Lawrence in Arcadia

The author of Sons and Lovers and Women in Love spent his happiest days at a New Mexico ranch.

By Sudip Bose

San
14,000 foot peaks rise precipitously from the San Luis Valley and create their own weather.

Credit: Courtesy of Interactive

Early one winter morning, I am driving through northern New Mexico for the first time, captivated by something as simple as sunlight. Emanating from a limitless sky, this desert light possesses a rare physical intensity, sculpting the curves and jags of the snowy Sangre de Cristo Mountains, as well as the contours of the canyon walls rising beside the roadway. The light endows this terrain with a sensual quality I have never experienced before, not in the Shenandoah Mountains, the Colorado Rockies, or even the Alps.

The English writer D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), whose dream it was to travel to the West, was also struck by this northern New Mexican light. Encountering it for the first time on the morning of September 11, 1922—his 37th birthday—Lawrence later described it in an essay called "New Mexico": "The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fé, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend. … In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new."

He had come to New Mexico with his wife, Frieda, in search of a "raw world," craving isolation and a connection to an undiscovered place free of the corruptions of modernity. He had been invited—summoned, really—by Mabel Dodge Luhan, an eccentric patron of the arts who lived in the town of Taos. Lawrence would not find his raw world in town, however, surrounded by artists and admirers. He had to travel some 17 miles farther north, into the foothills of the Rockies, to find his American Arcadia.

That's where I'm headed now, to Lobo Mountain, where Law-rence lived off and on between 1922 and 1925. I have wanted to visit the place for many years, Lawrence being the first writer I read with any seriousness. I'll never forget the summer day, more than a decade ago, when as an undergraduate I made my way down the slippery stone steps leading into a gorge near
campus. And in a cool, wooded spot, I entered the world of Lawrence's novella St. Mawr, away from the distractions of others. The story—about Lou Witt, a dissatisfied woman attracted to the powerful and symbolic stallion St. Mawr—was haunting, its pages filled with poetic descriptions of New Mexico's landscape. Lawrence composed the novella not in the cold, industrial, English north I had always associated him with, but in New Mexico, at a ranch very similar to Lou's.

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