Monday, December 14, 2015

Dec. 13: Luminarias in the Caribbean

DEC. 13
LAS CRUCES  -  Ah, luminarias, those iconic beauties that light our holidays and say Christmas in New Mexico to so many of us.
And to me, luminarias were glowing rays of hope on one lonely, homesick late spring evening in Jamaica.
It was one of those crossroads in life. I’d been offered an artist-in-residency for a few months at the exotic oceanside community of Frenchman’s Cove in Port Antonio, Jamaica, the kind of thing that happens when you meet someone like Grainger Weston in someplace like Santa Fe.
My book was almost done, and something in me knew that family ties and cosmic missions would mean I wouldn’t be heading back to Santa Fe for long. A lagoon phone call reinforced the premonitions, and a stopover in South Florida would seal the deal.
Soon, I’d be flying home to pick up my car and pack up. It would be seven long, long years before I would return to New Mexico.
That long-ago night, there was a Technicolor sunset that reminded me of the view from my little adobe’s patio in the City Different, if you squinted and imagined the ocean waves were sage-studded expanses of desert.
My Santa Fe friends had insisted that I wasn’t done with New Mexico, and I hoped they were right. I decided to see if I could swim my angst away.
I swam far beyond the protected cove to a wild, rocky deserted beach. I suddenly realized it was getting very dark and I’d been swimming longer than I’d planned.
It took me quite a while, wrangling a strong ocean current or two, before I finally rounded the little outcropping with palms that marked the entrance to Frenchman’s Cove.
And, still far away, illuminated with lights in flickering in brown paper bags, I recognized the familiar contours of what a London journalist had recent proclaimed one of the world’s most beautiful beaches.
But luminarias? What was wrong with this picture? Was I dreaming, still back in my cozy Santa Fe bed? Or was I delusional from a salt water overdose or a Jamaican ganja contact high?
The flames grew brighter as I waded ashore, and followed the illuminated trail that led to an elegant dinner on the veranda. And at trail’s end was Gregg Weston, Grainger’s son, who was helping the staff place candles in their beach sand beds in a stack of brown paper bags. He’d packed the little bags on his last trip back from the family ranch near San Antonio.
He was homesick for the Southwest, too.
Tourists from throughout the world stopped by that night, curious to learn more about this strange and beautiful “Jamaican” art form. Gregg and I explained about the luminarias, as Texans and southern New Mexicans called them, or farolitos, as Santa Feans would insist, sometimes indignantly, were their true and correct designation.
But those warm, humble little lights, by any name, will forever be a comfort and inspiration to me, a sign of faith, a promise of my querencia, a soul’s special place, that, like then-unmet best friends, would one day come into my life.
I’ve thought of those little lights on the ocean in the decades since, when I gathered with good friends to bask in warm luminaria glows on plazas in Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque, Doña Ana and Mesilla, and lining driveways of the homes of friends and paths at White Sands National Monument and on the NMSU campus. 
If you missed New Mexico State University’s Noche de Luminarias and Light Up The Desert at Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park, there’s still time to experience Fort Selden’s Luminaria Tour at dusk today or Christmas Eve luminarias and carols on the Mesilla Plaza.
There’s something magical, a spiritual promise and beacon of hope, in the little lights. For many of us, wherever we are, luminarias have become a lovely symbol of enduring faith redeemed and promises fulfilled, of a tiny baby born in a humble manger who would live on to profoundly and forever change our world.
Merry Christmas.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @derricksonmoore on Twitter and Tout, or call 575-541-5450.

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