There may be other towns in this country the size of Taos, New Mexico, that can boast as many remarkable women as Taos can, but I rather doubt it. For reasons I can’t fully explain, Taos has a way of fostering, nurturing, and attracting remarkable women of all ages and all backgrounds – from the legendary, such as Josefa Jaramillo Carson, Kit’s wife; Frieda Lawrence, D.H.’s wife; and Mabel Dodge Luhan, Tony’s wife; to the contemporary, too numerous to briefly list here. Instead, I recommend a wonderful new book that proves my point: Compiled and edited by Taos author and educator Elizabeth Cunningham and published by Taos-based Nighthawk Press last year, Remarkable Women of Taos profiles and names more than 700 women of special note who helped make this town as remarkable as it is.
For this WOW Factor post I’ve chosen to showcase one of the remarkable women featured in this book: 73-year-old Karen S. Young, whom I interviewed recently at her lovely home in Arroyo Hondo, just outside of Taos. As my car climbed her winding dirt driveway, I passed the neat, wooden barns where her herd of 32 alpacas had been sheltered. Raising alpacas on her 5-acre property overlooking Taos Mountain was her passion for 16 years.
As I’d read in Liz Cunningham’s profile of Karen in Remarkable Women before my arrival, “the alpacas helped sustain Karen – caring for them kept her active. She found great joy in watching these calm, gentle animals from her living room window. The alpacas’ cycle of breeding, birthing, and aging echoed the change of seasons in nature and in Karen’s life in Taos.”
Bathed in light from her airy, adobe home’s wrap-around windows (Karen designed and helped build this unique, triangular-shaped house herself 32 years ago), we sat in her living room and talked mostly about the present. Like the majority of women featured in Remarkable Women, Karen — whose academic background is in anthropology and archeology – had dedicated her professional life to improving life in northern New Mexico, a region she has come to love.
One of the accomplishments she is most proud of is the grant she wrote while director of the Taos Historic Museums, which allowed all of the museums in Taos to combine their libraries. “This brought the staff of our various museums together,” she said, “to accomplish a nationally recognized project benefitting our community and statewide researchers. The Institute of Museum and Library Services recognized the uniqueness of the collaboration at their annual meeting.”
In 2011, after Karen made the decision to disperse her alpaca herd (“I found good homes for all of them,” she said to me, smiling, “and I stay in contact with lots of them; I have visitation rights”), a new chapter opened for her and her spirit of adventure took flight. She made two trips to Scotland to learn more about the archeology of the Orkney Islands. These trips provided an opportunity, she said, to learn something new and to “wake up a few brain cells.”
On her second trip to Scotland, in 2011, to celebrate her 70th birthday, she rented a traditional stone cottage by a bay on Orkney Island and spent a month there alone. “Part of it was a challenge to myself, to see whether I could do something like that at that age,” she said. “It’s good to keep challenging yourself.”
The challenge that Karen now faces is lymphoma, for which she is in treatment. “You know,” she told me, “I’m just not ready to quit. I had such a wonderful time in Scotland; I intend to go back. So I need to get as healthy as I can because I’d like to go there next year. I feel a real pull toward Scotland again.
“I love to travel. I love meeting new folks and learning what’s going on in their lives. And I especially love coming home to Taos.”
# # #