This is the second year in a row (which I suppose is long enough to call a tradition) that my daughters and I are spending a week at Ghost Ranch. I lived 44 years in New Mexico before ever laying eyes on Kitchen Mesa. I don’t know what took me so long to get here, except New Mexico has many beautiful places, several of which I guess kept me away. But here I am now, so late on the 4th of July that the night is turning to morning.
Here’s how my day went today. I got up with the girls at about 7. We’re staying in a block of rooms built in a U-shape around a grassy courtyard, sleeping with doors and windows open. There aren’t locks or keys at Ghost Ranch. I took a shower while Dee and Em headed out to breakfast. Dee’s friend from last year spent the night with us; her parents are in a different set of buildings on the ranch. (BTW, it’s called a ranch, and it has 21,000 acres, some set aside for cattle-grazing, but the main area where we are looks and feels more like a retreat center. Which it also is. Picture lots of adobe-style buildings scattered throughout a green valley surrounded by red-and-yellow cliffs.)
I made it to breakfast, sat with folks I knew from last year. There are maybe 200 people here this week. Lots of families and older folks. Ghost Ranch is owned by the Presbyterian Church, and while there are plenty of Presbyterians here, there is not an overly religious feel to the place. Spiritual, yes. But the religious make-up of the retreat attendees is eclectic.
For me, Ghost Ranch is about being able to take art classes (although there’s so much more than art classes) in a remarkable terrain with remarkable instructors while having my daughters with me. I get to nurture my soul yet do so without spending time away from them. Not many places where I can do that.
I know I should go into some of the history of the place, but besides mentioning that Georgia O’Keeffe had eight acres here and was inspired by the sandstone cliffs and the bleached skulls and whatever else she saw, I can’t do justice. Besides, I’m tired.
After breakfast I had a class in Hebrew Scripture and retablos, which I’ll talk more about over the next several days. Just know that my teachers are a rabbi and a Catholic santero. We’re studying the female figures from the Old Testament, starting yesterday with Sarai (Sarah) and then today Rebecca. Our class started at 9a, and we studied for about one hour and then moved into painting. Took a break at lunch, then had time off until dinner. Back again together at 7 until 8:30p.
My girls were in their own classes — Em in a youth camp, Dee paleontology — that mirror, from a time standpoint, my course. Which means we sleep and eat together plus have a big chunk of time during the day where we can do whatever we want together. Except my girls are into running wild around the place being independent. Today during the afternoon off Em went to Echo Canyon with friends, and Dee made dinosaur eggs. So I ended up painting in the studio and finishing my second retablo.
Today culiminated with a 4th of July parade where the kids rode in floats they made in their classes. Dee’s had a smoking volcano; Em’s was called “The Fuzzies.” There was a fireworks display late; it didn’t start until 9:30 or so.
So much more I’d like to say about the place; I’ll only be able to do so by posting it in snippets. Nothing terribly polished or thought out. But that’s how Ghost Ranch is. It’s so beautiful and grand, you can’t feed it all at once else it comes out like water from a fire hose. It has to be experienced in small pieces. This is what I offer, for starters.
-Kitchen Mesa at Sunset and Sun Setting on Chimney Rock, photos taken July 4, 2007, photos © 2007 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.