A Visit to the DH Lawrence Ranch in Taos, NM
August 30, 2019 - Ros Wade
In April of this year I had the great pleasure of visiting the DH Lawrence ranch in Taos, New Mexico. My lovely daughter, Donna, had organised this trip for me so it was especially precious. Thanks to the kindness of the staff at the University of New Mexico, who do so much important work to steward this special place and preserve it for us all to enjoy, Donna was able to arrange for the ranch to be opened especially for my visit. We were delighted to be greeted by Ricardo when we arrived, who was a very knowledgeable and helpful guide.
I have loved the work of D H Lawrence since I came across his poetry at school and I believe that he has much to say for us in the 21st century. As a seeker after authenticity and truth, both personal and proverbial, he was trying to find a new way of living our lives in harmony with each other and with the natural world. And although he never found any easy answers he raised many issues and questions which can help to guide us today.
Of all the places he visited, New Mexico was the place where he found most inspiration and peace and after visiting the ranch I can well see why. His views were of the truly wondrous, sweeping landscape across the high desert of New Mexico with all the changing colours as the sun moved across the sky. ‘The Plumed Serpent’ illustrates his love affair with the land and the people and his immense interest in and respect for indigenous cultures and traditions.
As I walked around the tiny, very basic shack where he lived I could get a sense of his presence there, working away at his desk outside under the tall fir (the ‘Lawrence tree’ as painted by Georgia O’Keefe) while Frieda spent time with her friend and artist, Dorothy Lady Brett. The tiny, homely dwelling tells us of his simple tastes and uncompromising attitude to life and his work. The ranch is very remote, right up in the mountains and quite hard to find. In Lawrence’s time it would have been reached only by horse or donkey and it enabled him to focus on his writing, free from outside demands or interference. It is touching now that Frieda chose to bring his remains here and build a small brightly coloured memorial chapel.
Thinking back to the first of his poems that I ever read over 50 years ago, ‘Storm in the Black Forest’, I remember thinking that Lawrence had got it wrong because surely lighting is forked not wriggly like a ‘a still brighter white snake’. So next time there was a storm I watched the sky carefully - and sure enough Lawrence had observed correctly with an eye much more attuned than mine to the natural world. My love of Lawrence was confirmed soon afterwards on reading Women in Love and then The Rainbow. What a depth of understanding about human relationships, their ebbs and flows, their power struggles and passions. And all grounded with a fascination and keen observation of the natural world all around him. Of course many writers before him have had these elements also, the difference with Lawrence is that he could articulate them in a poetic prose which draws us into his world and enables us to wonder and be amazed in equal measure. Lawrence has been underestimated and sometimes considered out of date but this is a very superficial reading. He was above all a seeker of a better life for all and his fears about the path that human kind had adopted has surely been borne out with the climate emergency and our present predicament of political and social upheaval.
Lawrence loved life and loved people and nature. He was not a mystic; he loved an embodied life where spiritual being and physical fulfillment could be in balance. He wanted all of us to share his vision and live our lives with kindness to ourselves, other people and our planet. My visit to his Taos ranch reminded me of all of this and touched the rest of the family also. As Frieda wrote after his death in 1930 ‘What he had seen and felt and known he gave in his writing… the splendour of living, the hope of more life…a heroic and immeasurable gift’.