In the not so long ago, I spent five years in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a time of unusual enlightenment for me. I was so lucky to be able to live in a place so different from what I had known – the people, the land, the weather and, most of all, the history.
Santa Fe, New Mexico is high desert and not arid and dry as other deserts we know about. It is lush with vegetation that is subtle but striking. The roadside wild flowers came as a surprise. The snowcapped mountains in the summer were a sight to behold. I was truly blessed to have had this experience.
Most of all, I was able to share all the wonderful places of interest when friends came to visit. We were sure to visit the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, the Loretto Chapel – the well-known story of the miraculous stairway built by a stranger passing through Santa Fe without the use of nails – the place of miracles at Los Ninos in Chimayo where crutches and other devices were abandoned after people were cured. There would also be a visit to St. Miquel’s, the oldest church structure in the United States, built in 1619.
There was the treat of going to the town square to enjoy the outdoor activities, especially the entertainment during Spanish market and Indian market. Each event featured the best of each culture. Music, flamenco dancers and ethnic food were enjoyed and relished.
Native-American treats of dancing from different tribes, arts and crafts and more ethnic food could be seen and enjoyed. Street vendors that sold roasted corn, fry bread and other specialties were available.
The opera was a favorite event. The Santa Fe Opera House is special. It sits high up on the side of a mountain, with an open-air theater, and hearing and viewing under the stars is unforgettable.
Not too far from the city of Santa Fe is the place where the atom bomb was developed. Los Alamos was the place where scientists did their work on the awesome and devastating weapon of mass destruction. There was amazing secrecy that permeated the project during World War II.
There was so much to learn about this different land in our country that was fascinating and sometimes heart rending. The history of this state is perhaps not too well known. I was not aware of some of the history.
Juan de Onate a conquistador, in the 1550s, came to New Mexico through El Paso from Mexico and left scars on the area by his extreme cruelty to the Native Americans. He ordered all the men to have one foot cut off to control the different tribes that inhabited there. He came looking for gold and treasures and found none. It was a time in our history of great abuse to others. He stripped the natives of their culture and religion forced them to follow his way.
Native Americans were driven from their lands and retreated to the most arid and desolate areas where pueblos were established to live and farm with great difficulty. Some tribes did not survive.
It was a most enlightening experience to live in this area. I came to appreciate the natural beauty. I also realized the history and pain our country had to endure in its development. I pray we have learned from our past not to repeat some things again, now or in our future.
Linda Alessi contributes a column to The Democrat on life’s later decades.