Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tuesday. Last night was a late one for me…after dinner we had a ‘mini’ knitting session so everyone could get started with the color work portion of their projects. I gave Marjorie a swatch in progress to practice her intarsia color changes before attempting it on her Spiral backpack project. Then, I sleepily headed to the baths for a soak…aaahh. The Iron bath was so warm, the dark made it nice and secluded, but a little creepy for me so I moved over to the Arsenic bath which is a fabulous 108 degrees and has an underwater light. It made for a good nights sleep! This morning I am sitting by my kiva fireplace catching up on a little ‘work’ with a cup of coffee.

This is such a wonderful group! This morning we met in the garden to coordinate our day trip to Sante Fe. We divided up easily into groups and headed south. Marjorie, Marion, and Lin wanted to visit a few pueblos on their way to SF, while Sandy, Marsha, and Laurie wanted to do their own yarn/weaving crawl. Meryl and Lauren took off on their own tour of Sante Fe and the rest of us piled into my gigantic truck and took off. The plan…to rendezvous in the Plaza at 5:00 and walk to the Pink Adobe for drinks and dinner.

Naturally, I wanted to stop for coffee and knew exactly where to find a Starbucks the moment we got to town. The best part is that it is located next door to The Queen’s Ransom, an amazing beautiful store filled with stunning women’s clothing in the DeVargas mall on Paseo de Peralta. The owner, Suzanne Culbertson is a family friend and carries some of my mother’s, Boots Bailey, leather western themed Christmas stockings and ornaments. Last summer when Suzanne and I were scouting New Mexico for a retreat location, Suzanne said if she were to go anywhere it would be Ojo Caliente Mineral Spa. The rest is history in the making. We trusted her opinion so much we booked Ojo without even visiting it! It would be an understatement to say we trust our instincts…and it has paid off in spades because our trip has been nothing short of fabulous.

To make our first stop even more memorable, Shirley MacLaine was hanging out on the big leather sofa when we arrived.

Next stop…Miriam’s Well. Wow. Sandy said it was her favorite yarn shop in town and what a place it is. It is a beautiful little shop tucked behind a colorful courtyard garden that will soon be filled with hollyhocks. We swarmed the store and very quickly zeroed in on a ruffled shawl designed by Miriam and knit in Fiesta ‘La Boheme’, a mohair, wool, nylon blend of 2 strands worked on US10 needles. Sandy’s crew walked in while we were there and all 9 of us bought/ordered the yarn for this lovely shawl. Tonight we’ll get everyone signed to join Ravelry so we can start comparing our progress. Mine will be a luminous white to go with the black wrap dress I bought for our trip to Tuscany. The others chose variegated colorways, deep purple-y plums, black, etc. Way to go, Miriam, it’s a beautiful design.

We dropped a few of our group off at the International Museum of Folk Art on Museum Hill, and then headed to the Plaza. If you have ever been to Sante Fe, you are no doubt familiar with the Plaza and the jewelers selling their wares under the covered walkway along the Palace of the Governors.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday. A few days into our Adventure and everyone has settled in beautifully. One of the nicest aspects of these weeks is not just that they are suspended in time, but the friendships that develop rather quickly. The knitting yogis that join us are without fail generous, friendly, ready to make new friends and explore new places, ideas, and try to new things. Some in our group were new to knitting, never had a massage, never practiced yoga or meditation. We’ve all taken a chance by coming on this trip…going to a new unknown place in most cases, alone, without knowing who would be there, trying new foods and new experiences. I don’t think anyone has been disappointed or has felt anything other than cared for and included. These are lovely ladies who are so warm and generous towards each other, it’s as if we have always been friends.

Yesterday Alissa took us on a hiking tour up into the hills. She pointed out the amazing countryside of mesas, rivers, and described the local agriculture. One of the most amazing things she showed us was the remains of fire pits and ‘work shops’ left by the Natives Indians that had lived on the very land we were exploring. Circular areas of stone chips left over from tool making have survived for centuries undisturbed and left exposed by the winds. Amazingly they were also undisturbed by visitors out of respect. There is a palpable spirit here that creates this sense of quiet calm and respect for nature. I don’t think there is anyone in our group that has been unaffected by the beauty of this place.

One important thing that I have learned over the past few days is about the people here and the blending of their cultures. To a visitor such as myself, my first inclination is to consider them all ‘Mexican’ given we are in New Mexico. That however is a gross generalization that can be offensive to many who live here. There are so many cultures of different people, to name only a few: Pueblo, Teva, Tova, Mexican, Spanish,…and even here I am certain I am not conveying this properly. So as Armando so graciously described his family background to us, he said the proper way to refer to the people and the food of this region is ‘Spanish’. Thank you, Armando.

Today a small group of us took off for the afternoon and headed north to Los Ojos. We had the most spectacular drive up I84 into the mountains. Mesas, bluffs, huge rocky cliffs that were ‘painted’ with bands of red, yellow, white, brown, black and dotted with green trees beckoned to us to pull over for photos. I photographed the same mountains repeatedly because I couldn’t resist wanting to savor the beauty. We pulled over the side of the road numerous times.

Los Ojos is a tiny little town in the mountains. We visited Tierra Wools, a well-known weaving cooperative that has been in existence for about 100 years. The wools are raised by the cooperative and hand-dyed both with natural plant dyes as well as some commercial dyes. And though we had not scheduled a visit, we were able to explore the weaving and dying rooms and were graciously given demonstrations and explanations of their processes. We were shown big vats of black walnut dye, an herb drying room filled with walnuts, rabbit brush, and sage all collected from the surrounding areas. Their wools that were so beautifully colored were primarily for weavers though there was an area of knitting wool, all spun from the fleeces of their own sheep.

We considered taking another route home but were told by Mr. and Mrs. Valdez who own the local gas station, that the road was closed as it was still filled with snow and unsafe. Life in Los Ojos must be pretty nice, when I walked in to pay, they had been kissing! Hmm, maybe the long winters in the mountains here isn’t so bad after all.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Saturday. Our Knitting Yogis have arrived…
tired, a little nervous, all but with big smiles eager to make new friends. Typically we would have a cocktail reception, give everyone the low-down on what we would be doing this week, pass out some papers, etc. Not tonight. They’re tired, they’ve been flying and driving all day and most of us are not accustomed to being at 7000 feet. It’s late and they need to be taken care of…enter Armando. We sat down to a wonderful menu of shrimp fajitas, roasted Salmon, enchiladas, and Pinon trout. Lot’s of wine, happy conversation as we started to learn about each other and try to remember each others names…at the end everyone was smiling and ready for bed. Tomorrow we’ll start slowly and ease into the rigorous schedule we have planned…meditation, yoga, knitting, a short hike. Tough.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday. Ojo Caliente, New Mexico. What an amazing place hidden in the mountains of New Mexico! Nothing can compare to the beauty of the New Mexican high desert. It’s unlike any other location in the western United States, the vegetation, the architecture, the natural palette of colors feel so historic, natural and spiritual. The light is spectacular, almost sparkling. It reminds me of the light on Monhegan Island, Maine which has a crisp brilliance which is so inspiring. I think it is safe to assume that this is one reason why both areas are such an enormous draw to artists. The air is dry, the water is soft with minerals, the temperature comfortably in the 60s during the day and cooler in the evenings with a light breeze.

Driving up to Ojo on Friday I noticed warning signs and wind socks along the highway warning of gusty winds in the valley. Arroyos, or gullies as the rest of us might refer to them, along the roadway were dry and dusty, but when a rain storm comes they will quickly fill with rushing water which can very dangerous to those caught unaware. This environment looks so benign and barren, but it is a land of extremes. Plants, animals, and people adapt themselves to the environment with thorns, thick outer covers like the Prickly Pear cactus, scales and fangs like the Rattlesnake, boots, hats, and chaps like the Cowboys. All in an effort to weather the temperatures, conserve water, block the sun, and stay cool in the heat. And in complete contrast to this, the people here are warm, friendly, very proud, and eager to share their culture with those from away.

When I first drove into the Ojo Caliente grounds I wondered what had we gotten ourselves into here. There was construction, dirt everywhere, and it looked very quirky. Uh oh…we have 12 women arriving tomorrow. I just kept reminding myself about the rave reviews and high recommendations that this place received and it is New Mexico after all. Once I started to walk around and see the beautiful Historic Hotel, the adobe buildings, and beautiful native plantings I realized it was all going to be ok. Even the construction is a treat to see as it will resemble a traditional adobe building and is now awaiting the application of the stucco coating. Next year this new entrance to the baths will be spectacular.

Twenty-four hours and I already feel like a new woman. All it took was an hour long soak in the lithium, arsenic, soda, and iron baths, an amazing deep-tissue massage by Paul the wonder-masseuse, a wonderful meal from Chef Armando, a pedicure/manicure, and a good nights sleep. Why didn’t I come here sooner?! Suzanne has had an extra day of relaxing and looked pretty radiant and happy when I first saw her. Last summer I had to convince her that New Mexico would be a really cool place for an Adventure. She is completely sold now. She had just returned from a hike up into the rocky hillside when I arrived and she was smiling ear to ear. “This is going to be so great! I just know it!” The sunshine, fresh air, and atmosphere have really gotten to her. Or maybe it was the Soda bath, or Ryan, yet another wonder-masseuse.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thursday. As some of you may surmise, I’m writing a little backwards and forwards at the same time… This weekend is the beginning of our New Mexico Adventure ’08 at Ojo Caliente, NM. The weather is amazing today in Maine and along the east coast from what I hear, so I am imagining it is just as beautiful out west. We have 12 Knitting Yogis attending this retreat and preparing themselves with projects, yoga mats, fresh pedicures, and old swimsuits (because rumor has it the mud bath is a little hard on the new ones). It’s Thursday and one of our group boarded a train for Sante Fe 2 days ago, Suzanne is on a plane today, and tomorrow morning I leave Portland at the crack of dawn. But Saturday is the big day…we will all convene at Ojo in at dinner to begin our week together. Imagine all of us being drawn to the New Mexican high desert from all corners of the US like moths to a kiva fire. Usually we open our first evening with a reception but given the long day of travel, we will take it easy, start with a lovely relaxing meal and talk about our week informally around the garden fire pit, maybe share a few stories about ourselves, but nothing too serious. Our orientation will begin in earnest on Sunday morning with breakfast and a tour led by Alissia of the spa. The Yoga Yurt will become our own special room where we will meet for yoga, knitting, or just visiting. Afternoons will be filled with whatever we are inspired to do like taking a drive to Abiquiu, Rancho de Taos, or the Indian flea market. Perhaps a hike, a nap, or a book will call to some of us. In the evenings we will soak, sit under the stars by the kiva fire in the garden, or knit in the yurt.

Suzanne and I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Whenever we tell someone about our trips and our work together, the response is almost always a smile, a sigh, and an expression of ‘Wow, I would love to go on one of your trips!’ We’ve tried to figure this out, of course we think they are great, but what is happening here? Perhaps it is simply that people just don’t take time to relax. The pressure to keep up the pace, get ahead and pay the bills is so intense. But just maybe taking a break and slowing down ultimately leads to greater strides forward. Vacations are not just for other people. The truth is, taking time to relax, daydream, and have fun not just for an evening or a weekend, but for a good chunk of time is so good for you. It’s healthy, normalizing, it lowers your stress. Add a little yoga, a massage (maybe some red wine and chocolate…) …wow. You won’t know what has happened you’ll feel so good. Maybe someone should tell the AMA about this.

And as Moma Gena says, “…pleasure makes one whole.” Amen sister.