Back to the garden
In memory of Tom Nordstrom January 1, 1951—May
“…We are stardust,
We are golden…”
—JONI MITCHELL, “Woodstock”
Ever a part of his generation, always marching to his own drummer’s
beat, Tom Nordstrom made his way to Woodstock on that hot summer’s
day. Ever before and ever after, he would find himself representing
his generation’s quest for a different way—a different
way to look at things, a different way to do things, a different
way to be.
And so he did and so he was, until he died on May 27, 2008. Tom
was fifty-seven when he died in his own home on the mountain in
Placitas—with the garden budding up outside, the tree growing
through the floor inside—surrounded by his family and loved
Tom’s young life started as a blending of families and of
circumstance. He was born to John (AJ, Big John, late of Placitas)
and Claire Nordstrom, in 1951. He shared his life with them and
his sister Laura and brother Dan until their divorce. His mother
then married Ed Goldstein (late of Placitas) who brought his two
children Joel and Aviva and together with Tom and Laura and Dan,
they all settled in Rhode Island. To this marriage was born Tom’s
youngest sister, Anne.
Tumultuous as those years were, Tom managed to bring forth from
them his young and growing appreciation of the natural world that
surrounded him. This love of nature would always be at his side,
as he marched through the experiences of his lifetime and the sensations
of a new generation.
Leaving home as a young man of seventeen, Tom hitchhiked across
the United States in 1968, passing through Chicago, as chance would
have it, during the Democratic National Convention in August of
that year. He stopped there long enough to know that ’The
whole world was watching’ and finally made his way to California
where a loving couple he’d never known offered him a roof
and a meal and the space he needed to refuel and rethink. He eventually
made his way back to the east coast and found himself on Yasgur’s
farm amidst the mud and the glory that would shape a generation.
Finally, in 1969, Tom left the United States for Israel to seek
out his garden and to tend his soul on a kibbutz.
Tom lived on the kibbutz and, perhaps ironically, having left the
U.S. to avoid the draft, he served in the Israeli Defense Forces.
It was during this time that, like so many young men before him,
he fell in love. He went back to the United States where his bride
to be—a young Japanese woman whom he met while she was visiting
his kibbutz—joined him on his unlikely mountain farm in Placitas.
There they were married and had their two children, Chaim and Naomi—born
to the garden, born of love.
True to the collage that would always make up his life, Tom found
himself living with his wife near a rich mix of relations and relationships
there on that side of the mountain. His father, AJ, already lived
a few doors down when his children were born. Then, in the early
eighties, his stepfather, Ed, moved into the dome “next door”
along with his sister Anne. Eventually Tom and his wife were divorced,
and Tom found his heart once again a wanderer.
During all of those years, and until his death, he met and touched
many people who lived in the area or who found themselves passing
through. Many of these were relationships that would last a lifetime.
Always trying to find a way to be at one with all of his experiences,
and with the many diverse people he encountered, Tom left his heart
and his door always open.
And into that door ultimately walked his sweetheart of days gone
by, Hattie—the mate to his soul, the love that would see him
through to the end of his days. Tom and Hattie Spears spent ten
years together on the mountain—a lifetime of the soul and
of the heart. Tom, now adding his role as stepfather to Jodi, Russell,
and Nathan and grandfather to Josefita and Nathaniel, was able to
complete the ever-changing patchwork that was his life—sewing
together the many disparate pieces until they finally emerged as
a whole and colorful quilt of the spirit.
This was the rhythm that set Tom’s life, the eclectic experiences
of a generation setting the pace and the back beat. Tom made good
use of the many lessons he learned along the way—lessons of
love, lessons of life, lessons of the ever-changing garden. And
while he managed to leave most of the useless garbage behind, like
all of us, he was not unscathed.
Nonetheless, he found a place on the mountain and a place in his
heart to minister to all who came to him. He reveled in tending
to the very real garden he filled with flowers and vegetables and
animals and fish and the work of his hands and of his back and of
his heart. He reveled in sharing each piece with those who came
to him. If the ministration they needed was agricultural, he was
up on the answers of the day. And if the ministration was one of
the soul, Tom searched together with those who sat at his kitchen
table, surrounded by smoke, bound by a shared need to seek, and
together they would work through their problems.
Sometimes through poetry, sometimes through their shared words,
and sometimes silently as they sipped and tipped well into the night.
Always alive, always ready, and almost always, never scared!
True to the lyric of his generation, true to the heartbeat of his
passion, Tom did, indeed, find himself, sometimes, “caught
in the devil’s bargain…,” but his goal and his
path and his destiny was always to get himself ‘back to the
garden’—and that he did. That is the garden of his hands
and of his heart which he leaves behind.
Tom’s absence will be felt by the many friends, loved ones,
and family members he leaves behind. He is survived by his wife
Hattie Spears; his son Chaim Nordstrom and his wife Michelle of
Albuquerque; his daughter Naomi Nordstrom of Denver, Colorado; his
step-daughter Jody Brown, step-son Russell Turner, step-son Nathan
Grano; his grandchildren, Josefita and Nathaniel. He is also survived
by his mother, Claire Nordstrom of Macintosh, New Mexico; his sister
Laura Castro; his brother Joel Goldstein and his wife, Megan Branman;
his brother Dan; his sister Aviva and her husband Douglas Brooks;
his sister Anne Maxson; his nephews, and a niece. A memorial service
was held, filling the Presbyterian Church with family and friends
from near and far. If you are so inclined, plant a tree in Tom’s
OK Harris with his “Enchanted Frogs”
One of OK Harris’s whimsical steel benches
It’s “OK” to cry
You may have heard that my very good friend OK Harris passed away
Let me tell you about OK. Not only was he the kookiest person I
ever had the honor of sculpting with, he was also the most generous
and understanding human being I knew.
He was my reason for sculpting, my friend, my mentor, and my sculpting
buddy. Working with him was like flowing water—easy and calming.
We created steel into art without speaking at times. It just flowed,
and the end result was this fascination of accomplishment: “Wow,
we made that.” OK joined me wholeheartedly in whatever endeavor
I offered to the community of Sandoval County through Art Gallery
66. He knew that offering art to the community was always a winning
effort. He gave generously to those who would ask him to give, and
now, it is our turn to give back to him.
You may not realize this, but we are all a witness to history—a
significant artist has died in your lifetime. His work remains,
although only until it has all sold; then, like his person, it is
OK’s spirit will live lifetimes into the future through his
art, making people smile and wonder, “What was this guy thinking?”
And go ahead—wonder, because that is what he would have wanted.
For July only, OK Harris’s original sculpture is available
at Art Gallery 66, before going directly to his family.
Art Gallery 66 is located at 373 North Camino del Pueblo, Bernalillo,