Let me be, was all I wanted. Be what I am, no matter how I am.”
— Henry Miller
When I was a kid, we lived in an apartment across from a graveyard, which became my imaginations iconic cemetery setting from that point forward. When I read Revelations, the judgement took place in that cemetery. When I wrote a story about my grandmother for a high school competition, it ended in that cemetery (she’s buried elsewhere, a few miles away). When Harry Potter first fought Voldemort – that cemetery.
It was a dark and shady place, with big wrought iron gates, tall, somber trees, and winding gravel paths just wide enough for cars to pass on. There were tall statues sprinkled around the south side of the grounds, honoring those with enough money and desire to invest in them, and small, nearly unmarked grave sites on the far east side of the lot, a more traditional New Mexico graveyard, covered in pinwheels and artificial flowers. There was a “children’s area” on the west side, an area that, at 8 years old, I was especially loathe to visit.
Last year, while visiting in the area, I decided to visit the old place with my camera, nearly 30 years having passed. I was unexpectedly surprised to find so much changed, and bemused to think how much of that change was only my perception.
The cemetery is now much smaller and brighter than I remember- more organized, and with far fewer trees and statues. The graves in the east appear to have been moved, replaced with tidy grass and a wall for cremated remains. On the far north side, where I haven’t a memory of ever being, there was not only a 100+ year old Jewish cemetery but also a more organic New Mexico-style graveyard, a dirt lot with various markers and stones. As a mother of my own 8-year old now, I still found the west side too disturbing to visit.
The Jewish Cemetery
The oldest graves I found, and the most beautiful headstones, were in this area. The family plot that I spent the most time with was the Block family, with 3 children all lost in their first year of life.
The “Organic” Graveyard
Without much tree cover and a thunderstorm rolling in, this area was hot, mocking my cool and shady childhood recollections. Throughout the area were a handful of strikingly similar wrought iron rectangles — my heart sank as my suspicions were confirmed, each one cradling the loss of an infant.
The Main Cemetery
A far more orderly and predictable version of the cemetery setting I carry inside my head. The use of infrared and the heavy clouds rolling gave the space a quiet, winter feel that, on some level, feels like I took back my graveyard setting just a little.
Growing up, a visit to Tinkertown was usually had once a year- often for a school field trip. It’s a fascinating little place, tucked away in the Sandia mountains, a converted home of a prolific and outspoken tinkerer. Every time you go, you find something new- when I was a kid, it was probably because Mr. Ward was still alive, adding bit by bit to his collection. Now that I am older, I find myself drawn less to the extravagent carved towns and circus and more to the captivating little items tucked away in nooks and crannies around the grounds.
If you are in the area and you haven’t been, you really should stop by- the drive is beautiful, the cost is nominal, and the place just brims with love and whimsy. Make sure you check out Mr. Ward’s Jeep, a beautiful testament to love and creativity, even in the most trying circumstances.
Last May I took a trip down to the Salinas Missions, a national monument in New Mexico that holds 4 of the 6 Spanish Colonial churches in the US, built in the early to mid 1700s. While only a short distance (by car) from one another, each mission has a very unique feel. Abo, the first mission I visited, was very small, and in ruins feels very intimate. Because the interior walls have deteriorated so much, walking through the living space has the same strange feeling as walking through a house as it’s being built- a little bit “emperor has no clothes,” surely it would feel bigger if you couldn’t see straight through to the other side.
I found a quiet at the mission, imagining what it was like to study, work, and live here. The land around the mission is broad open New Mexico landscape, the wind whistling in my ears as I wound my way around and through the building.
I next drove down to Gran Quivera, the most remote and southerly of the missions. It was far warmer here, and with the storm clouds beginning to roll onto the horizon, getting humid enough to be uncomfortable (for a desert native, anyway). Gran Quivera was a larger mission, with a robust pueblo foundation and the ruins of 2 churches- the first small and completed, the second ambitious and abandoned. At Gran Quivera the tension between pueblo and church life felt more tangible, and I walked back and forth through the different ruins- the small, intimate pueblo rooms, tucked in tidily together, the large, tall church rooms, with hallways between them. A terrible drought ultimately drove the Gran Quivera community away before the church could be finished, and it was hard to imagine that building such a large, foreign structure – so different from the kiva and nestled homes that had sustained them there for so long previously- had nothing to do with the community’s ultimate demise.
From here I drove up to the Quarai mission. This mission felt far more like a “city,” with a large cathedral and significant network of living and working quarters attached- it served as the local mission “headquarters,” and that feeling of authority still lingers. Quarai, as a structure, is in relatively good shape, with enough wall left on the inside to feel like a building. It was the most maze-like of the missions, without the ability to see through or over most of the walls.
Around the back of the Quarai mission was also a beautiful walking path, where I found some of my favorite infrared photos to date.
If you’re interested in the Salinas mission and can visit, I highly recommend it. The park staff were wonderful, there are basic amenities at each location, and the history there is palpable. I found the architecture study “In the Midst of a Loneliness” fascinating as well.
I have a confession– I am a chronic reviser.
When I started writing, I took the position that my ‘art’ and passion flowed through me like a free running river and should never be dammed and debased by the rigid oppression of “editing.” That was, lol, until I left high school and actually started studying the written word formally. Since then, a convert- and I haven’t been able to leave well enough alone.
As with one art, so with another, I suppose- and as I cross the one year mark of seriously pursuing my photography, I have indulged myself permission to rework some of my favorite pictures taken in the last year with new eyes and new knowledge. This set is from Otter Crest on the Oregon coast.
Maybe because it’s the one thing I can’t work around (without a return trip, albeit much desired), but I find my former composition choices most frustrating- lol- though I am very grateful that I discovered (and switched to) RAW format just before my trip. And, of course, for the opportunity to have gone back “home” in the first place.
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In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Broken.”