I WAS PRETTY sure I had forgotten how to paint. “You’ll remember,” laughed local artist Lisa Flynn. It was my first morning at Bishop’s Lodge, Auberge Resorts Collection — a resort and spa in Santa Fe, New Mexico — and we were sprawled out on the dusty ground atop thick, Southwestern-style blankets. I held up Lisa’s cardboard viewfinder to frame a clay-colored hill against the cloudless sky. “That’s Pincushion Hill,” she said, as though introducing an old friend. Lisa filled her paper with bold strokes of umber; then I did the same. I had been so nervous about this Alfresco Art Experience that I pulled my sun hat too hard, ripping the brim. Why hadn’t I signed up for a massage instead? I sensed my shoulders relaxing as the colors bled to the edges of the wet paper.
I had come to Santa Fe — the “city of holy faith” — to renew my faith in life. After parenting through the pandemic and recently surviving breast cancer, I needed something deeper than a run-of-the-mill spa package to refill my cup. The newly restored Bishop’s Lodge was founded over 150 years ago by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy as a private spiritual retreat. Standing barefoot on my adobe balcony that first night, a Holy Margarita in hand, I watched the sun collapse into a puddle of unthinkable colors over the Tesuque Valley. Lamy was no fool; this place was medicine.
Just being held by such an expansive landscape was healing. The dome of the sky felt bigger and more encompassing compared to the vista I’d left behind in New York. “The spirit of Santa Fe is very maternal,” perfumer and herbalist Roxana Villa agreed. After exploring Lamy’s tiny chapel, one of the impeccably restored buildings on the resort’s 317 secluded acres, I met Roxana at the intimate Horseshoe Gallery for my next customized experience, Sacred Scents of Nature, an afternoon of making incense from indigenous plants. I combined the powdered plants, their hues as vibrant as Lisa’s watercolors, into tiny fragrant pellets to be dried later in the sun. “We have to remember ourselves back to nature,” Roxana mused, “animating our lost parts back to balance.” With her warm smile, Roxana was as loving as the spirit of Santa Fe herself. I left with my incense, a sprig of fresh artemisia, and an understanding that experiences like these aren’t so much about a reset as they are a remembering who we really are. In my case, a person who is happiest making things.
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That evening, over a bowl of spicy tortilla soup at SkyFire restaurant, I watched the sun cast pink and orange shadows over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Sitting by the fire, I picked up a book of poems by Joy Harjo, the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, who writes extensively about the American Southwest and its landscapes. I turned to a poem called “Remember,” my hands still smelling of piñon and cedar.
On my last morning, I met pastor and astrologist Reverend Lindsey Turner in the sun-soaked Stream Dance Spa for my final experience, an in-depth chart analysis. “Our natal chart is like a cosmological snapshot of the sky at the moment of our birth,” they explained. I was reminded of the Harjo poem from the night before: “Remember the sky you were born under, know each of the star’s stories.” As Lindsey unpacked the meaning behind my sun, moon, and rising signs, they confirmed celestially what I had known all along: I had lost my way when I stopped making art. My chart was like a road map home.
With its spirited offerings, rich in the restorative, healing traditions of Santa Fe, Bishop’s Lodge held me as I rediscovered myself. I felt a deep reverence for the land, its colors, scents, and mystery now deeply ingrained in my heart. As the noonday sun hit the steeple of Lamy’s chapel, I turned to find Pincushion Hill, holding my hands up like Lisa’s viewfinder. I was worlds away from the depleted woman painting in the broken sun hat. I felt like myself again; remembered.
Alexa Wilding Writer
Alexa Wilding is a writer, musician, and mother of twins. After a decade as a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter, she received her MFA from the Writer’s Foundry at St. Joseph’s College, Brooklyn. Her writing has appeared in A Cup of Jo and Parents, where she shares her experience of what it’s like as a mom caring for a child with cancer. A lifelong New Yorker, Wilding and her family now live in Hudson, New York. She is working on a memoir about all of the above.
Ana Hop Photographer
Born in Mexico City, Ana Hop is a photographer whose work focuses on portraiture defined by her use of natural light and the intimacy she is able to achieve with her subjects.