Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

The Season of Transition

Things out there in the world are unsettling at the moment, I think. So much noise—politicians in the Presidential race yapping at each other, gun shots all over the country, road rage, a general sense by some of entitlement coupled with a lack of boundaries.  New Mexico was recently crowned the second most dangerous state to live in the United States. While New Mexico offers the cleanest air to breathe and inspiring vistas, heroin and alcohol mixed with guns, cars, poverty and anger are not a healthy combination.  The good news is that pretty much all of the above is manmade. We created the problems. We can solve them.

And what better time than now, the season of change,  to “be the change that you wish to see in the world,” as Gandhi said. In Santa Fe, nature has signaled the transition from summer to autumn with leggy sunflowers, aspen leaves turning from green to gold and enough ripe tomatoes for each of us to make a year’s worth of salsa or pasta sauce. The kids are back in school. Labor Day is coming up. The boats are stored. These markers of transition urge a pause, a moment of reflection. What do we want in our lives? What must stop? What’s the next step?

And right in the middle of all that pondering we burn Zozobra on Friday night, right  down to his big duck feet. Old Man Gloom will turn to ashes along with our fears and worries! What perfect timing! How great is that!  So I suggest we each have our own little Zozobra ceremony. Write  down all your fears and mistakes and blunders and burn them to smithereens, keeping a bucket of water nearby. Then write down all your hopes and intentions and plans for action.  Keep those. Nurture them, even when it turns cold and dark and snow falls on the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.


I saw this sign in Santa Fe on Cerrillos Road, near the corner of Cerrillos and St. Francis where all the little prairie dogs hang out. I have no idea what the heck is going on behind the wall.

Yesterday I went for gas, decided I would go for a ride just to get away from the computer and ended up in Taos a little over an hour later.  Turns out it is Fiestas weekend in Taos. Lots of cars moving 5mph. Viva Fiestas! Some clever man with an ax to grind anticipated the slow moving hordes and set up about seven of these signs on either side of the road to inform the drivers of his latest grievance.

I later learned the story behind the signs. Seems Mr. Sign Writer had been pleased when Smith’s added a gas station and charged prices that undercut the local dealers. But, alas, since February the price of gas, according to the signs, has risen from $1.70 to $2.60, so Mr. Sign Writer is displeased. A few of the signs suggested an alternative location where Smith’s could store the gas nozzles.

I leave you with this bumper sticker seen on a car in the Kaune’s parking lot in Santa Fe last week. The guy, and it was a guy, has a New Mexico license plate and still, and yet, he decided it was a great idea to slap this on his car. May he never head south to Albuquerque or, God save him, north through Rio Arriba County on a leisurely drive to Taos.

As The Bombs Are Bursting

For those of you who could use a quiet alternative to all the bombs bursting in air, whether literally or metaphorically,  I offer you David Whyte’s poem.


Make a place of prayer, no fuss,

just lean into the white brilliance

and say what you needed to say

all along, nothing too much, words

as simple and as yours and as heard

as the bird song above your head

or the river running gently beside you,

let your words join to the world

the way stone nestles on stone

the way water simply leaves

and goes to the sea,

the way your promise

breathes and belongs

with every other promise

the world has ever made.


Now, leave them to go on,

let your words alone

to carry their own life,

without you, let the promise

go on with the river.

Have faith. Walk away.


David Whyte from “Prayer after Prayer”

The Stories You Have To Tell

I am a full blown, get on my soapbox, wave my hands and shout proselytizer for committing to paper your family stories, personal stories and memoirs. For one, if you do not write down the stories you have to tell, they will be lost in a generation. Period. I, for one, know very little about three out of the four of my grandparents and not that much about the fourth. That is pretty sad.

Of equal importance is the benefit of the process of compiling your stories. I promise you that examining the past will change your personal narrative.

And there is a bonus. When you are open to telling your individual stories in the most authentic, truth seeking way, you will touch the universal truths that have the power to transform both you and the reader.

So what to do if you are ready to place fingers on computer keys or take pen in hand? Where to start?  I teach classes on writing your memoir or family stories. I teach classes on editing your stories. I coach clients individually on skype, in person or on the telephone. I even ghost write memoirs for clients. And I offer developmental and line by line editing of your manuscript.

Beginning to accomplished writers are welcome.  The only requirements are a desire to tell your stories and a healthy sense of humor.

Please contact me via Contact Susan or susan@susantungate.com  if you are ready to get started. We’ll make a plan.

Older, Not Old

I teach a writing group at  a retirement community in Santa Fe chock full of retired professors, scientists from Los Alamos Lab, architects, lawyers, artists, entrepreneurs, you name it. The members of the group are picking up a pen later in life, full of rich stories of World War II, life in Dallas before it was a big city, Santa Fe before the roads were paved and  riding across the country in a 1930s car long before the interstates were built.

They are teaching me more than I am teaching them. The biggest lesson I have learned is not to listen to our cultural narrative about aging. For one, these folks, who range in age from their late 70s to 94, are vibrant and curious, attending lectures, the Opera, plays around town, movies, volunteering as a business mentor. And they are out exercising right up to the limit of their abilities. The 94 year old came in with a bandage on his left hand one day. I assumed he had blood work done. “So what’s with the bandage?” I asked. “Ah, I was playing doubles squash and my partner, a retired doctor, hit me with his racket. He smashed my hand, then fixed it up.”

The group was all a buzz last week. A woman had approached one member and asked him about joining our group. After he welcomed her, she said she might be there that week or the next. By way of introducing her, he handed me a blurb from one of her books which reads:  ”Mozelle Richardson is a best selling novelist who received her BA in Journalism in 2004 at the ripe age of 90 from the University of Oklahoma. She raised four children in Oklahoma City with her late husband, W.T. Dub  Richardson. She now lives and writes in Santa Fe, New Mexico.”  You do the math.

We will get older, if we are lucky, but we need not get old voluntarily.



Ten Years, Two Pages, Three Word Sentences

Writer and teacher Abigail Thomas often gives her students the assignment to take any ten years of their life, reduce them to two pages, and each sentence should be only three words long.     Without room to circle the truth or fudge, the writer is forced to reduce each event to its core.  You end up with a haiku of sorts: He was horny. I was smitten. We got married.

In looking back over the now substantial number of years of my own life, I see there were ten year periods when life pretty much flowed in the same pattern with a few minor bumps or high points. No big forks in the road. Perhaps a move or a promotion or interesting assignment. Visited  Rose Garden. Met President Clinton. Tripped on grass. Went to Havana. Faded pink buildings. Gave housekeeper shampoo.  Opened news bureau.

Then again we can all bracket a ten year period when things fell apart or finally came together or both. Often events start with a show stopper. Time AOL merger. Now we downsize. What will happen? But sometimes in the living of an event you have no idea when the seeds were planted. One morning you wake up and there is a big damn tree in your face. In the looking back you may be able to gain clarity on when it all began. A friend might write: Mother lost keys. Found in refrigerator. We all laughed. Mother visits doctor. She has Alzheimer’s. She knows it. We know it. We make plans.

The three word sentence can become addictive. Beware the danger of narrating your life in real time: Drove to Whole Foods. Strawberries on sale. Bought two quarts! Froze one quart! On the other hand, if we live in the moment, there are times in our lives when we know, know for sure in that moment, that something is about to shift. I have a friend whose company is going through a reorganization. She will meet with the powers that be this week to learn her fate. What three word sentences will she write later on?

Company is reorganizing. Met with Sam. Lost my job. Time to network!

Company is reorganizing. Met with Sam. Great new job. Moving to Portland!

Company is reorganizing. Met with Sam. Hate job offer. Take for now. Leap later on.

Regardless, the next sentence is  Onward and upward! It has to be.

Faith and Hope: A Pilgrimage to Chimayo

On Good Friday, the annual Easter pilgrimage to the small adobe chapel in Chimayo, New Mexico will begin. By Sunday, as many as 50,000 people will walk the ninety miles from Albuquerque, the fourteen miles from Chupadero, the forty miles from Taos or the twenty-five miles from Santa Fe pushing baby carriages and wheelchairs, bearing crosses and statues of their patron saints, holding high photographs of loved ones who are ill in a petition for healing. Some will park their cars along the highway and join the others as they walk the last few miles on the winding two lane highway that leads to the Santuario de Chimayo.

People from all over the world and all religions make the pilgrimage. They walk in memory of a loved one or as a prayer for peace. Some walk because their grandmother told them the journey is part of their heritage. They must follow the foot prints of their parents and grandparents and great grandparents  in giving thanks for God’s gifts.

Most walk as a demonstration of their faith, their belief in a God who listens to their prayers. When they arrive at the Santuario, they sit in the pews and pray and then enter the adjacent room to finger the dirt thought to bring forth miracles.

And for those not rooted in faith who walk to be part of a community, to be part of something larger than themselves, they may find a message of hope in the form of a lone peach tree in full bloom, flourishing in the sandy soil.


It Snowed Last Night

It snowed last night, and for just a bit of time, before the dirt and the slush and the traffic, the world was transformed.

Quan Yin

Canyon Road #1

Canyon Road #2

Canyon Road #3

Mardi Gras Parrot




Modern General

In the not too distant past, the world offered fewer choices, but people took their allegiance to one product or service over another very, very seriously.  For example, your family was either aligned with Ford or Chevy, Coke or Pepsi, cornflakes or shredded wheat (maybe, maybe you could convince your mother to buy frosted cornflakes), Time or Newsweek, Walter Cronkite or Huntley- Brinkley, Ivory soap or Palmolive.  We were a Ford, Coke, cornflakes, Time , Huntley- Brinkley and Ivory soap family and that was pretty much that.

Then the world exploded with products and brands.  Now there is a lot of stuff out there, but a lot of the stuff is junk. Who has time to research the “best” in any given category?

Enter Erin Wade  who just opened Modern General, located  adjacent to her farm to table restaurant Vinaigrette on 637 Cerrillos. The space is bright and light and welcoming with a large table for eating, reading and chatting with friends.

Modern General harkens back to the general stores of old, a community space with hardware, books, and a cafe, but with a twist. Erin sells only one kind of any one item: one shovel, one shampoo, one hammer, one brand of coffee, one cutting board.  She offers items she actually uses and is guided by the slogan “everything you need and nothing you don’t.”

The cafe serves fresh squeezed juices and smoothies, fresh wheatgrass, one type of breakfast sandwich, one lunch sandwich, homemade granola drizzled with honey, freshly brewed coffee, apricot kolaches from Erin’s grandmother’s recipe.

Just stand at the front of the store and look around. A narrative unfolds. One can be enough. Elegant design, functionality, longevity and simplicity, all in one perfect shovel.


36 Hours in Santa Fe


Last Sunday’s New York Times ran 36 Hours in Santa Fe. Fine picks but the usual suspects.

Here are a few suggestions from a local that may not pop up in the guide books. And locals, feel free to let me know your suggestions.

1.  Go for a walk. Anywhere. The town has no industry, which is possibly the reason we are in an economic bind, but the upside is no pollution and breath taking blue skies 300 days a year, give or take. Absolutely do take that guide book recommended walk down Canyon Road with all the art galleries, but walk south on Garcia Street off Canyon, find a book at Garcia Street Books, walk next door for a chile mocha at Downtown Subscriptions, rest your feet a bit and read. Then take Acequia Madre Street east and walk along the Acequia Madre ( the Mother Ditch) built a few hundred years ago to irrigate the farms that were replaced long ago by adobe homes. Meander around the little residential streets. Or drive up Hyde Park Road to the ski basin area and take a little walk on one of the trails. Gorgeous views of the mountains.

2.  Head to the Railyard area a few blocks south of the Plaza. If you are there on a Saturday morning, peruse the Farmers’ Market. Little gift items abound this time of year: soaps, ristras, little horse-like items made with sage, hand knit caps, pottery. GRAB A PACKAGE OF BISCOCHITOS!  Then walk next door to The Flea, a large market filled with antiques, collectables, stuff,  the odd and the interesting. Walk north. You will see a sign on the left for The Ark. It is full of books and cds and jewelry and rocks. Head north again to Sanbusco Market and buy a snazzy sweater for your puppy at Teca Tu or a sweater for yourself at Bodhi Bazaar or a book at Op Cit. Walk out the front entrance of Sanbusco and check out George (just call me King of Thrones) R.R. Martin’s newly renovated Jean Cocteau Cinema. Better yet, plan ahead and catch a movie. The lobby has a bar and fresh popcorn with real butter. Heaven.

3. Need some pampering? Sure the hotels have some great spas and 10,000 Waves is a mecca, but there is also a little place called Mist, a serene space that uses heavenly products and gives take-all-the-tension-out-of-your-entire-being-including-your-hair-follicles facials and massages. Call ahead.

4. Want to take a yoga class to unwind from your flight? Call Body or contact Shibana and see if she is offering a class that day. Shibana is a treasure on this earth.

5.  Take a drive up Museum Hill. The Folk Art Museum is a treasure, too. An even bigger treasure is the view from the top of the steps. That view goes on forever.

6.  For dinner, come back toward the Railyard area. Have the best margarita and enchilladas at Tomasita’s or La Choza.

7.  For breakfast, Tia Sophia downtown, one of those places that has been here forever. Can you say sopapilla with honey?

8.  If you come to Santa Fe in the winter, you must find a fireplace, perhaps the one at La Fonda Hotel, beg them to throw a pinon log on the fire, order a beverage and get comfy. I swear, I would die happy if that was the last thing I smelled—a burning pinon log.

9.  Todos Santos Chocolates tucked away at Sena Plaza off the Plaza gets my vote for the best place to buy chocolates. The place is enchanting and whimsical and edgy all at the same time. Killer handmade chocolates. Just go.

10.  If you are around the Plaza area, walk down Grant Street or East Palace and see the Victorian houses built before the PR people in the early 1900s decided adobe was the way to go to bring in tourists on the train from the east. Just charming. Find  Antiques and Interiors on Grant housed in one of the old Victorian homes. Look closely. The adobe is painted to look like brick.

11.  As for a place to stay, La Posada may not be the most luxurious, opulent place in town, but it is a artsy funky lovely adobe Santa Fe hotel,  unlike any place you will find in any other place.

12.  Oh, and one more suggestion. Want to watch a movie and stay snuggled under your comforter? Stop by the Video Library. First, you will find movies you will not find online or offline in the chain stores. Second and even better, you will meet the lovely and knowledgeable owner Lisa who will help you find the perfect movie to fit your mood. The Vid is one of the heart beats of Santa Fe.

(Apologies for the funky type. I think the blog is annoyed with me for staying away so long, or perhaps annoyed I returned.)