Down the street in the jewelry store we discover the young married couple that own the store are miners. They own a mine that once belonged to John Jacob Astor IV, who perished aboard the Titanic. How the couple came to own it or how they were trained as miners, I don't know. I wish I had asked. The young man said they make the trip every so often to get more stone, hiking 4 days to get to the mine. They dynamite it and remove it in slabs then cut it into shapes using templates he showed us. They polish it and a 30 year old woman in Durango makes it into jewelry. The stone is pink with gray and is called Astorite, after J J Astor.
The older man in the Durango jewelry shop stops me at the door and asks if he can look at my earrings. He asks how long I've had them and I tell him about 25-30 years. He inspects each one and pronounces them good turquoise. What that means I'm not sure! He says there isn't much of the good stuff left anymore. He pulls out a stool and sits down and tells us his story. His great-great-great aunt lived in the South during the Civil War. Some Yankee soldiers came to her house and asked to be fed. She cooks them up a Southern meal and they all drop dead. She has poisoned the food. She hightails it to Oklahoma, where the family all settles. He's from there but has chosen to live in Durango instead. And who can blame him. It's beautiful. And they have good breweries!
We drive up to Arroyo Seco, a community of artists outside of Taos. We were hoping to find some apples to bring home but so far haven't seen any so we ask the friendly lady in one of the shops. She said late freezes got all the apples. Last year they had so many they were making some into chips and giving away to visitors to her shop. They have 100 trees and the abundant crop allowed for sharing with the bears! This year no one has any.
She is selling brightly colored pottery in her shop for one of the Seco potters. She tells us he made a beautiful urn when her nephew died recently. The priest said it comforted the congregation to see the father cradling the urn as he walked out of the church after the funeral. As she was relating this story to another local woman a while back, she noticed tears in the woman's eyes. It seems the potter had made an urn for her grandmother and she is touched by the story of the woman's nephew.
A dog has entered her shop with us. Her name is Lucy and she belongs to the potter. Lucy visits all the shops to get treats!
Down the street this potter has his shop and workplace. He has a deck on the banks of a beautiful little creek. What a place to do your work! Scott isn't there but he has his pottery all over the deck and on tables in the yard. He has a box on the door and if you want any pottery you put your money in the box. It's a simpler, kinder place to be where you can do that. We are told by the last shop owner that someone recently stole all his large bowls. But he continues to use the honor method so that his pottery is available if he isn't around. His honor is greater than that of some of his visitors. We purchase a few items and put our money into the slot on his money box. It makes me happy to know there are places like this still, where a person's honesty is tested and the failures of that test don't harden a person's heart.
A visit to another artist's shop puts us in touch with a woman from Denver that is working there. She quit her high-powered Denver job after 25 years and moved to the Taos area, changing her lifestyle. She now spends her days working in the shop, bike riding with her husband and hiking up Mount Wheeler, the highest peak in New Mexico. She gives us a big smile when we tell her we live in a 464 sq foot cabin! We talk about lifestyle changes and the joys that come with a simpler life.
We are drawn to a weaver's shop where we see many beautiful rugs, wall hangings and clothes for sale. The shop has several looms in the back room where they teach classes. The weaver working this day is from Vermont. She made several of her rugs there and has them for sale. I ask her if it is hard to let them go. She says yes, but she decided it was better than just keeping them in storage because she has more than she can use at her home. She gives me information on a 3 day weaving class they have and encourages me to come back. It's an expensive hobby though so I'll just have to enjoy looking at the beautiful results of others' efforts.
A young man carrying a dog comes down the stairs and greets us as we enter his pottery shop. He's from Michigan and came to Taos for graduate school. He met his wife there and the rest, as they say, is history. He has several small kilns in his shop and invites us back to look at them and his work in progress. He has a large kiln out in the mountains and he goes there when he has a lot of items to fire.
Back in Taos, we stop off at the Adobe Bar for a Blue Moon beer. The young man there admires my turquoise and silver bead necklace. I tell him I got it in Arroyo Seco and he asks if we went to the Taos Cow Ice Cream shop. We told him we tried to but the lone girl working there was overwhelmed with lunch customers and told us she couldn't sell any ice cream then. I wanted to try the local flavored ice cream, made with pinon pine nuts and lavender and was disappointed. He has gone there since he was a kid. Recently he moved back to the area after living in San Diego for a while.
We are fortunate to be able to purchase some small items on our trip and we enjoy them and the memories they carry. But one thing we most like to collect is stories. Stories of the area and stories of the people we meet. This trip we met many people that have changed their lives; that have been drawn to the mountains and the high desert and have followed their hearts there to live the life they want.
I'm always sad to leave New Mexico and Colorado and the people that share so many of the same interests and beliefs I have. There are pockets of this same type of people in Texas but, unfortunately, that's not the face we have been presenting lately to the world. I hope one day soon we can talk about art, and plants, and outdoor activities, and craft breweries, and Cowboy Buddha margaritas, and all the things we like instead of all the things we hate and live up to the meaning of our name. Tejas, friend.