Archive for the ‘Anima’s History’ Category

The History Of Anima Center – Part 2 -by J. Wolf Hardin

Monday, January 7th, 2008

The swallow I came under the wing of, was actually called a “snake in the grass” by many… and yet turned out to be crucial in getting us the land now known as Anima Center. Dan Swallows was one of only two or three real estate agents within a hundred mile radius at the time, in a county that now hosts a half dozen or more. Agents are often dishonest, in my experience, unprincipled people who would gladly help turn heritage ranches or wilderness paradises into mobile home lots if it would make them a buck. In my intemperate youth, I was known to refer to the majority of the fellows in this profession as “land pimps” and worse. It nonetheless occurred to me, that working at the side of an agent could mean being among the first to hear about a new parcel the moment it was listed. This was especially important in the Gila bioregion of S.W. New Mexico, where over 80 percent of the area is state or federal land. In 1979 the few private parcels were still mostly in the hands of Anglo and Hispanic families that had been here for generations, leaving little for sale. And even if some of the ranches had been broken up already, I certainly wasn’t interested in anyplace where the mark of inglorious and often artless civilization could follow. I was looking for what is popularly called an “inholding,” a piece of undeveloped private property surrounded on all 4 sides by National Forest. Nor would just any inholding do, but only a special river canyon I felt sure existed, the singular place that I had so long imagined, dreamed of, and felt called home by.

An hour after hearing Swallows was hiring unskilled labor, I was at the door of his Cruzville ranch house ready for work. He said he’d start me at $3.00 an hour, less than minimum wage but, as he pointed out, over twice what he could get an undocumented Mexican for. A few months before, I had been making up to $1000 per framed oil painting, and although the high cost of Taos gallery rent ate up nearly everything I made, my 3 dollar wage was still quite a blow. Setting pride aside for the greater cause, I parked our school bus camper in his back 40, as far as I could get it into the trees, and put on a pair of borrowed coveralls. Unfortunately, nothing in my past had equipped me with the kinds of practical skills required to handle even the most menial labor on a ranch. While other youngsters were playing with their daddy’s hammers, I was busy reading classical literature and picturing myself in the roles of adventurer, outlaw, scientist or explorer. When other teens were happily learning how to adjust four-barrel carburetors under the hoods of their first cars, I was a runaway on the streets, a self fashioned street philosopher painting wildlife and wild sword-bearing women on the sides of custom vans and motorcycle gas tanks, riding a chopped BSA that I always needed someone else to fix. I always made money by exploiting my creative talents, and the closest I got to being a laborer was playing a double bass Rogers drum kit in various rock n’ roll bands. I knew things, by golly! And so you can imagine my great disappointment at finding out that I didn’t know how to run a plow, know how to weld the casing on a water pump, or even know how to hit a nail on the head more than one out of five times.

Swallows kept trying me at different chores for the first month, including gluing together PVC plumbing at the bottom of a 6’ deep ditch. It was while on my knees in the ditch, that I first heard a truck drive up, and a soft spoken man describe an isolated piece of property that he wanted help selling. With the two of them standing just out of my sight, I could make out every word: “You gotta find me some city rube,” the old man said. “It’s only got one rough trail leading into it, you’ve got to cross the same river 7 times, anyone would play hell trying to develop it. I can’t figure who’d want such a thing.”

The fellow at the bottom of the ditch, that’s who… doing his best to keep his long pony-tail out of the PVC glue.

(to be continued)

The History Of Anima Center, Part 1

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

One of the most frequent questions we’re asked is when and how we each came to be here in this fairy-tale canyon, 250 miles from the nearest city, and light years from what we or our parents expected us to be. The seeds for what has come to be the Anima Retreat and Learning Center, women’s sanctuary and wildlife and botanical refuge, began not with some grand and far-sighted vision, but with an insistent, gnawing call-to-home.

I was only 22 yrs. old when I first drove what is called the greater Gila Bioregion, the southernmost high mountain range in the American Southwest, a mountain range of Aspen and pine and dramatic rock cliffs, loosely laced together by the life-giving rivers where the ancient Mogollon Indians planted their maize and made their prayers. I came seeking my roots in the fairly named Land of Enchantment, the actual and mythological New Mexico, the land of adobe casas and renegade cowboys, artists and flamenco dancers, bloody kneed Penitantes, Hopi tradtionalists, low-riding cruisers and out of work magicians… oddballs with the wherewithal. But also I came back for the land, the land that had been absent since I was taken out of the state as a baby, absent from the cities and suburbs where I had grown up. I came for the wildness of sharp-eyed sniffing rabbits and swooping redtail hawks, and the promises found in every Western movie of a landscape that by its very nature encouraged, abetted and begat freedom. And I came foolish, without the common sense to fix the four wheel drive Jeep pickup with the overweight, gypsy-shaped, wood shingle camper, or the pracitcal savvy to figure out one end of a fence stretcher from another when it came time to try my hand at the long hours and short pay of a ranch hand. But I was, if anything, “directed,” which is a nice way to say obsessed, drawn like the proverbial filings to a magnet by the pull of not just a wondrous state but a particular, exact and exacting place. As with the children’s game of “warmer, warmer,” I felt myself not only heated but awakened the nearer I came to what I later realized was this canyon, and more disconnected and chilled the further away I got in search of income and shelter.

Clearly I was learning what I needed, and being shaped for as yet unrecognized mission. Over the following four years my paintings were featured at Santa Fe art shows, with world-beat bands backing me while I “rapped” about the inspiration and lessons of nature, and I then opened up what was the first mystical or even nontypical gallery on the plaza of old Taos, quickly a nexus for writers, activists and spiritual seekers from Siberian shamans to explorative Franciscan Monks… but I never quit thinking about the land I’d been first pulled to. The coffee shop philosophers and wild visionaries could not substitute for full-on wilderness and a personal association with the legacy of the Old Ones. The beauty of Blue Lake or the snow packed Pecos could, literally, never “take the place” of the red volcanic rocks and wildflower pageants, diverse fauna and provocative energies of the Gila. They beckoned me to purpose as well as place, permeated my dreams and distracted me in my waking hours, until in 1980 I succumbed to the siren whisperings and permanently closed the gallery doors.

Nobody in cowboy-clad Catron County had ever seen anything like it when I showed up in a converted 1958 Oneida school-bus, my antiauthoritarian hair blowing, like Bob Dylan said, in the wind. With barely enough money to live on, I nonetheless immediately started a search for land to buy, not only convinced but committed to find the exact spot that would be the source of my insight and the place of both my pleasure and work. What was by then no less than an arduous and adventurous quest – for a holy grail of belonging and purpose – centered around the village of Reserve, affectionately called “Reverse” because of its delightfully backward propensities, a tiny cluster of private properties inhabited by less than 400 escapees from the dominant paradigm, and surrounded by 3.5 million acres of undeveloped National Forest in all its sensual and savage, generous and spiritual manifestations. Within that diverse geography of history and hope, there could only be one section where I could most be myself, most hear what I needed to hear, and begin to serve in the ways that I was meant. Only one womb-like canyon, carved and massaged by one winding river, and only a certain hallowed bend.
I had little money and no credit, guide or map. One possible way to find my way there, I decided, was to set aside my identity as an artist and take a menial labor job working for an unsavory Christian Scientist real estate agent who specialized in remote properties. It was likely only a coincidence that his last name was that of the birds nesting in the cliffs I had dreamed about but not yet seen, their offspring bravely making their first brave flights from hundred of feet up in spit and mud nests. Closer than ever to where I belonged, making $3.50 an hour working for Swallows (to be continued).