Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Life Lessons from Central Texas, the Palo Duro Canyon to the New Mexico Ghost Ranch

Adriane, Christina and Christian
Oak Hill, 1986

In 1986 my life, as I knew it, fell apart. But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, in the midst of my dark night of the soul, I took drastic steps that would change the trajectory of my life.

If you're into astrology, you know that we all go through "Saturn Return" between the ages of 29-30. It takes Saturn that long to orbit the Sun, therefore when Saturn returns to the part of the sky where it was when we were born, it wreaks havoc in our life and bringing about the fears we have to overcome to achieve success. Think about the crazy things that happen on a full moon and multiply that by 30. These challenges help us gain strength and wisdom, however, being a Taurus, I'm pretty stubborn, so it took until I was 32 for the life lessons to finally throw me to the ground and make me cry UNCLE. 

I will spare you the gory details of my battle with Saturn. lost my dream home lock, stock and barrel. Then I lost my new car. With my world in shambles, I was back to square one. I had to get the college education, that I had longed for. To the average person, I suppose the task would seem impossible. I was divorced, with a mere high school education and I was working at Whole Foods making slightly over minimum wage. I had 2 children and zero child support. The worst of it was that my innate belief that I was worthy had vanished.

Let me back up for a minute so you can get a feel for on the odds that I had been working against. In traditional Hispanic families, there are unspoken rules that children are taught. Sons are expected to have fun, go to school, eventually get a job and support the family. Girls are to serve as a support system to the family. Period. No education needed to cook, clean and have babies. I was obviously paying closer attention to the "Women's Rights Movement" in world around me when I graduated high school in 1973 and My BIG plan was to get a college education at Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. However, my parents held tight to their traditional plans for me. They came and swooped me up in New Mexico and took me to Austin to babysit for my sister's 2 year old son. She was a single mom and she needed my help. I had my dreams but I was so indoctrinated by the traditional Hispanic culture that I didn't know that at the age of 18, I actually had a choice. 

Fast forward to the age of 30, I had gone through enough personal growth to realize that I could no longer play by theses rules. Needless to say, nobody in my family was on board with my yoga, meditation and self help classes. So as a result of "Saturn Return" dynamic, I was estranged from my support system and forced to look beyond my life long comfort zone. It didn't look like it but the Universe was really on my side. I learned that Texas State Technical Institute in Amarillo was the only Commercial Art Department in Texas with Macintosh computers. I intuitively knew that I had to learn how to use a Macintosh. 

So, for reasons beyond my control, I had to leave my 8 year old son, Christian in Austin with his father and my 10 year old daughter, Adriane and I moved to Amarillo. We lived with my parents for a couple of months until I could get into family housing on the Texas State Technical campus. To date, it was the hardest yet the most positive decision I've ever had to make. In the midst of it all, I felt that I was being guided by spirit.

Christina - Photography Class -
Texas State Technical Institute - 1987

Adriane in her bedroom
at in our family student housing
on the TSTI Campus

I spent hours and days in the vast wilderness of the Palo Duro Canyon, reflecting on life and my surroundings. At first, I saw no beauty at all. I was forced to zero in on the beauty of a tiny flower growing between two rocks. There was nothing else in the Panhandle that even came close to the beauty of the tiny flower in the canyon. I think, for the same reason, so many great musicians come from this part of the country. There is nothing on the horizon in the panhandle so you must look inward to find the beauty.
During my art classes in Palo Duro Canyon, I discovered first hand why Georgia O'Keefe painted small flowers on a very large scale. 

Georgia O'Keefe became a huge artistic influence. She saw the beauty in the rocks, plants and mesas of the quiet canyon that became the subject in her work. I sometimes felt her spirit lingering in the canyon. I also used to spend hours in the darkroom on campus, developing my black and white photos, imagining the days Georgia spent in the the Texas Panhandle. 

Christina Fajardo and Steve Cost
Palo Duro Canyon, 1987

Palo Duro Canyon
Photo by Christina Fajardo 1987

She had died on March 6, 1986. Seventy years earlier she was the head of the art department at West Texas State in Canyon, Texas from the fall of 1916 until February 1918. The small town of Canyon is just south of Amarillo and just west of Palo Duro Canyon. 

Canyon with Crows - Georgia O'Keeffe - 1917
Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas
from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe

Georgia was teaching in Canyon in 1917 when she visited Northern New Mexico and fell in love with it. Twelve years later, in 1934 she decided to make the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, NM her summer home. Abiquiu is about an hour and a half north of Santa Fe. She would spend her summers hiking, exploring and painting the Ghost Ranch and in the winter she went to New York to be with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. Although she wanted to buy the Ghost Ranch the owner wouldn't sell it to her because at the time it was a dude ranch. So she rented a secluded area on Ghost Ranch with a modest home. She finally convinced the owner to sell her the house and 7 acres of Ghost Ranch. Later on she bought a home on 3 acres in Abiquiu and spent three years remodeling the old adobe. After her husband Alfred died, Georgia made Abiquiu her permanent home. It seemed that Georgia had lived my dream. My goal was to one day remodel an old adobe house and live in New Mexico and make it my home. For one year when I was 17 I lived with my grandma in her old adobe home in Puerto de Luna, NM.  I used to fall asleep at night thinking about the vivid description of my mother making the adobe bricks to build that home.

Ghost Ranch

The View from the Georgia O'Keefe
Ghost Ranch

Georgia O'Keefe
Ghost Ranch

Now hold on to your hats for this next paragraph if you get lost in family tree lingo. The 21,000 acres that comprise Ghost Ranch is part of the 50,000 acre Piedra Lumbre (Shining Stone) Land Grant. Piedra Lumbre was granted to to my 5th Great Uncle, Captain Antonio Montoya in 1766 by King Charles III of Spain. Then it was owned by Domingo de Luna, a lieutenant of the militia of Tome who was married to my 5th Great Aunt Josefa Lucero de Godoy, daughter of Manuel Miguel Lucero de Godoy II and Maria Rosa Baca, my 5th Great Aunt. Its final owner was Pedro Martin Serrano, maternal grandfather of my 2nd Great Grand Aunt Maria Micaela Valdez. She was born in Abiquiu April 14,1831. She was my mother's paternal Great-Grand Aunt. On the other side of my mother's family, my maternal Great Grandfather Jose Delores Padilla was also born in Abiquiu, February 16, 1837. I can't even imagine the feuds going on surrounding this land much less the land raids from the native nomadic Natives. Then came the cattle rustlers. There's just too much history to mention in one blog post but it's a miracle of sorts that a Padilla and a Valdez got married and had my mother and her 10 siblings.

Piedra Lumbre Land Grant

Fast forward 100 years.... Arthur Pack, one of the country’s first environmentalists, bought the Ranch in 1936. The name "Ghost Ranch," or "Rancho de los Brujos," in Spanish was derived from the many tales of ghosts in the Ranch's history. I can't help but think that the ghosts that linger at the "Ghost Ranch" are my ancestors, all of whom were my mother's maternal and paternal family, the Padilla and Valdez families feuding over the 50,000 acres land grant.

In 1955, the year I was born, 
Arthur Pack sold Ghost Ranch to the Presbyterian Church. O’Keeffe wanted to buy it so naturally she was upset. After many years she and staff of the Presbyterian Church made peace. They helped her with her secretarial work and maintenance on her property. Georgia made many monetary donations to the ranch and today structures can be seen that were constructed with her aid.

During the last years of Georgia’s life she did not go to Abiquiu but resided in Santa Fe. She died at the age of 99 reclusive to the end. She was quoted as saying “I find people very difficult”.

Ghost Ranch
was the place of solace and inspiration for O’Keeffe who reluctantly shared it for years. Today Ghost Ranch is a retreat and education center run by the Presbyterian church. They offer various classes in everything from writing, photography, silversmithing, and sacred journeys. I am sure that the souls of my ancestors are still on the Ghost Ranch, the land carries its own energy, the energy of my ancestors. It is sacred ground to me.

So yes, I truly do believe that my "Saturn Return" played a huge part in the loss of my house but I also strongly believe that we bring generational trauma with us. In other words, I really don't know how I feel about the King of Spain granting land to my family that really belonged to the Natives. I air on the side of Woody Guthrie. I believe this land was made for you and me. 

Read about Georgia when she lived in Canyon.