I’m about to step into a time warp, only it’s all in my head. I’m flying to Santa Fe tomorrow, one of the four key settings in my memoir about Byrne Miller. She lived there in the early 1960s, a contemporary of Georgia O’Keefe. Santa Fe, not Beaufort, is where she started the Byrne Miller Dance Theatre.
I’ve never been, unless you count back porch conversations with Byrne and research for the book. Santa Fe exists only as a backdrop for me, a place frozen in time, and I’m a little nervous that the contemporary city won’t feel as magical.
Byrne reveled in the chance to reinvent herself and Santa Fe was a willing stage. This is how I described her driving the family out West.
Of the three westward-bound Millers, only Byrne allowed the stark freedom of the landscape to lift and thrill her. She drove with the front seat pushed all the way back to accommodate legs meant more for the stage than a station wagon. With her chin up-thrust and wrists draped over the top of the steering wheel she could just as easily have been racing a horse-drawn chariot around a Roman coliseum.
The Millers arrived at the tail end of its artistic heyday, when writers formed colonies and housing was cheap enough for artists to afford. Byrne rented a house at 203 Canyon Drive and turned it into the studio that would become the mother ship of the Byrne Miller Dance Theatre. That address will be my first stop in Santa Fe – to see the building where it all started.
I know that Canyon Road today will be a very different place – it’s been discovered and prettied up – the heart of the city’s gallery district. But I’ve braced for this kind of reality check once before, in the course of writing this memoir, and I’m learning to appreciate even whispers that places still offer from the past. Last summer, I found the building where Byrne and Duncan lived when they were first married, in Greenwich Village. Morton Street is nothing like the bohemian, immigrant-filled place it was in Byrne’s day, but I still felt a connection.
In Santa Fe, I feel certain I will find a sense of connection again. I am about to launch “The Other Mother” so it seems fitting to visit the place where Duncan also began a new novel.
For months he paced the portal that ran along the length of their Adobe house at 203 Canyon Street, his pipe in one hand and a writing notebook in the other. When ideas came to him, he shoved the pipe between his lips and exhaled through the corner of his mouth, keeping his hands free to scribble down dialog or exposition. He eased into a curved leather Equipal chair to sharpen his pencils or refill his pipe, catching the loose crumbs of tobacco in a soft Mexican blanket folded on his lap.
I suspect that one of the reasons Byrne and Duncan decided to relocate to Santa Fe was because Byrne hoped the company of other writers would inspire Duncan to write something fresh. She couldn’t have known that almost 50 years later, it would be a place that inspires one of her collected daughters to write the story Duncan never could.