Welcome to New Mexico

New Mexico

It was a dream catcher, one of those ‘Indian’ artefacts that are supposed to ward off bad dreams, protect you. It is a hoop with a net structure woven in the middle, decorated, beaded, feathers dangling from it.

People hang them from windows, in their bedrooms or cars. I never liked these kinds of things, but that one was well made and not kitschy. I turned it around and noticed a tag that read: Handmade in Taos, New Mexico.

I had wondered if I should one day visit that place, and then forgot about it. Now a few months later, sitting in the backyard of a West Hollywood residence, the direction was clear.

(from: Hollywood Is Calling)

The L.A. train station struck me as beautiful. A cathedral to travel before the hegemonic rule of the personal vehicle. I quickly found a train going my way: the ‘Southern Chief’ to Chicago.

I would get out in Gallup/New Mexico and try to hitchhike from there via Santa Fe to Taos. A few hours later, the train pulled out and rolled for hours through dreary suburban wastelands. Wandering up and down the corridor, I came across the observation car. It had windows from the floor to the ceiling, spanning across the entire side of the railcar.

I fell asleep there, and when I awoke from the first morning light, I could see nothing outside but layered dark grey to blue smears of landscape and sky. Without lights, and as it seemed without any manmade structures, even without trees. I watched spellbound as moment by moment the desert peeled itself from the darkness, earth gently separating from sky. Sneaky rays of a sun still hidden beyond the horizon turned on the colour scheme slowly, slowly, until it all exploded into orange reds, yellow whites, granite greys, and a sky bluer than … blue.

My first view of the desert, and it seemed like the first view of any land, in any morning, ever. The process of that morning becoming day had emptied my head completely, apart from a feeling of total peace so physically pervasive it rendered me motionless. Smiling a fool’s smile I remained, watching it all unfold.

On one of the trips up and down the aisles of the train, I noticed a Japanese girl with a spiky punk-style haircut reading a travel guide on New Mexico. As I had zero information about my chosen destination, and never even looked at a map, I approached her and asked if there was a chapter about Taos and if I could have a look at it once she got tired of reading.

At first she was rather surprised about a total stranger talking to her but very politely answered in broken English that her name was Amita and that she was also travelling in that direction, and of course I could borrow the book.

As it turned out her father had sent her to the States to connect with an old student of his at a University in Northern California and she had a couple of weeks to spare until the meeting. We continued talking and soon decided that it made sense to journey onwards together as it would be both safer and cheaper.

A woman then approached the two of us. She must have overheard our conversation and said that she felt it was her duty as a local citizen to offer us assistance, especially as she lived in Gallup from where we would have to get to northern New Mexico anyway. She was very friendly and seemed perfectly harmless. So we all left the train together in Gallup, and stayed overnight at the woman’s house which was buzzing with a dozen kids of all ages and people coming and going at all hours of the day and night.

The next morning, when we were getting ready to leave, she offered to drive us to Taos if I would be willing to accompany her afterwards on a trip to Denver, where she would be attending a weekend conference. She did not like driving alone, she said. I agreed, of course provided nothing occurred in Taos that would force a change of plan.

So, the three of us drove off towards Taos, east on the I-40, and then north in Albuquerque, through Santa Fe and Espanola, until reaching Taos about five hours later. As the woman babbled on and on about her family and whatever, Amita and I stared at the land gliding past.

So much space. So much open space. Space. Desert morphing into high desert, forested, snow-tipped mountains rising beyond Santa Fe, the crisp air, the sunlight all powerful, winds kicking twisters around, huge birds overhead. Along the road, there were signs saying, ‘Welcome to New Mexico, Land of Enchantment’. Oh yeah, enchantment – it surely worked on me.

Driving into Taos, I remembered that Amita’s guide book had described the small town as a kind of exclusive hippy colony and that the local tribe still inhabited the Pueblo a couple of miles north east of it. I had actually no idea what a Pueblo was, or who the people were who lived there, but that was where I needed to go to find out about the origins of my dream catcher.

I asked the American woman to drop me off at the edge of town. As I was not sure what was going to happen, I said goodbye. They told me that they would stay around for the day, exploring Taos, and in case I decided to return with them, we could meet up later on the Plaza.

Credits

Image Title Author License
New Mexico New Mexico Ken Lund CC BY-SA 2.0

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