Cathy A. E. Bell

Personal Essays and Poems by Cathy A. E. Bell

Category: Travel

My latest essay…


I spent a year working on my essay “Drive-by”. It started as fragmented, became a narrative, grew huge, shrunk back, and on and on. I needed this essay to be perfect. It’s my heart. It’s my baby. I’ve never loved an essay I’ve written more than this one. It chronicles a turning point in my life, a moment I could admit I missed my mother after years of no contact between us.

It’s taken a while to find the right home, but it DID find the right home at Full Grown People, a journal that that looks at “the sometimes glorious, sometimes messy, stuff that comes with adulthood.” I can’t begin to list the people who helped me workshop this piece in all its forms (thank you everyone!), but I will say thank you to Lynn Hall who has been the biggest champion of this essay since I wrote it and for her amazing editing skills to help me cut 1500 words from it. And thank you to FGP’s founder and editor Jennifer Niesslein for publishing and fine tuning it. I am so happy to have this essay birthed into the world today. I hope you’ll share in the journey (both the journey to publication and the literal drive-by of the story) with me.

“I wonder if reliving our childhood through day-long drives, as we often do, gives us insight to the ways the past intertwines with the now. Sometimes we don’t know how we really feel until we come close to the object that excites us, or haunts us, or excites and haunts us all at once, like our mother.”


Ramblings from Taos… (Thoughts on a Weekend Away Alone and Writing)

The 1850s adobe schoolhouse where I stayed

 October, 2010

This morning I walked out of the little 1850’s adobe schoolhouse where I slept last night, into the expansive courtyard, and remembered something I didn’t even know I knew—Georgia O’Keefe made a comment once about the quality of light in New Mexico being different than anywhere else. Yes, I can see that. Yes, I can feel that.

Driving here to Taos from Denver, over and down La Veta pass, I was bathed in copper and gold light.  I breathed the metallic colors into my lungs, hoping I could prolong the experience just a little longer.  Even spring cannot compare to the luminosity of color autumn creates. 

I did a little research and found O’Keefe’s first visit to Taos was in 1919.  Drawn to the “clear desert light” and the mountains (and after a longer stay in 1929), she went back to Taos once a year to paint. She often came to stay at the Mabel Dodge Luhan home that is right next door to where I am staying—not far from the square, but at the end of a long dirt road and butted up against miles of open native Pueblo land. I can feel O’ Keefe’s presence as I tour the Luhan home and that of D.H. Lawrence, Carl Jung, Ansel Adams, and all the other historic guests of Mabel’s.


Bell over the gate of the Mabel Luhan home

Taos is so full of old and new art.  And it’s delightfully historic as well—a lovely history of passionate artists and writers. I feel creativity oozing out of everything. Being here makes me want to create: paint, photograph, write, sculpt…  I haven’t felt this artistic for a long time. I wouldn’t have necessarily considered myself an artist before now, but I know I am because I can’t help but to create and that desire is what defines an artist.

And it’s so incredibly beautiful here. I just feel inspired–even just to breath and exist.  If I added up all the beautiful art I’ve seen my whole life it would fill up a dinner plate compared to the Olympic sized pool of art here. How can so much God-made beauty and man-made beauty exist all at the same place?  I keep overhearing conversations around town that last year at this time all the leaves were blown off the trees from high winds.  Nature politely waited for me this time and I do not take it for granted.

I’ve traveled alone when I’ve had to get from point A to B. I’ve planned lots of small weekend trips not knowing if I’d bring someone or not, but then usually at the last minute I bring someone with me. I always thought traveling alone would be a waste because I couldn’t stand next to someone and have them witness the sights with me.  There would be no one to breathe in sharply with me when they looked at the landscape or fall in love with a painting or taste the most amazing baba ghanoush that has ever touched my tongue.   But, I’ve discovered that even alone, those experiences aren’t diminished at all. If I need to share them, I can use that desire to help me write.  Read my words, see my photographs, feel the lightness in my step and hear the deep breaths I take after I’ve been healed and rejuvenated through the beauty I’ve seen here.

When you travel alone you don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone. Are they too tired to keep looking through the galleries? Are they in awe like I am?  Especially for a people-pleaser like me—I constantly worry about everyone else’s happiness.  But, traveling alone is a gift of selfishness and self-indulgence.  Bookstores, museums, historic homes. Lingering strolls through beautiful gardens and galleries that leave your heart stopping every two feet.


A flower, fence, and field near downtown Taos

Now I indulge in two hours of massage and energy work from Mari, who lives a block over from where I am staying.  She counsels me as she baths my body in love and her light…she rids me of energy blocks and tells me that my relationship is good and a gift rather than telling me what others perceive.  Because I know it’s a gift and I know I’m learning and he’s learning. We are learning more together than we have in all the years we combined of dating other people.  And it’s not easy lessons in which we are being schooled. For me, it’s a lesson on how to let go, all the while holding on… For him it’s about opening up, trusting, and accepting the love and compassion he needs so badly. It’s about both of us letting go of the fear that has paralyzed us for so long.  It’s about laughing and playing like children. It’s about adventure and discovery.  We’ve both learned and have grown and I can’t articulate that to my friends and family, but this healer woman–she knows.  

I look around this place I’m staying and absorb all I see, writing it down.  Exposed logs in an adobe ceiling.  Wide wood planks in the floor…my dog curled up into a semi-circle on the futon.  A beautiful tin punched Mexican mirror above the sink in the kitchenette.  Rugs and other hand-made things I purchased earlier in the day from a fair-trade shop—just waiting to be opened and touched again. My new books sit on the table, waiting to inspire me to write. 

I’m wondering why sound comes through this old adobe schoolhouse so differently from other buildings. I’m wondering if it’s wind I hear?  I heard the adobe keeps in the heat once it gets hot. I’m just wishing now it was warm. Izzy and I both get pee breaks when I go outside and walk around the portal to the private, but disconnected bathroom.  When I come back and look into the slanted windows and see the cozy browns and reds of the bed and the warm wood, I am happy that the cozy scene I’m looking at includes Izzy and me.

The next morning, I sit at the desk, looking out the eye-level window in front of me with dog in lap.  The adobe window frames a perfect painting outside. I see it all in layers…just outside the window, a low, curved adobe wall. Behind that low, pink earth wall is a barbed-wire fence marking the boundary of the vast Pueblo reservation. Beyond the fence a bit, a row of yellowed-leaf trees providing yet another layer—and further past those trees, miles of brush and pine, green and gold.  And finally the last layer: the low Taos mountains. A perfectly warm, colorful Indian summer day.

I’m proud that I came here to write and I followed through.  I’ve realized that writing it down is like bottling the magic I feel here. I can open that bottle anytime I need to feel the gold light from the autumn trees on my face or see the hues of red and copper in the adobe, land, and textiles.   I’m sad I must leave tomorrow to go home. I love this land with its mysterious air and light. I’ll be back though, to see more, write more, and live more. And until I come back, I’ll have my bottle of words to remind me.


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