Enchantment

Part II


A flutter, something swoops low past me then on up into a cottonwood tree. This intriguing, unfamiliar creature is nearly the size of our eastern crow, alternately black and white in horizontal paneled stripes, a suggestion of a cubist zebra. On close inspection I notice his wing edges and foot long tail feathers are deep blue and black. "What are these magnificent black and white birds I see everywhere?" I ask a local. She scowls and in a moderately disapproving tone mutters, "Magpies." "Magpies?" I was surprised; they held little resemblance to Heckel & Jeckel, those pesky cartoon pranksters.

The magpie call is similar to the high "Awk" of the blue jay, but that's only one of their voices. They whistle and scold and chatter, the sound of a coarse wood file rasping quickly over a hollow piece of hardwood. The magpie, I learned is in the Corvidae family as is the crow and the blue jay. I spent better than half an hour one morning watching two adult magpies teach two adolescent magpies how to steal the resident cat's dry cat food. The cat dismissed them with a disparagingly tolerant glance over his shoulder. All this I found quite humorous until their clamorous treachery began waking me at 5:45 each morning. This minor aggravation became my introduction to and seduction by northern New Mexico's morning light; on the spot I was addicted.

Many locals I spoke with told stories of coming to Taos for a vacation never to return home. The magnetic pull here is extraordinary. Kit Carson felt it, arriving here in 1826 and remaining until his death forty-two years later. Mabel Dodge visited in 1917 and stayed, luring friends John Reed, D. H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Georgia O'Keefe and Willa Cather, among others, many of whom also stayed. D. H. Lawrence wrote, "You cannot come to Taos without feeling that here is one of the chosen spots on earth." I honestly don't know what the draw is exactly, but it is impossible not to feel it.

The Pueblo Indians came here more than a thousand years ago and stayed. The Spanish arrived nearly four hundred years ago and have remained; the older families still speak with a Castilian accent. And the Anglos, the minority here, are the newcomers having been here only since the early 1800's. There is little talk here of "new people" although new people move here every week. Perhaps the last four hundred years has taught them the virtue of acceptance and the harmful qualities of resentment. Then again, maybe it's just the air.

The Indian, Spanish and Anglo inhabitants are collectively called "Taoseños," a people whose special delight is to take time to live fully and naturally in a hurry-up world. They call it Taos Time and it has little to do with minutes on a clock and everything to do with the living of those minutes. Taos is a refreshing change from the outside world. There is an easy sense of freedom here. Its expression is subtle.

Taos has been described as the land of three-legged dogs. Apparently there are no leash laws. Dogs run free here as they're meant to do and oddly they're not much of a problem, except for an occasional barking chorus, erupting in the middle of the night. They also run in packs. Seeing a pack of five or six dogs is not unusual and I soon accepted the fact that at least one of them will be of the three-legged variety; the cost of freedom I surmise.

Part of the landscape is the "Latilla" fence. You see them beside, behind and in front of homes. Poles are cut of young aspen trees anywhere from three to five inches in diameter and from four to ten feet high. Standing vertically, they are bound closely side by side with wire to create a circular corral or a fence. The tops have a way of bending in various directions lending an orderly haphazard feel to the fence and to the landscape. Their line is immediately disheveled and perfectly normal in the same moment, resembling a wall of leafless, tasseled grey corn.

I saw a sign here. It made me laugh. Just another overused slick, advertising campaign slogan I thought. "Save The Planet," the sign read. Then I read the fine print. The sign contained important information regarding the daily need for careful conservation of a precious high desert need: water. I felt rather silly about my assumption; confronted by southwestern reality when compared to northeastern fantasy.

The light and the air are distinctive and remarkable here in northern New Mexico. So are the people. This is not Utopia, no; they have their problems, too, just like everywhere else. I stand watching a sunset of spectacular colors, burnt-orange, purples and reds, cerulean and turquoise blues. I hear my mother's voice from my childhood, "I call it sky-blue-pink," she'd whisper softly, so as not to disturb the creation in progress.

A coyote a hundred yards off to my right repeatedly calls out, "yip-yip-yeow," at the same thousand colors. An old proverb tugs at my thoughts, "He who loves with passion lives on the edge of the desert." I smile, it is magical here, most certainly this is the Land of Enchantment.

We'll talk next time From The Road.

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