William Trujillo with walking stick, Cordova, NM. 1999
“I would like to use the time to talk in some depth about things that seem important. What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua, [….] like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, […] an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer.“ From the novel: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Adobe buildings, narrow streets, sharp corners, no signs and packs of roaming dogs who occasionally chased me up onto a wall or dilapidated car and then retreated to watch from a distance. I spoke to a woman who stood in the doorway of her small adobe home about her son who had died recently and at a young age. A man watched me from his porch overlooking the center of the small mountain village of Cordova, New Mexico. He was carving on a large piece of wood that looked like a walking stick.
He called me over and introduced himself as William. As we spoke, he explained to me some of the town’s history, and I gathered that he was the closest thing to a mayor there was here. The word mayor seemed out-of-place as I went over the thought in my mind. No, there was no need for such a word here. He was the caretaker of the old mission San Antonio de Padua, which was built in 1832. Perhaps village elder was the appropriate title, but this also didn’t seem to quite touch on what I was sensing. He told me that his family, the Trujillo family, had lived here for generations and that the old church, not to mention much of the rest of the village, was in need of repair. The dogs returned to harass me again, and William waved the stick he had been carving and ran them off. “Here, take this, and the dogs will leave you alone,” he said, handing me the walking stick and returning to his home for breakfast.
As I continued roaming the village, now with walking stick in tow, I had many more conversations with the people of Cordova, but no more encounters with the dogs. The people all seemed to have a great appreciation for the beauty of the land and their independence. The trade-off was that in such an isolated and small mountain village there’s not much of an economy. This was evident in the things I saw in the landscape: half-buried cars, shells of old buildings that had fallen into ruin and the old church with boarded up windows and cracked walls. There was a sadness mixed in with the beauty and wonder of the place that was palatable.
William emerged from his home just before noon and right as we were getting ready to head for our next destination along the Turquoise Trail. I was traveling with a cohort of college professors and students as part of an infrared photography workshop. As he bid us farewell, I tried to return the walking stick to him. He laughed at me and said that I should keep it to protect myself from roaming dog packs in the next village. I had one frame left on my roll of film in camera so I asked William to pose for the portrait seen above.The strange effects are not a result of Photoshop, but of the Kodak HIE Infrared film I was using. Sadly, it is no longer in production. I still have the walking stick
Chautauqua is a term I first encountered in the novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. My work is linked to my life and necessarily so. My wife and I are interested in owning land, starting a rural co-op which hosts an annual artist in residence, has free workshops from local artists, craftsmen, food producers, entrepreneurs and so on. There are other groups doing similar things across the country and we hope to link with them and establish our own Chautauqua circuit, both in the online and the real world. An ongoing, never ending Chautauqua if you will. For more on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and the Chautauqua visit:
And stay tuned here for more on our project.