When the Thundersnow Breaks
A journey in the high desert
It had been an exhausting 1,200 miles of endless driving through flat landscapes, but then Jayden felt a stir of elation course through her body as she spotted the tips of the snow-covered Santa Fe Mountains come into view over the horizon.
The high desert is an unusual and enigmatic place, especially in a region like northern New Mexico. It’s a beautifully haunted land and the snow falls right alongside cactus plants, which feels a bit ironic when you see it. Most people’s idea of the desert is of a hot and barren place like Arizona, but the high desert is its own special world.
Jayden ended up in Santa Fe one cold late December afternoon after a two-day drive from Tennessee. She’d promised herself she would visit Canyon Road which is known for its small winding lane filled with a hundred art galleries, boutiques and cafes in only a half-mile span. The tan adobe buildings were adorned with old wooden beams, turquoise painted doors and Farolitos, or “Luminaries”, which are brown paper lunch-style bags with sand to anchor it against the winds with a candle inside. They were absolutely enchanting.
They are a Hispanic tradition and put out for Christmas for a nine-day holiday called “Las Posadas”. Most are electronic these days, but still mesmerizing in the dark nonetheless.
The road was filled with tourists drinking their lattes, their wrists and necks adorned with silver, turquoise and coral jewelry. The jewelry was most likely bought from the local Navajo silversmiths that sell in the town square. They are there every day, whether in the dry summer heat, the monsoon rains or in a foot of snow. They come all the way from the “res” and it’s how they make their living.
Jayden parked her car and stepped out into the soft snow which blanketed the entire landscape. She took in the whispering scent of Juniper trees and roasting hatch green chilis.
Jayden was a painter. She’d never claim to be as good as the artists whose work hung in these galleries. She felt insecure about her work and even contemplated giving it up from time to time. But, that’s why she was here. She was desperate for inspiration, motivation and maybe even a little magic. Jayden mostly struggled with finding a message for her work. What did she want to say to the world? How would she express that visually?
However, the most difficult thing for her was her self-doubt. She could never give herself the credit she deserved as an artist. Others always commended her work, but she couldn’t see what others saw. She spent much of the last year in a deep depression and was so glued into it that she feared she was permanently stuck in an infinite loop of “artist’s block”. She didn’t laugh anymore and had become reclusive and trapped within her own mind and body. But, this is why she had to go on this trip. It was absolutely vital that she find herself again.
A snowflake gently kissed her forehead as she threw over her jacket hood and put on her woolen gloves. She slowly made her way down the street and into the first gallery.
It was filled with beautiful works from a Navajo artist named R.C. Gorman. The ponderosa pine beams, known as “vigas”, towered over the alluring pastel drawings and mystical paintings of young indigenous women. She was swept away into a state of absolute awe.
In every gallery she visited, she was mesmerized and delighted by the contrast of the rustic structures and the mix of both modern and older works of art that built a fascinating atmosphere.
Jayden stopped in at a cafe to buy an affogato - a blend of espresso and gelato. There were terracotta tile floors and the air was sprinkled with the smell of coffee and Pinion wood, which has an aromatic pine smell that’s both smoky and sweet.
She sat by the front window and took in the setting sun now turning everything pink and orange and made the candlelit bags even more magical.
As she sat scooping up her now melted desert, the door bell jangled and she saw a tall lanky young man enter and immediately sit down next to her. He had darker skin, sad woeful eyes, a bit of black scruff for a beard and a leather wide-brimmed hat with an owl’s feather precariously sticking out. He had a necklace with some sort of animal’s tooth wrapped in leather. He seemed curious about the sky. A storm looked to be rolling in and he watched the eclipsing dark and towering layer of cumulonimbus clouds, also known as “thunderheads” that typically bring severe weather, swirling above the twinkling avenue.
“There will be a lot of snow tonight”, said the cryptic young man as he looked out in a trance like gaze.
“Are you talking to me?” Jayden asked.
With a chuckle and a smile he turned to her, “You are the only one next to me aren’t you?”
Jayden smiled in return and replied, “How much do you think it’ll snow?”
“Enough to not be able to drive in. Did you come in a car?”
“Yes, but I have a hotel room nearby so I can walk”, said Jayden.
He looked at her quizzically for a moment and then abruptly said, “You are an artist.”
Jayden sat awkwardly for a second and wondered how he had known, with such affirmation behind his words.
“You’re wondering how I know, right? I saw it in your gaze when I passed by you earlier. Only an artist’s spirit sees everything in such detail and I could see you searching for every bit of information that the soul’s eyes can take in.”
“Well, I’m not as good as the artists here, but I’m still practicing,” Jayden said reluctantly and with a hint of shyness.
“You are an artist. You are neither good nor bad. You just are.”
The sorrowful-eyed man was now gazing back up to the clouds and examining something she couldn’t see.
Jayden sat quietly and contemplated the passersby, the Christmas lights shaped like red chiles and the Juniper trees bending and swaying from the rolling wind.
“Are you an artist?” asked Jayden.
The young man, still staring out to the now darkened street replied, “In a way we all are. As children, we all love to create. It’s in our very nature. Creating in itself is idiosyncratic. It’s not just visual art that is subjective, it’s making art in any form, that is in fact, instinctive and intuitive and can be made in thousands of different ways. While we are all born to create, some people just have more of an ability to render what they see and feel in a visual way. You have that ability.”
After he finished his words, he stood up and looked down at Jayden and said softly, “You’ll find what you’re looking for if you don’t stand in the way of your true nature.”
Suddenly his eyes seemed kind and wise, and as soon as he had stood, he was gone…..walking off and out into the snowy Santa Fe night.
Both a smile and a curious look crept over her face and she piled on her many layers to fight off the snow now blowing hard and sideways. As she walked up the road and towards her hotel, the storm began to worsen and she could barely see in front of her. Being from Tennessee, she wasn’t used to this much snow and hadn’t acquired the appropriate waterproof jacket and boots.
She wrapped her scarf around her mouth and nose and bent slightly down against the wind as she continued to move forward. No one was on the streets now and the farolitos that were filled with sand and candles had all blown out. Luckily, the electric ones that lined the sidewalks were still working and could help guide her north to her hotel.
It grew colder and darker and now all she could hear was the crunch of wet snow, the bellowing wind and the different tones of wind chimes crashing against trees and walls.
Suddenly, in the distance, she saw what appeared to be an unusual green light that was both dim and hazy. Being the inquisitive person she was, she trudged on towards it with hesitancy and bewilderment. As she reached the light, the wind had died down just enough to see what was in front of her.
There, in the green light, was a shadow……and it was moving. As she inched closer to the object, she realized it was a coyote. It just stood there absolutely motionless and stared at her. Jayden was so startled by the sight of it that she immediately froze as the animal hesitantly observed her. For almost a whole minute the two stood there and studied one another. Jayden’s heart was beating hard and fast.
“Why would a coyote be this far into town?”, she thought.
Afraid to make the smallest of moves so as to not scare it off, she examined and memorized it in every detail as quickly as she could. Its bowed head, its shaggy tail sailing with the wind, its black eyes with a hint of orange light from a string of farolitos and the peculiar green light that hung just above and behind it. Sort of like an aura. The coyote seemed to be looking directly into her eyes, studying her just as intently.
All of a sudden, a lightning strike crackled and boomed over her head and its dazzling light danced through every single snowflake and awakened the snow lying upon the ground, momentarily turning it into a brilliant light blue glaze.
Suddenly, a roll of thunder swept over and through her body rumbling every nerve and fiber.
“Thundersnow!”, she cried out loud in delight.
Again, another crackle and flash of light, but this time she made sure to truly take in that single brief second of the world around her as the snowflakes dazzled like thousands of little lights drifting to the ground. The thunder boomed again and echoed its way towards the nearby mountains with a deep crash.
Jayden looked back to where the coyote was, but it had disappeared. As she balanced herself against the wind and looked for the bewildering creature, she noticed the green light shortly off in the distance.
She dusted the snow off her face to get a better look. With eyes wide, she saw that the moving silhouette surrounded by the green light wasn’t that of a wild coyote now, but of a tall lanky man wearing a wide-brimmed hat with a feather sticking out of it.
She watched the silhouetted figure turn to her for a moment. As they watched one another through the wind and snow and lightning, he bowed and tipped his hat. As he slowly rose…his arms spread out into the wind, and for a moment, she thought she heard a howl of laughter. While wiping snow away from her eyes again, he suddenly moved off into the darkness and disappeared behind the towering pines and the green light along with him.
As her adrenaline was pumped, a rush of thoughts and energy came flooding to her mind, as if coming from somewhere else.
“I think I understand now”.
In the midst of the howling wind and blinding wet snow and the whipping of branches like dueling trees, she stood braced against what seemed the entire world and thought, “Being an artist is what I was born to be and I can’t just hide from that anymore. It truly is my nature and I need to stop worrying about how others perceive me. I was given a gift that I need to give back to the world. That’s my cycle of life.”
Tears rolled down Jayden’s cheeks and with a shiver and a stir, she laughed under her breath and began making her way through the raging storm - now smiling and full of wondrous ideas.