Edge of Taos Desert
by Mabel Dodge Luhan
I traveled with books, including Edge of Taos Desert, by Mabel Dodge Luhan, on a recent trip to the southwest. When I first read her words, with an image of a difficult and controlling patroness of the arts, her memoir came as something of a surprise. It was an introspective Luhan that I met, a woman ready for change both geographically and philosophically. Beginning with her first visit in late 1917, Taos’ landscape captivated her, “…I love it already,” she wrote. “It was not love at first sight, but it was love. Some other sense had already accepted it and I had fully decided to come back and stay. I felt at home.” While Edge of Taos Desert may, at times, present an idealized version of her life, Mabel Dodge Luhan’s love for Taos Valley is unquestionable and, as a reader, it’s easy to respond to the landscape she describes.
Mabel Dodge Luhan was also drawn to Taos Pueblo, finding wisdom and peace in Taos Indian culture. It presented a way of living in the world that she knew was lacking in western culture. Tony Luhan guided her with his example, “his rich, deep, self-contained nature…his goodness and wholeness.” When she was with him, Mabel Dodge felt “in tune with all outdoors, and myself as well, for the first time in my life. I felt real at last, not a pretended reality such as one may feel when one blots out pain against another and loses the sadness of one’s own cravings. No, a true reality of my own was coming into being within me.”
For all the changes in Taos since the 1920s and 1930s reading Edge of Taos Desert reminds me that much remains, including the smell of sage, “sunsets that spread over the sky,” and “mountains that can tower right up to ten thousand feet and still the heavens go surging illimitably up beyond….” Taos remains a place that can change one’s view of the world.
It was a beautiful country up there at the foot of the big mountains, sweet with the smell of pine all year round. The sunsets that spread over the sky from that vantage point, slightly raised above the whole world of the valley and looking over to the east, south, and west, were almost terrifying in their great spread and sweep of color. The sky has so much significance in a wide landscape like this. — from Edge of Taos Desert