With Nature as Teacher, Former State Senator Lucía Guzmán Has Learned Well

Former State Senator Lucía Guzmán riding “Speedy” on the Medano Zapata Ranch, near Mosca, Colorado, San Luis Valley. Photo courtesy of Zapata Ranch

She stood watering the garden in front of her casita, a small house next door to the home in North Denver’s Witter-Cofield historic district that she has shared with her wife Martha Eubanks for 25 years. Former State Senator Lucía Guzmán, now 76, is transforming the casita into a writing and painting studio just in time for winter. By spring she envisions gatherings of small groups in conversation about things that matter: aging, the influence of women, how we’re getting along with one another (and not) these days.  

Guzmán approaches life now in the same ways that brought meaning—and results—to other chapters. Sitting in the casita, she distills it, “We have to get into each stage.” She looks back to when she turned 70. She began picturing what she would need and who she would be over the coming 30 years. “We’re not going to just be the same.”

Guzmán’s name will be unfamiliar only to the newest of newcomers in North Denver. Prior to wrapping up 8 years as District 34 State Senator in 2019, Guzmán served on the Denver School Board from 1999-2007 and ran the city’s Agency for Human Rights as a Hickenlooper appointee beginning in 2003. As an ordained minister, Guzmán led the Colorado Council of Churches from 1994-1999. She and her spouse Martha owned and ran a popular neighborhood coffeeshop from 1999-2005, Lucia’s Casa de Café at West 33rd Avenue and Tejon Street. Made-to-order waffles, alongside hot cocoa and fair-trade coffee, helped neighborhood families start the day.

From time to time, on walks around the neighborhood, Guzmán reflects on how her work led to milestones like bringing International Baccalaureate to Brown Elementary or the creation of Academia Ana Marie Sandoval Dual-Language Montessori school. But after rolling up her sleeves and committing to each of those previous roles, she’s now passed the baton and watches with an encouraging eye as the ones who’ve taken hold of it find progress of their own.

That is, when she’s not on the golf course, or painting, or writing and horseback riding in the San Luis Valley. Or visiting wild mustangs near Deer Trail, Colorado.

“Yes, painting,” she chuckles mischievously, “That’s what former politicians do. Winston Churchill. George Bush.” To painting, Guzmán applies a value that has always guided her—one she points to, etched on the silver bracelet she wears: Always saddle your own horse. “I always had to just do it, keep going. Go on, and try again.”

At each stage of life, she invested what she needed, where she needed, often teaching herself a new skill or cobbling together resources to get a job done. When it comes to painting, she has settled on a style that suits her and, now, she is simply doing it. She lifts a small canvas from her desk, “Painting calms me. During my saddest times it’s brought a lightening. It’s serene. With this one, I got to stand back and say, ‘Look at what you can produce out of sadness.”

Guzmán finds expression, too, in writing. At a seminar on Zapata Ranch in the San Luis Valley last month, she studied with acclaimed writer Pam Houston. Guzmán put pencil to paper, expressing through words a full range of personal to political: a fictional letter to an immigrant woman from Guatemala, an exploration into the idea of brokenness connected to a woman she knew with a serious drinking problem, and meditations revealing the profound sadness that came when she lost her sister Grace to cancer last year.

She goes further into the political, drawing on lessons she learned from that landscape over decades. She wonders at times if our democracy is fading away.

The natural world is Guzmán’s greatest teacher. She asks and it answers. As a young woman she taught herself to sail. Why not? John Kennedy was doing it. She recounts what the wind taught her and how the lessons of harnessing it came back to help her years later as Democratic leader of the Colorado Senate.

As Senator, Guzmán traveled to all parts of the state, deepening her love of it and her understanding of it. She forged relationships and gained knowledge about everything from land and water issues to the funding challenges of small-town schools.

She returns to many of those places now, this time for friendship and for the adventures of her 70’s: backpacking, hiking, fly fishing, horseback riding. She expects to learn more about what the rivers have to teach during next year’s kayaking trips. She’s asking the wild mustangs to help her understand what freedom feels like. “These things teach you.”

She had to wait a long time to do some of these things. But nature—from the casita garden to the plains and valleys across Colorado—has taught her patience as well. The cycles of renewal are everywhere. And so, alongside adventures and beginnings, shored up by her deep gratitude for making it this far in good health, she describes also a lifelong soulful mourning, a quiet remembrance for “that which cannot be again.”

As winter comes, Guzmán will carry all these lessons from nature and her own life into the rhythms of writing and painting at the casita, where she will continue to find expression during an era of her life she fully embraces.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.