But I am single, and nowhere near the ocean. I was hoping to visit the west coast this summer, but chose instead to put money into a writer's conference that will be happening here in Taos. (Have I mentioned that I'm writing a book about my relationship with the San Francisco de Asis church?) My heart right now is very much with the Gulf Coast, and so at this Solstice time of great light and life, I am permeated with the awareness of darkness and death. I feel it in my own body.
Today is also Honoring Sacred Sites day, and so I send my light and life to the Gulf Coast, the sacred ocean. And I turn, as I do every day, toward the San Francisco de Asis church, the sacred site right outside my door.
Taos is a tourist town, and each summer a theme is chosen to center activities and events around. Last year it was "The Summer of Love," and the focus was on Taos' strong and enduring hippie culture. Dennis Hopper came for the opening of his art show. This year the theme is "Return to Sacred Places." In fact, the newspaper held an essay contest for Taos residents around this theme, and I got an honorable mention for my essay about the church.
Because of this theme, there has been a lot of focus on the St. Francis church, with talks given and three art shows around town. I missed the talk that was given at the public library on June 5, but was lucky enough to catch it on the radio the other night. The thing that most struck me in this talk, given by David Maes, who is a lifelong resident of Ranchos de Taos and member of the church, was in his introduction. He spoke of how the church belongs to anyone who experiences its sacredness, and how even the air around the church feels holy and refreshing.
I did not participate in enjarre, the annual remudding, which is now over. There is a variety of reasons for that, but one of the most unexpected ones was the sense of loss I've been experiencing over the cutting down of trees in the grove by the church. It left a bad taste in my mouth and made me want to stay away from the church altogether. It was several days after seeing all the stumps before I could go back, and when I did, the stumps had all been overturned so that the whole space resembles a twisted wasteland.
The next time I went, a few days after that, I discovered that the entrance to the grove between the gift shop and rectory was now defined with edging and filled with gravel.
I have to admit I'm having trouble with these changes. A little bit of wildness has been tamed. I don't think the birds are happy about it either. The doves have been completely silent and the crows have sounded so angry lately. They've been congregating and having screechfests in my yard. I know I've mentioned the birdlife at the church before but I want to give you a clearer picture of this. It's really only been in the past month or two that I've realized how central the church is to the bird communities of Ranchos de Taos. There are more birds in this part of Taos than any other, and what I finally realized is that the church is their crossroads, their center. They fly back and forth, in and out from that hub. Maybe it's my imagination, but it seems like there's been less bird traffic since enjarre began.
And I can't help but wonder how St. Francis would feel about all this. One of the things he was famous for was going around and restoring rundown churches, but I wonder how far he took that, balanced against his intense reverence for Mother Earth and her creatures. Sigh. Well, what's done is done, and there is nothing for me to do but accept and integrate these changes, and continue to simply observe them. One thing I do like is the new sign that marks the entrance to the grove from the church side:
The grove is still in flux. Orange fencing surrounds the area near the adobe ruins that borders the grove, and certain spaces are marked out in a way that suggest something is planned. Perhaps I've never mentioned the ruins before. It's hard to give you the scope of it with my simple camera, but here's a try:
Sacred Graffiti; I highly recommend you visit there.)
After some inquiry at the gift shop, I discovered that the activity around the ruins is because an archaeology group is doing excavation. When the church was first built, it was surrounded by a fort, and the buildings later became private residences, many of which are still occupied. Since those buildings hold a lot of history, it makes sense that an archaeology group would be interested in the ruins.
On the other side of the ruins is the church lot, a deep contrast in its manicured beauty. Now that things have calmed down a bit over there, I've been able to settle in and enjoy it again. Today, a man was revarnishing the benches in the courtyard.
I love to see the seasonal changes over there. The flowers that the hawkmoths come to aren't blooming yet, but the rose bushes are in full bloom, something I missed last year because I didn't start walking to the church until after the blossoms had faded.
|Clare, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and their roses. Notice the ruins in the background.|
I don't know. If I've learned anything in my four decades here on Earth, it's that it's a long road from ideology to integration. But on this Solstice day of honoring sacred sites, it feels like an appropriate rumination. Graffiti and roses, skateboarding and birdflight, excavation and pollination, pruning, enjarre, restoration, decomposition - my former student would say these things are equal to each other, equally natural. What has always appealed most to me about the St. Francis church, which is the most sacred place in the world to me, is the dance among nature, culture, spirituality, religion, art, tradition. And the paradoxes in all of it, the paradox in my relationship to it as an intimate outsider.
What better way to honor the seasonal changes of nature and sacred sites both "natural" and manmade than to perceive ourselves as fully integrated with and responsible for them the way we are responsible for our own selves? This is also National Prayer Day, and the only prayer I have is for this, and then to rest in the holy paradoxes, the mysteries to be integrated within and beyond our ideologies.