Lama children on the steps of the Old Kitchen (1981).
Arielle, Asha (Bernard) and Jamil inside the kitchen (1981).
Photos offered by Asha and Uwais
Old Lama Kitchen – A few memories
By Irit Umani, June 2023
When I think of Lama’s Old Kitchen, my mind almost automatically sees Harry Kenney cooking breakfast while it is still dark outside. No matter how early I came in, I could count on Harry’s already made hot and strong coffee. Thank you, dear.
I think too of how one day I could no longer stand how filthy the stove had become and though it was not on the Wheel, I “attacked” it with a few concentrated hours of deep cleaning. It sparkled–at least for a few days.
Another time, I walked into the Old Kitchen (then just the kitchen) one evening during a visit from the monks of Snowmass Monastery. I recall Ft. Joseph, his memory is a blessing, said to a mixed group of monks and residents, “You know? Irit and I, we were dancing on the hills of Galilee at the time of the Song of Songs.” Never before, or since, has someone spoken such poetic and romantic verse for me, let alone a monk.
When I lived at Lama, I was not, and honestly, still am not, much of a cook. I was an okay cook-assistant though. I could chop vegetables easily enough. Especially so when holy chants were streaming from the audio player and we were all singing along. Upstairs, we ate, we tuned-in, had weekly shabbats, shared our hearts with one another, and I embroidered many prayer flags; one of the ways I handled staying present through too many meetings.
This center of the Lama community is now, unfortunately, a condemned building, and has been for many years now. Though we do not yet know what will be created in its stead, we do know that it is time for it to come down. And so this year, during our Annual Gathering, we will circle around this building, this container for so many potent memories like the ones I’ve shared here, and ritually begin, at least symbolically, to dismantle the once-upon-a-time-center of Lama.
We invite you to bring your love, your grief, your story, poem, song, to celebrate what was and what is yet to come. If you have photos of the Old Kitchen or your own Lama kitchen stories to share, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We may include them in a special blog section on the Lama website.
Lama Kitchen Reveries
by Marigold Fine
These days cooking is often a simple and solo activity. While hovering over the stove one night, my thoughts turned to the old Lama kitchen. There we stirred huge cauldrons of soup, steamed vats of garden greens, sautéed larger-than-life woks of vegies, and kept a vigilant eye on an unpredictable oven baking corn bread. Scraps and waste went diligently into the metal trash can compost bin.
There was a moment of longing for the intimacy created in that kitchen. For the shamanic journey of preparing a meal for 20 or 200. We’d sing, we’d dance, we’d make kitchen romance. Draped in aprons and wielding wooden spoons, we’d laugh, and sometimes cry. Peeling our layers like an onion, we shared our stories, or blessed silence. The wood stove in winter cranked out the delicious fragrance of piñon and oak. Dried sage burned on the altar, mingling seductively with the aromatic meal to come.
Maybe later, while the pots simmered and the sun warmed the air, we’d migrate outside to Outlaws Corner — a place for rest and break time. We took refuge in our collective reality — the storm coming in, the wood run we’d need soon, the errands in Taos, the meaning of life. I reveled in the perfection of many a moment, while knowing it would pass. One of us would get up and move on, and a new one would come and change the subject, change the energy. And we’d never again be who we were.
Lama Beans, we called ourselves. Surrendering to the stirring, we were being cooked and transformed, like our lentil stew. I knew this kitchen as the most nourishing place on earth. And we were its alchemists, recycling matter into energy. Too much oatmeal from breakfast became the raisin bread of tomorrow.
It was just called the kitchen the first time I entered those beautiful double doors, back in 1983. The first thing I noticed was a handwritten cardboard sign that read, “STAY IN YOUR BREATH”. I got it right away, and came to appreciate that sacred space as a reminder to be present. I spent time there during many summer retreats, chopping and cleaning, full of joy to be on the mountain that evolved into my heart’s home. After Sandy and I were married at Lama in 1988 (the Wedding Planner was Irit) and had a wedding feast prepared in the kitchen by Olan, we returned a few times for retreats and visits, and for one of those visits the upstairs room was our lodging. What an exquisite view of the Dome and the sloping mountainside down to the desert floor!
When it was condemned, I remember either Harry or Irit saying, “It was originally expected that at some time the building would crumble back into the earth it came from; we just didn’t expect it to be so soon.” So it was bittersweet, after all the teachings about releasing attachment, to read that it’s about to come down. I was surprised to feel such a tug at my heart to know that it, like all things, will end up in splinters. But I’ll still have the memories, until they fade too.
Thank you dear Beans, for providing the space for our eulogies on that beautiful structure.
For your lovely remembrances of the old kitchen.
My first time at Lama was in 1997, the year after the fire, and I arrived in the midst of a mostly silent meditation retreat. Diane and Bird were coordinators and let me in, and Rabia took me under her wings as a helper in the kitchen many days.
I remember Richard Zook teaching me the right way to chop veggies as we prepared for a “Donors Day” feast for beloveds who had contributed during the year after the fire.
You probably recognize Jenny Evans and Richard on left as we “dressed up” for the donors… Scott Shuker and Jenny Bird played and sang after lunch.
That whole month was an initiation to the magic of ‘La Ma’ that had me coming back for 20 years. Alhamdulillah!
I have not been able to get back to the Mountain since the celebration of 2017. I am so happy that you and others keep the flame of spirit alive.
Namaste, Frank Fox