Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Light on The Land

The light on the land: Mesa Verde.

Galloway. Home.
Southwest Scotland is approximately 6 degrees of latitude farther north than the most northerly place I've ever lived. For anyone familiar with American geography, Galloway is about on the same parallel as Sitka, Alaska. And for those of you more familiar with Europe, think Copenhagen or Moscow.  In any case, that means it's lighter longer in the summer and darker longer in the winter than I'm used to. This will take some getting used to. I have been living in Scotland for just over two years now so I've now been through two cycles of the light. Love the summer light. The winter, not so much. Thank god Galloway is absolutely gorgeous with its green rolling hills, amazing stone walls, and cuddly sheep. Not to mention the shaggy or stripey bovine selections known as highland cattle and belties. 

Border Agency document. Courtesy J. Cormack.
The three of you who follow this blog will have noticed that the last two years have seen a very sparse number of blog entries. No doubt you have breathed a sigh of relief. Just to clarify, it was not the move up north which silenced me - you know, lack of light for six months of the year and all - but the fact that I became eligible to work and found a job as a chef in a local hotel/pub kitchen. I've never been very good at balancing work with writing, so I blog when I can and try not to worry too much about the should haves and ought tos. Anyway, in addition to being employed I spent a fair amount of time recently getting the next phase of my immigration paperwork together. It's a long, drawn out, expensive process immigrating to the UK. I'm always amused by xenophobic blowhards who blather on about all these people coming over here, getting money from the government, taking our jobs. Brits, you'd be horrified how much you sound like the 'merican rednecks you poke fun at. I find it intriguing that a group of people can be simultaneously blamed for being on benefits (for which immigrants are ineligible) and also taking jobs (which immigrants are not allowed to have until they've spent a year in country). Can't have it both ways, guys. Oh, by the way, immigrants are different from the other groups of people you really mean to complain about: asylum seekers (who do need help and benefits), and EU citizens (who have a perfect legal right to be in the UK taking your jobs, or perhaps filling the jobs you lot are too uppity to do). You're welcome for the clarification. And you'll be horrified to know I am yours indefinitely. My status is called 'Indefinite Leave to Remain.' It means I can stay in the UK as long as I want. Yay! It's a relief to know I'm not going to chucked out any time soon. 

The O'Keeffe fan (left) and the Pedernal.

But back to the light and the land. Why, you might ask, does she have time now to bother us, er, update her blog? I'm on holiday in the States, that's why. Yes, I said holiday, not vacation. The Britification is proceeding nicely. We are visiting my father in western Colorado, or the Western Slope as we call it here. We had a two week road trip to Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico as well and saw some wonderful places, truly marvelous landscapes to behold. And that is why I have been thinking of the light and the land. As my partner in mischief is a painter and art historian who loves O'Keeffe, she fell in love with the way the light and shadow grace the land in the American southwest. It's easy to see why so many artists are drawn to it. So many times on our road trip we came across a magnificent sight and then just looked at each other and laughed. We both felt so lucky to be able to see this for ourselves. The pictures we've taken barely do it justice.

Radio telescope at the VLA on the Plains of San Agustin, NM.
Another interesting thing we discovered on our road trip through the southwest is that the places you hear about as being so wonderful are not always. And places you would not expect to be fabulous, are. Southern Arizona is not a vast desert wasteland. Even the view from the Interstate is stunning. You would expect that the best views are from the backroads, but give old I-10 a try. No disappointment there. As for New Mexico, give me Socorro, Magdalena, and the Plains of San Agustin over Taos any day. 

Sedona? Meh. If you can possibly get outside Sedona, say up by the airport on the bluff, and look down at it, then do so. It's a lovely view. But to be down in it? Not magical, not vortexical, and not full of psychic loveliness. Hey, that's just my humble opinion. 

Overlooking Sedona, AZ.

Stuff to buy in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe, you ask? Yes. Lovely. Perhaps a bit on the retail therapy side of the equation, but it retains a certain charm. And it is home to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, a must see even if the entry fee is a bit eye watering. Just think of it this way: it costs $4 less per person to tour the O'Keeffe museum than it does to look at that big hole in the ground in northern Arizona called the Barringer Crater. I'm still questioning my own sanity on that one. However, you've got to look into a giant meteor crater if you have the opportunity, don't you? If you really want to see O'Keeffe country, though, you've got to head north of Santa Fe to Abiquiu and to Ghost Ranch. You will recognize the landscapes from her paintings. 

The Inn at Abiquiu, near O'Keeffe's home.

Having said all that about expectations of places you've heard of, the Grand Canyon far exceeds what you can possibly expect. It is absolutely worth the $25 entry fee. It's more amazing than you imagine it will be. See it. Do. I couldn't help but think of kd lang's version of the Jane Siberry song The Valley as I looked into the impossibly beautiful and impossibly deep canyon of the Colorado river. 

Grand Canyon at sunset.

You rise every morning
Wondering what in the world will the world bring today
Will it bring you joy or will it take it away
And every step you take is guided by
the map of the light on the land 
and the blackbird's cry
You will walk
You will walk
You will walk in good company

-- from 'The Valley' by Jane Siberry 

I think of the song again as I watch the progress of the day and the way the shadows move along the ridges of the mesas and mountains in my own little slice of the American west, a little town called Parachute. And I do wonder, what in the world will the world bring today?

Parachute, CO. Courtesy J. Cormack.

Here are some more fun pics from our road trip. Enjoy.  

Big hole in the ground, the Barringer Crater near Winslow, AZ

Jicarilla Apache Nation - one of their lovely mesas. Note warning to local bovine.

Adobe wall surrounding O'Keeffe's home in the old village of Abiquiu, NM.

Cacti and thorny thing in Saguaro National Forest near Tucson, AZ.

Rock formation and small tribute, Valley of the Gods, UT.


  1. Thanks, D. You rock, as always.

  2. Ah, as you meander the southwest, you are obviously taking it in, in all its glorious shadow and light. Nice piece, indeed. Great pictures. And you have left me smiling and softly sighing. I'm glad you two made this trip!


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