Monday, October 10, 2011


Autumn in Albuquerque.
Autumn Equinox.
Climbing walls, looking forward.
Blossoming bursts of color in the high desert.

Troubadours - the role of the poet as singer, as voice.
Carrier pigeons.
The Rio Grande.
The Sandia Mountains.
The pain that was here.
The healing that remains.

Bald eagles still nest here along the same trees by the river that were pictured in kiva drawings thousands of years ago. Drawings depicting dances for rain.

Looking down on my beautiful city from
Sandia Crest of 10,600 feet,
I am home.

These mountains are major North American travel routes for migratory birds such as red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, sharp-shinned hawks and turkey vultures.

"The poet's primal voice is to pierce walls," summarizes my friend Margaret Randall in her book of essays "First Laugh." Nature knows no borders. Birds fly through countries. Bodies retain their cellular memory. We remember. We must speak the truth, our truth, to the world to allow healing.

Vistas await me...
wonderful new adventures.
The birds already know this.
Time to follow my inner instincts, migrations.
Balance with the Autumn Equinox in my beloved New Mexico.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Solstice

I came to find light. From the northern land of clouds and rain, I followed my tug of intuition that set me off on this journey to New Mexico. A pilgrimage, or a sabbatical; I came to find clarity in a new landscape where the sky is a different shade of blue and light reflects more intensely. I have experienced more sun in the last three months than I would have in several Minnesota summers.

The last couple of weeks Albuquerque has been engulfed at night by smoke from the Arizona wildfires a couple of hundred miles away. Breathing is no longer taken for granted. The moon turned red.

It’s clearing out now and the days remain clear, the nights are full of stars. Riding back from Santa Fe in my new friend’s yellow convertible, I breathe -- I notice the big dipper hanging above us. I am finding my own sense of clarity within the wind, the dust and the clearing smoke.

I arrived here in March, just after the Spring Equinox, in the middle of one of the windiest windy seasons on record. I found out I am allergic to dust, and realized after a few weeks that I miss water, and rain, and endless green. It took me a couple of weeks to acclimate to the altitude. Minneapolis elevation is at 841 feet. Albuquerque is 5,000 feet. I came in on a whirlwind of hope , only knowing of five people who lived in the state, and only knowing one fairly well, my writing coach. I stirred up quite a bit of feelings being introduced to a new romantic interest that started very quick and intensely, and is now evolving into something I’m not as sure of. There are patterns and circles that flow and interconnect, kind of like fractals.

What did I expect when I came here? What type of journey did I think I would find? I look back to the reasons I wanted to move here and the fears I had on what was holding me back. The fear of how I would stay the same, in the same patterns if I didn’t make it happen. The fear of getting stuck. I wanted to move if I but only if I had the right conditions: if I could keep my friends, if I could make new ones, if I could grow and have new experiences. I wanted to move to save money, to have new places to explore on weekends, to jump-start my writing, and most of all, to challenge myself. I worked through all of my excuses with help from my Minneapolis community and a lot of exercises and workshops. I made the decision and made the move and set off on an exciting new adventure. Of course, things always take longer and cost more money than planned.

What I found was unexpected. Hot air balloons. The windy season. Romance. Volcanoes. Alien beer. Petroglyphs. Inner turmoil. Light. I chose to become an immigrant and to be uprooted. I have the independent, wandering spirit from my grandfather, who came to Minnesota from Sweden in 1901 at age 18, the only one in his family to leave the homeland. He came for new opportunities, and to get away from the Swedish-sponsored Lutheran church. He had sponsors and help for a new start and a new life. I am a native Minnesotan and although I have traveled quite a bit, I had always lived in the Twin Cities metro area. I wanted New Mexico as my new home and I have found a few ‘sponsors’ to help me. I also knew that whatever struggles I would have to deal with, the landscape would hold me. The landscape is what drew me here and what I continue to respect and learn from. The gorgeous Sandia Mountains fill my daily life. The volcanoes have their secret beauty. It is a terrible type of beauty where I am not in control. I have to listen to the voice of the land.

I am reading “Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather, which was a gift to me from Tim’s parents. I had never read the classic and although I never thought much of the Catholic church and what they did to the Native Americans, Cather’s fictional rendering of Father Jean Marie Latour coming from France to the vast unexplored territory of New Mexico in the 1850’s portrays him as sympathetic and respectful. Latour learns from the unforgiving landscape and explores his own loneliness. “That country will drink up his youth and strength as it does the rain." Ah, yes, how appropriate. I am not a tourist anymore, I am here for the long haul. The landscape is testing my strength.

To give another example, here is an excerpt about the Bishop Latour on his way to visit his Native American friend Eusabio – “the ride back to Santa Fe was something under four hundred miles. The weather alternated between blinding sand-storms and brilliant sunlight. The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still, -- and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky.”

Jean-Baptiste Lamy was the real-life French roman Catholic clergyman and the first Archbishop of Santa Fe that Cather’s novel is based on. His bronze statue is in front of the St. Francis Cathedral and he is buried under the sanctuary floor of the Basilica.

Personally, the land is my spiritual haven. I have moved from the 44th latitude parallel to the 35th latitude parallel. Albuquerque has 14.5 hours of daylight on the summer solstice, whereas Minneapolis has about 15. I lost a half hour of daylight but gained more sun. The Swedish midsummer is celebrated around the time of the summer solstice, with dancing around maypoles, bonfires and wearing crowns of wildflowers. Midsummer was thought to be one of the times of the year when magic was strongest and it was considered a good night to perform rituals to look into the future.

My will is sometimes tested with the quirky culture of Albuquerque (or Albuquirky as some call it). Getting my New Mexico driver’s license was easy enough, however I had to go through a week’s worth of paperwork and several trips with emissions and VIN doctors and MVP bureaucrats to get my New Mexico license plate. The political climate here can be depressing with a new Republican governor, the public schools are among the lowest rated in the country and the daily news reports endless drunk drivers with no treatment or no plans to get them off the road before they kill someone. Drug trafficking is in the schools and there are abandoned pet notices everywhere. In spite of all this, I am encouraged by the literary community here with a wonderful collaboration of poets and musicians. I have found a Monday evening open mic that is interesting and inspiring, and there are several weekly workshops and readings that give me options of ways to be connected and involved in the community. There are several independent, small presses here and a good University system. Every city has it’s down side, but Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos have some of the best artists in the country. I am here to take advantage and learn from that. I am already making the 50 minute drive to Santa Fe a weekend habit (or taking the Rail Runner), and Old Town Plaza is just a few minutes away. What I used to dream about is right outside my turquoise door. Last week I was writing in the O’Keeffe Museum for an evening workshop. I already have had a stream of visitors to my guest bedroom. My taste buds are happy too - who would have thought this Swedish girl would become addicted to green chile! I have learned to make it at home and put it on everything, including my new favorite, green chile mac and cheese.

I am writing – that is the main thing – new poems, new collaborations.

I continue to meet new friends and the Duke City is home for me. I felt that when I visited Minneapolis for a reading a few weeks ago and flew home. Albuquerque is home. When will I feel like a local? I feel it now, with my apartment, seeing friends, reading my work in front of others, going out to eat or on my daily walks with the gorgeous mountains. I have a routine and I’m settling in. I see the occasional road runner or the cute little lizards scampering across the patio. I mostly feel it learning what the land has to tell me. I am living my authentic self, or trying to. Here I am on the sage-brush desert edge of the world where I can breathe.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rising to new adventures

Today I wake up to four hot air balloons rising, which I can see from my patio in my new apartment in Albuquerque. A good sign, since I am hoping to go ballooning Sunday morning. I treasure the invitation from my new friends, Randy and Diana, to be part of the adventure, and I am bringing along my new romantic interest, Tim, who has also never been ballooning. I took a leap of courage in my journey to come here without knowing what to expect and I am pleasantly surprised, or more appropriately, blown over, by the intensity of what is happening in my life. I have met a wonderful man, and I had to come all the way to Albuquerque to meet a fellow Minnesotan. We’ve known each other only a few days and it seems like weeks, or months, or a lifetime.

As I watch the balloons rise, I think of the role balloons have played in history. I read the book “Jules Verne: The Man Who Invented Tomorrow” by Peggy Teeters. The book practically fell off the shelf to prompt me to read it at the Albuquerque library last week and reminds me that I chose my name for my writing life and for curiosity and adventure. (Most of you know my birth name was Julie, but I legally changed it to Jules many years ago).

The legendary author Jules Verne writes a fictional account about balloon explorers on the “Victoria,” a passenger balloon scheduled to go across Africa from east to west following the trade winds. It’s three passengers were Dr. Samuel Ferguson, an English explorer, Joe Wilson, a faithful servant, and Dick Kennedy, a courageous Scotsman. They maneuvered the “Victoria” over the jungles of Africa where the local inhabitants thought she was a foreign god. She was moored on the top of a breadfruit tree so that she would be safe from attack by some of the people below. On another occasion, her trail rope becomes entangled in the tusks of an elephant that begins to race wildly over the terrain with the balloon in tow. Jules Verne couldn’t resist putting Victoria and her crew in the midst of a blinding rainstorm and had Dr. Ferguson battle to make her rise high above the clouds away from the flashes of lightning. At the end of the story, the three men finish the journey without the basket, clinging to the net of the sinking balloon.

Verne’s novel opens with a brief factual account of African exploration up to that time – this is 1862 – and the reader is promised the revealing of the source of the Nile, Lake Victoria. This is the manuscript for Jules Verne’s “Five Weeks in a Balloon” which was published in January 1863 (after over fifteen rejections) and was an immediate best-seller with adults and children and provided enough income for Jules to live off his writing and give up his jobs that allowed for no creativity. In fiction, the Victoria has a successful flight in spite of its heart-thumping moments. On the other hand, in real life, there was an international race going on to discover the source of the Nile, the longest river in the world. Africa was unknown to the Europeans of the time and Jules’ idea of having his fictional explorers find the source of the Nile granted him success.

The French explorer/photographer Felix Tournachono, better known in Paris as Nadar, had a giant balloon, named appropriately, “The Giant” and equipped it with double-decker bunks, a kitchen, and a darkroom. Nadar didn’t really believe that the balloon could succeed as a means of transportation and told Jules the only reason he was building the “Giant” was for the money and the publicity it would bring him so that he could construct a primitive kind of helicopter. Jules, however, kept on writing. Nader’s
“Giant” crashed in Hanover, Germany, nearly killing the adventurer and his wife.

Hot air balloons also helped the French war effort in the 1870 with Napoleon’s downfall and victory over the Germans. Over sixty balloons left the capital during the siege, with most of them landing in friendly territory carrying pigeons, dogs and letters. One balloon flew 600 miles to Konigsberg, Norway, while another got up to a speed of 95 mph. A German balloon and a French balloon (piloted by the Frenchman Nadar) had even engaged in an air battle – the first in world history. Nadar had shot the German balloon down.

Jules Verne would go on to write “Around the World in Eighty Days,” “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” Jules Verne passed away at the age of 77 on March 24, 1905. Over 5,000 people came to his funeral, including schoolchildren, soldiers, politicians, clergy, scientists and writers. Jules’ son Michel erected a monument on his gravesite two years later at the Le Madeleine Cemetery in France. I will have to put Jules Verne’s gravesite on my list of cemetery visits for my own future travels. Jules Verne is an inspiration to me as a writer. New Mexico balloons are inspiring, floating pieces of the imagination that can take me almost anywhere.

I am not going to be as adventurous as the “Victoria,” however! Randy and Diana’s balloon is named “Sky Candy,” very appropriate for bright skies and fun travels! We will lift off from a parking lot at 6:30 in the morning, float over the suburbs and the valleys and land a couple of hours later to a welcoming tailgate party. I am a virgin balloonist, and now, by lifting off the New Mexican soil into the one-of-a-kind blue sky, I am finding out what courage and adventure feels like. How rewarding it is to feel at home with new friends and new love, in a new landscape. I want to share my experiences with all my friends scattered in Minnesota and elsewhere. My past is grounded, my future is open, my present is rising with the balloons.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

10 days - 3,170 miles

Photo: northern Iowa as the snow starts to appear.

The final statistics:
10 days, 3,170 miles! Quite a road trip. If I knew what the weather would be like and how tired I would be I would have thought twice before going. I did go, I needed to go and it was well worth it! I have now made my decision - I am moving to Albuquerque in April!

12.25 - MSP to Emporia, KS
12.26 Emporia, KS to Boise City, OK
12.27 Boise City, OK to Las Vegas, NM - 2 nights
Las Vegas is one of my favorite places and fun people! Harder to find places to rent there though...
12.29 Las Vegas, NM to Albuquerque (snowstorm in Santa Fe) - 3 nights
highlights: finding an apartment complex I like in Albuquerque, and seeing my writing coach Demetria Martinez and writer Margaret Randall and her partner Barbara.
New Year's Eve in my hotel room, went to bed early for the long drive the next day
1.1 - Albuquerque to Kimberling City, MO (900 miles!!!) what a road trip, but I did it to spend time with my parents. I was sick of hotel rooms and it was nice driving weather-wise, although very long and I needed to stop and take a break for some home cooking and a guest room bed. They are happy for me and excited that I will be moving! They may even visit (my parents and my brother have never been to Albuquerque). I-40 straight through Armarillo, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Joplin, MO and south to Springfield, MO area.
1.3 - Kimberling City, MO to Minneapolis, MN. 650 miles. Great sunny weather driving until I hit Mason City, IA where it begins to get snow, dark, and increasingly worse weather. Had to slow down to about 45 mph around Fairbault, MN to deal with the decreased visibility and slippery road conditions. The last 2 hours were the worst. It felt like I was going through a tunnel from sunshine and open space into this cloud of dreariness. I am a native Minnesotan, and for the first time in my life, coming 'home' to the Twin Cities is not feeling like the 'home' it used to be for me. I am ready for a new life, a new adventure in New Mexico! "Bagheera" my car ran great.
1.4 - Sleep in, unpack, a day off to be ready for work at home tomorrow! (and off to Boston - by air - next week)