Sunday, 1 June 2014

Yoshi's world: Desert cast-off beauty

Yoshi Arasaki came to the United States over 30 years ago with her husband "Saki" to open Japanese restaurants on the west coast. They were hugely successful and when it came time for Saki to think about retirement, the couple choose to move to Santa Fe to enjoy the quiet mountain living. Saki never did retire, although he can be found on any golf course that is open when he is not freelancing as a sushi chef around town. With Saki working, Yoshi found herself alone with little to do than make origami and create a pleasant home for Saki to come back to at night.

Saki and Yoshi moved into a well-respected neighborhood called Casa Solana (Spanish for sunny house), which may seem ironic or strange or both, depending on how you look at it, as it served as a Japanese Internment Camp during WWII, nearly 70 years ago. It may seem questionable how a prisoner of war camp could have morphed into one of the most sought out communities in Santa Fe. Isn't the energy bad? Could it be cursed? While one could ruminate over the possibilities, especially in a place filled with haunted Native American stories, the answer would lie within its residents, who seem, well, genuinely happy. Yoshi and Saki included.

Like most communities in Santa Fe, the neighborhood has many hiking trails and vistas to enjoy, which Yoshi started to take advantage of when Saki slept in after a hard night's work. She would disappear for hours, and when she returned, she always had something in her hands or her arms. Most times she would be carrying obvious desert fare-- tumbleweeds, dead sunflower stalks, a cholla branch, weird branches. But every now and again, she would have other something unidentifiable on those small determined shoulders and I always got excited watching her head to her casita, imagining what she was going to do with all the dead stuff.

I never asked her what she was doing with them, until the day I looked across the street and saw something unusual sticking out of her half dead purple robe locust tree. It looked like the wind blew a tumbleweed that attached itself to some branches. But there was something dangling, something put there on purpose--it looked like pine cones stringed on yarn. A mobile of desert dead stuff. (picture damaged, not available)

That day, I summoned the nerve to go over and ask Yoshi what the odd thing in the tree was. She smiled, not speaking much English, she pointed for me to come inside. When I went in, I saw all the dead plants she had been carrying home from her walks. They were everywhere, corners, ceilings, on tables, bookshelves. Like little dead plant sculptures, each carefully placed, some stuffed with silk flower blossoms she bought at the Dollar Store.

Yoshi said, "I like things on floor." I wasn't sure what she meant, then she pointed to the ground outside her home and then my yard, which was a tragic waste land of weeds and dead cholla branches. I thought about it some, and then I got it--Yoshi found beauty in the weeds, the left over desert plant remnants.

I asked her if I could take some pictures, she said yes, but I stopped after the 5th one. It felt a bit invasive.

I hope one day it doesn't and I get to take more. Thank you, Yoshi, for your beautiful vision.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Mistaken beauty

Even though I'm a Master Gardener, I still have to remind myself that I became certified in the southwest-- a place my east-coast root's still grasps to understand. The culture, the adobe buildings, the wildlife...just about everything I see in this high desert is incredibly exotic, and I find myself playing the "what is that called?" game, in particular with the flora. I test myself when no one is around, trying to identify each native plant and flower variety I stumble across. I surprise myself sometimes at the vast botanical knowledge I have gained here in just 3 years, and then there are those occasions when I am sorely mistaken.

                                                                   Plant in question...

Take this golden beauty pictured above, for example. While my friend was moving from Santa Fe, NM to Pojoaque, NM last week, I was thrilled to spot what I thought was the first forsythia, surreptitiously spilling out of a cracked adobe wall. I snapped its image, looking forward to sharing it with all my winter weary readers who would surely become excited at the thought that spring was closer than any of us thought. Just as I posted the image, something didn't feel quite right. While everyone commented on it's beauty, I was second guessing it... was it really a forsythia? For starters, forsythia stems are woody, this plant clearly has green stems. Then, there was the flowers, these six petal blossoms were perfect, but didn't forsythia have four petal blooms?

Winter jasmine, close up

I was right to doubt and do a little sleuthing, and after an hour scouring the web for "plants that look like forsythia," I finally stumbled across a similar image that said in small italics, 'winter jasmine.'

Forsythia, close up

Winter jasmine? I had never heard of it (to my embarrassment). After reading up on it, there are some similarities to forsythia; it grows in zones 6-10 (Santa Fe is 6b), but this plant is in the jasmine family not the olive, and blooms before forsythia, that is a month or two before. Like forsythia, winter jasmine can grow tall and wild, but unlike the free-standing forsythia, this hearty jasmine likes to be supported by things like walls and arbors. It isn't fragrant like regular jasmine, but it certainly captures your attention with its diminutive sweet flowers.

Regardless of the mix up, I am glad I trusted my instincts and questioned my authority (something I highly recommend). Yes, even Master Gardener's can be wrong. When in doubt... Wikipedia.

Bountiful winter jasmine

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Natural beauty: Floral designs, compliments of northern New Mexico

It's been too long since my last posting... life in New Mexico sure does keep me busy writing, designing and scouting neglected beauty. I am excited to announce my latest project where I am writing and promoting a new, local sustainable magazine called EcoSource with some incredibly talented people. Please visit their site!

But more on that later. For now I'd like to share some inspirational photos of floral designs where the elements are all organic and gathered locally--in backyards, the desert, the sides of roads and in the Pecos Wilderness. It's pretty amazing to get to work one on one with Mother Nature, huh?

Some people think there is nothing but pinyon pines, juniper and chamisa in New Mexico. I say look again...

 Santa Fe Master Gardeners Association arrangement of local, seasonal spring blooms

 Bark with lichen , fungi and found botanicals

 Antique compotes with succulents

 Beautiful spring assortment from Santa Fe gardens

 Donna Nash, owner of A Woman's Touch Landscape company holds
 organic orb created by C.A. Langrall

Harvest bouquet of local apples, buffalo gourd, roses, grasses, radishes and 
tropical protea from a Santa Fe greenhouse.

All designs by C.A.Langrall except for bark piece which was created by an outside source

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Rattling beauty: Artistic gourds by Marianne Macres

What happens when you  play with your fruit rather than eat it? You can make all sorts of beautiful, noisy things, according to Santa Fe gourd rattle artist, Marianne Macres. Beautiful, noisy fruit? intriguing.

  But wait a minute...gourds are fruits? How can that be? Well, sometimes Mother Nature plays tricks on us, and gourds happen to be one of those incognito exceptions to the rule. Macres knows this better than anyone, as she been camouflaging them with her magical drawings, converting them into artistic sculptures she calls: Gourdjus Rattles.

Macres, began painting ornamental gourds for ceremonial rituals after she met a friend in Taos several years back who taught her all about the viney fruit.

A trained artist from southern California, Macres found a new passion when she picked up her first dried gourd rattler and shook it. Fifteen years later, Macres founded Gourdjus Rattles and began selling her custom made designs for Native American rituals, spiritual ceremonies, and personal collections.

Before coming to New Mexico, Macres lived in Maui for nearly two decades earning her living as a well-known scrimshaw artist. Her love of flowers was apparent in all of her pieces, each design had a blossom or a plant that she painted in tiny detail. As much as she loved her work, Macres began to get discouraged over the harvested ivory that came from elephants which  provided her art medium. She eventually ended her career working with ivory and focused on raising her family until she moved to New Mexico in the early 90's.

 Painting gourds came naturally and so did her inspirations. As a worshiper of the earth, female form, animal totems, and native symbols, Macres found gourds to be the perfect source to create fantastical scenes and imagery. Some of her favorites pieces include flowers and pagan goddesses.


She chooses her gourds based on their shape, texture and variety. Ornamentals, including Crown of Thorns, are great for floral designs while hard shells work well for animal and pagan totems. She buys local, getting the majority of ornamentals from a roadside stand in Riconada, NM. If she can't get certain varieties there, she purchases them from several organic farms in California. She refuses to buy imports from other countries.


Macres explains her design process is a random one. She says the stick or handle often comes first, which she finds on her long walks in the mountains. Her favorite material is aged wood that she gets from juniper, cottonwood, sycamore, apple wood and cholla plants and trees. Her prerequisite is that they must have character.


She then matches the handle with the right gourd, which she will dry for six months. Once the gourd becomes moldy, she washes it in water with some bleach and black soap and scrapes off the remaining mildew. She does 8-12 gourds at a time, making the process go quicker than doing them individually. The paint comes last, acrylic is best says Macres, "because of all the amazing colors you can create."

The filler, or noise makers consist of ant rocks and mung beans. Macres believes her rattles posses a direct relationship between the under and upper worlds, and the ants seem to have mastered living in both, which is why she chooses their diminutive, self-produced pebbles.

A deep spiritual connection is apparent in all of Macres's gourds. Creating art from a living, organic source that is used for a ceremonial purpose gives her great pleasure. Healers, Shamans and therapists all use her gourd rattles to call upon spiritual guides from the past to integrate and heal those in the present. Macres says each gourd she designs has its own personality, soul, and sound, which she says "invokes the spirit... driving the heartbeat of Mother Earth."

"I couldn't be happier doing my part as an artist to create something that is used in the healing process," says Macres.

Rattles range from $30.00 to $75.00. Marianne Macres may be contacted by email at:, or by her Etsy website:

All photos provided and property of Marianne Macres.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Lost and Found beauty

Santa Cruz, NM

Living in a place called the "Land of Enchantment," you think would quell any complaints about the ambiance. Undeniably, it is absolutely beautiful here, sometimes so much so that it is hard to put into words. My friend Nancy Kenney says there aren't enough superlatives to describe Santa Fe, NM. Agreed. Yet as much as I am inundated in beauty, both raw and created, I sometimes, well, get a little bored by the repeats and that 'oasis in a desert' feeling. I feel terrible for saying that but I come from another city, also with a charming nickname, aka Baltimore, MD or Charm City, which seems funny, because when I lived there, I thought that was small.

Joy ride

So I plan escapes every full moon or so. Last weekend was one of those get-outta-dodge romps that provided some serious new doses of neglected beauty. Friends like Eddie help. When he shouted at 8:00 a.m., "Mandatory field-trip, get dressed," it's like he read my mind. We got in the Jeep, and headed south on 25.

Espanola, NM

First stop: Espanola. Ok, it's a start. Eddie, who is well-known for his Spanish Colonial wood carvings, needed to drop some samples off at a friend's studio. On our way, we spotted this incredible weeping willow so massive and perfect I made him pull over for a shot. Funny how neighbors can be, the lady across the street threw me the most putrid look as I took a picture and then demanded, "What do you all want?" All I could think was beauty, lady, I just want beauty. But I said nothing.

Santa Cruz Lake

Next stop: water. Eddie wanted to show me that it does exist in New Mexico, contrary to popular belief. So we headed towards Santa Cruz Lake. At least we thought we did.

Not so fast...after chasing a dirt road that dead-ended in a cow field in Truchas, we turned around only to get side-tracked by the mountain-side towns' funky vibe and numerous little galleries. It was my kind of place, but we were on a mission, so back to find that unmarked Rt 76.

Sun shadows

Mission accomplished. When we arrived at the lake, we convinced the Park Police to give us just enough time to absorb the view without having to pay the entrance fee. Ten minutes later, we were saturated in sun and sparkle which made us very happy as we planned a return camping trip.

Enter at your own Risk

Stop #3: Casa del David: character extraordinaire who is Eddie's friend. David's drive way entrance is a mixed bag of memorabilia...strange combinations of things like cleaning mops arranged as of they were miniature sculptures; rusted antique refrigerators which made us wonder what might still be inside; and dangling dead animal carcases that we deduced may have come from inside said rusted refrigerators. I was instantly entranced.

David and Eddie

David spoke in one of those rare dialects where ancient New Mexican Spanish attaches itself to English cliches, an often magical yet difficult to comprehend combination that only Eddie seemed to understand.

Disturbing plastic headless baby that kinda looks like Bart Simpson

I asked David if I could take some photos and he said no. He mumbled something about my camera stealing spirits and ruining the aura or something like that. After a rather awkward pause, he laughed and said, "Si, of course." Then he handed me a bottle of port wine, and said bebelo, so I did.

Cow skulls and Christmas lights

After a while, Eddie wanted to leave and return to the enchanted land where my little casita painted the colors of tropical citrus fruit awaited our weary day-tripper souls. As we pulled out of the driveway, I noticed two Maryland license plates. Could it have gotten any better?

He only had plates from Maryland

All photos by Carole Langrall

Monday, 26 March 2012

Remote beauty

Northern New Mexico’s vast landscape can seem endless—you’ll drive for miles and still see the same scenery: mountains and mesas, junipers and pinon pines…maybe an adobe ranch thrown in just to make you realize there is life form out there. Yet lodged beneath the blue skies and glorious spaciousness lie little towns, secret little towns, and unless you are a local or have to stop for gas or a bathroom, you may never know what you might discover.

There is a speck of a place in northern New Mexico called Ribera, that surprised a group of us a few weeks ago. We went to meet a man who is a well-known rancher in the area. It seemed like a nice day trip idea, especially when everything was covered in a silvery layer of snow.

We headed out of Santa Fe on I-25 N, passing Glorieta and then the Pecos wilderness, where we encountered more mesas. The view became very lush and looked like little landscapes from a miniature train garden set. After we passed the last plateau in Rowe, a lone mountain appeared in the distance that had a leveled-off butte, making it seem out of place. My friend told me that was Starvation Peak, a place legend has it, where 27 Spaniards starved and died after being attacked by Navajo Indians for trying to steal their land. Whether it’s true I don’t know, but I love a story when the persecuted get creative and catch a break, if only for a small moment.

We got to Ribera, our destination, which is about an hour from our art-hungry home called Santa Fe. Ribera sits twenty miles southwest from the nearest town, which is Las Vegas (not the glittery bachelor party spot, this is actually in NM). Las Vegas is a place with a vintage vibe so big it’s like a time warp, (but its charming mineral springs off the side of the road more than make up for the dilapidated, abandoned neighborhoods surrounding it).

The town of Ribera is spread out over one big, wide open space that is perfect for ranchers and artists or for disappearing from society. It attracts the famous, like radio shock-jock Don Imus, who bought some land and started his non-profit, “Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer.” Its art edge is found in the El Ancon Sculpture Park, which was created by artist and environmentalist, Nicasio Romero. All the locals know each other because there are only about 500 of them. Then there are the “off the gridders” who found the perfect escape, away from civilization and annoying tourists looking for turquoise.

Our destination was high up a mountain which required horsepower-- thank God we didn’t take the Mini. We got lost about three times, our host had to come rescue us, but it didn’t matter… the snow-covered chollas and chamisas made us feel like we were in a winter fairy-land.

If you get the chance to visit Ribera, make sure you stop off at La Risa and have a breakfast burrito, you won’t regret the wild goose chase it may take finding it. Special thanks to Eddie Rodriguez, our tour guide and host for his shrewd navigational abilities, hospitality and awesome fajitas.

All photos by: Carole Langrall and Karen Schuld Photography

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Tribal beauty: Omo Valley's botanical fashion show

There is a fashion show each year that makes New York and Milan's Fashion Week look mild. Held in a remote location, without stylists or designers, the models don't even use mirrors-- as a matter of fact, there is only one designer featured: Mother Nature.

This organic parade of texture and color has been a cultural celebration of several tribes in the Omo Valley of Ethiopia for generations, in particular, the Surma and Mursi people.

These two tribes have deep-seated roots in ancient traditions and rituals, but have been at odds with the local government and neighboring groups for decades. Access to natural resources and agricultural land is a never-ending part of their daily life, with the region acting as a hub for arms and ivory trade.

Yet despite the hostile daily life, the tribes continue to pay homage to nature's ephemeral resources by adorning themselves in vibrant colors, flowers, pigments and plant parts.

German photographer, Hans Silvester, documents the two tribes in his book, "Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration From Africa," which has powerful, colorful images of the Omo Valley 'natural fashion show', as well as other regions of Africa.

For more information on Hans Silvester's photos and work, visit Story Culture blog, or read about him in the UK Daily Mail.