Filling Your Niche

Magical, magical Taos

En route from our vacation in Colorado back home to Vegas, I find a place at for rent in Taos at the very last minute. It’s this 3-bedroom adobe house about a block from the Plaza for the same price as the Super 8.

Original 40’s hardwood floors and saltillo tile. Cute little flagstone patio. Two bathrooms. Full kitchen. Casita out back. Dog-friendly.


Of course– there’s this catch. The rental guy tells us the neighbor is a little nuts. He’s not specific on what kind of nuts. Loud music at odd hours is implied. We’re encouraged to call the cops if we want. “If you don’t want to get involved or whatever, just call me and I’ll call the cops for you. I know you have kids.”

Dan & I are both kind of intrigued about Crazy Neighbor. We get in past dark, but there’s no sign of him. In the morning, the dismembered bicycle hanging from the metal fountain is a pretty solid sign which neighbor to watch out for. And the metal fountain itself is a peeing eagle. Sort of majestic, in a urinary kind of way.

We have to walk past Crazyhouse on our way to get Dan his morning coffee. There’s a skinny twitchy guy out front who greets us with a manic cheerfulness: “Hi! Hello! Good morning! I guess you must be the neighbors. You know this guy who stays here, this guy? He’s kind of, like, kind of crazy, right?”

It’s not clear whether this guy is, in fact, himself  the crazy neighbor but pretending not to be, or if he’s genuinely schizophrenic. Or, third option, a second crazy guy.

But, you know, whatever; we’re friendly by nature and he seems harmless so we chat for a while. He claims to be an electrician friend of Crazy Neighbor. We make semi-uncomfortable small talk, the less mentally stable of us flashing large tooth-missing smiles throughout, and eventually he shakes our hands and tells us to have a great stay in Taos and enjoy the day.

We walk to the Plaza and have coffee at this tiny place called World Cup (cute name, right? Tied for cutest with a place called Higher Grounds in Golden, CO). It’s about as big as our rental’s living room, and the walls are plastered with currency from different nations and lots of bumper stickers. I’m not a coffee drinker (anymore… that’s a long, sad story for another day) but they offer some kind of orange zest mocha with an irresistible name that I can’t remember at the moment so I make an exception and it is so worth it.

I love that this is a town where some law-enforcement dude with shiny handcuffs tucked into the back of his belt is getting his morning joe at a place with ‘Question Authority’ bumper stickers over the door.

After coffee is procured, we walk down to the gallery where Dan previously managed to find a kindred spirit. The place isn’t open yet, but next door is a chocolate shop. I recognize the guy behind the counter as the same one who was in line in front of us at World Cup. God, I love small towns.

We make our way back toward the house past an amazing-looking toy store that has a free playground out back looped with enormous kiddie habitrails. This is a sign it’s time to wake up the kids.

Back in the driveway, we’re greeted by this:

Dan points at the sage. “That was not there when we left,” he says.

I pick it up. The charred ends are still warm. The placement is consistent with having been thrown over from Crazy Neighbor’s yard.

Even the tweakers here are nice.

Later, I tell my friend Deanna, a Taos wedding photographer and the main incentive for our visit, the story. “That’s so Taos!” she says. Actually, she says that a lot.

Later in the morning, Dan somehow runs into the landlord from next door. He finds out that Crazy Neighbor was in fact arrested the same night we arrived, apparently got into some fight with his brother. So I guess the other crazy guy we met this morning was, in fact, just a random second crazy guy hanging out at the house for no apparent reason while his crazy friend was in the clink.

The next morning we hit up the farmers’ market, only a few blocks away in the opposite direction of the Plaza.  We bought homemade chipotle chevre and fresh spinach and a bouquet of purple garlic, then came home and made omelets.

Then we toured the Earth Ships.

I’m not sure it’s possible to see those things and not want to build one yourself. They are brilliantly constructed and very cool, zero utility bills and recycling of greywater built right in. I love the idea of a dwelling existing in so much harmony with nature. On a related side note: Oh my god, I’ve become such a hippie.

You have to cross the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge to get to and from the Earth Ships. It’s really gorgeous and terrifying.

I made the kids go out to the middle of it to take the next few shots ’cause I was too chicken. It’s actually embarrassing how few feet I walked out before getting dizzy.

I should’ve known those last two pics coming the second I handed them the camera.

We got milkshakes at this renovated bus.

We all agreed they were the worst milkshakes ever.

And we met this cool crusty dude with two milky alabaster feathers he’d carved.

Then we had to visit his booth and all the other little booths set up over by the Bridge. Some of it was really cool.

I’ve seen roadside Native American booths before, especially around the Grand Canyon area, but these have a different feel. In that section of the country, there’s a sense of desperation in all those wares lined up. Here, there’s a fierce pride. Pride in their craft, pride in their heritage, pride in themselves. There’s strength coursing through the desert here.

When we get back to the rental, the Crazy Neighbor’s landlord has organized a yard sale of Crazy Neighbor’s stuff, clearly evicting while the iron’s hot. Or incarcerated, as the case may be.

Of course we had to check it out.

I got this great book for only $5!

And now it’s our day to leave and I am seriously cranky.

In visiting my hometown, I used to get a sense of “Yes, this!” when I stepped out of the car. I always thought I’d eventually end up there, that nowhere else would ever be home.

Something about that solidity eroded over the past few years. Something not right, some stale scent of hollow obligation now wafts in under the pine sap and behind the loon calls. It’s not my place any more.

I’m also not at home where I currently live in Vegas. Not even close.

Dan and I talk a lot about our Forever House, about where we want to end up after the kids are on their own. Or at least, old enough that custody schedules no longer have to be a factor in our residence choices. We’ve debated Tucson, considered Colorado. We can’t seem to commit to anywhere. Nothing feels right.

Until we pulled into Taos.

The second our feet hit this ground, we looked at each other with a mirroring “Yes, this!” in our eyes. This is our place. Not right now; there’s no practical way to fly Miss L back and forth to her mom’s, plus it’s expensive in Taos and we need to plan for it. But we know it’s our future, and it’s a freeing, grounding thing to have that certainty in my life again. It’s been missing for a long time.

As my niece says, I “cried a biddle from happy” when I found the sage in our drive coming back from our first morning wander here. There is something a little nuts about this place, and even that is so incredibly right.


Maarit • 07/17/2011

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  1. Julianna 07/17/2011 - 4:56 pm

    Love it. Sounds alchemetic (that’s probably not a word) What a great thing to find your forever place. 🙂


  2. Anonymous 07/18/2011 - 5:37 pm

    Well, as for me, the cold, Northwinds are still calling me home. I dream of when (and if) I’ll return to the Bji area. I still get the “Yes, this!” everytime I step out of the car. (I use your words because I know ‘exactly’ what you’re referring to!) For you, it’s not your place psychologically anymore, and since it’s neither of our homes physically, we must make do with where we are. I’m thrilled to hear that you’ve found your maybe, hopefully forever destination. I don’t know if I’ll still be living here when you would move this way, but if I am, I’ll be sure to be one of the first to welcome you and Dan to New Mexico! Call me next time you’re passing through. Love always, Michelle (Littler, for the curious ones)

  3. Misty 07/21/2011 - 7:49 pm

    Maarit,since you have clearly figured out the secret of finding your (future) forever place, perhaps you could begin working on finding mine. Good old Bemidji hasn’t given me that “Yes, this!” feeling in – oh- ten years or so, but the other B town is certainly not doing it for me either.

    And congratulations. I think you might be an almost grown-up now. 😉 It was bound to start happening to the Class of ’93 some time!

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