Last week on Monday morning, the day after I left Colorado to head out on my journey, I woke up to a beautiful view out the bedroom doors of the Casita, at the home of my friend, Connie. A welcome sight after an exciting but drawn-out, even stressful at times, Sunday drive.
Connie and I have not known each other long–a little over a year. So, no schoolgirl stories, or crazy tales from years ago. Around Lyons I’d heard of her referred to as The Dinosaur Lady and had seen her ‘Dinosaur Lady’ van out and about. I didn’t really understand exactly what a Dinosaur Lady was, something to do with dinosaurs and kid’s birthday parties.
Wow, is there so much more to this woman!
Connie had posted last year on a local Facebook page that she was in the process of packing up her house in Lyons to move full time to New Mexico. And though we’d not met, I offered to help. I’m pretty good when it comes to packing items for storage or shipment (for other people especially), so I was glad to offer my services, and then as it turns out, she lived only about a block and a half from us.
As Connie and I were in her house, wrapping up dishes and putting them in boxes, we fell into great conversation. We might not have the shared history, but we realized fairly soon we are kindred souls.
We both commented how unfortunate it seemed we had not met sooner since we’d lived so close to each other. However, we also were grateful for the new friendship. At the time she was going through a huge transition, and little did we know I would be making a major life change as well within a year.
After her move, we kept in touch as we could, and I loved seeing the photos of Connie beaming in her glorious surroundings.
One weekend this summer when I happened to be having one of my yard sales, she was in Lyons and popped in. Knowing I’d be going through New Mexico when I was en route to L.A., she invited me to stop in with her. Beyond grateful, I was elated at the idea of seeing this gorgeous space in person. However, what I really was looking forward to, was the prospect of spending time with Connie.
So when I headed out last Sunday, I put her address in my iPhone and began the drive south.
Not getting to her house until much later at night than I’d hoped I would, thanks to my induction into the Crack-of-Noon Club, and after a long day of driving for me, Connie, showed me the Casita where I’d be staying. Then in the main house, Connie, her son, Jesse, and I chatted for a short bit before calling it a night.
Waking up the next morning with amazing scenery out the window, and in such a peaceful place, I looked forward to the day. And a glorious day it was. Connie and Jesse, showed me around Abiquiu, including the site of the Georgia O’ Keeffe Museum that is being built, right next to Abuquiu Inn where I was treated to a wonderful lunch.
We also drove around seeing the house where Georgia O’ Keeffe lived, as well as an old, abandoned theater in Abiquiu Plaza. And we went down Balanced Rock Road where there is a really interesting area between Plaza Blanca and Copper Canyon with bones and artifacts. I took some photos with my film camera and am glad how they turned out.
We dropped Jesse off at home (he had to get ready to watch the Broncos Monday night football game) and Connie took me to tour the awe-inspiring Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center. She has been an instructor at Ghost Ranch in a variety of mediums including welding (did I mention she’s a fantastic metal design artist?) and earth sciences, for 25 years. I’d really been looking forward to seeing this locale with so much history.
I had the fun of seeing where on the Ghost Ranch property many films like City Slickers, Cowboys and Aliens, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, Comanche Moon, and Silverado, to name a few, were filmed. But that was just one little portion. Ghost Ranch goes way back. And though I’m sure I could read about it in a book or on the Internet, it was particularly fascinating to have Connie, with her passion and talent for storytelling and history, telling me of the past of this wonderful place that means so much to her.
I was captivated as she told me of the Archuleta brothers who were cattle rustlers and had inhabited the area because they could take advantage of the good coverage and visibility. One of the brothers had made a deal without the other and told his brother he’d buried gold from the transaction for safe keeping. The second brother killed the first, and held the brother’s wife and daughter captive. Eventually they escaped and a posse of men went to the ranch and hung the remaining brother. The gold has never been found!
She also told me of Carol Stanley, an east-coaster, whose husband won the property in a poker game and she put the title in her name. She moved to the land, built a dude ranch, and gave it the name ‘Ghost Ranch’. Many elite members of society and artists took advantage of the site for getaways for relaxation and inspiration.
Connie showed me the original structure where Ms. Stanley lived and where she had her piano–not something I’d expect to find on a dude ranch. I could only wonder the strength of this woman who had been a part of the Boston high society, to have made this move, and without her husband, to such a rustic environment.
It was interesting to see where Georgia O’Keeffe had resided when she lived on the ranch. And Connie pointed out parts of the landscape O’Keeffe used for inspiration in many of her famous paintings.
As we went down a path, I could feel the energy change, and I found out why when Connie explained to me this had been the grounds on which she had taught welding to artists for years. But in 2015 a devastating flood washed away most everything that stood there. Connie had been the last person in her beloved classroom before torrential rains destroyed it.
As I took in this sacred place under the trees, two deer appeared. I slowly got out of my car with my camera, hoping I wouldn’t scare them off. They didn’t run, instead, as I stood near the side of Connie’s car, they stopped and stared at me. Any moment I was expecting them to scuttle away. As we stood there looking at each other, I chose to not take a photo. Instead, I inhaled slowly and let it out, breathing in the moment, being this close to these gentle creatures.
One of the deer went off into the bushes and eventually the other followed. Our visit was over.
After the tour of the ranch, Connie and I headed home to curl up in front of a fire and to all watch the game together.
The next morning, I woke again to this gorgeous view, and pondered how I could put into words the experience of what Connie had so kindly shared with me. And I also gave thought how blessed I am to be engaging with amazing friends, old and new, who are so giving of space in their homes and of their time, on this personal odyssey.
Such a wonderful lesson in beauty and emotion I felt being with this amazing woman.
On her site, Connie describes herself as a ‘renaissance woman’ and this is so true. I am in awe of her knowledge and regard for geology, paleontology, history, and the landscape that extends beyond Abiquiu.
Beyond hearing stories of the surrounding lands, throughout the day we connected through stories from our pasts, some emotional, some humorous. We talked about family, we spoke of our dreams.
We had learned bits and pieces of each other’s lives when we first met during the packing for the move out, but it was a wonderful opportunity to really get to know each other and to embrace the sisterhood of strong-women-who-go-through-many-lives.
As rich as the history of the ranch, Connie has her own amazing story.
This woman who was now talking to me about cattle rustlers, geology, fossils and artifacts–the Dinosaur Lady–at a young age had become Marie Osmond’s best friend and was with the Osmond’s (yes, Donny too) every step of the way as the family skyrocketed to fame. She would go with Marie to learn choreography and blocking for the Vegas shows so she could work with her to learn routines. Connie’s mother became the family’s personal assistant, and Connie and her mother were involved with every show and production at some level. Connie appeared as an extra for skits and audience shots for the Donny & Marie Show in the 1970’s, and was on American Bandstand for two years.
She turned down the opportunity to be an extra on Happy Days and Little House on the Prairie to attend college, with every belief she would be returning to Hollywood. In school she was the lead in several musicals, but then her life changed dramatically when she was introduced to the Red Rock Canyon country in Utah. She was drawn to the science of archaeology and geology. At this point, the cameras and business of Hollywood took a backseat to her new ‘self’. On the creative side, she was inspired to write songs about the wilderness, and love, and life, even performing at Sundance in Utah.
She told me how after she’d had four children, and with her second husband, she was brought back to herself. I felt honored, and even more connected, as Connie explained this very personal time of transition and when she showed me where she experienced a deeply emotional life-changing moment. The kind of moment belonging to someone else that you don’t write the particulars of in a blog. But I’ll bet many women can imagine a similar event in their own lives. A place and time where, a juncture where you realize you’ve been struggling to be what you think will make everyone around you happier, and in an instant, on that spot, wherever you are, you begin to let it out, and once you’ve shed the tears, you’ve revealed who you truly are. And you know, this time, you are ready to share your genuine self with the world.
Connie learned to blend her love of the land and desire to perform, and released her first musical album.
She talked of how in her years with the Osmond family she had met and worked with amazing stars like Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, and Jerry Lewis. Working beside Marie gave her unique opportunities, but it was not until she left the business and took time to explore life that she gained self-respect and had the confidence to be herself. To be Connie Burton Burkhart.
As Connie shared her fantastic experiences, I realized how similar we are, constantly reinventing ourselves, changing our paths to find where we are happiest, where we are strongest, and can contribute as nurturing women to humankind.
Sitting in front of the fire in her living room, Connie described her own ‘leap of faith’. When she bought her house here, her initial intention was to live part time in Lyons, and the home in Abiquiu was primarily to be a place for her family, currently in different parts of the country, to get together and spend holidays and summers. However, an opportunity was given her to purchase nearby property that she’d always asked the owners, friends of hers, for right of first refusal.
She was thrilled, but it was a huge risk. It would mean giving up her home in Colorado and committing wholly to New Mexico. And just as my ‘leap’ continues to assure me there’s a net below, as she went through the process in her mind of practicality–cost, responsibility to her children and to herself, job, and every other element of your life that emerges to try to make you scared–her heart knew the land was meant to be hers.
Being there with her, I knew she was right. Standing near and watching her, it felt as though this was where she’d always lived. Where she’d learned to walk, learned about the earth, about history. Learned to sing. Where she’d taken her first real breaths. This was home.
So, among the beauty that surrounded me in soul and landscape, I lay in bed that last morning watching the sun get brighter on her garden, I stared in awe, and had no idea how to phrase what ran through my mind and heart.
A couple of hours later, as Connie took me to see the adobe dome on her land which currently holds some of her art pieces, it came to me, and I knew.
She showed me several beautiful sculptures she had created from metal and other media, each one unique and with a name. After seeing the larger works I noticed a shelf with several statues resembling the shape of a woman. They were similar in size and nature, but each very different. I was instantly drawn to them.
Connie explained the idea for these guardian angels was inspired through very specific moments in her life where she’d felt someone beside her, helping guide her, though physically she may have been alone.
Each one is unique, and comes with a printed copy of Connie’s story of how they came to be and how she named this creation.
She writes that in these moments, her “dreams carried peace and contentment” and though she was by herself, she felt “protected”.
“Then I felt someone near me, and in relief I turned toward the direction of the approaching soul, but no one was there – no one. I reached out to what I ‘felt’ beside me, and there was not anything tangible except this odd urging to walk on in the dark and be led.”
She had made over 80, only a few of the statues remain until she opts to create more of them, as most have sold at art shows, many people buying one for themselves, and another for a gift. I could see why. Given the opportunity, I would gift one to every woman friend I have.
Though each was magnificent in her own way, one in particular stood out to me. A gulp in my throat from the emotion I was feeling at that moment, I told Connie I felt I needed one of these womanly figures for my journey. I had no idea how much they cost, and I certainly couldn’t afford whatever their cost. But I was ready to pay any price, because that’s how much I felt I wanted this piece of her art.
I was taken aback and incredibly grateful when Connie told me she had considered gifting one to me, but didn’t know if I would be interested, or if I wanted more things in my car as I continue my travels.
I held each, and looked at them, considering which I felt the most from. But Connie and I both knew the very first one I had picked up was the one, she was my journey-woman.
As I’ve said in a previous post, by removing excess, you make room for that which matters. By coming to this beautiful place and time Connie introduced me to, I found my heart opened and my mind broadened, and within that space, I definitely have room for this extraordinary sculpture.
‘She Who Walks With Me.’
This awe-inspiring woman, of metal, stone, and heart reminds me that although my journey may at times feel solo, I am never alone. I carry with me the stories of women, past and present, those I am fortunate to have in my life, and those I will know of only by hearsay through the sharing of their lives by other women.
And whether directly, or through inspiration, their stories will be part of the movies I make.
As I continue on this journey being genuine to myself and to the women whose stories give me courage to share them, I know one thing for certain. I will never walk alone.