Posted by blk1 on 29th July 2008
I am hoping for a few pair of eyes to give my piece the once over before it needs to be handed into our SI anthology. Kevin, are you up? Lynn?
A Passion for Place
As I was graduating from Hofstra University in 1971, many of my hippie contemporaries, who were not yet ready to begin careers, looked westward. I was on my way to England and Austria to soak up the history I knew only from books and prepare for a graduate program to come.
A European history major, I was not yet bitten by the See America bug, and I remained untouched for many years, saving my summers for more trips to Europe while my younger brothers traveled together across the country, overwhelmed by its national parks, deserts, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, the Pacific Ocean.
They returned home from their expedition, branding me a Euro snob. I wore the badge proudly. For me, the summer I spent studying at Exeter College in Oxford, connected me directly to the worlds of Austen, Hardy, A.J.P Taylor, Virginia Wolfe and Shakespeare. We read in the parks, drank in the pubs and adventured from campus to campus. What could my brothers possibly understand about culture?
But just a few years later, back home and co- teaching a humanities course with my former humanities teacher, Georgia O’Keefe came into my life. Gordie, contributing the art, selected an O’Keefe southwestern landscape as part of his 20th century introduction. Just a simple view of the Rio Grande and I watched it move and begged for more Georgia.
Delighted, to share her work, Gordie suggested an upcoming documentary of her life coming to Channel 13. That evening I had my VCR programmed and over the next few weeks I watched it over and over.
It was Georgia who inspired me to create the west of my imagination. She recounted her first visits away from her home in upstate New York to the southwest. Soon it became harder and harder for her to return, even to her life and her love in New York City. She couldn’t leave her mountains, her desert, her adobe and the light that inspired her painting. Friends had to come to her!
I had to see New Mexico for myself.
My dreaming began to take specific shape when I discovered my writer’s identity with the help of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. One day at school, on a whim, I picked up the office phone and dialed the number on the back cover of her book. Natalie answered the phone and graciously shared information about her upcoming summer workshop in Taos, New Mexico and my southwest travel plans began in earnest.
Georgia and Natalie joined forces and as I waited at the Stewart Airport for my plane to arrive, I fingered through my soft-covered copy of O’Keefe’s Southwest and began my travel journal following the free writing rules of Goldberg.
I continued writing and reading and daydreaming on the plane, and by the time I landed at the Albuquerque airport, selected my red rental car, tossed the road map to Taos in the passenger’s seat, loaded my suitcases into the trunk, I was off into The Land of Enchantment.
On the highway, even without a camera, I often stopped on the shoulder of the road just to soak up expansive panoramas that Georgia had captured so succinctly to entice me to experience the real.
I began to remember the TV series of my childhood, The Lone Ranger, and I felt that solitary oneness. The sky, the open arena, the light, the colors, I needed a camera just to rekindle this first memory and oh yes, for music, The Doobie Brothers cranked up on the car’s cassette player.
Natalie’s writing retreat held at the Mable Dodge Inn, was made famous and infamous by Georgia. It was the very place where she began her love affair with the southwest and following in her footsteps, for the next five summers, I found my way back to the Santa Fe-Taos circle: writing with other writers, riding in the mountains, walking the streets, beginning my own art collection, and trying to imagine a life here.
But back home, that same year, I found my way to the Hudson River, to a new life with a new man and I turned from the west, from my original passion for everything European, to Israel and the Mediterranean Sea.
But as a traveler, the west continues to pull me back. On a recent trip, Tuvia discovered that I hadn’t been to the Grand Canyon and insisted we change our route for an essential experience. Sure, I had seen it in photos and movies, but like my first experience driving to Taos, standing on the edge of the Canyon on the north side, camera in hand, there was no way I could take it home in my viewfinder. I shut off the camera and sat down, just filling up with the expanse of sky and canyon. Georgia O’Keefe’s colors once again.
As long as planes continue to fly, as long as I have enough money to pay for a seat, I will continue to find my way back to the places I have come to know and love. I have the southwest, I have the towns in the English countryside, I have the Mediterranean Sea, and I’m still thirsty for more, for the coast of Maine, the cities of Spain, the greens of Scotland, and the Hudson River roots me to home.