What I remember most about Paul is the way he fell in love with Chris Spanovich. I remember Chris, too, and her gentle face, her long brown gray-streaked hair and her slender frame despite her 60 years.
Paul first spotted Chris at a craft fair where he was selling the drums he made. He fell in love with her instantly, with just a glance, “without a word being said,” he told me, his eyes sparkling, as we sipped coffee at his Three Ravens Coffee House.
I met Paul Namsung when I worked from 2015-17 at Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in Abiquiu, New Mexico. That sparsely populated area has more mesas, mountains and junipers than people, and the bluest sky I have ever seen.
Namsung loved northern New Mexico, too. A native of South Korea, he lived in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Los Angeles, but 30 years ago, he fell in love with the land and the silence of northern New Mexico. He moved to the village of Tierra Amarilla and opened Three Ravens there.
I went to the Three Ravens often when I worked at Ghost Ranch, on the days when I’d drive guests in the Ghost Ranch van up to the sleepy village of Los Ojos beneath the Brazos Mountains. There, art instructor Pomona Hallenbeck would turn them loose to paint. I took a book to read.
One afternoon Pomona handed me a plump sketchpad and a small palette of watercolors and invited me to paint, too.
“I can’t draw,” I insisted.
“How do you know?” she said.
“My twin sister told me,” I said.
“Nonsense,” Pomona said. She was 80 years old, gentle, white-haired, lovely and wise. She suggested I give it a try.
So I did. I drew the aging Catholic church in Los Ojos. I painted a rusting abandoned gas station with one broken pump. Then I drove the vanload to the Three Ravens for lunch, and after lunch, I sat down to paint the Three Ravens, a historic treasure that Paul and Chris saved from the wrecking ball.
I painted its green exterior and the hollyhocks and sunflowers that draped over the old well behind it, and the outhouse under a tree.
Sometimes on those warm, gentle afternoons, under shady cottonwoods, Paul would sit down and visit.
He talked about his drums. About meeting Chris at a fair where she sold her pottery. About how he and Chris fell in love with that crumbling old house. Paul, a social worker then, began making drums. He and Chris sold pottery and drums to restore that house and open the Three Ravens. In 2015, they won a New Mexico Presentation Award for that effort.
A few weeks ago, Paul and Chris chatted on the phone around 6:30 p.m. He headed upstairs to work on his drums for an upcoming fair in Durango, Colo. Three hours later, he was found dead on the floor.
On Monday, a 39-degree morning, Chris carried a bundle of ponderosa pine, juniper, oak and cedar, and wildflowers from the trail where Paul and his dog walked every morning. She filled a bucket with hollyhocks, sunflowers and native flowers from Paul’s garden.
She took rice wrapped in handmade paper, and a pair of chopsticks. She added family letters and cards, a bundle of sacred feathers, blessed Indian corn and prayer. They were Paul’s sacred traveling companions to the afterlife. He was cremated.
“Paul died in a way he wished for, in his shop, happily making drums. Now he’s tucked in, secure and safe,” Chris emailed.
Snow has begun to dust the tops of the Brazos, as it does every October. The cottonwoods are golden now, like Paul’s life.
Chris placed his ashes in a tiny cemetery down the road from Three Ravens. “It is very small, very quiet,” she said. “The vistas are like no other place in the valley. The view of The Brazos Mountain touches him deeply. He has a room with a view. You were all with Paul this morning, each with your own memories, thoughts and reflections.”
I still am. My painting of the Three Ravens is with me, too.