Sometimes we learn more about ourselves, what truly nurtures us, and where we belong by going “away.” At home, wherever that may be, we’re intertwined with community–both human and the wilder, more fundamental community of nature–and we often can’t find the distance that allows us to stand outside our regular life and see it clearly. But by going to a place that is totally different, we see ourselves and our lives with more clarity and can come to understand who we are and what we’re about.
I wrote those words yesterday in response to a comment by a writer who had moved with her family to a place they expected would become home, and while they found they loved the place, she continues to feel, she said, like a “stranger in a strange land.” Reading my word over, I realize I could have been writing about the long weekend in Santa Fe that Richard and I just returned from.
We needed to get away from life in the brain cancer cloister, needed to have a break from the intense focus on figuring out how to build on his naturally healthy body and spirit to do what we can to make sure his brain tumors don’t return. We needed a pause in the everyday routine, time to just be and to “breathe beauty” as poet Heather Barron put it.
We did plenty of breathing beauty, from the glorious gold and orange aspen clones spilling over the mountainsides along the drive (that’s the back side of our own Methodist Mountain in the photo above) to the sunsets we saw out the third-floor windows of our room at the gracious and comfy Hotel St. Francis. (There I am, posing for Richard on the staircase in the hotel, and that’s the Jemez Mountains in the distance over town in the sunset photo.)
We woke before dawn to the sound of church bells and watched as the sun rose, nudging the ravens into croaking flight. We wandered the narrow streets looking at art in a few favorite galleries, stopping to buy books at Collected Works, a bookstore known as much for its readings (I’ve read there a time or two) and its comfy coffee shop as for its focus on great books.
Writer, editor and cranial-sacral therapist Nicky Leach worked her meditative magic on each of us, therapy that has brought subtle but discernable improvements in Richard’s eyesight and my creaky body. We read and lounged on the shady portico of the hotel, staying long enough to watch the moon rise.
We explored the trendy urban-infill Railyard area with its galleries, eating places (including a branch of the Flying Star Cafe, Richard’s favorite Albuquerque breakfast place for their huge burrito smothered in green chile), and the open-space park whose design honors the former railroad yards. (That’s parallel paths echoing train tracks with benches and “crossings” in the first photo; in the second and third, the circular structure echoes a roundhouse where engines were repaired, only this one is filled with gardens and benches suspended from beams overhead.)
For my birthday, we ate at one of our favorite Santa Fe restaurants, Cafe Pasqual’s, chef Katherine Kagel’s loving paean to fresh, local food. We sat at the community table in the crowded restaurant, with a neuroradiologist from NYC on a hiking vacation on one side (“If you get to New York for that clinical trial,” she said as she handed me her card, “let me know if you need help.”) and a groundwater geologist who has worked for a dear friend on the other. When our waiter brought my candle-decorated wedge of orange-chiffon cake topped with raspberries, Richard began singing “Happy Birthday” in his lovely deep voice and it sounded like the whole restaurant joined in. (I was ducking my head in embarassment, so didn’t see.)
Yesterday we turned toward home, detouring on the way to visit Bandelier National Monument, a long-time favorite. We picknicked in the shade of tall ponderosa pines and narrowleaf cottonwood trees in Frijoles Canyon, where the fat-trunked ponderosas were exuding so much vanilla through their platy bark that you could smell their perfume a foot away. (That’s Richard below, sticking his nose in the bark to inhale the heady scent.)
By the time we left Bandelier, cumulonimbus clouds towered over the Upper Rio Grande Valley. We drove north through a dramatic series of storms as a front blew by: Rain poured down in sheets, water flooded the roads, hail smacked the windows, and gusts buffeted our trusty Subaru.
At the end of the road though, was home, the familiar place where we do our best to live our ordinary moments in a mindful, gracious way. That very practice of living with awareness, open heart and gratitude, I now see with the clarity of a weekend away, is in fact “breathing beauty.”