The air at 8,000 feet lends me less oxygen than when I walk along the sandy beach at sea level. My lungs work overtime adjusting. If I don’t stay hydrated, my head throbs like a punching bag in a roomful of angry boys. And that first night when I try to sleep, I don’t.
That was five days ago and this California girl has acclimatized to her other home at the base of the Sangre de Cristos in Santa Fe.
Before I left Central California’s sweet and salty air, friends commented, “Oh it will be so hot in that desert.” Santa Fe can get warm, and it will likely see more summer heat as the planet changes, but at the city’s elevation of 7,000 feet and above, it shares zero comparison with any adjoining deserts. Since I’ve been here, the summer monsoons made their way with aplomb and have dumped inches upon inches of rain on this copper-colored soil dotted with pinons, cedar, pines, and sage. It makes for the most magnificent smell. And that’s part of the magic of this Southwest haven for artists, recluses, celebrities, oddballs, and wealthy Texans and New Englanders. The local population, a mix of native tribes, historic descendants of the Conquistadors, and other people from all corners of the United States, live either in modest comfort, poverty, or wealth. There is very little in between.
I lived in this mix for twenty years. It’s the place where I discovered my heritage and my personal identification, a California girl.
California is my first home and where I thrive. Yet, like the green chili that smothers most any other food in Santa Fe, I must return to the City Different for a taste of this contrasted world of rodeo to opera.
When I moved to Santa Fe in 1988, it oozed security, as if the Sangre de Cristos, a Rocky Mountain spur, was this continent’s backbone. Firm. Solid. Rooted. The romantic beauty of summer sunsets, the changing aspens in fall, cocooned by a pinon-burning kiva fireplace while watching the first winter snow fall, and finally that wild burst of color like a Tommy Macaione painting against brown adobe walls, injected enchantment into my soul. Those moments sustained me until the ocean called me back home.
Now I must cough and sputter to find my Santa Fe groove when I return. Now I am free of the business that also showed me the darker side of this city different. As a tourist, you will likely never see it. But believe me, there is a dark tarnish on Santa Fe’s silver image. It stains those narrow streets that wind their way through the city and its outer limits.
Fortunately, one can easily wipe away the tarnish and rediscover and admire silver’s glow and beauty. And that is how I see Santa Fe from my eyes today. I’m blessed with family and friends in this part of the states—they are the oxygen fonts among the high country fauna.