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Posts tagged: women's issues

Well-behaved Women Didn’t Make New Mexico’s History

(Photo courtesy Georgia O'Keefe Museum)

 


Coronado led the expedition to what would eventually become the state of New Mexico seeking a king’s ransom in gold. But what he found instead was a wide, burning landscape of stark contradictions and unique natural beauty; a land of painted desert, rolling hills, jagged mountains and endless blue skies ornamented with picture-perfect cloud formations.


The Pueblo people, unaware they were reputed to be wealthy beyond imagination, lived in houses made of mud bricks baked in the hot sun. Flakes of Mica and bits of straw embedded in the surface glinted in the hot sunlight.

In time, important trade routes were established and in the centuries that followed the cultures, beliefs and traditions of the native people, the conquering Spanish and Anglos who followed rutted paths and broken roads, blended.


 The result is a place like no other.


I was just in New Mexico, spending most of my time along the road between Santa Fe and Taos. And I discovered, wrapped in all the history of the region, the natural beauty and the contemporary focus on wine, food and art, the unexpected legacy of more than a few determined women. New Mexico may have been shaped by the men who laid claim to it, but it was made even richer by a flood of stubborn, demanding and eccentric women who took one look at the mountains in the distance, the pinyon trees and the wide open spaces, and never left.


The list is curious and impressive: Movie star Greer Garson—the implacable Mrs. Miniver— married into a ranch outside Santa Fe in the late 1940s and by the time of her death, in her 90s, she’d funded and endowed what would become Pecos National Park.  


New York socialite Millicent Rogers swept into Taos in 1949 and, consumed by a passion to conserve - while immersing herself in it - the culture of the Southwestern Indian, amassed an enormous collection of native turquoise and silver jewelry, pottery, textiles and paintings that would eventually, after her death in 1953, become the Millicent Rogers Museum of Taos.


Earlier, Mabel Dodge Luhan purchased land and a rambling adobe house and set out of to create a desert salon, a writers colony. Her tempestuous personal life became the stuff of literary legend, but her house still stands as a retreat center and bed and breakfast.


Georgia O’Keefe’s life and art changed forever when she planted herself—already in midlife—in the dry soil. Her home sits high on a hill in the Village of Abiquiui and looks out on a wide view she captured on canvas again and again.


Willa Cather, Frieda Lawrence, Edna St. Vincent Millay were all drawn to New Mexico, and so many other women—some rich, some rich only in talent and vision—came and stayed to sculpt a new life in a wild place. They played by new rules or their own rules. and they all possessed a restless energy that matched the place they’d settled.

In the dazzling New Mexico light, fed by the raw elements of sun, sky, earth and water, women blossomed like the cacti and golden Chamisa that blooms across the desert.   They proved that sometimes - to paraphrase Virginia Woolfe - all a woman needs is money and a territory of her own.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Golden Gates

   The tall, cathedral-like arches of the Golden Gate Bridge loomed ahead as I followed the line of cars in front of me. The day was overcast and traffic was shrouded in fog, draped in the mist blowing in from the bay.

    I was a rolling island. All around me a sea of people were buckled into cars and walking on the sidewalks at the sides of the bridge, but alone in the car, behind the wheel, I was singularly solitary. And that was fine by me. 

    There is something about traveling alone that centers the psyche and opens the imagination. It is a rare pleasure.

    There are no distractions; no music, no television, no idle chatter. There is no worry about housework or making dinner or folding laundry. It is a chance to leave behind the matters that worry and distract us.

    For those of us who have spent years, happy years, at the beck and call of a busy family, the idea that we are free to board a plane or a train, that we can slip behind the wheel of a car and simply move away from it all, is exhilarating. The freedom goes to your head when you least expect it.  It’s not that we want to run away forever. It’s just that time away can be good medicine. The luxury of listening to our own minds refreshes and renews us.

    I love my family. I love my home. I like being with the people who mean the most to me. But now and then, when I can arrange it, I take off on my own. No spas. No workshops. No schedule. Just a dot on the map; a plane, train or automobile, and a place to breathe in the peace and quiet.

    On the surface, age has its cruelties. Gravity takes a toll. The years are etched into our faces. We become invisible, overshadowed by the young and beautiful. We learn to find our way without any of the tricks and trappings we relied on when we were just starting out.

    But, as one eventually discovers, time bring its own grace. We discover that on the inside we are always young. We are still who we always have been. And the fine sense of adventure that comes with any journey is evergreen.  

    Travel is the bridge between who we are, who we have been, and the person we want to be. A trip to a new place spans the the years, drawing out memories of where we’ve been and dreams of where we long to go. Each experience is, when you think about it, sweetened by the knowledge that time moves quickly and years have the stronger wings. Fly now, something inside us whispers.

   Passing over the San Francisco Bay and back onto solid ground, I looked back at the Golden Gate in my rearview mirror, at the perfect metaphor for what I was experiencing.

    I know a time will come when I’m bound to my home, or some place meant to be my home, and my wings will be clipped forever.

    Until then, for as long as possible, my life will be a road from here to there.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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