By Katherine Mast
The air was crisp as I hopped in my car in Santa Fe early on a mid-March Saturday. Bundled in a warm spring jacket and hat, I wondered what the weather would hold an hour south in Albuquerque where I was planning to spend most of the day outside. Several months before, when a group of women sat at a table and dreamed up a day of walking and writing, music, art, and dance, feast, and fellowship, they must have counted on good weather.
I wasn’t fully sure what to expect of this event—something billed as an Art & Stroll Pop-Up Brunch—but it featured a star-studded cast of community-minded artists, women I’ve admired from a distance and some who have become dear friends. Anything that group had planned was sure to be memorable. What I experienced was a nourishment for the body and the soul, an enlivening of the senses, and a deepened sense of community and collaboration.
Hosted as part of this year’s Women in Creativity events, the Art & Stroll began in the parking lot of Valle del Bosque Park in Albuquerque’s South Valley, and a writing walk along the west side of the Bosque. “This is one of my favorite parts, not only of Albuquerque, but the whole state,” said Michelle Otero as we began the walk. Michelle, a poet, playwright and farmer (to name just a few of her titles), read Pablo Neruda’s Ode to the Present, reminding us of the gift of focused attention to the now. Then, the group of roughly 40 people—women and men, retirees, graduate students and even one newborn carried among a plethora of arms—trekked over the crunchy brown cottonwood leaves still lining the path, listening to the steady flow of the Rio Grande and watching for the bright green buds beginning to emerge from tree and stem. When we stopped to write, Michelle invoked the muse of other poets—more of Pablo Neruda’s many Odes, Joy Harjo and the many meanings of “ah!”
Romy Keegan, owner of Maple Street Dance Space, had a few surprises for us as well as we walked. Dressed in airy, earth-toned dresses, she and a crew of dancers flitted through the woods like fairies.
The walk continued along the Arenal acequia in the South Valley—sandy soil beneath our feet next to dogs, disturbed by the large crowd, announcing their territory—before ending at Valle Encantado Farm. Run by Michelle and her husband, Henry Rael, the farm is part of the Agri-cultura Network which helps South Valley farmers get their produce to local markets and restaurants.
Behind the farm’s three long greenhouses full of greens and herbs, Marie Yniguez and her crew from Bocadillos was preparing a four-course brunch. Many of the ingredients for the Spring Greens and Bacon Frittata, the Carrot Gazpacho with Chopped Salad, and the Eggs Benedict with Spinach and Pork was grown on this very farm, Marie told me.
Three rows of tables, covered in cloth and accented with dried flower arrangements created by Noel Chilton, held a colorful array of unique handmade place settings. I found an open seat next to a white etched plate with a thick blue thumb-pinched border and a coffee mug with playful black eyes—the design was the unmistakable work of my friend, Jen DePalo. But the place settings before the diners around me were equally remarkable. H.P. Bloomer and Teresa Larrabee, both ceramic artists in Santa Fe, had contributed sets of plates and mugs and their unique styles were immediately evident. Each set—one plate and one mug—took a minimum of six hours to create, Jen told me. “This is a group of potters who care intently about the surface of their plates,” she said.
As we sat—some of us with friends, some next to strangers—we shared stories and insights as a series of colors and flavors were ushered to our tables. As shallow bowls of bright orange carrot gazpacho were served, Romy and her dancers reappeared, this time to live drums for a joyful dance that slowly merged siloed movement into a unified, expressive choreography.
Indeed, this was a group of artists of many genres who care intently about their craft, a group of women who care deeply about their community, and if others shared my experience, a group of community members now fed and inspired to engage even more fully with our neighbors, our local economy and our earth.