On a wintry day in January nine months ago we packed up and moved out of Galisteo, an extaordinary community located along the Galisteo River, 23 miles south of Santa Fe. For eight years, since the day I married Frank, I called Galisteohome and today I still miss it more than any other place I’ve lived.
When I first opened the heavy hand-carved door and walked into our Galisteo house with its high ceilings and bank of windows overlooking the Galisteo Basin and very few neighbors, it took my breath away. Although not mine in the usual sense – Frank and his first wife had built it 20 years earlier – I loved it as though it were. High above the house on the 12-acre parcel runs a rocky ridge with many Native American petroglyphs, some more than 700 years old -- serpents, suns, figures. My favorite, a pair of feet etched into the black volcanic rock.
From my office in the back of the house, I would see rabbits scampering across the rock-strewn hill covered with junipers and other dusty green scrub, hawks floating with the winds and an occasional prey-seeking coyote. More than once I spotted a raven on the rim of the birdbath, its sleek black body dwarfing the clay basin. Many winter evenings, we would hear the hooting of owls nesting in the rocky ridge, but the only owl I sawwas in a photograph taken early morning by an overnight guest. The wide-eyed owl was perched on the deck railing in front of the house. One day, a roadrunner settled on my office window sill and tapped insistently on the glass as if demanding notice or an invite to come in. It was in my office in this frontier house that I completed the rewrite of my memoir, Banged-up Heart.
It’s not just the house I miss but the community of Galisteo. Named for Galisteo Pueblo, one of several abandoned and ruined Tanoan villages in the basin, Galisteo has been a filming location for several movies, mostly westerns (e.g., Crazy Heart, Silverado, and Young Guns) and boasts a number of notable residents, including artists Woody Gwyn and Judy Tuwaletstiwa, art critic and curator Lucy Lippard and fashion designer Tom Ford. Our nearest neighbor, on the other side of an arroyo lined with cottonwood trees, was architectural photographer Nick Merrick and his wife, artist Shaun Gilmore who live in a house once occupied by Burl Ives. We particularly miss the commarderie and friendliness of the wonderful, varied people who live in Galisteo.
Our decision to leave Galisteo was not easy. I was beginning a second term as a member of the Galisteo Association where Frank had served earlier, twice, and we loved being part of community get-togethers over chile and margaritas, art and movie showings at La Sala, the volunteer fire department BBQs and parties, even clean-up days to clear litter from paths and roadways. At home I was happily ensconced in my back-of-the-house office arranging book readings in a variety of venues. But Frank had been elected president of the board of The Santa Fe Symphony and Chorus, which was undergoing dynamic change, and found himself driving to Santa Fe at least once a day and often, again, in the evenings. The frequent commute to Santa Fe, not only for symphony matters but also for groceries, book-related meetings, and golf (for Frank, not for me) along with the fact that we were on our own septic tank and well, that I’d slipped once or twice on stair steps separating one half of the house from the other and there were many systems to keep the house going that I feared I might never master, weighed heavily.
One day, more than a year ago, we plunked down a deposit on a house not yet built, 15 minutes closer to downtown Santa Fe on a lot atop a mesa with an unobstructed view (from the back of the house) of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The blueprint was compelling, a somewhat smaller house than the one in Galisteo, all on one level, high ceilinged and contemporary with nearby golf courses and a fitness center.
Before the move, we discovered that most of our Galisteo furniture would be too big and/or too rustic for the new house. For the first five months in our new digs, we camped out with a good bed, a picnic table in the kitchen, my baby grand piano and our office furniture. Now that we have furniture in place, shades on the windows, and artwork on the walls we love our new house with its great back-of-the-house views. We’re not as overnight-guest-friendly as we were in Galisteo, but sofa pull-outs work pretty well. No longer on a 12-acre lot, we have close-by neighbors but we think we’ll adjust. We like those we’ve met and no one yet has built on either side of us. We’re just five minutes away from golf (for Frank) and the fitness center where we both take Balance classes and where I try to squeeze in a yoga class once or twice a week. Unlike my office in Galisteo, my new office is in the front of the house. From my windows I no longer see wild rabbits or soaring hawks and ravens but an asphalt roadway lined with yellow-blooming Chamisa and lavender Russian Sage. Not too far away, beneath cloud-filled blue skies I see a number of flat-roofed beige geometric houses and in the far distance, the Ortiz Mountains. I’m ever hopeful that one day I’ll hear the tap-tap-tapping of an insistent roadrunner and if I do, I just might invite him in.
I'm Shirley Melis. You may know me as Shirley M. Nagelschmidt, Shirley M. Bessey and now, Shirley M. Hirsch. Each reflects a particular phase of my life. Banged-Up Heart is a slice of my life's journey and in telling my story, I'm giving voice to my long silent "M" by reclaiming my maiden name, Shirley Melis.