One of the great things about living in the States again is that we can slowly begin exploring the states we haven’t been to yet. America is as large as it is diverse, and my friends tell me that regional stereotypes do hold some truth in them yet.
Anyway, during this vacation, I did not have much personal agency, sometimes to my chagrin. In the end, it all worked out, and I enjoyed the trip far more because I kept an open mind.
Taos, NM is rated as the third best place in the world to spend Christmas vacation, after Prague and Vienna. It’s a small, very historical town: probably underrated in our cultural consciousness, but a treasure for those who know it. I’m glad to count myself among those who do, now.
December 22nd: Road Trip
Ten hours on the road? With two adults, five kids, a dog, and a cat?! Bring it on!
Our parents hauled us out of bed at 5am so we could get an early start. On the way out, we noticed that Santa had visited our house early! There were presents under the tree… but alack, we had to get going.
Outside my window, I watched the dark break into bands of indigo, violet, peach, and rosy-fingered dawn.
The flat landscape of Texas rolled on by: fields of cotton, wind turbines, and emptiness. We giggled at trains, cows, and church signs proclaiming that “Jesus Saves.”
Over the speakers, Joyce insisted on blasting BTS.
At length, the fields of empty turned into shrubs, then trees; and mountains rose up in the distance, until we were among them.
New Mexico: Land of Enchantment. Certainly not Texas, or New England anymore.
Passing Vegas and Santa Fe, we climbed, and turned, and climbed some more.
Finally in Taos, we located Sagebrush Inn & Suites, where we would stay the next seven nights. Surrounded by fields of sagebrush and views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, our Southwest style room was equipped with a fireplace, local art, wooden roofs, and adobe walls.
The first word I thought was hygge. Here was a historical marker that also felt like home. With our emotional support dog and cat here, what else could we want?
(But we were hungry. Just down the street, Antonio’s The Taste of Mexico offered us a satisfying solution.)
December 23rd: Taos Ski Valley
So far, all was well. But the real reason we came to Taos, I found out, was to ski nonstop for a week.
My nightmare had come true! I had skied twice in China, and both times involved tears and sitting out.
The first time, I couldn’t get myself on the indoor lift without losing a ski or falling over, and eventually I couldn’t keep my skis on at all. Too frustrated to keep trying, I decided on the spot that this sport wasn’t for me.
The second time, my family went to Chongli together, so I couldn’t back out of it. I crashed into the netting on the side, as my younger siblings maneuvered their way down mountains with ease. Not for me, I confirmed.
And of course, my mom fractured her knee earlier this year because of a ski accident. Who wouldn’t be terrified after living through that?
Ok, but fine. I’ll give it a few days this time.
That morning, I slid down all of White Feather in a giant wedge. I was so nervous about gathering speed, the soreness in my shins became secondary. I looked to my left, and all that separated me from the cliff was a rope tied to a pole. All I wanted was to get down to base intact and sane, and to never return. Was that too much to ask?
As soon as I did, my mother announced to me that I had six days of ski school coming up, and I bowled over and bawled in nervous response. Surely this would be the death of me!
I couldn’t go back on the mountain. Not today.
Instead of lining up with the intermediates, I pretended to be a first-time student. With an instructor called Jonathan, my class scooted around on flat ground, and listened to his compliments on small, easy things. I relaxed again. I relearned the parts of the ski, how to walk, how to get on the lift. Things that others took for granted, but which I needed to understand.
My small confidence found a locus around which to take root and to grow.
We began steering down Pioneer’s gentle slope. Still in a wedge, I finally comprehended its purpose. Something to help us now, but to unlearn eventually.
Maybe this lesson was too easy. But I think, it was what I needed. Confidence and strong foundations, to me, seem far more important than getting ahead for a short while only to stumble later. (Is this a metaphor for something else? Sure.)
December 24th: New Tricks? Old Terrain. (Old Tricks, New Terrain)
I woke up with blood in my pants, an ache in my throat, and soreness in my bones. Do I really have to do this again?
My sister took me to the top of White Feather again. Five minutes into my class with poor John, I knew I was in the wrong place, and I had a mental breakdown.
How was I supposed to keep my skis parallel on this slope if I couldn’t even do it at the bottom of the mountain?
The other instructor, Doug, became my guardian angel. After I fell, he held me as I panicked and cried.
“Beautiful!” I followed his words down the mountain. “She’s a better skier than me, but she just doesn’t know it yet!”
I didn’t actually make it down the mountain by myself, even though it was on my own two skis. It was thanks to Doug.
He brought me to a beginner class (far more suited to my level) on Pioneer. We kept working on the turns I hadn’t yet mastered, and by the end of the day, we went down a steeper section of the run with confidence! It really wasn’t so scary then.
Oh, but that afternoon I felt off. I huddled indoors for hours in the Hotel St. Bernard, dozing in front of their fireplace with a hot chocolate, without warming up.
My body wanted to get into a fever, but it didn’t have enough heat. I was so uncomfortable I could cry.
That night, I was too sick to see the Taos Pueblo Procession of the Virgin Mary, which was a shame. All I could physically manage was to sweat it out under blankets and cuddle my cat.
Was it a picture-perfect Christmas Eve? Nah. But it didn’t have to be. I had pause to reflect on the reason why we need Christmas.
December 25th: White Feather
After warming up on Pioneer, our class split between Jenny and Kent. I went with Kent, and he was my beloved instructor for the rest of the week.
Could I really face White Feather again, after such a bad track record of defeats? I trusted my instructor, and up we went.
“Especially you, Gloria. Think of [your arms] as wings.”
Little did he know, I had been praying this song into my heart.
“I am strong and full of life
I am steadfast, no compromise
I lift my sails to the sky
“I am bold, no fear inside
Spread my wings, open my life
Like an eagle, whose home is the sky
I’m gonna catch the wind
I’m gonna catch the wind
“Your faithfulness will never let me down
I’m confident I’ll see Your goodness now
I know You hear my heart, I’m singing out
There’s nothing that can stop Your goodness now
“Like standing on the edge of a mountainside“Catch the Wind” — Melissa Helser
I can feel the wind stirring, lifting me up high
I was born into freedom, I was made to fly…”
And, I made friends with the mountain.
Sometimes, I realized, God chooses not to move our mountains, even though obviously, He can. Sometimes, He doesn’t move them, because they aren’t the real enemy.
The Enemy isn’t physical: he wages a spiritual battle.
The physical things of this world all glorify God together. Each human is a brother and sister waiting to be recognized and loved. This mountain, under the hands of its Creator, has waited all these years to become my friend.
And somehow, I know I’ve been waiting for it too.
My heart rejoiced to see the view of base camp this time. What a small thing I was once so afraid of!
We went up twice more, and I hugged Kent for many reasons I couldn’t express.
Learning to ski has been so much more than a physical process. For such a secular sport, Who made its peaked mountains and oversaw heavenly storehouses laden with snow? It’s tremendously spiritual — I’m worshiping and glorifying God with every turn, sanctifying its slopes by ushering in God’s presence.
But enough of that — for Christmas night, we booked tickets to the Luminaria Ski & Snowshoe Tour.
Luminarias (or farolitos) are placed along a one-way three-kilometer loop for a self-guided nighttime tour. This is, quite possibly, the most beautiful cross-country ski (or snowshoe) experience in North America. There is plenty of light to see the trails and if it begins to snow, the effect is just incredible. It truly is like skiing in a dream.Event Details
December 26th: Whiter Christmas
Well, we kept skiing today. Not only did we do White Feather, we took on harder greens too. Honeysuckle, Winkelried, Rubezahl.
We flew down Rubezahl.
To think that I began on Pioneer! My progress felt surreal to myself.
Even so, Kent reminded me, the greens at Taos would be considered blues elsewhere. “Taos is a four-letter word for steep,” writes Outside Magazine.
And it began to snow. The drive back was as scenic as it was slippery and slow, but we knew that the next day would bring fresh powder.
December 27th: Blue Powder
I couldn’t believe where Kent took us next. After teaching us how to steer through trees on Pioneer, he took us up the mountain to a blue run.
“You’ve got to put your weight in front; if it’s on your heels, you’re gonna fall.” There we were, bobbing like corks over the bumps formed from fresh powder. “This stuff is called crud, and it makes you a better skier.”
Bump, bump, bump. The powder slowed us down so it was harder to steer, but also decreased our maximum speed. I felt safe in the uncompressed snow. Like riding a wave.
Down Porcupine, down Powderhorn, and down Rock Garden Gully. Half of this mountain was now opened to me!
I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring other blues and greens on my own.
The fear was gone.
December 28th: Black and Blue, Plus a Martini Tree
By now, Joycee and I are the only two left in our class, and it’s our last day as well.
“Let’s just have some fun today!” Kent smiles at us through the cold.
He takes us on the shortest, easiest black run: Poco Gusto.
(I gawk, but survive.)
He brings us to the Taos Martini Tree, a ski world legend. There, I spot Doug and his class, and after hearing the story, we each take a shot. (Hey! It’s tradition!)
Soon, we’re cold again, and this time Kent takes us to Whistlestop Cafe for a hot chocolate. (I’ve probably had one for each day on this trip.) He carries packets in his pocket, and fetches us hot water. Then he tells us about all the equipment he’s experimented with to keep himself warm over the years. (We’re still cold.)
I’m confident now on blue. Bambi, Lower Stauffenberg, Upper Totemoff… they all fall into our laps.
We say goodbye with hugs and thank yous. “Thank you for believing in us,” I hear myself say to Kent.
“Well, thank you for believing in yourself,” said he.
That afternoon, I know I’m about to say goodbye to the valley. I take it slow, and I take some risks.
I detour into some trees, and before I know it, I’m in deep water. A handwritten double black sign cautions me of the path I’m on, so I do my best to get out. I slide out of the trees on my butt, throwing my skis and poles before me.
“How’d you get up there?” a passing skier yells up at me.
At least I know to stay humble! I have my limitations.
To finish off this visit, I go down Pioneer once again. I thank its easiness for the confidence I’ve gained.
That night, we eat our second real dinner at Yu Garden Taos. “Stay close to your inner self. You will benefit in many ways,” my fortune cookie tells me.
December 29th: Taos Pueblo and Millicent Rogers Museum
Finally, a day to sleep in. (Every day prior, we had to get up at 7am. Too early.)
After waiting for me to finish photographing snowflakes, my family visited the Taos Pueblo, the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark.
With over 1000 years of history, and adobe buildings hundreds of years old, I sure didn’t feel worthy of coming onto their land, even after paying for a ticket.
Our guide, Emily, showed us a glimpse of her world. Not so different from us, but deeply grounded in tradition nonetheless.
I’m so happy that they are thriving today. I really hope things can stay this way.
We walked around, looking at the arts and crafts that were for sale. I was a bit sad to go, because I wanted to see and learn more. I understand that they are a private community, and that they can only show us so much. It just makes me glad that such vibrant life can exist here, and that there is far more than what meets the tourist eye.
At the Millicent Rogers Museum, I discovered an icon. Who was this woman, who lived so briefly, who yet exuded such taste, character, and influence?
“Dear Paulie, Did I ever tell you about the feeling I had a little while ago? Suddenly passing Taos Mountain I felt that I was part of the earth, so that I felt the sun on my surface and the rain. I felt the stars and the growth of the Moon; under me, rivers ran…”
Millicent Rogers wrote this letter to her son Paul Peralta-Ramos prior to her death in 1953. The letter expresses how the majestic natural beauty and compelling cultural heritage enriched her life upon her arrival in 1947 to Taos. Who was this woman?
Imagine yourself in Gallup, New Mexico on a warm desert evening in 1947 at the Intertribal Ceremonial, a gathering of Indian artists, dancers, drummers, and singers. In the crowd is a woman–striking, well-tailored, and blonde–and she strolls among sale displays including silver and turquoise jewelry, textiles, and drums. She stops to visit with one Native vendor, then another, all the time eyeing art forms that are completely new to her. She randomly picks up bracelets, earrings, and belts and closely examines details of stamped patterns, the inlays of coral, mother of pearl, and onyx, and the interesting shapes of dragonflies, crosses, and snakes that have been formed from silver. And then she sees a necklace of beautiful turquoise that makes her take a quick breath: 294 irregularly shaped tabs of blue and green turquoise are strung with a large pendant of the same stone. The necklace is heavy in her hands, perhaps nearly four pounds.
Why would Millicent Rogers acquire these things? You have to know, in part, a bit more about Rogers herself, and her life was not ordinary. Millicent Rogers (1902-1953) grew up in New York within privilege and wealth and she was often referred to in the press as the “Standard Oil Heiress,” since it was her grandfather, H.H. Rogers, who was the co-founder with John D. Rockefeller of the Standard Oil Trust. Rogers’ life, before Taos, includes the things one would expect, such as travel, homes, marriage, and children. But she was also distinctive for her looks and her fashionable style, which resulted in popularity with photographers, clothing designers, and fashion magazines. Apart from photographing well and having a figure for couture design, Rogers had a way of combining fashion elements with an engaging flair, which in turn caught the eye and attention of fashion devotees. So how does this answer why Rogers collected art of the Southwest? That Rogers approached fashion creatively is the key.
Her correspondence with fashion designers such as Charles James reveal aspects of her creative style. Drawing designs for bold, modern, and sometimes abstract jewelry pieces that she eventually had made (or made herself at her own bench) also display her own artistic ability. No doubt responding to beautifully designed, well-constructed, and artful pieces, Millicent Rogers, surely in part, collected jewelry, textiles, and baskets because as an artist herself she responded to and appreciated beauty that can be found in the objects of devotion, utility, and adornment that are unique to the Southwest.
Rogers came to Taos in 1947 with a heart broken by Clark Gable, and physically weakened by rheumatic fever as a child. But settling in Taos did not mean she would simply slow down.
Rogers was very passionate about both the Hispanic and Native American communities in New Mexico. She played a quiet but instrumental role in securing Blue Lake for Taos Pueblo. While her tenure in Taos was brief, just a few short years, her impact on the community was tremendous. Today, that legacy remains in the museum that bears her name.From “Millicent Rogers Story” — Millicent Rogers Museum
Greatly inspired, I purchased a postcard with her printed image.
The rest of the afternoon, we chilled at Sagebrush, and dined at Ricky’s Restaurant. I had tamales for the second time in my life.
December 30th: The Long Way Home
Could we really do it all over again? I guess we had to.
After breakfast, we started driving. And we drove, and drove, and drove.
We rode the poor car, until the mountains melted away into the distance, and until the sun painted the sky into a canvas of fire, then darkness.
I thought about the New Mexican flag — how the seasons are related to the times of day. Don’t both have to do with the sun? Isn’t autumn like the dusk? Nature shows herself out with the brightest colors of the day/year. She says, hold on through the night. I promise I’m coming back.
Christmas arrived early, but left late in our house!
You know, Christmas isn’t about the presents… but I’m still a kid at heart, and the anticipation of tearing wrapping paper never gets old.
An $8 harmonica, a lollipop, and some cat toys can do a twenty-year old soul a lotta good.
December 31st: Happy New Year!
Of course, I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve. Hopefully with the half hour I have remaining, I can wrap this all up before 2019.
The last two years, I’ve done well to not have resolutions. No year has given me anything predictable since I ditched them.
Now, I’m just focused on living well. Not in terms of material quantity, but with intention. Do my days count? Do my relationships and belongings bring me joy? How can I simplify? Am I the change I wish to see?
Otherwise, I am satisfied. I don’t want any resolution to rob me of the assurance that I am enough. Of course, I desire growth. But how presumptuous of me to assume what that should look like. What I want is emptiness: the room for potential, the space for things left unsaid, the opening of my life.
“I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”T.S. Eliot
(Yes, I still return to this quote year after year.)
Are you ready? Let’s be still, and dance!