cover photography - Marcia Ward
Saints and Snakes
Back in the day when I became a journeyman – as opposed to apprentice – poet, I met a rather talented young writer, pen name of “Snake,” at a poetry reading on Seventeenth Avenue in Denver at which I was a regular attendee.
Snake was a tall handsome young man, early twenties, a mix of Latin and European ancestry; Germany and Puerto Rico were his two principal not-too-distant ancestral homelands. His poetry was Kerouac-esque, mellifluous and chatter-y. He had picked up the ball that a drunken Jack had dropped, and I could see Snake making a big score someday in the poetry arena. I introduced myself and told him I’d love to share with him what I knew of the Bohemians, poets, and beatniks of Denver, that he should come to my house and listen to a few outrageous tapes that I possessed, recordings of the late greats, James Ryan Morris and Stuart Z Perkoff, and the living legend Tony Scibella, the Kid in America, himself. “There are,” I told him, “other approaches to the poem besides the one popularized by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.”
So off to my home on Pennsylvania we go. It’s about midnight and I know my wife and sons will be sleeping in our family bed, so it’s softly and quietly we tread as we enter and get comfortable in my living room. Now my wife Marcia grew up in Wyoming where silence (aside from the wind) is the song of night, and I no sooner turn on the stereo to listen to Jimmy Morris when Marcia, awakened by the recorded voice, walks, somnambulist like, into the living room. She’s wearing flannel pajamas and she rubs her eyes before stretching her arms upward and then forward to embrace me. Because she is not wearing her contact lenses it takes her a moment to realize that I am not alone in the living room, and when she does her modesty dictates that she not stay and she returns to the bedroom. I join her and explain what’s going on with Snake, assuring her that we will be as quiet as possible in the other room. She frowns disapprovingly at my mention of the name of my new friend, but then blows me a kiss before rejoining Passion and Zenith on the futon. She is asleep again before I leave the room.
“Who was that creature?” Snake asks when I return to the living room. The tone and subtext of his query, as I read it, indicates that Marcia’s appearance was as charming and enchanting as it was brief. I think to myself, “The boy is smitten.”
Well I sort of take Snake under my wing. I publish a poem of his as a broadside, a full color affair. I illustrate his nostalgic words with a collage I make with some of my own boyhood memorabilia: Holmesburg football team photos, a black and white of my Mom, and me mugging with boyhood pals. Snake winds up eating dinner with my family three, four, five times a week. When I have an opportunity to move to North Denver into a sweet Victorian on 37th Avenue, Snake follows and rents a second story walk-up apartment right next door. I can’t help but think I’m living the poet’s life, mentoring young Snake as I had been mentored by Larry Lake who had published my first broadside ten years earlier. In fact, Snake is as close to family as it gets, given the amount of time we spend together, and I share business and art opportunities with him as well. He plays with my young sons and gets on well with my dog and even my persnickety cat. Snake housesits when my family travels to Wildwood NJ for a week at the beach. We share some very crazy 80s times as well, partying with counterculture abandon. On more than one occasion, we dodge trouble together with a capital T, sidestepping authority, attributing our luck to the purity of our dedication to poetry and our respective muses. Indeed, we are brother poets burning brightly.
And then Snake hooked up with the love of his life, and we, my family, didn’t see him for weeks. He wasn’t at home and he wasn’t at our dinner table. And then as suddenly as he had come into my family’s life, he was on his way to New Mexico with the woman who would become his wife. The day he packed up his belongings, mostly books and artwork, we met his mysterious love, Veronica Pinon.
Veronica was an artist and teacher, the daughter of a prominent highway contractor. Her family could trace its roots in New Mexico back some two hundred years. She was not New Mexican, she was Spanish, she told me more than once, with an air of distancing herself from any association with the Native American/Mexican gene pool. Entitled, privileged, talented, a go-get-er. Veronica took, for reasons unknown, an instant dislike to the Bohemian that I am, as if I had been a poor influence upon her lover, no matter I had published his poetry, nurtured his general entrepreneurial and artistic spirit, had fed him home cooked meals the last few years, and granted him access to the touchstone of family, mine. Well, Veronica was not the first girlfriend of a friend to put the brakes on friendship with me as I have generally lived my life with Irish abandon and often Steppenwolfed the road less traveled. Outside my home on 37th Avenue, I wished Snake good luck and bid him adieu when he drove off, enchanted with Veronica, to begin a new life chapter in New Mexico.
Months go by without any contact, and I must admit, I missed Snake - moocher that he was - my apprentice, my friend, the younger brother that I never had. And then, out of the blue, we receive in the mail an invite to his wedding. In Santa Fe. In two weeks. And would Marcia bring her cameras to photograph the nuptials? Well it’s no easy task leaving town, even for a weekend, when there are children, a dog and cat, and a home where being vacant for days invites burglary. But we get it together, the house and pet sitter, and Marcia even goes the extra mile and rents over-the-top special lenses and purchases special low light film to photograph the evening wedding.
We leave for Santa Fe at midnight so our young sons will sleep the bulk of the eight-hour car ride and we arrive early on the morning of the wedding. The hotel where Veronica’s family from Albuquerque, Snake’s family from Wisconsin, and some Denver friends are staying informs us that we can’t check into our rooms until 11 AM; thus, I have the clerk ring Snake and Veronica’s room to come up with a game plan. I’m figuring we’ll hook up with them, maybe have breakfast together, catch up in general, and give Marcia and Veronica time to figure out an approach to the wedding photos. But instead of a warm welcome and invitation, Snake tells me that he and Veronica are planning on sleeping in, after all, they were up late, and that we should simply hang out in the lobby until we can check into our rooms. Walk around the plaza. And please, don’t call again until the afternoon.
Well, my first gut instinct is to return to Denver. Now! But Marcia is really looking forward to photographing the wedding. In low light, with her special film and her rented lenses. And her photography was to be a wedding gift, to Snake, who had been a member of our family the last few years. So, counter to what my gut and heart are telling me, I agree to stay for the ceremony, and I swallow the pill of Snake and Veronica’s rudeness. Despite being as tired as I am after the all night drive, I lead my family on a tour of what I know of Santa Fe, for I had spent a week here some fourteen years before. We visit the Loretto Chapel and I retell the tale of the spiral staircase that coils its way from the ground floor to the mezzanine.
When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder, as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel. Story has it that the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, to solve their problem. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. A season or two later, the dovetailed, magnificent spiral staircase was completed - without use of a nail - and the carpenter disappeared. After coming up empty in their search for him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the sisters' prayers.
After our visit to the Loretto Chapel, we take a short drive to Hyde Park just outside town along Little Tesuque Creek in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and have a picnic of a breakfast there. I tell my sons that I live in Denver because while camped at Hyde Park in 1975 I happened to have a conversation with a Santa Fe politician who convinced me Denver was better suited to my dream of opening up a bohemian coffee house restaurant than Santa Fe, because Santa Fe locals, he told me, eat at home, and visiting tourists eat in high end restaurants.
Back at the hotel we check in and go to our room. We hope to catch a little sleep while Passion and Zenith luxuriate in Saturday morning cartoons on the cable fed big screen. And we do. Upon awakening, we again have the concierge connect us with Snake and Veronica’s room as Marcia needs to scout the wedding sight and reception area for photo backdrops and get the skinny on how many group shots of family and friends she will be taking. She wants to be sure to properly allocate her film. She is hoping to shoot the bride and groom with her large format, four by five, camera, and to do so when the light is at its low-in-the-sky, late afternoon best. Her excitement with her task, however, morphs to frustration and anger, when Snake tells her that Veronica has decided that she does not want to have to organize any part of her wedding day around photos. In fact, Veronica would prefer that Marcia not even bring her cameras to the ceremony, her reasoning being that somehow a camera will rob the ceremony of its spiritual validity.
Impulsive decision maker that I am, we’re on our way towards Taos on the High Road as soon as we pack up all the gear that we had just unpacked. Never have we been treated so rudely. So gracelessly. So disrespectfully. And we are clueless as to why? And never have I ever felt so un-forgiving.
But forgiveness is a funny thing.
Years pass and one day I am graced with a letter of apology penned by Snake. He confides that Veronica had always been jealous of our (mine and Marcia’s) relationship with him. Veronica disapproved of my dropout beatnik approach to life and art. She was envious of Snake’s admiration for Marcia as an artist and his self-confessed and unfulfilled infatuation with “The creature that was Marcia.” She was scornful of my counterculture entrepreneurial endeavors. My disrespect for authority. My Irish nature. Snake tells me that over the course of their lives the last two years in Germany where Veronica had gotten a job teaching art at a US Military High School, he’d gone straight and gotten a college degree. They were planning to move back to New Mexico as Veronica had secured an elementary teaching job in a small, indeed, tiny Spanish Land Grant town, Cordova, on the High Road to Taos, north of Santa Fe. He invited us to visit sometime this summer as they were hoping to open up an art gallery where Snake hoped Marcia could exhibit her fine art photography.
As I said, forgiveness is a funny thing. And so, Marcia and I, trusting in the sincerity of Snake’s apology/explanation forgave Snake and decided to reestablish a relationship with my former apprentice, and the eight hour ride to Cordova became a yearly thing for my family.
Now Cordova New Mexico, home to world-renown woodcarvers, is a very fecund place. The original village has a wall around it, which had been built to protect the inhabitants from wandering Mescalero Apaches. The first year we visited, a garage not a hundred yards from where we slept was set a blaze and burned completely to the ground before the fire truck from Truchas arrived. The cause of the fire: arson. The next time we visited, Snake’s best friend in Cordova, a young wood carver who had introduced Snake to the craft of making santos, Wally, he committed suicide. The third time we visited, three dogs were shot-gunned point blank in the street by one of Snake’s neighbors, his way of continuing what I was told was a forty year old feud between two families. The fourth time we sojourned there, water for the town dried up and National Guard trucks had to provide drinking water for the four hundred plus residents. Our final visit to Rio Arriba County, however, proved to be the craziest.
Marcia’s career as a photographer had many phases: fine art ala Ansel Adams came first; then wedding photography for a couple of years, and finally, straight up commercial photography with the purchase of the business we have owned the last twenty-two years. One of Marcia’s most successful clients was the sculptor, Glenna Goodacre. Glenna has sculpted presidents; her life size bronze of Ronald Regan stands in the Regan Library. Her Woman’s Viet-Nam Memorial adorns Washington DC, and her Irish Memorial in Philadelphia sits just off the Delaware River down the street from Independence Hall where her thirty-five life-size bronzes greet the ghosts of Irish past who haunt the wharfs of Philadelphia at the site where the émigrés landed in America fleeing the Irish famine. Glenna once lived in Colorado and had her sculptures cast in Loveland and that’s how Marcia came to photograph her bronzes, usually at the foundry before shipment to wherever they were going. One year, after moving to Santa Fe, Glenna asked if Marcia would come to New Mexico to photograph a recently cast monumental sculpture, a large wall with children playing on it. She offered to put Marcia, me, and the kids up for a few days at her guesthouse that sat on the estate that housed her studio. The sculpture was going to be moved at summer’s end to somewhere in California and she hoped Marcia could photograph it before then.
As it turned out one of my nieces, Shannon, was planning to rendezvous in late July with my family that summer in Chaco Canyon, a magical place just shy of two hundred miles west, north west of Santa Fe. Nearly a thousand years ago, Chaco Canyon was a major center of culture for the ancient population of the pueblos. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling fifteen major complexes that remained the largest buildings in North America until the 19th century. Archeoastronomy was practiced there with many buildings aligned to capture solar and lunar cycles, requiring generations of astronomical observations and centuries of skillfully coordinated construction. We were going to meet Shannon and then spend a week on a houseboat at Navajo Lake in southern Colorado. Marcia and I decided to append the photo shoot with Glenna in Santa Fe to the front end of our adventure and, while we were at it, maybe visit Snake and Veronica.
The Pinons (for some reason Snake had adopted Veronica’s last name as his own) had expanded their gallery/home in Cordova and had even purchased the property east of their house. It served as Snake’s music studio. My oldest son was playing saxophone and my youngest played guitar and so after a phone call to Snake, a jam in Cordova became part of our itinerary. After a camp-night at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, we’d spend a few days in Cordova, a few more at Glenna’s, some time at Chaco, and then five days on the houseboat at Navajo Lake. It would be, we hoped, a rich, on the road, unparalleled vacation, mixing family, friends and business. It took a week just to organize and pack our Mazda minivan; we even had to purchase and install a Sears’ cargo carrier on the roof to accommodate the sundry photographic, music, camping, boating, and swimming gear we’d need.
After camping Friday night at the Great Sand Dunes south of Crestone, we spend a morning visiting Fort Garland, the gateway to the San Luis Valley, before heading to the town of San Luis itself, which happens to be the oldest town in Colorado. Now, unknown to us, in late July, San Luis and the Parish of Sangre de Cristo organize a festival, Santana Days, to celebrate and honor the mother of the Virgin Mary, Santa Ana. It’s three days and nights of party party party, with a parade on Saturday. As we arrive in San Luis we can’t believe our good fortune at having arrived on the biggest day of the year in this charming little town – population six hundred plus - where everyone knows everyone, if in fact they are not actually related. Everyone for miles around is on Main Street, as are a convention center’s fill of low-riders, motorcycles, antique cars, and horse pulled farm relics. The air is alive with the sound of Spanish serenades, Bud lite pop-tops popping, horns honking, radios blaring, Michoachan marihuana sizzling, mariachi music marching, and Hispanic food, deep frying and barbecuing. It seems San Luis is as happy as Mount Blanca to the west is domineering: that is, big time. We spend the morning amongst the celebrants then climb back into our Mazda to head towards Taos New Mexico, some sixty miles south of the Colorado New Mexico border. When we pull away from the curb I detect a ghost of power loss as the transmission automatically shifts from second into third. A light flickers on my dash. I am spooked, and as the festivities of San Luis recede in my rearview mirror, I consider the wisdom of heading into the high desert mountain wilderness between here and Taos with indicator lights flickering faintly. Wisely, I turn around and head back into the thick of Santana Days, because no sooner have I reached the south end of town than all power to the engine ceases. The motor is running but it seems the transmission is useless, kaput, finito! We glide to a stop. I turn off the ignition and attempt to restart the engine. Again: nada. I exit the van and assess the situation. There are three gas stations within sight, but all are closed for the holiday and none appear to be full service garages. I’m guessing the closest Mazda dealer would be back in Colorado Springs or further south in Santa Fe or Albuquerque. And when I use a phone in a Main Street restaurant I find my guess as to the location of a Mazda dealer was eerily correct.
Well, we are on a schedule and people (Glenna in Santa Fe and my niece in Chaco Canyon) are counting on us. Snake and Veronica are expecting us to arrive today. And then, on this holiday of a saint, a saint appears, a stranger to us, but a saint, nonetheless.
“Car trouble?” he asks before telling us, “From my window I watched you coast to a stop, saw you making phone calls, and can’t help but note your obvious distress. Please know, I’d be happy to help you depart this madness,” indicating with a wave of his hand the revelry around us as the Santanna parade is now in full swing, with a marching mariachi band progressing northward. “I deplore this holiday. By night there will be drunken mayhem, a shooting or stabbing or two, and trash everywhere. Hardly an appropriate way to honor the mother of God’s mother, if you know what I mean. Trust me: she’s not smiling. I’ll tow you anywhere you want to go. My cousin’s got a flatbed. He can be here within the hour. I’m happy to help. Where would you like to go? Alamosa? Colorado Springs, or somewhere in New Mexico? You pay for gas, buy me and my cousin lunch in Taos, and I’ll take you all the way to Santa Fe, if need be.”
Now I’m Irish and believe in luck but this is almost beyond belief, miracle-like; nonetheless, our benefactor, this blue-eyed, bearded Joseph – who could have served as a model for many of Snakes’ carvings of Mary’s husband I have seen - proves to be for real, and before noon my family is ensconced in the back seat of a Suburban to which is hitched a flat bed trailer on which is strapped our mini van, progressing southward on the High Road to Santa Fe.
Well as it turns out the Feast of Santa Ana is celebrated not only in San Luis but in every Hispanic town and Native American pueblo on the High Road between Colorado and Santa Fe: in Questa, El Prado, Taos, Rancho de Taos, Placita, Penasco, Talpa, Picuris Pueblo, Dixon and Truchas. Traffic snakes towards and through each of these towns and crossroads, and what should have been a two-hour drive takes seven. We pull off the High Road and down the hill into Cordova just as the sun begins casting the shadows of the Jemez Mountains eastward. One can’t imagine how happy we are to have arrived at the Pinon hacienda and gallery. Similarly one cannot imagine how happy we will be to bid farewell to the Pinons a week from now, as our time here is fecund with unimaginable strangeness and unmitigated meanness that begins with my first conversation with Snake.
Now our new friends from San Luis had not expected how heavy and slow-moving the traffic on the High Road would be, and they are as weary and antsy to get on with their day, well their night, as we are. Taos had been a madhouse of Santa Ana celebration and we had not even stopped for lunch. Our Saint Joseph and his cousin are hungry and thirsty and wishing they were in Santa Fe already. My hope is to leave the van at a car dealer in Santa Fe after unloading all our gear, here, in Cordova. Marcia and the kids will stay here while Snake and I escort Joseph and my van to the dealership. We will go in Snake’s car so Joseph and his brother won’t have to bring me back to Cordova and they can take I-25, rather than the High Road back to San Luis. I figure Snake and I will catch up during the roundtrip to and from Santa Fe, and maybe do a wee bit of Saturday Night partying in Santa Fe as I am flush with vacation money to burn. So you can imagine my shock when Snake tells me, “I’d rather not drive to Santa Fe tonight. I don’t like going into Santa Fe on Saturday. Have Joseph bring you back here.”
I look at Marcia. I look at Joseph. I take Marcia aside and tell her we should just go with Joseph and stay in Santa Fe. “Leave now!” as I sense another bout of wedding insanity, disrespect and rudeness. But she disagrees and counters my argument: “Since Veronica is pregnant, maybe Snake does not want to leave her here in Cordova without any means of transportation.” I’m not buying it and am protesting with my body language when the saint that is Joseph, overhearing our repartee and sensing my dismay, tells me, “I’ll be happy to take you and your van to Santa Fe and then return you here. I have relatives in Truchas and my cousin and I will spend our night with family.
So off we go, Saint Joseph and I, once again, on the High Road to Santa Fe.
Because celebrations honoring Santa Ana are taking place in Espanola and at other Native American pueblos between Cordova and Santa Fe, it takes close to three hours for the round trip. When I finally bid farewell to Saint Joseph and his cousin in the full moon light of the Pinon front yard, I am greeted by Snake who steps out of the moon shadow of his apple tree. He tells me our wives and my boys are asleep and that we should go up to his studio – which he had named Tibet – to relax and converse. Imagine my annoyance when I spy a second car belonging to Snake parked there. I know it’s his because of the Free Tibet bumper sticker. Marcia’s reasoning surrounding Snake’s refusal to accompany me to Santa Fe had been wrong as there would have been transportation should a sudden emergency with Veronica’s pregnancy have arisen. But I’m too tired and spooked to pry; Snake and I drink some wine and have an hour’s conversation about sundry subjects, including the parochial nature of Cordova, without my bringing up my annoyance with his rudeness.
Morning brings a new day and we eat a simple breakfast of bananas and cereal after sleeping late. It is Sunday and the dealership where I left my van will not open until Monday; meaning I won’t get a diagnosis and an estimate of when I might get my van back until then. This limbos our planned itinerary, leaving it in an uncertain state. We had hoped to leave for Glenna’s on Tuesday morning but I realize we might still be without our van. After breakfast I try to figure out what we might do. Sadly and selfishly Snake and Veronica seem to imply that our problems are our problems and they have no intention of getting involved. They seem to act as though our car trouble was an assault on their convenience and daily life. They assert again that they would rather not drive to Santa Fe, without offering any reason why not. The only thing I can come up with is that they are afraid that their home might be robbed if they leave it unattended. Espanola, the nearest town of any size, is known nationally as the heroin capitol of North America. But even this guess as to the reason for their reluctance does not make sense. They have lived here five years and surely they leave their house sometimes.
Trying to save the morning, I suggest that Passion and Zenith get their instruments and jam with Snake. I had noticed a couple of beat-up, pawnshop Stratocasters in Snake’s studio and I knew Zenith would appreciate a chance to play one. Sadly the jam turns out to be a bust as Snake tells us his guitars are off limits, that Zenith would have to make do with his Gibson. After an hour or so of being anything but groovy, we return to the main house. I cannot help but notice that the kitchen has been cleaned up and even the bowl of mangos and bananas that had sat so picturesquely on the table was out of sight. My boys, ever hungry, ask after the fruit and are told it had been put away for later.
Now next door to Snake’s house, to the west, was the largest house in Cordova. Snake and Veronica had tried to buy it, but Josephita who owned it refused the Pinon’s generous offers because she wanted to keep it in the family, not exactly her blood family, but in the Cordova family. As I discover later that morning in a conversation with George Lopez, Cordova’s most famous woodcarver, Snake and Veronica would always be considered outsiders, no matter that Veronica was the elementary school teacher responsible for the education of the children of Cordova. The people of Cordova were tight and their circle was impenetrable. Apparently Snake had really alienated the town when he had taken up wood carving as that art was not something to be practiced by an outsider. That Snake sold his carvings at his gallery was insulting to the fifth and sixth generation wood carvers of Cordova. Just how resentful the people of Cordova were about outsiders is illustrated by a story Snake had told me the night before.
In March a couple from Boulder, Colorado purchased a house across the road from the Pinon Gallery. They sold their home there and were hoping to spend their golden years in Cordova, as they simply loved the landscape and the proximity to Santa Fe and Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu. They were O’Keefe fans and even owned a small painting that they had purchased years ago from Gerald Peters. They made arrangements to move their possessions to Cordova while they vacationed and visited family in Arizona. Their plan was to arrive in Cordova the day after their belongings were delivered to their new home. It had been a wet late winter in New Mexico and when the Mayflower moving van from Boulder with its Colorado plates left the High Road to head down hill to Cordova it got stuck in the mud where the centuries old irrigation ditch was contiguous with the road. The driver walked the last half-mile into Cordova in search of a phone or a tow, and when he returned forty-five minutes later he found the van and everything inside – including the O’Keefe - ablaze. The smoke billowing skyward was an exclamation mark to the unexpressed village sentiment: Outsiders are not welcome here!
But outsiders – a family from La Cienega south of Santa Fe, had purchased Josephita’s house. I guess, in actuality, Josephita, had a hidden agenda and for reasons of her own, simply did not want to sell it to the Pinons. The new owners had fashioned Josephita’s home into a Bed & Breakfast and ran a small café. Since Passion and Zenith were hungry and the hidden fruit was “for later” I suggested I treat everyone to lunch at the café. But for reasons known only to them, Snake and Veronica, tell us they are not hungry; thus only my family and I head to the café. Now keep in mind we are in a town of some four hundred residents and everyone knows of everyone’s comings and goings. We don’t have to tell anyone anything because the family running the café as well as George Lopez and his brother, conversing over coffee in the corner, have seen us approach from Snake’s side door. All appear leery of us, as if we are bringing some bad juju into the room. But after a few minutes of my kids wowing everyone with their enthusiasm for the food and the santos for sale in the display case, our association with Snake and Veronica is forgotten or simply overlooked. We are not outsiders moving here; we are simply tourists, and tourists are the economic lifeblood of Cordova. We get friendly with our waitress, Magdalena, a seventeen year old and chat her up about our car situation, mentioning Snake and Veronica’s reluctance to drive to Santa Fe. Her facial expression informs me that Magdalena finds this not surprising, her disdain for the Pinons apparent in the roll of her brown eyes. I tell her that we’re feeling so out of touch with our hosts, so alienated, that I’m thinking of hitchhiking into Santa Fe and renting a car so we can keep our date with Glenna Goodacre while our car is being repaired.
“No need to hitchhike,” she says, “I’ll drive you to Santa Fe when we close for the afternoon. In one hour.”
“Day two, Saint two,” I whisper to Marcia.
So I refigure our itinerary. We’ll go rent a car and then come back to Cordova for what we’ll need in the short term: Marcia’s camera gear and clothes to wear until then. We will stay in Santa Fe at another old friend’s geodesic dome, Eloi Hernandez’s home, a night or two. And then a night or two at Glenna’s. Once we have our van back and are finished photographing at Glenna’s, we’ll return to Cordova and get what we must leave behind: the saxophone and guitar, our swim and boating stuff, our suitcases and camping gear.
I tell Snake our plans and he seems relieved that we will not be asking him to help. Soon we are on our way to Santa Fe feeling pretty high as the Pinon hacienda fades from view. The last twenty-four hours reinforced the notion that family is sometimes all you have. I tell Marcia that maybe Cordova’s dislike of outsiders has possessed the consciousness of Snake and Veronica. Paranoia can be a powerful disease, one that leads to incivility and distrust. Why else would we have been treated so rudely? And why, I still can’t figure out, are they afraid to drive to Santa Fe?
Two hours later Magdalena is on her way back to Cordova and we are sitting in the Tecolote Cafe awaiting the arrival of sundry friends who live in and near Santa Fe: Eloi and assorted members of his family and other artist friends. Eloi, a Yaqui Indian, was a founding member of the Hog Farm, one of the first Hippie communes, and he had had two wives and eighteen children. My son Passion’s godfather, the artist Michael Bergt and his wife Tamara and daughter Sienna would be joining us along with the poet John Macker and his wife Anne who were driving down from Las Vegas. All of these friends I had hoped to introduce to Snake and Veronica but their aversion to Santa Fe had denied me the opportunity to enrich their insular existence. (And yes, I am aware how judgmental I sound.) After an afternoon of eating and drinking and reminiscing, my friends all head home and my family heads to the Plaza to partake of the scene there. As we wander amongst the displays and blankets full of merchandise of the Native American artisans in front of the Governor’s Mansion, I hear Marcia gasp and utter what sounds like the word snake. Thinking she must have come across a snakeskin belt or a serpentine fetish or a piece of jewelry too snake-like for her tastes – after all: Marcia grew up in Wyoming where rattlesnakes are central to every woman’s nightmares – I turn to see her wide-eyed and seemingly dumbfounded. “Snake,” she says again and indicates with her eyes and head gesture that I should turn around. “There," she says, “across the plaza. It’s Snake and Veronica skulking around and spying on us. There, slinking among the crowd in front of Loretto Chapel. It’s them. They’re here in Santa Fe. Obviously following us.”
Well, needless to say, we don’t join them and we hightail it to a second story restaurant on the Plaza where from our balcony table we can keep watch for our stalkers. Marcia is so shook up by the presence of the Pinons in Santa Fe, that she drinks the first and second Margaritas of her life. We catch our last sight of them, side-winding their way among the tourists as they depart the Plaza. This turns out to be, literally, our last sight of the slithering Pinons in New Mexico.
Resuming our vacation, we spend two wonderful nights with Eloi Hernandez and his family. Passion and Zenith enjoy the party spirit that pervades Eloi’s self-built dome, as people are constantly coming and going and inventing merriment as only the children of a commune do. My kids are up late nights with the adults as Eloi tells his tale of being Jimi Hendrix’ bodyguard at Woodstock. We watch the film on VHS and it’s high fives all around each time Eloi can be seen. And then it’s off to Glenna Goodacre’s where we enter the personal universe of the world’s most famous woman sculptor. Everywhere there are fabulous things: furniture and weavings and rugs and paintings and beautiful bronze statues, many of which are based on Glenna’s daughter, Jill, a Victoria Secrets model, who is married to Harry Connick, Jr. The guesthouse where we stay is the other end of the universe from Eloi’s 60s dome and Snake’s Cordovan hacienda. I estimate the art in the guesthouse alone to be worth millions.
Anyway, as it turns out, we get to retrieve our Mazda on Thursday afternoon. The transmission has been replaced and, miracle of miracles, we are still on schedule to rendezvous with my niece in Chaco Canyon on the morrow. We bid Glenna farewell, pickup our van, and drop off our rental car, before heading back to Cordova to retrieve the gear and belongings we had left behind. On our way thunderclouds develop and before we pass the Nambe reservation a deluge of rain cascades from the sky. The wipers can hardly keep up. But after a stop at Ortega’s in Chimayo to purchase a couple of small weavings and to await the cessation of rain, it’s nightfall and the moon appears amongst the scattering thunder clouds as we exit the High Road to descend the hill into Cordova. Marcia remarks the scene is reminiscent of Ansel Adams’ Moon Rise Over Hernandez, the very photograph that had inspired her to become a photographer decades earlier.
Snake and Veronica’s property sits on the only road into town, and as we approach, we see their houselights glowing in the valley darkness, as there are no streetlights in the village. But when I turn into the driveway between the hacienda and Tibet, the lights in the house go dark and my headlights offer the only illumination as a cloud has swallowed the moon. As I exit the van and approach the front door up a muddied flagstaff walkway, I see our belongings piled on the rain soaked sod aside the house, covered with a soaping wet painter’s canvas drop cloth. I sense but do not see eyes spying from behind the closed curtains of the gallery. It is obvious that we are not welcome. Maybe never were. And to this day I have no idea how or why a man who shared two years of my family’s life became the slithering snake of every Wyoming girl’s nightmare.
And one more bit of strangeness. After our visit to Chaco Canyon and Navajo Lake we headed back to Denver and again drove through San Luis, hoping to thank Joseph again for his kindness with a gift of one of the weavings we had purchased in Chimayo. At the restaurant in front of which I had first encountered Joseph I ask about him. After all, everyone in San Luis knows everyone else. I describe his appearance: his tall slight build, his carpenter’s hands, his mustache and beard, his odd blue eyes, and I speak of his cousin with the flatbed trailer and Suburban. No one that we speak to has clue. They tell me: no blue-eyed Joseph lives in San Luis.