Georgia O’Keeffe and New Mexico Skies

It wasn’t the first time I’d stood in front of an O’Keeffe painting.  There was the one at the Panhandle Plains Museum in Canyon, Texas and of course all those at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.  This one, at the Harwood Museum in Taos, seemed special though.

1929.  She had already established herself as a major American artist and had visited New Mexico several times.  “Grey Cross with Blue” is one of her Taos paintings inspired perhaps by the Penitentes traditions or the famous Ranchos de Taos church. A grey, almost shimmering cross, hangs suspended in a sky that can only be described as O’Keeffe’s.

Great topic for a blog I thought as I later walked my Chihuahuan desert road, back from a vacation up north where I’d viewed the painting. Really a path along the Rio Grande valley’s alfalfa and chili fields, the stands of pecan trees laid out toward the bluing Organ Mountains–my daily ritual. Like I often do, I’d hope to work out ideas for writing on my walk.

The first thing I saw was a hawk sitting in the sandy path.  As I approached, fearing he was hurt, he allowed me closer and closer. I talk to animals, yes I do, and sometimes this no doubt freaks them out and other times they seem to like the timber of my voice.  Lower, quieter perhaps.  He shifted but held his ground.

Finally, only steps away, he gave up his vigil, seemed to sprout wings larger than I’d guessed (was this an American kestrel? no, something larger), surprising me by simply gliding down to the nearby plowed farmland where he landed on a large tumbleweed still moored in the ground.

Not wounded, no. Lying in wait. As I passed the mesquite trees along the path, what I term the girls’ giggles during a bridge game came my way.  A covey of female quail were unable to contain themselves as they gurgled in their hiding place.  I had interrupted the hawk’s dinner and the girls’ game.

On down, as I coursed through sandier soil, tracks of racoon, long digs of rabbit, I spot the two resident roadrunners, their rudder-like tails flailing as they speed up to stay safely ahead of me.  Cottontails scoot from the irrigation ditch to the mesquite cover.  The dove settle in for the night.

I’m surprised to see a flash of red near a creosote bush, sure sign of what we call the desert cardinal.  An immature male Pyrrhuloxia bouncing from ground to branch, hiding, then showing himself.  “What are you up to?” Again, he allows me to get very close before flitting away into the denser shrubs.

This is a long way from a meditation on Georgia O’Keeffe’s sky and crosses.

But then I look out over the fields to the Organ Mountains, the long jagged range its picturesque purple in the evening light rimmed with the blush of twilight sky.  Above it all that signature New Mexico blue sky-not cobalt, not quite Cerulean. And graced by the early evening patina of an almost full moon.

What would Georgia’s paint box have called it?  This sky?

I haven’t written the O’Keeffe blog but I’ve walked into her suspended night.




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