"Then the land grows abruptly richer and wilder."
ABIQUIÚ, NM: “Everywhere was unforgettable beauty.”
C. S. Merrill, a poet and one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s later caregivers, recorded this in her journal after driving the artist from Abiquiú to Ghost Ranch one morning. O’Keeffe was by this time in her nineties, nearly blind, and orbited constantly by a circle of trusted companions such as Merrill. Still, O'Keeffe could sense that Merrill was driving a few miles over the speed limit just from the feel of the car.
You take your surroundings for granted—no matter how wondrous they may have once seemed—after they become the usual backdrop. This nags at me as I trudge about the city I have now lived in for almost three years. And it shocks me as I, too, drive from Abiquiú to Ghost Ranch, eyes welling at the glory around me, while cars outfitted with New Mexico license plates roar past me in irritation.
I have even seen this all once before! But it makes no difference. If it is unusual to you then you are soft to it. You're winding past Española, bleached porous pink and marked by a sprawl of casinos, stopping for gas and coffee like the day is any other and not the miraculous gift it is. Then the land grows abruptly richer and wilder and you draw nearer and nearer to the undulating green ridges of the Jemez range, feeling as though maybe you are about to drive right up a dragon’s back, when pop! The blue cap of the honorary mountain Pedernal (a true mesa) bursts into the sky like a flower that has just opened.
Then the Pedernal plays hide-and-seek with you, bobbing up and down over the mountains. And If you are like me, maybe you are even laughing a little and gasping, Oh! There it is! each time it reappears. You leave Abiquiú, laughing with the Pedernal, and enter the Piedra Lumbre Basin where Ghost Ranch waits.
Then you will stop laughing. You will go quiet until you leave it all behind you.