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Filtering by Tag: Georgia O'Keeffe

Through the Window - Part 2: The Open Portal and the Call to Prayer

Rebecca Spears


Read Part I

- Great trees, outspreading and upright, apostles of the living light.

Patient as stars they build in air tier after tier a timbered choir . . . Wendell Berry, “The Timbered Choir”

Writers and artists often use windows as a source of inspiration. Georgia O’Keeffe has a series of brilliant paintings that offer unique views of New York City from her perch in the Shelton building, where she lived with Alfred Stieglitz for twelve years in the 1920s and 1930s.

While a window can visually frame a scene, it can also frame sounds, letting us hear them in ways we hadn’t heard before. Wendell Berry’s window poems are a result of his placing a writing desk in front of a huge forty-paned window. For him, the great trees not only inspired him visually in their “weightless grace,” but also for their song, which left “a blessing on this place.”

On Easter morning two years ago, the bells of St. Sebastian’s Church in Salzburg rang and rang at sunrise, startling me from sleep. Briskly stirred to consciousness, I checked my watch. It was only six a.m. when an entire chorus of bells called me to the open casement window of my room at the Hotel Amadeus. All over the city, bells pealed from many churches, some tolling a loud bass, others chiming the middle tones, and some reaching the high, clear notes, closer to a soprano voice. What sounded like discord at first, soon shaped itself into celebratory clanging.

In the sprawling metropolis that I call home, I don’t ever recall hearing so many bells at once. My place in the Houston Heights is near a small Episcopal chapel, and occasionally, I will hear its bells on a Sunday morning, if I’m outdoors. Because Houston is the most air-conditioned city in the country, we keep our windows closed for many months of the year. I suspect that while I’m in my home, I miss a lot of curious sounds because of the air-conditioning—snippets of conversations from people walking by, sirens, soft rains, barking dogs, freeway traffic.

The call to celebrate Easter two years ago in Salzburg is one I won’t soon forget; it was entirely extraordinary. While Salzburgers are accustomed to hearing the bells all year long, at six a.m., noon, and six p.m., I was a visitor brought to the open windows, portals that animated me and gladdened my heart. The call to prayer felt like something that I had been missing all my life. I can still summon the bells in my imagination, and they still hearten me.


Adie Kleckner

ansel-adams-image-of-Church-in-Taos About a month ago I was back in New Mexico finishing my MFA. I drove out to Taos while I was there. I took the high road, through towns slumped in the valleys and perched on peaks.

I was the only visitor to the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church, made iconic in Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and Ansel Adam’s photograph. The heavy-hipped adobe church was silent. The mud and hay exterior held the heat at bay so the sanctuary was cool and rich with the smell of carved wood and old incense. I thought that I would write inside, or draw the elaborate altarpieces I wasn’t allowed to photograph. But I couldn’t bring myself to do either. I just wanted to sit. To be inside a building that seemed to breathe.

I have visited Cathedrals in Europe, with soaring buttresses opening the nave up to the sky. Rooms filled with colored light and air. But the Mission Church is not like that. It is made of mud. It is close to the earth. It is raw and its beauty is in the baseness of its materials. Sitting inside the church is like being inside a turtle shell.

Every spring, parishioners and community members gather together to add a fresh coat of mud and hay to the exterior of the church. This annual ritual is called enjarre or remudding. It takes two weeks to shore up the walls; to strengthen the adobe that has shrunk and expanded over the course of the last year. With each addition, the building is stronger.


On my drive back home from New Mexico to Jackson I detoured through Hondo, New Mexico. This small town is not famous. Built in the narrow seam between two mountains, its best feature is that it has the only gas station between Ruidoso and Roswell.

But to me, driving through Hondo was worth the extra two hours added to my already 19-hour drive. From my desk in Jackson I had written about Hondo, had researched its history and geology and agriculture. Each poem was just another layer painted on the mythos of the town. It had become larger than itself. With each layer it grew and came alive.

In a letter Willa Cather wrote of Death Comes for the Archbishop: “I did not expect to write a book about the Southwest. It was too big and too various…You see, the story of the Southwest involved too many individuals—little related to each other.”

But it was in two priests working to found the church in Santa Fe, two French missionaries in the act of uniting disparate parts, that Cather found the common ground for her novel. These priests began a tradition that continues to unite communities every spring, to add another layer to the church.

In the sparseness of the landscape, rituals are extraordinary.

Clouds build mountains that crumble as soon as they reach their peak. The century plant blooms, shooting a firecracker of white petals into the sky. When it rains, the desert erupts in green, frogs hum in the night, the cholla speckled in burnt red pepper the landscape. Another layer.

(Photo by Ansel Adams)