I have been looking for a photo of myself that my former boyfriend Jimmy took. We had arrived in Albuquerque a few hours earlier, and we were staying at the house of Jimmy’s relative, David Carson. David and his wife, Jamie Samms, had recently published Medicine Cards. They were gracious and delightful hosts, and we had a great time with them. The photo I’m trying to locate (it’s here somewhere) shows me seated at a small table on the back brick patio, and I have David’s medicine hat on, as well as a Cheshire cat grin. I can almost feel the warm air on my skin as well as the buzz from the wine we sipped during the picture taking. The sun was setting, but still the bricks were almost hot under my bare feet. When I looked at my eyes in the photo, I could see where I had been the previous day.
The morning before, very early, we had risen and had our usual breakfast of eggs smothered in hot sauce at the cafe we had come to love, down the street from the inn. He had green sauce, while I liked the red. The fluffiest flour burritos I’ve ever tasted smothered in melted butter, strong coffee, and of course the ever present colorful garlands of deep red poblano peppers hanging all around us.
We intended to leave Taos soon, and I had been looking forward to buying some turquoise jewelry there, so we asked around and were directed to a shop about five miles down from the busiest part of town, just off the main road. I found what I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it – a necklace of magnificent small polished turquoise chunks strung all around a generous sized rope of fine beadwork. I knew I wanted a pair of earrings to go with it, and I spent a good amount of time looking, and then I found the perfect pair and I said, “The perfect pair.” They were tear shaped pieces of turquoise, two inches long, an inch and a half wide at the widest point on the bottom, and polished down so finely that they were completely flat, and I felt them almost dancing from my earlobes, hanging from the bottoms of their silver wires, as we walked outside and got back in the car. We drove south and ended up midway between Albuquerque and Taos, at one of the oldest health resorts in North America, Ojo Caliente.
Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs is the only natural hot springs in the world with the mingling of four geothermal mineral waters. An ancient people once lived there, and they considered the hot springs extremely sacred. Jimmy had told me he thought we just might run into some of the people we wanted to interview for our documentary. Ojo Caliente is not that well known, except for the locals. I had to try the hot springs.
The hot springs are subterranean, and there is a cave wall that conveniently separates the springs into two; one for women, and one for men. On the women’s side, I went into a small, plain white washed locker room. I was told to strip and put my clothes in a locker, for which I was given a key attached to a safety pin. I carefully removed my necklace, and then I went for the earrings. When I took off the one from my right ear, it slipped from my fingers, hit the wooden dressing table I stood in front of, and broke into two. I was very disappointed, but I was so much looking forward to sampling the springs, that I put everything into the locker, locked it, took the key, and promptly forgot about the earring.
I headed, in the thin terry cloth robe I’d been handed, through the hallway outside the room and followed the handwritten signs. All the while walking downwards, I had to pass through two doors and go through another long hallway. A massive wooden door faced me, and I opened it and walked through. I was in a place of both serenity and intense energy, and the wonderful warmth of the underground water permeated the small and inviting area adjacent to its entrance point. I was alone, except for a very young and sweet woman who took my robe and, smiling, gestured for me to go into the water. I did.
When I first let my body sink into the heat, I spontaneously laughed, and the sound of it echoed around me. The dark stone walls of the cave surrounded the pool in a natural semicircle, and when I looked up, I saw stone as well. The water was deep enough for me to be able to swim to the other side, about fifteen feet away from where I had entered it. Low lights illuminated just enough. I leaned against the hot, wet stone wall, having found a perfect ledge to support my neck and shoulders. I closed my eyes and felt the water surrounding me, supporting me, soothing and clarifying, and I knew why the place was sacred. I stayed there for what must have been a long time. I opened my eyes and my heart leapt into my throat. Looking directly into my eyes was another woman, not three feet from me, and I hadn’t heard her at all.
She kept looking at me with a slight smile. She had sharp features, chin length brown hair and big brown eyes. For some reason, I don’t know why, I was unable to say anything, and I held her stare. Then I heard a voice, and we both turned our heads to look. “The perfect pair, and look what happened.” An incredibly beautiful woman stood at the entrance of the pool, clad only in a fine silver chain clasped just above the widest point of her hips. She had an exquisite Castilian look, with her arched nose, black eyes, finely sculpted mouth, and high cheekbones. Her black hair cascaded in slight waves down and over her shoulders, over her breasts, ending at her waist. She was looking right at me and she was holding a turquoise earring high up in her left hand. It was broken. It was my earring.
Stunned, I glanced at my robe on a chair near where she stood. The locker key was still pinned to it. I looked back at her, and she slowly turned, put the earring down on her robe that was strewn across one of the chairs, and started to enter the water.
I swam a bit further away from the two women, who were apparently together. I found another comfortable spot and closed my eyes again for a few moments, but I opened them before long. They were both a couple of feet from me. I hadn’t heard or felt any movement in the water and I felt the prickle of fear, and the chill of that prompted me to get out.
As I passed them, they turned their heads in unison, continuing to look at me, and for a moment the fear was gone, and I wanted to play with them. I saw myself and I was clearly an otter, feeling my long strong back and tail and the idea of playing in the water delighted me, and they were otters also, but that vision left as suddenly as it came. Lurching back into my human woman’s body, I felt a gnawing sense of agitation and anxiety. I lay down on a simple chaise, and let the attendant cover me with very hot towels, which was part of the healing treatment at Ojo Caliente. As I got up to leave, the two women came out of the water and themselves lay down and were wrapped in towels. I walked back to the little room, and quickly opened my locker. My broken earring was just where I had left it. I looked at it for awhile, my mind not comprehending. Then I dressed and went outside, all the while feeling the immediacy of the events just passed leaving me, and I relaxed into that.
A small gravel parking lot separated the hot springs from the lodging area, and I had to pass that to get back to the car and Jimmy, who was finishing up his experience on the men’s side. A black SUV was parked, and four people stood around it. All four of them, two men, and two women, looked up at me as I passed them. I immediately noticed how wonderfully dressed they were; the men in cowboy boots, jeans, and immaculate, beautiful shirts which were tucked in and belted each with a large silver buckle, and they each stood at least six feet tall. The women were in high-heeled boots, long ruffled skirts, and gorgeous blouses, also belted in the same manner as those of the men. I looked at the women’s faces, and I stopped dead in my tracks. They smiled warmly at me, and I saw one beautiful eyebrow raise as I involuntarily let out a breath. They were the same women I’d left in the hot springs! It couldn’t be it couldn’t be it couldn’t be. I thought this while I stood very still, and they stood very still while we faced one another, and they all four simultaneously smiled. In a split moment that lasted a very, very long time, I thought of the two women who physically had to be still in the hot springs area, and I knew that what I was experiencing was impossible. I broke from their gazes, and began to quickly walk away, in the direction of where I was hoping the car was. Shivers were going up and down my spine, and I felt electrical prickles all over my scalp. I saw Jimmy and I broke into a run.
On the ride back to Albuquerque, he told me that I had most likely come into contact with a group of Brujas and Brujos, the Spanish for Sorcerers and Sorceresses. He continued that they very likely had been offering me an invitation. Like many others, I had been captivated by Carlos Casteneda‘s series of books about Don Juan Mateus. There had been a part of me that felt parts of the books had been fiction. Until my experience that day with the women at Ojo Caliente spring.
I’m going to end up back in New Mexico. To stay.