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
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
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
to Road Archive