Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve 2011: Bonfires and Mabel Dodge Luhan on Winter in Taos

The holiday season in Taos opened with a snowstorm that reminded me of Mabel’s writing in her book, Winter in Taos.

Photo by Giovanna Paponetti, ©2011

The passage began with Mabel thinking how high the snow would be piled at the Lawrence ranch. She wrote “How cold and deserted it must be up there, with Frieda away for the winter.” Mabel reflected on how in the winter the days brought less activity:

We stay in the house more, and the changing light in the room, falling first on one portion of it, then on another as the day passes quietly, has a kind of experience in it, a feeling of deep living that we miss in the freedom of movement that comes when the frost is out of the ground.

Every winter Mabel had to learn anew to sink into the season instead of resisting the cold, snow and dark. Submitting to the reality of winter brought a certain kind of peace. Indoors in winter, Mabel wrote letters. She also pulled out her bag of wools and her needles and sat by the window perfectly content to knit and ponder and remember. In this pastime, she found another kind of quiet, a kind of even rhythm that was "somehow a very satisfactory activity like a dance or like the slow, sure motion of the constant star." In winter as sometimes in summer, Mabel always burned piñon in every corner fireplace. Before lighting the fires, she ritually lit cedar that acted as incense:

The silent house was perfumed with the dry cedar that is burned in it every morning; a small branch is lighted and blown out, and the smoke permeates the rooms and makes a most clean and peaceful smell.

Like Mabel, we keep fires burning in our wood stove during the coldest days of winter. Now, at the time of the last holidays before the new year dawns, however, I think of bonfires. We had one on the Solstice. This past August our youngest son, Pierre, came to visit. His mission on this trip was to help his dad build a fire pit. We inaugurated the fire pit at the Solstice with a household full of Taoseños and their families and friends. Long after our guests left, Skip and I stood outside and enjoyed watching the flames dance in the cold night air.

Our bonfire seemed substantial, but it was miniscule compared to the Christmas Eve bonfires at Taos Pueblo. For days before Christmas Eve, men from the various families trek into the forest. They seek out dead trees with plenty of pine pitch. Once cut and brought down to the huge plaza between the North and South houses, men and boys stack the wood like Lincoln logs to form squares.

Photo by Judith S. Bronner, © 1990
Each family with a traditional house at Taos Pueblo constructs ricks near their property. These can range from one foot high piles to towers three stories high.

At sundown, just before the Christmas Eve mass at Taos Pueblo’s San Geronimo church ends, the men and boys of the families or Pueblo officials set fire to the ricks. Bonfires burn all over the plaza and light the procession and the people who attend this special celebratory evening at Taos Pueblo.

Photo by Judith S. Bronner, © 1990

On New Year’s Eve, fireworks not bonfires, will light the night sky of Taos. May the light of peace shine on you all tonight.

Wishing you a Happy New Year!

Adios for now,

My gratitude to friends Giovanna Paponetti and Judith Bronner for supplying me with photos that illuminated this post.

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