The double cottonwood, a block from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum here in Santa Fe, has suffered some serious pruning since this photo was taken and, now leafless, looks somewhat deformed, with the long upper limbs cropped. I don’t know why the City decided to prune her, but often concern for big heavy limbs that may fall on passersby prompts this kind of butchery.
Never mind. She is still there, her massive roots buckling the concrete sidewalk, as expressive of hope as the crustacean-like naked roof structure of the burned Cathedral of Notre Dame.
“Hope is a thing with feathers,” Emily Dickinson begins one of her well-known poems, and certainly feathers are required to fly into our great uncertainties. The hope lives, I think, in our efforts to form various sorts of community—joining individuals as the two massive trunks of the cottonwood are joined.
I am a member of three groups, the first a book club that has been reading a book a month and discussing it together for many decades (I am the newest member); the secret of its success seems to stem from the commitment of its ten or so women and the fact that our meetings are always (well, almost always) on the first Sunday of the month at six pm at the same place. I would not choose, myself, many of the novels, histories and biographies we read, but that is the point of a book group—to push me in an unlikely direction. Oh, and it helps that one member always provides a home-made dessert.
I find myself involved in these three groups to my great pleasure and satisfaction, this after many decades avoiding groups as a waste of time.
The second, which brings me to Taos (a drive of over an hour from Santa Fe) nearly every Tuesday evening, hotel room reserved and Pip left the kennel, is made up of a small group of Taos writers. Sometimes there are only two or three of us sitting around the table at SOMOS, the extraordinary literary gathering place that provides well-organized rooms of books and a calendar crowded with readings. My group of writers contains probably the most generous-spirited people I know, able to listen to sometimes crudely crafted firsts drafts of memoirs with a bit of humor and patience and many worthwhile suggestions. It is a gift and a blessing.
My third group, which is less than three years old, has yet to find its form, perhaps because the members, like so many people who are retired and live in Santa Fe, travel frequently and sometimes for months at a time. Our original purpose was to define and discuss the feminine, which seemed to lead nowhere; either we are all believers who have little to add or the topic did not appeal. I don’t know which. Anyway, rather than falling apart, the group turned to a discussion of our dreams, under the guidance of a Jungian therapist. This has led, for me, to a shower of dreams where before there were none, an extraordinary development. In a way, though it doesn’t matter what we discuss because these six or so women are probably the most interesting I’ve ever met. Just talking is rewarding.
And so we go on together, which is the only way to go on. In the face of the disintegration of the old forms—church, family, political groups—what seems to be left is the individual, often a woman, who is, perhaps, developing a set of values and ideals to fill the void.
At least I hope so.