico because of the dual inspirations of landscape and light quality. What I didn’t know, she, like me, has Midwest roots. She was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin which is a plowed under prairie and, when compared to New Mexico, the sunlight is found wanting. One day I, too, will sever the roots anchoring me in Chicago and move to the Southwest. It may be as soon as a few months or on a 9-year horizon. And, like her, I will spend eternity in the Southwest when my ashes are scattered somewhere near Moab.
I have long understood the inspiration wrought of landscapes for I am tickled to my toes by open mesa vistas, sparse desert panoramas, bizarre rock formations. These thrill me to a greater degree than any of the fabulous houses where devotees gather to worship their creator irrespective of the names they use to identify Ultimate Consciousness.
Georgia is not the only artist to take residence in New Mexico. We opted for a leisurely drive along the Turquoise Trail connecting Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Wide open spaces are punctuated with smallish artist towns. We stopped for a while in Madrid. The ‘a’ sounds as in the word bad, unlike Madrid Spain where the ‘a’ has an almost ‘uh’ sound as in mud.
The main drag in Madrid is flanked by quite a few galleries and shops posing as galleries. I was drooling at the first gallery we entered. There was amazing art including paintings and sculpture and lithographs and on and on by local artists. I would love to have bought up most of the store and decorated our home in Chicago. But, we have little wall space to mount the great works and they were hella expensive. If we do shift our lives to Albuquerque, I know where we are going for items to decorate our living space.
We could have spent the entire weekend admiring the art along the Turquoise Trail. But we had things to do and were bent on seeing Old Town in Santa Fe. In retrospect, it paled when compared to the little towns along the way. Speaking of along the way…
In El Paso, we happened upon a pink bench along a near-deserted road. It was so out of place, we had to stop and take a bunch of pictures. It is my favorite recollection from El Paso. I have never seen anything as incongruous to its surroundings. However, something came close in the middle of nowhere between Madrid and Santa Fe.
We were driving a gentle incline with scrubland on either side and a smattering of pine trees. To our left, just off the side of the road, we saw a painted wall. We stopped abruptly. The road was almost deserted so there was no worry of being tagged in the ass end.
We parked. I crossed over the barbed wire. The wall turned out to be a cylinder and was painted all the way around. It was obviously a drinking haunt for locals as evidenced by the broken glass around the cylinder and the bottles I spied through a hole showing the inside.
We had a nice lunch in Santa Fe but were not enamored with the Old Town. It was mostly touristy shops charging exorbitant fees for trinkets. I did see a nice lambskin jacket. However, it was ridiculously overpriced at $1,700. The only item I bought was a two-ounce packet of powdered Chili de Arbol pepper. It has a good kick while not crossing over to blazing hotness. New Mexico is also known for chilies.
Sunset from 10,378 Feet
Our first evening in Albuquerque, we took the Tram to up into the Sandia mountains. It runs 2.7 miles topping at 10,378 feet. There was snow on the ground at the summit and it was chilly growing chillier with each degree the sun descended. Though unplanned, we were in time to watch the sunset from the mountain top.
I have already regaled the New Mexican light quality. Now, imagine that chilly stream burbling, the ocean swelling, throw in shades of chili pepper oranges and reds. Now throw the mixture against the distant sky and you approximate the sunset we watched from atop the Sandia Mountains. The distant light felt liquid, flowing. There were streaks reminding us of firework trails. We both agreed, it was a sunset such as we had never before experienced on all our world travels.
Against the backdrop of the sunset, a few paragliders and hang gliders soared through the air. We were slightly protected from the breeze and were cold. The gliders were either freezing or wrapped in enough layers to keep warm. I imagine the exquisite sunset added to their sense of comfort.
I am a sunrise/sunset chaser. When in a place where I can shoot a sunset, I wake early and plan evening activities to ensure I am well positioned to capture the brief moments the sky mimics the hues of carotenes. Was I a year-round resident of Albuquerque, I would fork out the $230 annual tram fee and shoot thousands of sunset photos. It was that amazing.
By the end of our few days in Alburqueque, I can honestly say everything about the Northern New Mexico calls to me. If I can land a decent job here, we would move in a heartbeat.