Even though I have been to and through Albuquerque, New Mexico a few times, I was never there long enough to know much about it. When our daughters were still young we considered camping in our tent in the outskirts of the city. While we were checking the sites I noticed hot pink signs stapled to the trees and hanging on the buildings. When I finally read one of them I decided that we would not be lingering in the campground. The posts indicated that there was an unusually high number of rattlesnakes in the area, and urged anyone camping to be exceedingly cautious. We instead found a motel for the night, and left the city early the next day. They only pleasant thing I remembered from that occasion was the cool morning air and a lone hot air balloon floating across the horizon.
Many years later I would accompany a group of high school students on what was known as the southwest tour, an annual trip designed to visit universities and locales in west Texas and eastern New Mexico. On that journey I took a tour of the University of New Mexico along with my pupils, but saw little more of Albuquerque as we quickly hustled off to Santa Fe after viewing the campus.
I suppose that I began to see Albuquerque in a very different light after watching Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, both programs that more often featured the underbelly of that city rather than the more interesting history and culture of the place. I found myself longing to learn more about the what Albuquerque was really about, and so we arranged to spend two days and nights exploring the sites around town. I wanted to know more than the make believe version that I had seen on television.
We set up our trailer in a delightful RV park that seemed to be conveniently close to everything. In fact, I marveled at how easy it was to get from one side of the city to another. In Houston it can take an hour or more to move from one part of its vast urban sprawl to another. We seemed to be staying right in the heart of things while also having the feel of being in a quiet and remote area. Best of all there were lovely mountain views from the picnic table on our site, and those same cool mornings and evenings that I remembered from the past.
We decided to first visit Old Town Albuquerque set in the center of the city where the first capitol of New Mexico had been The historic buildings reminded me very much of areas of New Orleans which also has a rich connection to Spanish influence. Unique shops and restaurants are the attraction and I worried a bit that my husband Mike might become bored with my excitement about viewing the arts and crafts featured there. Instead he seemed delighted, which surprised me given that it quickly became very hot and he usually has little interest in such things. I suspect that he was mostly intrigued by the architecture and the feeling of being in a different time and place that the area engendered.
We found a unique piece of stained class that captures the beauty and essence of the landscape around Albuquerque. We learned that it had been created by a local senior craftsman who mostly makes the pieces to help support a group that provides services for older citizens. We also sampled locally produced olive oils and vinegars and decided to bring some of the most unique ones back home. All in all we had a fun morning casually strolling and feeling as though we had somehow landed in a place that had successfully blended the cultures of Spain and Native America.
After enjoying a bite of lunch we went the to Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. I must say that it housed some of the most moving exhibits that I have ever seen. The first area featured the stories of Native American women and their impact on the Pueblo people and ultimately on America. Each story was fascinating and spoke to the influence of females in guiding, teaching and inspiring the young. The featured women represented educators, scientists, business women, lawyers, politicians, doctors and demonstrated how each woman brought her unique Native American experience to the work that she did.
There was also a section of the museum that focused on the history of the Native American tribes that lived in the area. It was an honest and even-handed depiction of their way of life and how misunderstood they had been by the settlers who came to so unthinkingly take their lands and their way of doing things. It was not an angry or accusing recitation of what had happened, but one that attempted to understand the complexities of a time when two cultures clashed.
It was in this museum that I learned of the legacy of storytelling that is central to the Pueblo people. It is though the spoken word that the language, traditions, history, knowledge and stories have been passed from one generation to the next. Often the storytellers have been the women, who in their own way are the teachers of the children. The little statues of a woman voicing her information with an open mouth and children clinging to her are known as the storytellers. I was totally fascinated by all that I saw and heard.
There was so much to learn in that museum, so much wisdom to take with me. I snapped photos of beautiful objects, and recipes and philosophies. One of my favorites was entitled Mother Earth. Here is what it said:
She formed us in her belly.
she birthed us into the upper world.
she nourishes all living things.
she provides comfort and safety.
she requires love and respect.
In our way of life, women embody the characteristics of the earth on which we rely. Women nurture life and are creators of bodies and homes. By calling the earth our mother we show great respect not only for the earth but for the women who represent her.
I felt both humbled and uplifted by what I saw in Albuquerque that day. It is a lovely city with a heritage that has much to teach us all. We would be wise to take heed of our connection with the earth and with each other. In the shadow of the great mountains under the cool skies at the beginning and end of each day it was easy to imagine how important it is for all of us to become more at one with earth and with each other.