I recently returned from a two-week trip to Santa Fe where I reconnected with old friends and had the chance to see some of the changes that have taken place there since I left for Marfa almost 6 years ago (or maybe it’s been longer or shorter – time has no meaning in Marfa, many of us forget the day of the week, not the mention the month or year).
The visit came after a kind of perfect storm of circumstances in my life led me to recognize just how isolated is this small town in the middle of the grass plains of West Texas, high on the Marfa Plateau, dry and dusty and more often than not wind-blown – and I’m talking real wind, not breeze.
The nearest town of any size is at least three hours away by car, and that being pretty much your only option as without a car (as I was) you need to somehow get to Alpine, 30 minutes to the East, get on Amtrak to El Paso, and then what? You’re stuck in El Paso which is not the greatest place to be stuck.
Now I am someone with a very high tolerance for solitude, but there have been a few times this recent year where solitude has tipped into loneliness. That’s when I got on the phone and started calling friends in San Francisco and Santa Fe just to get a reality check, remind myself that I was connected to the larger world outside Juddville. One of those friends had recently moved back to the San Francisco Bay Area from Portland. She had told me her story of her difficulty forming more than the most ephemeral of relations there. This is someone I have known for a very long time (she was my studio mate in my first studio in San Francisco) and whom I have always trusted for her insight. She has also visited me in Marfa a couple of times. Her comment about my feelings of isolation were that, hey, I had moved to a town that is not only very small but is peopled with an unusual number of introverts, which makes sense given the nature of the place. Marfa is also a town of eccentrics (I include myself as both an introvert and an eccentric) and the people you hang out with are the people whose eccentricities are similar to your own.
As with other places I have lived, San Francisco and Santa Fe, the locals can be fiercely loyal, so it is not without some trepidation that I write this post which might ruffle the feathers some card-carrying members in the Myth of Marfa Party.
That said, driving back from Santa Fe I was looking forward to returning to Marfa. There is an allure to the place not easily put into words, but these two articles by Sean Wilsey give a flavor of the place:
Although much has changed since these were written, much has also not changed.
My favorite part of the trip back from Santa Fe starts when you leave Carlsbad (or Anus Mundi), New Mexico, and head into the Guadalupe Mountains. Maybe some day the caverns will swallow up the town and the desert will take over. At least, that’s my fantasy.
After coming down out of the Guadalupes, you hang a left onto 54, a small two-lane road heading east to Van Horn which is magical, inspiring, gives your mind a rest, as you gaze off across the vast, empty landscape of yucca and mesquite. At Van Horn, you turn onto 90 for the long stretch into Marfa on another two-lane road, the only town between Van Horn and Marfa being Valentine, now practically a ghost town (although this is where our dentist now has her office). As you drive home to Marfa on these two roads it hits you just how isolated is Marfa. And there is both a kind of joy in that, and also a bit of anxiety, one part yearning for this home at the end of the world, the other part urging you to turn around and head back to where you came from.
But when I finally pulled up in front of my house, I was glad to be home. Back with my dog, and my books, and my painting. A place where nearly everyone waves as they pass by on foot or in their cars, as if in acknowledgment of “we’re all in this together.”
Marfa. It’s a good place to leave and it’s a good place to come back to.
What I Miss (Mostly Food)
- A deli
- A good sandwich, especially a decent Reuben
- An art supply store
- Fresh pastry and good bread
- Spontaneous gatherings of colleagues at the local artist bar
- Good, inexpensive restaurants
- Water and green
- Trader Joe’s
- A local pharmacy
PS: My love to the three muses of Marfa National Bank: Josie, Laura and Linda.