Santa Fe smells like cinnamon.
In reality, it doesn’t, but walking out my door into the fresh Santa Fe morning air, that’s the first thing that pops—unbidden—to the front of my mind. The morning is cool enough to warrant a jacket, but the air smells warm and spicy in an earthy way. It smells like what it feels like to walk through a pine forest, feet crunching the woody cones softly with each step. The soft crunch makes me smile, and I get that now-familiar rush of joy I feel each time the world surprises me with something new.
My street is idyllic. Each of the adobe houses that line Palace Avenue sits at the far back of its lot, giving them all an air of mystery from the sidewalk. The street itself is cobbled, lined by tall trees of some unfamiliar variety, and the neighborhood feels old. The morning sky is bright blue and contrasts sharply with the red earth, cobbles, and homes that surround me.
It is quiet.
No matter where I am, I start every morning by getting coffee. It is my ritual—the one thing that remains consistent regardless of my location on this earth. I discovered my love of coffee in the misty, damp highlands of Guatemala after college. The coffee there was more often than not was weak and Folgers—the Guatemalans save the good stuff for export. But paired with eggs and black beans and fresh tortillas, it hit the spot those cold misty mornings.
I didn’t start buying morning coffees in the US until I started commuting to work on the train in Chicago. The act of doing so made the small-town Wisconsin girl in me feel urban and fancy. Walking into my high rise office, heels clacking the tile and latte in hand made me feel like a more confident version of myself. Walking into that office with my latte was the first time in my life I started to imagine a future version of me that was not only capable, but impactful and powerful. A change-maker. A people empower-er and a world shaker. In many ways, that glimmer of future possibilities is the spark that sent me to grad school, started a business, and started me on this traveler’s journey. But, buying coffee every morning is an expensive habit, so I only bought it occasionally and I felt guilty doing so back then. Back then it was warpaint, saved for special days.
During the pandemic, however, my morning latte became a ritual. I lived alone and worked remotely, and so for that first year, it was often the only time I interacted with people in the real world. Smiling at my barista each morning from behind my mask kept me sane. The caffeine kept me fueled for what then were standard 14-hour days, working a full-time job while building a company.
Now, living this nomad life, my morning latte is how I ground myself. New city, new time zone, same morning routine.
The walk each morning gives me time to think slowly, which is also something I love. Now, I spend an average of 6-7 hours each day in back-to-back meetings and client calls. I am in a constant state of pivot, perpetually on my toes; it is both invigorating and grueling. I savor the few blissful minutes I spend each morning drinking in the outside air, thinking slowly and meandering to whichever local coffee shop I can find within walking distance.
This morning, it occurs to me that something about Santa Fe hints at being slow-paced in the best possible way—in a way that calls to me sweetly, a promise of a slower someday life. This morning, when I stepped out the door of my perfect, turquoise-tiled AirBnB and smelled that cinnamon air, I knew with almost absolute certainty that I could live here and be happy. I don’t know how or why I knew it so surely—I arrived in the middle of the night last night, and the full extent of my experience in Santa Fe had been sleeping and one short step on a walk to a coffee shop—I just did. Some places hit you like that—an instantaneous ‘yes’ that tolls in the deep of you like a bell.
Zion National Park.
San Pedro La Laguna.
This one particular field that looks out over the ridge that my parent’s house is built on.
It doesn’t happen in every place, but looking around, it does not surprise me that it happened here. Santa Fe is awash in art—bright color splashed on a backdrop of earth tones. Ringed by mountains, it is the perfect meeting of spectacular geography and the best we humans can offer in imitation—thoughtful architecture and the most art galleries concentrated in any one place in the United States. I always cherish these moments of recognition, and they are also always a bit sad. In the same moment I fall in love with a place, I also feel a foreshadowing of the heartbreak that comes when I inevitably leave it.
The one constant of the human experience: there is never enough time.
You would think the freedom of nomad life would ease some of that—where my physical body is located is more in my control than ever before. But it hasn’t, and in actuality, my experience of traveling as a lifestyle thus far is that I feel it all the more rawly. Which probably shouldn’t have surprised me. Everything changes, after all, and while embracing that is the hardest thing in the world, it’s the simplest way to find happiness.
Except, hopefully, Santa Fe. I hope Santa Fe forever stays warm, quiet, and full of art, adobe and color.