One and one-half wandering Jews
Free to wander wherever they choose
Are traveling together
In the Sangre de Christo
The Blood of Christ Mountains
Of New Mexico
On the last leg of a journey
They started a long time ago
The arc of a love affair
Rainbows in the high desert air
Slipping into stone
Hearts and bones
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
In the mountains of southern California there is a lake with an island in its midst. Outside this island a majority of trees were consumed in a forest fire in 2003 (The infamous Cedar Fire). Many of the trees had stood 200-300 or more years. But on the lake’s island you can still walk through a landscape of beautiful ancient oak and pine trees. On a fall day, as I walked the island’s edges, I came upon this spot- a still standing glorious ancient survivor. Autumn perfection – Fall color surrounds, the air is crisp and clear, migratory birds call above and the sun rests on the horizon.
“Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend”
Sarah Ban Breathnach
Within our garden in the high mountains of New Mexico is a 150 year old Pinyon tree. Our first few years here we made a twice daily pilgrimage to sit beneath this beautiful tree — folding chair in one hand, espresso in the other.
We end up here in time to see the sun rise and the night’s mist vanish. And in book-end symmetry at sunset we sit silent observers of the distant mountains set beneath an O’Keeffe sky of crimson, orange and purple.
One day a question arrived. How about more permanent ‘season ticket seating’? How about an old-fashioned tree swing? How about that branch there? But it’s old like us and might break. Perhaps an arbor to support it – a little insurance.
Arbor done, swing hung, but something was missing. It needs some color doesn’t it? Many colors had potential. All were considered and it took some time to settle on just one. The final choice of vibrant yellow worked perfectly, poetically.
All elements in balance now and for 310 days a year (give or take), this swing seems to levitate in the rising and setting sun, like a magic carpet….two performances daily.
In my New Mexico home the wildflower known as Indian Paintbrush found just the right conditions to take up residence. It’s no easy feat to cultivate the growth of this wild scarlet and orange flower that, in fact, does resemble a free-form paintbrush. Good luck propagating this flower. Seeds are available commercially but it is anything but guaranteed to succeed.
It has very specific requirements and is a true wildflower requiring no human intervention to grow where it wills. Transplanting an Indian Paintbrush does not work as it is a parasitic plant attaching its roots to the roots of other plants and deriving water from them. So it was to my amazement that my specimens spread prolifically all over my land, increasing its range each year. Here is one of several artworks I’ve created on this unique, complex and truly wild botanical wonder!
There are multiple legends about the origins of this remarkable beauty. One such legend is shared in Tomie dePaola’s children’s book the…
…’Legend of the Indian Paintbrush“. This is the story of a young Indian boy who did not fit in his society’s assigned role as warrior. Today I suppose he would be labeled “special needs“. Eventually, he finds his place as an artist. (Hooray for that!) And as you might guess, this eventually leads to the origin of the Indian Paintbrush flower. But I’m not giving away the punchline! Here is a 5 minute version of the story by Tomie dePaola:
This striking perennial is honored by poet A.V. Hudson,
“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
“What is the meaning of life? That was all-a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
On my travels along the California coast this year I retreated from the 100 degree heat and the endless, unrelenting freeways into this otherworldly house of worship – the San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside, California.
Here it is cool and still and with one step past the threshold the outside world simply ceases to exist. Here time stands still and the rarefied ambiance of 220 years takes over my being. One lone man sits in midday prayer before me.
Some time later, my being in balance, I depart through the church doors and, as I do, I recall the opening lyrics of the Elton John song “60 Years On”.
Who’ll walk me down to church when I’m sixty years of age When the ragged dog they gave me has been ten years in the grave And señorita plays guitar, plays it just for you My rosary has broken and my beads have all slipped through.
St. Richards Catholic Church turned 60 last spring. I’ve created a fine art print above to capture how striking this humble Borrego Springs mission style church appears before the looming Santa Rosa mountains.
The background story:
1940s – No road, no telephone, just a name
Borrego Springs, California was barely connected to the outside world in the 1940s. There were dirt roads, no telephones, no outside electricity. The Catholic Church purchased land for the church site naming it the “de Anza Catholic mission,” after Juan Bautista de Anza, the early Spanish explorer who traversed the Borrego Valley in 1774.
1950s – Volunteers, money, new name
Built by volunteers and financed by 16 local Catholic families the church was completed in April, 1954. It’s final name – St. Richard Catholic Church.
1960 – Fire! send for help from Julian!
In 1960 the church survived a fire but was severely damaged. State park rangers and local residents fought the flames with garden hoses for over an hour until State Forestry fire equipment from the mountain community of Julian, California arrived – a 31 mile trip. After repairs the church was reopened.
1970 – 2001 How about some stained glass?
In the 1970s Julian, California glass artist James Hubbell installed windows along the side of the church. In 2001, world-renowned stained glass artist Sarah Hall, using glass from France and Germany, created an 8′ by 8′ foot stained glass window behind the church altar, illuminating the darkest part of the sanctuary.