I lived my first four decades in Nebraska. When my siblings and I were launching ourselves into careers, I became a newspaper reporter in western Nebraska, and my sister became the museum curator at Mesa Verde National Park, in southwestern Colorado. I visited her several times and fell in love with the Four Corners area. As the years passed, our careers changed. My sister’s Park Service job took her to Cape Cod and later to the shores of Lake Michigan, where she retired. After grad school and a series of jobs, I ended up in the Philadelphia suburbs, writing and editing for a living and painting in my spare time. I didn’t forget the Southwest, though; the region established a firm emotional grip on me after I attended a two-week painting workshop in Taos in 2000.
Although I came to love the rolling hills, verdant woods, and colonial history of southeast Pennsylvania, I never really took to its crowds, its heavy traffic, and the underlying Type-A-ness of its culture. Still, after more than 20 years, I’d settled in, established comfortable routines, and made lasting friendships. Eventually, I downsized into a one-bedroom apartment on a lushly wooded acreage, where I assumed I would retire.
After a few seasons there, I realized that, although the trees were beautiful and the shade was cool, what I wanted to see was sky. I wanted to watch the sun rise and observe the approach of storms. I longed to be able to step out on a clear night and identify the constellations I had known as a child. I wanted to gaze upon a simple horizon of land and sky without the interference of buildings and wires. I wanted patches of sun in my home where the cat could sleep. And I wanted low-humidity summers.
So, as my retirement date approached, I set my sights on western Nebraska. I chose an area I had always loved—the Nebraska Sandhills, a 20,000-square-mile, ecologically distinct region where stationary grass-covered dunes roll endlessly toward the horizon under an open sky. I would find a place where the hills would inspire my painting.
But finding a suitable home—one with a view of the hills, ample painting space, good light, and the availability of services, conveniences, and social and cultural activities that a lone woman of a certain age might want or need in that sparsely populated area—turned out to be no easy thing. Internet searches produced few results, so I gradually expanded my search farther west and closer to major (for that area) population centers. I searched the High Plains of western Nebraska and South Dakota and then expanded into eastern Wyoming and Colorado. Time was running short. It was late winter, and I wanted to move before summer’s humidity set in and still give my employer adequate notice of retirement. It was time to make a trip west to find a home, but how was I to plan a trip when I couldn’t seem to narrow my projected area down to a single state?
Things are not falling into place here, I thought. There must be something wrong with my basic premise. What am I missing?
Over the next few days, an answer began to form. “Why don’t you move to New Mexico?” one person asked. Someone else said, “I have a friend who retired to New Mexico, and she just loves it.” And, not for the first time, I recalled my assertion to a co-worker years before when our company transferred us from Nebraska to Pennsylvania: “I’ll stay maybe three years and then I’ll move to New Mexico.” (Little did I know, that same friend, now living in Virginia, was at that very moment preparing to send me an e-mail message asking, “Have you considered New Mexico? Isn’t that where you planned to move 20 years ago?”)
So I returned to my Internet home search, bypassing my four-state search and going directly to “rentals, Santa Fe/Taos.” Was that a fanfare of trumpets? Angels singing “Hallelujah”? My eye fell on an ad for a spacious rental home with skylights and a sun porch in a rural area north of Santa Fe. And to my amazement, it was not that far above my budget.
Two and a half weeks later, I flew into Albuquerque and drove a rental car to Santa Fe. The next morning, Easter Sunday, I stood for the first time in the home I had fallen in love with on my first Internet home search. And two days later, I signed the lease.
As I write this, I and my sun-loving cat have lived in that house four months. And the angels continue to sing.
In the early 1980s, my husband, my daughter, and I were enjoying a very cold Colorado Christmas. Growing weary of the chill, we decided that the day after Christmas, we would pack up some clothes, food, and camping gear and head south on I-25 until it was warm. We did not stop until Elephant Butte Reservoir, set up camp on the beach in the dark, and retired for the night. When we woke up in the morning, we could not believe our eyes as the amazing landscape and the beautiful waters were revealed. The next few days, we explored the lake and the surrounding areas, including Truth or Consequences. After several days of soaking in the (key word) hot springs, we fell in love with the area. We have since visited as much as we can. As we are getting ready to retire, we hope to snowbird to the area when the cold winds of Colorado begin to blow each year.
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