Kirstie Bender Segarra
Reflections of 22 years in Taos, New Mexico the closure and birth of my practice.
As 2020 comes to end, a time to pause for reflection on living in Taos, New Mexico since 1998. In 1997, I graduated from Antioch University in Seattle with my master’s degree and married a fellow student in the program, then returned to Bali, Indonesia to continue my studies in the healing arts. When I returned to the city I love, Seattle, I found myself desiring something new and smaller. My husband suggested Taos. I had never heard of Taos and had little knowledge of New Mexico. My paternal grandparents had lived in Oklahoma City, where I saw my first tornado at six years old and felt undiscovered roots from my father’s side of the family in the Southwest. I googled “Taos” and saw images of Earthships, artwork and funky small-town living. The sagebrush reminded me of Sun Lakes in eastern Washington a place I camped with some of my girlfriends in my teens and twenties that I loved. I liked the vibe. So, we sold most of our belongings and moved to Taos over the summer of ’98 via the indirect route of Seattle to NYC, to meet the in-laws, then Taos.
Arriving on September 2, 1998 through Angel Fire, down through the canyon along Kit Carson was my first impression of Taos with art galleries lining the street and World Cup at the entry to the plaza. The buildings are mostly one-story adobe construction. No building higher than the Taos Pueblo. We stayed at the Stewart House B&B just north of the blinking light while we looked for a place to live. Within a week, we rented a casita in Arroyo Seco across from the catholic church where the priest would walk around self-flagellating with a leather whip. The bells of the church would ring through the small northern new Mexican town of hip art galleries, breakfast burritos and luxurious coffee with croissants and artisan breads.
I was completely ignorant of the new culture. While fixing the kitchen faucet, Mr. Torres, our landlord, would tell me stories of the aggressive buffalo on the pueblo land that abutted his property in El Salto. There is an oral tradition of telling stories to share the magic of the land and its people. Mr. Torres would become one of many storytellers I would encounter over the years. Later, I would end up working with his wife at the ski valley, where I met my future partner Ross while working together in the seasons pass office. Arroyo Seco is nestled at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains with wild streams, steep cliffs and jagged edges. Pumas, wolverines and bears protect the source and origins of the people of this land in the lakes of the mountains. People have lived here for thousands of years leaving behind petroglyphs carved in the sides of rocks. My favorite is a circle within a circle representing water. There is a mystical and magical quality of life here mixed with the harshness of high desert temperature swings to the poverty that is pervasive throughout New Mexico.
I had just spent the whole winter with a smile on my face—indeed the weather is lovely here. When it snows, the afternoon sun melts the roads and it is easy to drive. I have images of doing 360 degree turns on Seattle streets in icy snowy weather and cars sliding backwards down hills rivaling the hills of San Francisco. In Taos, snow is a way of life for several generations of skiers that work in the local ski valley. There is an art to skiing in long curvy slow turns—the greens are blue; the blues are black and the black ski trails are whatever.
In early 1999, I woke up and stated to my husband that I wanted to go look for land. I pointed straight across the valley from North to South. I said, “it doesn’t rain over there”. As a Hawaiian born, Belgian raised, Seattleite with Scottish heritage I am seeking a little sunshine. Ironically, it has taken 22 years for me to start missing the rain-clouded landscape of the Northwest.
Back in 1999, I popped into the real estate office and Penny, who is well known in these parts for her care of the 4-legged, printed out several properties for sale at mile marker number nine. Driving down Old State Road 570 just off of Highway 68 on the south end of town we arrived at mile marker number 9. The land had open vistas of sage brush looking over the mountains and pueblo land. I hiked around the off-grid hilly sagebrush with arroyos that sloped to the Rio Pueblo for a few hours. I loved that the land was not flat. It had a hidden mystery within each arroyo and each piñon growing on the hillsides. A one-acre property with the potential for owner financing kept coming back to the top of the pile. It took a while to find it, we didn’t have cellphones yet with GPS and we had to use our gut to discern if this was the place. There were two houses a half a mile away that were off the grid. Otherwise there were no houses for miles, just 360-degree vista like I was standing in the middle of a medicine wheel made of mountains. I decided to make an offer on the land that very day. I had a received a small inheritance from the passing of my beloved grandmother, I offered all of it as a down-payment. The owner agreed to finance me for 5 years to pay of the balance.
The land purchase closed on April 1, 1999. We came out to visit the land a couple of weeks later with a pregnancy test in hand, I squatted in the arroyo to pee on the stick and was given a positive test. Then we purchased a 1978 30 ft. travel trailer for $1,000 with brown vinyl paneling and three used 50-watt solar panels to start our home. We built an outhouse and had water delivered to a cistern once a month.
Do you ever feel the grace that runs through your life? When edges bring you to what the universe has planned for you? This is exactly how my experience unfolded in Taos. I was pushed in ways I would not have if I stayed in an urban environment. There is a solitude of living off the grid in the endless horizons of sagebrush as the coyotes sing, yelping into the night and the great horn owls hooting from the arroyo and one can hear the gentle ripples of the river climbing over the canyon onto the landscape. It is “wyld” here. The milky way arcs over the nighttime sky with a vibrancy of interstellar travel. This is what my daughter grew up in. The silence of space and a quietude of heart beats humming up from the deep earth. This is home.
I consider myself an outlier tying into my Highlander Scottish roots. The land I live on has many correlations with the animistic Celtic lineage of my family where the matriarch lives in equal partnership and is a protector of the land. I have spent years cultivating and weaving the land I live on.
Before the birth of my daughter, we slowly worked on building a home before our daughter was born. Her due date was January 1, 2000. There was a lot of hype of “Y2K” a predicted apocalypse that never happened. I remember not wanting her to arrive in 2000. Mostly likely with Prince’s lyrics going off in my head to “1999”. Cesca-Maria, meaning from Mary, who was named after my grandmother, was born on December 30, 1999. I was able to go home with her on December 31st and my husband bought croissants (not good ones) and cheap champagne to celebrate the birth of our daughter on New Year’s Eve 1999.
Life was small then, living in the trailer bound to Cesca in my arms, nursing her, doing yoga together and taking walks along the dirt paths through the sagebrush. We were never 6 feet apart. There is a co-regulation and even a dysregulation that happens with mother and child depending on the birth experience—even an ebb and flow of connection that is so critical for both mama and baby for survival. One of our favorite times was when I would bathe her in the infant bath then dry her off to give her a full body massage every day. She also loved her jumper, many warned this wasn’t good for the development of baby’s legs, however we lived in small space and when I needed to cook, putting her in a jumper kept her safe. She would bounce and do her pirouettes dancing across the stage. I was able to stay home with Cesca until she was 1 ½ years old when I needed to go back to work to earn some money to pay off our land.
I worked a variety of jobs my first few years in Taos navigating the need to be home to care of my daughter and fulfill my obligations. It wasn’t until 2005 that I decided to make the switch to full-time massage therapist. I had kept it on the back burner for 7 years working on family and friends. That same year my husband and I divorced. Cesca started kindergarten and we moved to town for a year to live in an apartment while details of the divorce were finalized.
In 2006, I bought my ex-husband out of his share of our unfinished home and took back my dream of off the grid living and finishing the strawbale home. There was an energetic shift after the divorce. Prior, it had always felt like I had to push uphill to make my career and abundance happen in Taos.
When it was just Cesca and I, the veil was lifted and with some perseverance an unfolding happened in my bodywork career. I am so grateful for a career I love, and I am passionate about supporting myself and my daughter.
I have touched thousands of people over the years and have witnessed thousands of stories, experiences, loss, grief, joy, pain, and love within our beloved community of Taos. It is truly an honor to continue my pathway as a somatic therapist and the myriads of fields I am trained in. COVID 2020 has offered a pause for reflection, which reminded me of my first year on the land in isolation with Cesca. This time isolated with my partner of 12 years—Ross. Currently, Cesca is in Albuquerque for her junior year of college studying film, and thriving.
I have worked on my land in my healing studio for several years where I see clients for massage, bodywork, structural integration, craniosacral, visceral and neural work. Under COVID, the state shut non-essential businesses down for 3 months. It was the first time I had to close and not support my clients. I went through all kinds of emotions and was frustrated with the governor for allowing some healthcare practitioners to work and targeting our profession for closure. The second closure just happened last week where the governor, once again, said “massage parlors” are not allowed to open. Thus, ensued the same confusion, anger at being compared to a sex worker, and the mandate which targets small businesses while the “big box” stores can stay open.
This time I have decided to close my massage practice and shift to working under the exemption laws for structural integration and craniosacral. Effective December 1, 2020 Balinese Traditional Massage, LLC is officially closed, another COVID death.
You can still find me at drkirstie.com flying under the radar, free of institutions and “rewylding” my way in Taos—my home.
It is with gratitude I express my heartfelt thanks to each client who has been a wise teacher for me to learn from. Moving forward, I will only practice under my doctorate of integrative medicine, structural integration, Rolf practitioner, craniosacral, visceral, neural, and as a soma practitioner.
I encourage clients who have not seen me in the last 6 months to check-in before booking online to see I have room for you in my practice and you will be required to book a first time session at $150 for 90 minutes so we can get reacquainted. My fees are staying the same at $150 for 90 minutes and $120 for 75 minutes. You can contact me at email@example.com.
With honey in the heart,
Dr. Kirstie (Scottish derivation for Christ bearer—meaning Mary the mother of Jesus)