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© Photograph byPhilip Metcalf


© Photograph byPatricia Galagan

Some believe that we are imprinted from an early age to prefer the geography that surrounded us growing up. For Philip, that would be the verdant Finger Lakes area of central New York State and the island of Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, where he spent summers with his family in a cottage just yards from the Atlantic Ocean. I, by age twelve, had lived in eight different states—some coastal, some inland—arriving at puberty with no discernible inclination to prefer oceans over mountains or farmland over cities. I was geography-neutral.

When we married, we put our formative influences aside and settled in Northern Virginia, handling muggy summers and black-ice winters with stoicism. The moisture made our garden abundant and raised it to garden-tour status. When a California developer bought the twelve acres behind our house and cut down and mulched the 200-year-old oaks that had been our borrowed view, replacing them with mini-mansions, we moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, the piñon-polka-dot landscape blanketing ancient, worn-down mountains refreshed and energized our photography and our spirits. It was our immense pleasure to live with vast, open horizons, New Mexico's curious flat-bottomed clouds, and its refulgent geology.

We live near the Rio Grande Rift, a tear in the North American crust, pulling western North America further westward for the past thirty million years. Near us are the Jemez Mountains, huge piles of rocks spewed by numerous volcanoes between seven and ten million years ago.

When the Las Conchas Fire of 2011 burned in the Jemez Mountains for thirty days and nights in plain sight from our living room, we realized that the ecological future of New Mexico would be warmer, drier, and increasingly fire-prone. We learned that burned forests, without moisture and tolerable temperatures, do not return to their previous state. We embarked on a seven-year photography project depicting the destruction and altered regrowth of 156,000 acres of burned forest. We tapped into a degree of shared environmental concern unimagined in other places we have lived or visited.

We now know there is no other place we want to live. New Mexico and much of the American Southwest is vast, still primal, geologically raw, and, for us, visually compelling in a way that is irresistible.

Copyright © 2019 Patricia Galagan. All rights reserved.


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