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Writings at the Baca

Quests at the Baca

By Dan Tynan, from the Winter, 1993 edition of la Tertulia.

I have many images from that time. As part of course requirements, students kept their own journals on the readings, not necessarily on their own spiritual quests, though Joan and I would welcome such jottings. After class one day, I took a walk along Willow Creek up towards the big mountains. In the quiet of the breaking spring, I came upon students absorbed in the spaces along the creek, apparently writing in their journals. Maybe they were just spacing out but at that point the line between spacing out and meditating becomes invisible. To see students absorbed in this way should not have surprised me, but it did. It had something to do with the place; the place invited them to immerse in the quiet of their thoughts. Some, at least, accepted the invitation. It came to me that this look of absorption can come across a face when it’s fully engaged in a creative or maybe even a spiritual moment.

Spiritual communities quietly enliven the Baca Grande. There’s a Carmelite monastery, a Zen Buddhist community, an Ashram, among others. In connection with the subject of our course, Joan and I arranged a visit to the Zen Center. In the cool starkness of the temple, we sat on the floor and listened to members of the community explain the purpose of their spiritual practice. They explained how they had arrived along many different routes; they explained that even after the journey delivered them to the Center, they could not always stay there. Sometimes they had to leave, sometimes they came back. We sat in the stark prayer hall; we listened.

Afterwards, we toured the grounds, the kitchen, the meditation room. Gisela delivered from the kitchen trays of cookies and punch. We ate. We heard more of the rigors of the meditative life. Students asked questions. Was this the kind of spiritual journey they might like to take? Would they like getting up at three a.m. to meditate, motionless on the prayer pillow, for four hours? Would they like the kitchen duty, the rigors of the knife and ovens? Eating, living, working, praying in the community of discipline?

What about politics? Wasn’t this copping out? How could a person do it, year after year? Can you romanticize this life? Do you want it forever? I could do it forever, one said. I could never do it, said another.

Students seemed different, somehow, though I probably couldn’t say exactly how. We enjoyed-that’s right, enjoyed-the oral finals we gave. Groups of two or three students would listen as Joan or I read a poem which we had not studied in class, but which had been written by one of the authors we had studied. We listened, barely able to contain our joy, as students (not all of them by the way) pieced together the language, the imagery, the sounds of the poems to identify the authors for all the best reasons.

After the exams, on the last night of the course, we had dinner at the faculty townhouse. Joan had suggested a read-around; each of us chose a favorite poem to read to the group. Who would go first? Joan would. Then who? Students fidgeted, giggled a little, took a long time warming up. Once they got going, though, we couldn’t stop them. Eventually, people went to bed, the circle got tighter; the read-around went round.

As you can imagine, it was not that easy to leave the Baca, so Joan and I decided we would not. Ever. We decided that we would simply call the dean and tell that if he wanted us to continue teaching, he could send as many students as he wanted down to the Baca.


Crestone, Colorado

By Rebecca Laroche

Crestone, Colorado. Photo by Suzi Nishida.


The kind of town where your brother drives by

as you talk, heads almost touching, with his ex,

insists you  ride in the back of his loaded pick up.

The kind of town where everyone knows

if your crops are failing, where the store clerk

hugs you, asks you how your father’s doing.

The kind of place where you run into a neighbor

in the post office who tells you things are both great

and scary and you know just what she means.


Two strangers flit through the whole-foods store,

the Asian import shop, and finally alight

at the Rainbow Café.  Here they have iced chai

and someone shows their pictures of Ground Zero. 

A Signorelli beauty, so young, pours them their tea

and a guy with an acoustic guitar tests the mike

in the room so small it shares a storefront

with a video store.  Here the toddler daughter

of the Marian-faced waitress eats rice cakes,

ignores her crayons and shows the customers

her bare bottom, and the waitress

looks more worn than she did before.   


Sonnet for Juan

By Liz Lewis

Photo by Liz Lewis.

You’ve memorized a black arc of mountains,

washed it in watercolors of early May,

taught words for the science of landscape —

bajada, terrace, conglomerate, dunes.


Acequias dug by the baptized Spanish,

ecstatic cries of horses coming to drink,

the overflow of human histories I read.

Years past you loved a woman who vanished


into the airbrushed light. I will write it:

a woman escaped into a valley,

leaving no footprints, the gullies gone dry.

Vultures and ravens found no bones, no flesh.


You arrived in the trees ahead of her,

breathless, certain, waiting to read this lore.


Trial by Silence

By David Mason, Professor of English

Photo by Joe Gordon.

A mute, judicial absence fills the valley. No boots track the snow, and blades of yucca stand guard in clusters. The rabbitbrush clumps are wigged with the same dry powder, if it please the court of quietude, the juniper jury of windless attitudes where mule deer hide. And where the arroyo runs, a leafless line of lumbering cottonwoods catches the news- a stillness will be hung in the air, and a dog will bark steam at the coldness of it all.


Poems from the Baca Grande

Crestone, Colorado by Rebecca Laroche and Sonnet for Juan by Liz Lewis are both printed in Poems from the Baca Grande, a publication of the Hulbert Center Press. Laroche and Lewis are member of Poetry West, an organization that holds its yearly retreat at the Baca. Both poems are inspired by the beauty of the Baca.