FS 151

5″x7″ pastel on sanded paper

The road that runs between Christ in the Desert Abbey, and Ghost Ranch is one of my favorite places in the world. I love the canyon, the drive, the Rio Chama, and especially what lies at either end of this forest service road.

After lugging many pounds of heavy painting equipment around all summer, I came home and lightened my load! Check out my new travel set up. It is the smallest Heilman pastel box, which I carefully adapted with the help of my, clever and handy, Spanish exchange student. The box is made to securely hold pastels on one side, and carry paper on the other. As designed, there was no way to hold the support in the top half of the box so it kept sliding down. Second, the paper holder it came with didn’t work very well. After some brainstorming, we removed the stock paper holder and then added the 4 pieces of silver hardware you can see in the top of the photo. We made them adjustable, so they can hold the lid, and paper of varying sizes, in place. The trickiest part was carving out part of the box to allow room for the hardware so that the box will still close.

Today was my test drive, and I am delighted!

Chama River Valley

I did this plein air painting yesterday afternoon just before the sunset. I loved the way the light snuck through the valley and spilled out onto the river bank. It touched all of the yellow plants and turned them GOLD. Beautiful. I painted with Christ in The Desert Monastery to my back. When the bell rang for Vespers the light had changed drastically, so I packed up and slipped into the chapel to chant with the monks. What a beautiful way to end the day.

“Work as Prayer”


I have just finished reading “The Hawk and the Dove” trilogy by Penelope Wilcock. It is the story of a Benedictine monastery in the 13th century. A brother at Christ in the Desert thought I would enjoy it. What a great story, and it has made the time I have spent at The monastery even more meaningful. This is Brother James, watering the prayer garden.

“Father John Tending the Hops”


In northern New Mexico, down a 17 mile dirt driveway, at the end of a canyon sits a very special place where 40 monks keep the hours and pray the psalms. That place is called Monastery of Christ in the Desert.

Here is Father John tending the hops, collected from local canyons, grown to make Monk’s Wit
Ale. Benedictine monks have been mixing a life of prayer, work, and study for the last 1500 years. I like to think it is a bit like traveling back in time when I visit this monastery. It is a contemplative monastery, and they respect a rule of silence. Deep in the desert, and off the grid, there no road noise, or buzzing of machines. I expected the silence to be oppressive, but I experienced it as a true gift. The quiet makes it easier to quiet one’s mind, and it makes their chanting that much more beautiful.

When I showed this painting to Father John he quoted John 15: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

So I post this painting today to remember these brothers, especially today on St. Benedict’s feast day.