The dirt road ripped over time by alternate acceleration and braking was so unrelentingly jarring, the truck protested like a child denied candy in the check out line. I bit my tongue at 20 mph. A beater truck passed, the crap in the back bouncing higher than the crumpled tail gate. A juggling act of buckets, cans, and other flotsam gained upward momentum as he passed, then slowed with him to a carefree tossing about. The helmsman fishtailed at the curve ahead. The road as wide as a street through one of the Midwest’s deserted towns on a Sunday afternoon, gave him ample space to bank from side to side and never interrupt the swirling performance in the back. Spray paint on a trailer house door strapped to a barbed wire fence read “Door Into the Unseen.” I studied the technique used to secure it to the multi-strand fence as I got out to look about and blot blood from the chomped tongue.
In a region devout to the faith of the Spanish throne, driving a washboard rough, chalky road in Abiquiu, New Mexico that snaked up to an adobe structure resembling the mosques of Northern Africa was a behind-the-wheel eureka moment. It was as startling as gewgaw souvenirs in a high brow Taos gallery. Built by Egyptian architect Hassan Fathi in 1981, Dar al Islam was designed to serve as the fulcrum for a planned community. The village never materialized, but the mosque sponsors educational programs, retreats, and workshops connected to various educational institutions. And it serves up magnificent architecture on a most unlikely backdrop.
Gawking and stumbling my way to the office for permission to walk about and photograph the exterior, I met Institute Director Rehana Shafi. Graciously he agreed to my no-commercial photography. I’m certain my photographic skill level was unquestionably a non-threat as he looked upon a person powdered with road dust, fighting her tongue to stay put and speaking with a lisp.
There’s not a religious bone in my body. Spiritual bones, are quite another thing. I’ve plenty of those. And have found road trips to be chock with moving experiences from one spiritual catalyst or another. Which is the reason I go – to be moved, and healed in the process (and I always return healed). So on an October day as clearly bright and sensationally pristine as a Wyoming night, no wind, warm in the sun, cool in the shade, with an ultramarine sky streaked by an O’Keeffe flourish of white, I walked the mosque and grounds accompanied only by camera and free-wheeling thoughts.
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