A few days ago, I ran away from home.
Okay…it was only for four days, three nights.
Still. Just me. Alone. Traveling solo for the first time in decades–and without plans, without reservations: just winging it.
You see, a family member who lives with us has a cluster of mental illnesses and bad behaviors, and quite frankly—it was making ME an unstable, unhappy person in dealing with it/him. It has been eroding my marriage, my productivity, my emotional health and that of my husband’s. My physical health is precarious at best, without added stress.
With constant stress, it’s a disaster. All over.
There are usually two normal, chemical-physiologic reactions to extreme stress: Fight or Fight. Also know as: “The fight-or-flight response (also called the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response in post-traumatic stress disorder, hyperarousal, or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.” (thank you, wikipedia) Also known as “If I can’t fight this thing, I will DIE. So I’d better the hell RUN!”
It’s a primitive thing, this reaction. We are now supposedly modern, educated. We can, in theory, “avoid” or “shut down” this thingy and tell ourselves we are NOT going to DIE.
People with decent and good health need time to recover from this constant onslaught of stress. For folks like me, whose health is compromised (a very long, annoying story of ‘I thought I’d be so much better by now, but I’m not’)…well. If the stress is constant, you never have enough time to recover, since it takes so much longer to rebound from pretty much anything, anyway.
So your energy-cup gets emptier…and emptier.
I couldn’t get my balance. Sorry, psychologists (including the one I’d been seeing for months, who sort of DUMPED me a few days before this).
My cup ran over. Went dry. With day after day of the overload, I couldn’t recover. Depleted, I ran. Yes…what to do…heart racing, seeking refuge…Flight!
Thinking it would become a Wild Gypsy Adventure, I hurriedly packed my bag, my camera, my laptop, a few clothes, and got outta there; meaning my comfy, air-conditioned home. Intending to not only ‘gypsy,’ I thought it would free me for hours of writing, photography, thinking, praying–and peace. I was looking for an epiphany, even to chasing one, as a family member said to explain why he and his daughter were going to walk “The Way,” the Santiago de Compestela trail from France to Spain.
Maybe my epiphany had a more desperate–or just an immediate–element to it, but do know the inner struggles of that relative walking The Way? No, not any more than he has of mine. So, I had in mind to go back to Taos, NM. A trip there seven years ago, with a good friend who was mired in grief from the death of a child, had been a mixed bag; enjoyable but hard. Yet it was a new and invigorating experience.
And just outside of the touristy-artsy stuff IN Taos, there is Taos Pueblo, a World UNESCO site. Over a thousand years old, it is an understated kind of amazing. The first time, we wandered around and soaked in the atmosphere. My friend is very spiritual, more so than I. Everywhere, she saw signs of her departed son. I didn’t expect her strong reactions to Taos, the Pueblo, or its people.
But they were so kind to her. Gentle, soft-spoken when you enter their shop or approach the table where they sell goods—baskets woven from the red willows that grow, lush, along their sacred stream (thus the name they give themselves, the Red Willow People). When my friend tried to speak of her adopted, Native American son, she broke down weeping. The Pueblo women offered her hugs. Gave her gifts of pottery, of food, of jewelry. One even told her to go wash her face in their sacred stream to help with her healing—and trust me, it is forbidden for non-tribal people to even touch the waters of the stream. So it was very, very special.
At Taos, my photographer-self emerged. I’ve sold a number of the pics I took there. It was a point-and-shoot camera, and I was thrilled & pleased that anyone would even buy a picture I took, at the time (I still am. Always.) I opened in one online shop, then closed it when I found Etsy. Sold a few off-line also. A friend bought my “Three Crosses of Taos.” Others bought “Remembrance,” a shot I took of the mud wall along the cemetery that showed a large wooden cross and traditional homes with aqua blue doors in the background, against a violet sky and the mountains in the distance. Another popular one was of the old church ruins in black and white. I called it “Bent’s End,” but on this year’s Gypsy Tour, I learned that is wrong (the governor was killed in front of his house, in town).
When I returned, I had a much better camera: Little Red, my Nikon D3300. I still shoot with the lens she came with (and am having serious covetous of getting that ‘bigger’ lens now, sigh) Slung over my shoulder, I proclaimed Little Red to the booth when I paid to enter the Pueblo. They no longer charge for cameras (it used to be $6) – but the night before, I discovered they have Rules & Permissions for Taking Photos at Taos Pueblo.
I read them…yoops. As a noob, I either didn’t pay attention or didn’t think they’d ever apply to ME. And they charge a fee, depending on how you want to use/sell photos. Since I didn’t have time to ask for permission from the tribe in this trip, I intended to take just a few shots, you know—for my blog.
Then I realized: I didn’t trust myself. When I take photos of PLACES it is to SELL them. I took the tour, this time, and learned vastly more. Our guide, a young college student named Hawk, did his job well. A musician, he is studying management so he can handle his career as an artist, and support other artists (of course, this spoke deeply to me) Both Pueblo and Apache, he is understandably proud of his heritage, his blood.
Speaking of…there have been bloody uprisings orchestrated by the Red Willow People and other pueblo/southwestern tribes against their oppressors—the Whites. But since the slaughters of the 1800’s, they learned other tactics. They learned to stand fast, and to persevere in what they wanted.
They wanted their lands back—100K acres of mountain land, which on the map is simply labeled ‘Pueblo Mountain.’ It is sacred, like the stream. It is integral to the practice of their Nature Religion. It took them over 60 years, but the elders persisted—and they got it back.
All of their sacred land in the mountains.
I am incredibly impressed with that. Not through violence (though it was a part of the earlier history) but through asking and pressuring and petitioning the government—over and over and over. Until they got back what was theirs. Surprisingly, it was President Nixon who returned it to them (he wasn’t a total scoundrel–see?)
Mainly, they persisted. This is the key to so many things, it seems. I think I am finally starting to get it…sort of.
When you don’t understand but are trying…stand.
When you’re discouraged and have done all you know how to do…stand.
When you’re overwhelmed and you cannot stand…sometimes you just have to flee. To rest. To recuperate. To freaking protect your soul.
Then come back, and stand again. Some day, things will change–either the Thing or You.
So there I was, revisiting Taos Pueblo—I thought it was to retake some photos with my better camera. But the feeling that I’d wronged these people was strong…selling those photos without permission…I couldn’t shake it. What could I do to make restitution, at this point?
I took Hawk aside and thanked him first for our tour, and for how kind his people were to my friend in her deep grief. Then I made a confession about my photos, and asked him how to make amends. He went blank, but was polite. He had no idea, really.
I had to figure it out myself. I bought some of their goods—this time, to give away. (except for the Fry Bread. Couldn’t get anyone to share a piece with me, the germaphobes, so I had to eat it)
Also, I didn’t take one photograph. Not even one.
Wouldn’t you like to see those earlier pics of Taos Pueblo from my first visit–the ones I sold? Yeah, I’d like to share them with you, too. But I can’t-not anymore. They are in my little secret file. I don’t have the heart to delete them, but neither can I market them.
It’s a matter of honor, you see.
I’m going to stand on that, for now. And what else did my gypsy adventure show me?
Until next time…