Sacked by the "downturn", an unemployed architect touring the country in a bus...

I used to live in New York City. I designed homes for the tycoons of Wall Street; Park Avenue, Scarsdale, Greenwich. It was great fun. And, after years of saving up for a down payment, I was just about to buy my own little place in Fleetwood, half an hour north of the city, when the economy fell apart. Architects are like canaries in a coal mine when the economy slows, and true to form, there were massive layoffs in firms all over the country. Devastation of the profession. So, I decided to try to find something else to do for a while. I bought a 23' school bus and I'm on the road to see if I can figure out what that might be.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Crestone, Part 1

About an hour and a half north of Taos, at the very foothills of the Rockies, lies the enchanting little town of Crestone where some several hundred people live dreamy, anachronistic lives.  The town itself has four or five streets, forming a few rectangles containing at most a dozen businesses, the most prominent of which is the modest coffee shop, Shambala.  Built in an old house and painted a dark turquoise, Shambala occupies the first corner you encounter as you enter Crestone via the only road leading to the town.  The location and the picnic table outside make this the front door and the living room, and it is the center of daily social life in Crestone for many of the colorful residents.  Groups of regulars gather and chat and gossip, some in shifts according to their own personal schedules for work and so forth, and some who seem to center their activities around the table for most of the day.

Among the full timers is Steve, a completely pixilated elf who lives in a yurt in the compound adjoining Shambala, where he tends the garden on the grounds and in the Lexan Geodesic dome.  When he gets your attention, Steve rambles on with almost schizophrenic incoherence, but with a watchful twinkle in his eye as he seemingly paces his excursions to the near limits of rational attention.  Something is going on in there behind his extroverted, Robin Williamsish free associated preaching about Light and Mother Earth, and the souls of rocks and asparagus.  Under the good graces of the owner of Shambala, Steve and half a dozen other people live in the compound, along with some chickens.  Will Omega is living in his car nearby, having recently arrived from Flagstaff, and he appears at the picnic table frequently, selling his wooden Indian flutes (five hole pentatonic recorders) and offering beginners lessons to facilitate his sales.  Rev, the Reverand, sells pot and is a regular too, his business both benefiting from and aiding the social scene at Shambala.  Jullie, a very pretty usually barefooted girl probably in her later twenties, often wearing a rolled bandanna around her forehead, frequently lends her joyful bright smile to the table, and offers home made cookies to friends, noting with a giggle that they, too, have medicinal ingredients (pot).  It's a hippie town.

It's also a "Spiritual" town.  I resent that that term is often used to refer to any and every far fetched belief system dealing with the human longing for a sense of purpose, with the common and false attendant implication that if you are rational, you are not sensitive to the fullness of life; it makes me feel belittled, and by folks who, in my opinion, are the ones missing the fullness of the "miracle" of scientific reality.  In any event, Crestone owes its large proportion of residents pursuing a spiritual life to a number of reasons, including Crestone's seclusion and natural beauty, it's purportedly health giving hot springs, and, most importantly, the beneficence of a wealthy family who long ago began giving land to not-for-profit spiritual organizations.  And so the surrounding hills have thirty or more retreats for Buddhists and other groups, including a variety of new age healers and so forth.

Nestled into the foothills and radiating outward from the town itself, is a large flat lands in which an enormous development, Baca Grande, was begun in the '60's.  Originally conceived as a residential community for the military at Los Alamos, it was later re-interpreted as a generally populated retirement community, and  in the '70s, owing to poor sales, the project lost momentum.  What remains is a two tiered region, half of which, the Baca, has two to four acre lots with infrastructure for electricity and water, some with houses, and the other half, the Grants, has similar sized pieces of raw land available.  And over the years, some of each portion has been settled on a shoe string by the colorful inhabitants of Crestone.  I will tell about my stays with folks in each in future posts.

I love Crestone.

I was 5 in 1960, when my parents, artists, moved us to a charming brick and stone Tudor house in a 200 year old village on Long Island.  I remember the excitement and optimism of the move, and in the years that followed, the excitement of the times, my parents love and admiration for the Kennedys, the Smothers Brothers poking political wit.  Our house was full of painting, music, puppets, drums, and I bonded to the make-the-world-better zeitgeist of the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mommas and the Poppas, over the nihilism of the The Rolling Stones and the Doors.  In '65 my father, possibly influenced by the free-love atmosphere, got involved with my best friend's mom, and his marriage to my mom, his true love, went downhill from there, raging on in fits and spurts for the next thirty years or so.  But one enduring legacy I have, possibly heightened by contrast with the chaos in my life that followed, is a soft spot for the idealism of the '60s and Hippies, and even the naive spiritualists.

And so I love Crestone because I love the reverberations of ancient long lost longings it stirred for me, and I stayed there, entranced, for what I can now hardly believe was only two and a half weeks.

I'll post more about this magical portion of my adventure, but for now, here is a link to some pictures of the town.  Click here

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