San Patricio

May 21st, 2019

Southeastern New Mexico is desolate. This is not to say that it is ugly. It’s rugged and dry, and clearly not hospitable to most life forms, but it has a stark and austere sort of beauty. Vegetation is sparse, but the hills and low mountains are impressive nonetheless. The rocks and dirt are a dusty brown, occasionally punctuated by the green of a yucca plant or some cactus.

Karin and I were on our way to the retreat center in San Patricio. We drove all day before we even got close to the place. Most of our ride was through the state of Texas. The journey through eastern and central Texas was okay. The roadsides had plenty of wild flowers: evening primrose, Indian paintbrush, bluebonnets, red buds, and Indian blankets. There were oaks and junipers growing on sprawling cattle ranches.

Western Texas was a different story. New Mexico markets itself as the “Land of Enchantment”. There is some truth to that nickname. West Texas is not like New Mexico. It’s flat, hot, and disenchanting. I am sure that there are good reasons for people to live in west Texas. I just can’t imagine what they are.

We drove along US 70 to get to San Patricio. That road winds through the Hondo River Valley. The valley is deep and almost hidden. It is only obvious to the traveler because everything near the river is intensely green. The contrast with the brown hills is striking. Tall trees, mostly cottonwoods, grow in that valley. They are attractive in an magnetic sort of way. A person is pulled in their direction.

The GPS got us close to the retreat center, but not all the way there. The GPS is like that. Once we got to the winding dirt roads, the GPS gave it up. Fortunately, there were signs that took us the San Patricio. We parked outside the adobe complex, and we heard someone yelling to us. It was Guillermo.

Guillermo is the caretaker. He is a short, wiry Latino with grey hairs mixed in with the black ones. He smiled at us, and then he walked with Karin the short distance to the Casita, a small adobe building nearby. I drove the Toyota down a steep and rugged dirt road. I was careful not to bottom the car out when going over the ruts.

Guillermo showed us the inside of the Casita. It had a kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, a living room, and a bedroom. He showed us how to operate the propane heater, in case it got cold at night. We had brought along food to cook for ourselves, and we put it all into the small fridge. We stood around and talked with Guillermo for a while. Then he gave us the key and let us alone for the evening.

Karin and I decided to go for a walk around the grounds while there was still light. We strolled to the bank of the Hondo River. The Hondo would not qualify as a river anywhere east of the Mississippi. It was shallow, swift, and murky. It was more like a small, fast moving creek than a river. However, in this part of the world, the Hondo was a big deal. I was amazed at how lush everything was in its vicinity. Ancient, gnarled trees stood near the bank. Across the river was some private land where cattle grazed and lowed. There was an open, grassy area a little ways away. That lawn was surrounded by trees, bushes, and gladiolas. The Stations of the Cross marked the perimeter. Evening sunlight filtered through the tree branches as we walked. It was quiet except for the sound of the rushing river water.

Karin and I checked out the rest of the retreat center. It was built in the old, Spanish style with courtyards and gardens. The courtyards had doorways with heavy wooden beams, some of which were rotting out. Blooming rose bushes were everywhere. Most of the facility was locked up, including the chapel. We enjoyed exploring what we could. Some of the buildings were a bit rundown, but they were all beautiful.

Staying in the Casita was like being in the home of a friend. It had a “lived in” feel to it. It was welcoming in a subtle, silent way. Some of the furnishings were old and worn, but everything was spotlessly clean. We made ourselves supper in the kitchen. We felt comfortable. We felt relaxed. We felt like we belonged there.

It was a little strange to have all of San Patricio to ourselves. However, this is normal when a person stays at a retreat house during the week. Karin and I have often stayed at these isolated, spiritual oases, and we have often been completely alone. It’s amazing how quiet these places are in comparison to any hotel. After nightfall, all we heard was the river flowing past the house. Nothing else.

We went off early the next morning. We left the key for Guillermo, and we waved to him as we drove away. We were going to Christ in the Desert, a monastery with another retreat house.


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