ˈvər-chə-wəlˈdā-vəs Serial storyteller, poetry pusher, digital doodler, flâneur.

Abiquiu: Naked, Iridescent and Wrinkled

After three days back at home in the Adirondacks I’m ready to wrap up my Abiquiu series about my month apart in a remote New Mexico desert canyon. A month of writing, revising and listening. This post is a freestyle retrospective in images, sounds and words. A digital scrapbook of sorts. If you’re interested, here are the previous posts:

The video/slide show above was shot on my iPhone. Excuse the blurry images and the bumpy footage. The audio was not recorded among the Benedictines, though Gregorian chants were a part of my days at the abbey. All credit for this beautiful music goes to Medwyn Goodall, a musician and producer from Yorkshire, England.

Daily Scrape (listen to audio)

I’m shaving and all of the sudden a bearded fellow in black robes and hood is at my bathroom window. It’s Brother Hidalgo (name changed) from Monterey, Mexico. I’d met him on my second day at the abbey when he explained that he would pass by my hermitage a couple of times each week to pick up the garbage.

So I knock on the glass and wave. He recognizes me and waves back, then flushes crimson and turns away. He returns to the trash and recycling. I look into the mirror and continue shaving. I realize that – despite the towel around my waist – I must have looked naked to Brother Hidalgo. No wonder he was embarrassed.

Magpies (listen to audio)

When the weather is warm I sit outside and watch magpies, so many magpies gathering twigs and bits of fiber hanging in the sagebrush, gathering the ingredients for a cozy nest, I surmise, though I haven’t a clue if I’m right or wrong.

According to the 1961 edition of Roger Tory Peterson‘s A Field Guide to Western Birds, Magpies, Pica pica, are “the only large black and white land birds in N. America with long wedge-shaped tails. In flight, the iridescent greenish-black tail streams behind; large white patches flash in the wings.” Long iridescent tails that vibrate in the unfiltered sunlight that intoxicated Georgia O’Keefe once upon a time. The black billed magpies natural habitat includes this high desert canyon along the shores of the Chama River in Northern New Mexico, especially the foothills, Peterson says, and “ranches, sagebrush, river thickets,…”

Story Threads and Knots (listen to audio)

I’m in bed, almost asleep despite concerns on the first day when I arrived and saw the futon on a raised tatami mat floor.

That will be my bed for the month of March? Will my finicky back let me sleep on that? For almost four weeks?

But, like camping on an even thinner mat in the wilderness after a hike, I sleep restfully. Briefly, but restfully, though I usually awaken after four hours and think, How will I ever make it through the day with so little rest?

And then I do. Without yawning. Untangling then braiding my stories. Or twisting them into a rope. With knots. That I try to cut out when they become too tight to unknot. I discard the knots outside the hermitage door where they collect in a pile next to a cow patty the size of a Thanksgiving turkey which was still shiny, moist and brown-black on my first day but each day grows flatter, drier, paler and more wrinkled.

When I first arrived there were cattle wandering around the abbey grounds, especially between the Chama and the dirt road from the hermitage to the church. Sleepy eyed cows ruminating and nursing new calves among the sagebrush.

On the second or third day – when the winds were starting but before it snowed – a rancher on horseback passed through with a skinny black dog. I haven’t seen the cattle or the rancher since, but the dog comes back to visit every few days and I give him a piece of dried salmon jerky. He likes the jerky and he begs for more, but settles for a scratch behind the ears.

The pile of knots grows bigger each day. Twice buried in snow that melted within a few hours of sun-up, the knots that were too tight to unknot have been loosed by the wind, not all of them, not yet, but threads blow around the yard and hang in the sagebrush like desert tinsel. Sometimes I see one that I like, and I bring it back inside to braid or splice or just to wrap around my finger as a reminder.

Coyotes (listen to audio)

A lone coyote yips then wails then barks at the base of the canyon across the Chama, a river too lazy to reflect the moon which is full and high overhead. Soon others join in. The coyotes are all around the canyon, surrounding the hermitage, yipping and wailing outside my windows, perhaps hoping for salmon jerky handouts.

Coyote. Canis latrans mearnsi.

In Southwestern tribal legends the coyote is often portrayed as a clever trickster. According to a Native American twist on the Prometheus myth, coyote stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, a welcome gift that made winters more tolerable and raw food more enjoyable. Perhaps the coyotes outside my window are singing about fire. Or outwitting the gods. Or salmon jerky. Perhaps they’re untangling and braiding stories. I hope they can find something salvageable in my pile of knots or among the threads fluttering in the sagebrush.

At this liminal frontier of waking and sleeping my own story – naked, iridescent and wrinkled – emerges among the moonlit thickets. At last!


Antigua, AWP and Abiquiu

Curtain Bluff from aboard Sentio for sundowner...

Curtain Bluff from aboard Sentio.

Ready for a reentry rumination? After nine sublime days in the Caribbean, I’m swapping swim trunks and sunscreen for conference kit and desert camo. Here’s a sneak peak at the exciting adventure behind and ahead.

West Indies

Each winter I join my bride and in-laws for a pilgrimage to warmer climes, gentler rhythms and an extended opportunity to catch up. This year we escaped to Curtain Bluff, an intimate resort in Antigua that felt familiar from the moment we arrived. In fact, we were so smitten with the welcoming staff, the gracious guests, the understated decadence and the endless-but-effortless opportunities for recreation that we unanimously voted to return next year, locking in our reservations before departing yesterday afternoon.

The character of Curtain Bluff is truly unique among luxury Caribbean resorts. Its boutique scale and dramatic real estate (two magnificent beaches divided by an elevated promontory permitting accommodations and spa sensational ocean views) provide two important ingredients for their magic formula, but by far the most critical is the people. Simply put, the staff and guests at Curtain Bluff create the most compelling marriage of any resort I’ve ever known in the Caribbean.

@ Thank you for staying with us! We can't wait to welcome you back to Curtain Bluff next year!
Curtain Bluff

It’s not a stretch to talk about Curtain Bluff as a “family”, and not just in the varnished, Technicolor brochure way either. I made new friends virtually every day, friends who work at Curtain Bluff and friends who vacation at Curtain Bluff, friends who have already been in touch and with whom I’ll keep in touch, friends who I look forward to seeing again. Fortunately we’ll see many of them again next winter on vacation. And some we’ll see even sooner. Two different members of the staff have already made arrangements to visit us in the Adirondacks this summer! Watch e-Marginalia for a more contemplative reflection soon…

Windy City

After trickle charging my batteries in Antigua, it’s now time to sharpen my pencil and get back to write write writing. To jump start my creative editing and revising juices I’m heading off to Chicago for The Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference which takes place from February 29 to March 3 and which boasted over 9,000 attendees last year. I’m hoping for a slightly tidier affair this year as it is my first AWP foray, but even if the ranks are once again swollen I am encouraged by the insights of friend and fellow scrivener Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson):

However Borgia-like academic politics in general can become at times, the AWP universe is genteel, tame, even sleepy by comparison to the sharp-edged high-stakes market-banging battles being waged right now between bricks-and-mortar bookstores and the rise of the biggest digital retailer-publisher in history; between traditional publishing and digitally enabled self-publishing; even between centuries-old paper media for reading and the burgeoning popularity of e-readers and tablets. (We Grow Media)

The literary orientation of the AWP Conference & Bookfair will be refreshing after the recent Writer’s Digest Conference, and an appropriate springboard for my monastic month in the desert.

Abiquiu, New Mexico

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert (Wikipedia)

Remember St. George and the dragon? I won’t pretend saintliness, but I am heading off to the desert Southwest with my vorpal sword in hand to slay the manuscript dragon.

I’ve been honored with an opportunity to sequester myself for a month at the Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert, originally architected by another George, George Nakashima, the Japanese-American woodworker who inspires my brother’s furniture making creativity between diplomatic postings. Tucked into the rugged canyon lands that enchanted Georgia O’Keefe, surrounded by high desert wilderness in all directions, along the banks of the Chama River, in the company of web-savvy, self sustaining, solar power harvesting, beer brewing monks, I will dedicate myself to revising and editing Rosslyn Redux. One month of quiet. Of solitude. Of focus. I can’t wait!

Thanks for your patience during my Curtain Bluff hiatus. More of the same in March, I’m afraid, but I’ve scheduled some interesting posts to appear during my cenobitic Southwestern sojourn. Although I won’t have web access during the week, I’ll venture in to Santa Fe for a few hours each weekend for provisions, I-miss-you-telephone-calls to my bride, and a short wifi fix.

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