On a day off with Georgia

I wake at 5:30, pink streaks in the desert sky,  full moon fading to pale. It is my “personal practice day”—my day off!  I toast the charcoal in the candle flame, lighting the incense burner for my favourite service—Enmei —a rousing chant dedicated to Avokiteshvara Bodhisattva, perceiver of the cries of the world, whose heart moment by moment arises. Whose heart, moment by moment remains. Svaha!

I  set off on the bike for downtown Santa Fe in a light spatter of rain. Cruise through the lonely central Plaza and head for the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. I’ve never had much opinion about Georgia one way or the other, but she is a New Mexico icon, and it feels like just the perfect day.

The Museum curators have strained (as humans will) to construct a story around Georgia O’Keeffe’s work. There are videos and biographical notes, and large written quotes from Georgia on the walls. But the truth is, words were never her medium. The quotes are dull and mostly just serve to distract from the brilliance of the paintings. In one she states flatly that she doesn’t much care for words; she prefers to let the colours speak.

Taking her sparse words to heart I decide to ignore all the bumpf and just let experience carry me. I wander from room to room, feeling the high ceilings and easeful white walls, the cozy museum hush. Calendar photos do no justice to those brush strokes, so bold they smell of oil. The rough weave of canvas, the folded corners and ripped edges. Mesas burning sunset red, sky so endless blue, and  then—that one line where a single calla lily meets white space. Stops. My heart.

I enter a place where the paintings stop being flat shapes contained in frames; where the line of umber describing a cottonwood branch against sky merged with the silver metal frame, inseparable from the white wall, the tiny bumps in the rolled white plaster, and the random silhouettes of visitors as they pause, gaze, cast shadows and move on. The low buzz of comment. Security guards hover in the background (what background?). In the oh so perfectly conditioned air.

The sun is already setting as I head home to Upaya. I loop up the high canyon road, pumping steadily to make evening zazen. Soft edges of red adobe smear and fade. My breath flows in and out. Bare branches painted sharp and black against the grey pink sky.

One Response to “On a day off with Georgia”

  1. Ivy Young Says:

    you transmit the experience of that space and her work well–love this raw encounter with georgia.–makes me wanna see her work. yay, santa fe!

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