In Tamara Adelman’s essay “Ghost Ranch”, a woman goes to New Mexico with the eye of moving there. She diviner’s through jumping in a lake with her dad that renewal of self is all she needs.
Tamara Adelman is a former massage therapist, Ironman triathlete, and now writer and golfer living in Rancho Mirage, CA. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals including Five on the Fifth, Forge, Minetta Review, North Dakota Quarterly, and Pendora Magazine to name a few.
Her essay “Rustic Canyon” made the Notable Essays list on Best American Essays of 2016, which was edited by Jonathan Franzen.
When my surfer boyfriend broke up with me, my first thought was Now I don’t need to live by the coast anymore. I hadn’t been doing it for him in the first place but somehow felt I’d been staying for him. Everyone needs an escape route, and mine would include more land and fewer people.
Is it crazy that I might want to move to Santa Fe? I asked my therapist. Sometimes our truth surfaces after something big happens, she said.
I’d been living in Santa Monica for a dozen years, and there were people living under me and next to me. My view included rooftops, and a typical errand involved fighting traffic. Be careful what you wish for, I was told over the phone when I booked my trip to New Mexico by someone who had obviously lived with more land and fewer people for quite some time.
When my surfer boyfriend broke up with me, my first thought was Now I don’t need to live by the coast anymore.
This wasn’t the first warning I’d received about moving to what’s called the Land of Enchantment. The last time I visited New Mexico, I was told it was the Land of Entrapment for single people. But I decided at this point in my life, maybe a relationship was not that important and so I started looking for houses on Zillow.
Prices were better than California, but Hollywood had arrived to shoot in New Mexico, and many famous people and some retirees had second homes and third homes there, and that drove up prices.
I thought I should look in town in Santa Fe, even though I was advised by a local who flew into the regional airport with me that it was full of tourists. I passed three horses grazing in a small corral as I drove my rental car from the airport. It was Friday night and I planned to meet up with Ricky, my real estate agent, who reached out to me through my online searches, in the morning. I was having my place painted in Santa Monica while I was away.
Is it crazy that I might want to move to Santa Fe? I asked my therapist. Sometimes our truth surfaces after something big happens, she said.
I’d been checking the weather in Santa Fe on my iPhone since April. Now that it was early August, I took my raincoat since a local who had been reassigned the phone number of a friend I’d tried to contact who owned an art gallery on Canyon Road had told me it was likely to rain every afternoon. I would drink lots of water since Santa Fe was at 7,500 feet. Reportedly, the snow didn’t stay around long in the winter since it was so dry. But this was opera season.
My real estate agent Ricky was a good person, helpful: I think you should start in a lower price range and then you can always upgrade later, and honest. He thought I should live within walking distance to the coffee shop on Garcia Street. Look at the beautiful garden you won’t have to maintain at this condo, he said.
For me, at least in the last year, real estate agents had taken on the role of temporary father figures. I’d sold a property in Northeastern Wisconsin that had been my mother’s dream. Now I was looking for my own. There was a weight restriction on the pets at Ricky’s pick for me, and so I wouldn’t be walking to the coffee shop from there since my dog weighed fifty-five pounds.
My real estate agent Ricky was a good person, helpful: I think you should start in a lower price range and then you can always upgrade later…
We went up high, above town, looking for a view, but the place was makeshift, and a downgrade even from my run-down building in Santa Monica. I had a certain anxiety, an anxiety that was identified by Madeline Lewis, the lady I called by accident when I was trying to contact the artist I used to know. She was from Los Angeles originally—a Valley Girl before she moved to Santa Fe, years ago.
At first I wasn’t sure, she said, but now that I have been here fourteen years, I’m so glad I made the move. Call me if you have time on your trip; maybe we can meet if you have time. A mentor.
I called Madeline after my outing with Ricky and invited her to lunch the next day. She was a self-proclaimed cat lady whose sister had told her to stop wearing scrunchies in her long gray hair. I liked her right away. It had been a while since I had a smart lady in my life, and I gravitated toward her. We shared our stories and I hoped that someday she would be my friend.
Her smarts were familiar to me, and I liked that, like me, she never got married or had kids. I also liked her certainty. Madeline knew who she was. I thought I knew who I was too, but lately my sense of self had become more of an exploratory mission. I hadn’t had kids or gotten married, but now what?
I didn’t feel great over the weekend, and I attributed it to the year anniversary of when I put my mom’s house up for sale on Washington Island, the weekend of the Scandinavian Dance Fest. It definitely felt like my past, and so I tried to think about my present: at least I was doing something different.
Santa Fe calls itself the city different. I hoped that maybe by my being there, the marketing idea would rub off on me so that what felt like loneliness would become a wholeness, my weakness transforming into a strength.
I wondered what else I could change.
New Mexico was a mix of old and new. Its name said that it was “new,” and implied that something perhaps was improved upon. It was a beginning. Some things were called “old” like Old Pesos Road−its place marked in history. In New Mexico, the old remained part of the present. It was a reconciliation of its selves. It had what I was going for in myself.
If I moved to Santa Fe, it would have to be about the land. I had already met a few people, one who said she was a curandero—which is a Native American healer—when she wasn’t the hostess at the restaurant in my hotel.
New Mexico was a mix of old and new. Its name said that it was “new,” and implied that something perhaps was improved upon. It was a beginning.
She told me that mountains embrace you. I wanted to get that feeling and so I went to 10,000 Waves, a Japanese health spa that had been there for a long time and that was extremely busy since it was written up in Conde Nast. The parking lot is full of skiers at this time of day during ski season, the shuttle driver told me. Don’t hurry, he said. He was never in a hurry.
I went to the women’s tub, and was told by somebody there who was from Santa Fe but had moved to New Jersey that Santa Fe had many energy vortexes and so there was a high incidence of good but also evil. As a visitor, I could see that there was potential for conflict between the Native Americans who had been there and those who came and were buying up land.
I’d been to a yoga class in the Railyard District where I was the youngest person. I learned from the wisdom of the attendees who were doing child’s pose on their back to avoid extreme knee flexion. Because Santa Fe was not driven by a millennial workforce like Santa Monica, nobody moved here for jobs. The affluent moved here for retirement.
People were happy and healthy as if they’d been swimming in the fountain of youth or at least in the swimming pool from the movie Cocoon. They were also enjoying the culture they brought with them. There are a lot of interesting women here, one of the probably interesting women who was in the class told me. The men, not so much, she said.
The locals in town were the bartenders, and they were sophisticated. Food and wine knowledge, like the art culture, was high here. It was the tourists and part-time homeowners who kept these restaurants going. There were no happy hours, and food was expensive.
People were happy and healthy as if they’d been swimming in the fountain of youth or at least in the swimming pool from the movie Cocoon.
I think you’d be bored here, a man whose grandparents had summered here, who I had been chatting with while I was eating dinner at a bar, told me. I had this bad feeling like why bother to have hope, but I blamed it on traveling or the altitude.
My dad came into town after the weekend, and we decided to do some touristy things. It would be a nice change of pace, and my dad was always positive. We ate at a restaurant two nights in a row on Canyon Road where it was hard to get a reservation. We ate there two nights in a row because I made the reservations in advance.
Maybe I loved my dad too much. I said, Dad, I am not ready for you to go. I almost started to cry, but I was glad that I said it. After that, we had a really good time.
We took an open-air taxi tour through town. Our guide, Michael, told us that Santa Fe was a place of haves, have nots, and don’t cares. It sounded like he created that third category just for himself after he’d moved there for a girl. He told us the relationship hadn’t worked out but he’d stayed. He said he’d done a lot of hiking and that the way up a mountain was perspiration, but on the way down, it was inspiration.
I tried not to care about my breakup.
There weren’t that many locals in town. I didn’t see anyone sitting at coffee shops wearing T-shirts like in Santa Monica, where it appeared that nobody worked. I kept thinking how the curandero/hostess told me the wind carries you and that the ocean is the face of God.
We went to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, where the lights were dimmed to preserve the iconic images that were now more famous than what had inspired them. Next to the flowers and landscapes were sketches, just some lines on a napkin or card, but they were the original inception of the work. Some were made from airplanes as Georgia O’Keeffe looked out the window. I thought of poet Adrienne Rich, who’d said the notes for the poem are the only poem.
I said let’s drive to Abiquiu, the place where Georgia O’Keeffe lived after she spent her years in New York with Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer who was largely responsible for her fame. We couldn’t get in to any of the tours of O’Keeffe’s home or prebook anything at Ghost Ranch, where she spent her summers, but we went anyway. We were going to see the landscape that inspired her greatest work, so we left first thing.
We went to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, where the lights were dimmed to preserve the iconic images that were now more famous than what had inspired them.
On the road to Abiquiu, we passed Española and the Yogi Bhajan Memorial Highway. I had heard of Yogi Bhajan, back when yoga wasn’t popular, from the ashram that was down the street from where I lived in D.C. during college. I didn’t realize he had died, but I felt a certain levity. I don’t know if it was the open road, or going to a place where I hadn’t been, or just being with my dad.
Georgia O’Keeffe’s house looked like it was in an abandoned town except for two churches which were kept up. It was fourteen more miles to Ghost Ranch.
It had been a rough road in Georgia’s day, but I could see why she went there. It was more gorgeous than anything I’d seen in California, and we drove windy roads next to a river, and copper-colored mountains contrasted against the green of summer and the blue of the sky. At the right turn into the ranch was a cabin. Dad, should we stop? I don’t think so. I looked around for this dead tree that Georgia had painted.
We got to the visitor center and saw a movie poster for the movie Hostiles, which we had both seen earlier in the year. It turned out the cabin we passed was where City Slickers was shot. It seemed like it would be easy to be an extra in a movie out here since there weren’t that many people. The girl who worked there said her grandfather had been O’Keeffe’s driver when she was old.
We took the landscape tour and learned that many dinosaur remnants had been found in this region. We saw the cottage where Georgia O’Keeffe had stayed. I told my dad my housing problem was solved.
Lake Abiquiu was formed from a dam, and I’d heard it was nice from someone I’d met at a public swimming pool in Santa Fe. Dad, should we stop? Let’s go!
It took a while to get to the lake, surrounded by the landscape and very few houses. The wind was rustling through this one tree in a way I hadn’t heard in a long time. It was as if every surface of its leaves were a sail. I thought about going back to the car where I had not one, but two bathing suits. Be here now were the words I heard. They did not come from the tree or my dad.
I extended my arm to him, and he grabbed it, putting his weight into it with such determination, I thought he might pull me over. My dad edged along the incline like a goat. The light blue origami patterned skirt and gold shirt I wore was the perfect outfit. The hat with the tie around the chin stayed on as we jumped.
The lake was a huge bathtub basin. I could hear the quiet as I floated. The past was erased, and the future didn’t matter. The moment held me like an inner tube. The black flattop mountain that appeared in O’Keeffe’s paintings and so many westerns sat in the background like the Eiffel Tower. My dad, a lifetime swimmer, now said that all those swims had just been a warm-up for this swim: his best in 74.5 years.
My place looked great painted when I got back to Santa Monica. I Zillow’d Abiquiu and there was a one-room blue house for sale. It didn’t have plumbing or electricity, but it was ready for solar and had a woodstove and a propane tank. It didn’t have any art besides the view out the window and the front door. It was $50,000. Do you think they would take $49,000? my dad joked when I told him. But I kept looking at that house and thinking what it would be like to live there. Something about it soothed my anxiety.
The blue house was a template, a clean start—a blank slate. The basics were pioneered, but whoever bought the house would have to fill it with their dream to live that way. Living there would require a lot of work. Going to the bathroom would present a problem. Quality of life would be based upon supplies.
My place looked great painted when I got back to Santa Monica. I Zillow’d Abiquiu and there was a one-room blue house for sale. It didn’t have plumbing or electricity, but it was ready for solar and had a woodstove and a propane tank.
Who knows what kind of wild animals I would need to contend with? It would be far to go to get gas for a car. Sometimes the inside of the car might be the most comfortable place. I didn’t need to move there to discover that.
Dad and I agreed it was a great trip to New Mexico, and that we should go back every year. Shortly after, I found out the new owner of the house which had been my mother’s on Washington Island had burned it down. He had a dream of his own. Nobody had told me that it happened back in the springtime. It made me not want to go back there again. It became something that New Mexico would have called Old Tamara.
Shortly after, Dad and I made a trip to the golf course desert area of California—not Joshua Tree or Yucca or anything. After looking at fifty-two condos, we found the right one: across the street from his country club. I spent more and more time there, taking longer trips from Santa Monica, and eventually I became New Tamara, a person who was full of hope with every day that passed.
If you have enjoyed “Ghost Ranch” by Tamara Adelman, you can check out Mystery Tribune’s collection of essays and other notable non-fiction pieces here.