Dawn Wink: Dewdrops

Landscape, Language, Teaching, Wildness, Beauty, Imagination


Día de los Muertos – Day of the Dead

Pan de muerto - decorated by Wynn

Pan de muerto – decorated by Wynn

Calavera masks

Calavera masks

‘Tis the season in our family to celebrate Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead. Time to honor loved ones who have passed. Time to lay out a trail of marigold petals for the spirits to follow back home and to the altar. Time to create the altar with photos, foods, drink, and treasures. Our house fills with calaveras (skulls), even more than the usual.

Noé's parents, Amadeo y Manuela Villarreal

Noé’s parents, Amadeo y Manuela Villarreal

A time to remember loved ones and the gift of their presence in our lives. Photos of Noé’s parents, both of our grandparents, and dear friends who have passed grace the altar. Noé tells stories of his parents, who raised five children while working as migrant farm workers throughout the U.S.  “No matter where we were working,” Noé says, “and a lot of times we lived in abandoned barns or buildings, Mom always made a home for us.” His stories of his parents always seem to end in laughter. Never much one for Halloween, Dia de los Muertos is an integral beat in the rhythms and structures of our our family.

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

Last night Noé and I returned from one of the best Halloweens I can remember – an evening with dear friends, passing out candy to the little ones, and the night ended with us sitting around a fire pit under the stars, the guitars came out, and we sang old songs, including Silver Wings, which is forever intertwined with singing around campfires after funerals during the years of the Cascabel ranch. I still cannot hear without tears. A song especially appropriate on the eve of Dia de los Muertos. We came home and I made the dough for the traditional pan de muerto (bread of the dead), which needs to be refrigerated overnight. I use Frida Kahlo’s recipe: 

Pan de Muerto title

Pan de muerto recipe 2

This morning over coffee, I shaped the dough into the small round balls, with bones of dough criss-crossing the top. Wynn, as she has for the past decade plus, decorated the breads. 

Ready to bake

Ashley Wolff

Ashley Wolff

In this time to remember loved ones who have passed, artist, author, and dear friend Ashley Wolff  created stunning images of her beloved dog, Tula, and other loved animals who had passed. Ashley writes, “This year my Dia de los Muertos altar will be packed with color and light to honor my beloved dead.”



The Ghost of Seabiscuit

The Ghost of Seabiscuit

Ashley's altar

Ashley’s altar

After the rains.

After the rains.

We’ve received unseasonal rains in the past few weeks. I can hardly believe that I look outside to still see all flowers blooming. This rose just bloomed yesterday. This will go on this year’s altar.

The sweet scent of vanilla and cinnamon of the freshly baked pan de muerto fills the house. Wyatt looked forward to the annual pan de muerto every year. He was raised with these Dia los los Muertos traditions and rituals of our family. He’s off to college now. We were lucky enough to see our favorite university student when he came home for a rock -climbing competition in two weeks ago. After finishing this piece, I’m going to wrap up a few of the pan de muerto to send off to him in his dorm. 

Dia de los muertos—a time to celebrate and cherish life. 

With Wyatt.

With Wyatt.







Day of the Dead and Rhythms of Life

Cut tissue paper - Papel picado

Cut tissue paper – Papel picado Photo© Wynn Wink-Moran


A baking and cooking flurry to send homemade food and snacks back to college with Wyatt.

“Mom, are you going to make pan de muerto (bread of the dead)?” Wyatt asked me on the phone from his dorm room three hours away. Life has been a swirl of blessed busyness in the past weeks with my focus on that day and that place. I realized that Day of the Dead, Día de los Muertos, was here.

This call came on the heels of Wyatt coming home from college briefly a few weeks ago and telling me, “Mom, do you know what I really miss? Home cooked snacks and food.” This inspired a 12-hour flurry of baking and cooking, as I prepared a big box of food to send back to Colorado with him.

I wrote this piece about Dia de los Muertos last year. These recipes and rhythms will fill our day today, as we create the altar, take our the sugar skulls, and Yes, Wyatt, make pan de muerto. A box will be on its way to you on Monday.

If you make pan de muerto or celebrate Dia de los Muertos today, I’d love to hear from you and share these traditions together. Dawn

Altar, ofrenda

Altar, ofrenda

November 1 approaches, ushering in one of the most sacred rhythms of the year for our family – the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). Known in English as All Soul’s Day, this tradition honors loved ones who have passed. While I wasn’t raised with this tradition, it speaks deeply to me and is an integral thread in the fabric of our family.

Every year, we create the altar of loved ones, make the traditional foods, scatter the marigold flowers, and light the candles. There is something deeply soothing about these rhythms, this honoring, the sense of connection between past and present, and the familiar scents and sounds. As I place each photo of the altar, I feel a tug on the other end of the thread between myself and the loved one.

As I sit two days before Day of the Dead, I find myself  late with everything this year. While The Blizzard that Never Was, known to the world as Storm Atlas, took place 1,500 miles from away, the events there rocked my world off its axis and scattered the rhythms of life that make the ground firm under our feet. People ask how my parents are doing on the ranch.

Again and again, I quote my dad, “This is a tough ol’ deal.”

As I write by the light of my oil lantern in the pre-dawn dark, I think of the preparations happening right now, all over Mexico and the Southwest. People have been preparing for the past month and on the evening of November 1, families and friends fill cemeteries, cleaning the graves of their loved ones, bringing food, candles, and song.

Cemetery in Mexico, Day of the Dead

Cemetery in Mexico, Day of the Dead

Candles flicker softly on altars (ofrendas) composed of photos, favorites foods and drink of loved ones in homes. Markets fill with overflowing baskets of marigolds, whose petals are sprinkled on altars, as they are known to lead the spirits home. Kitchens fill with the warmth and fragrances of the traditional foods of tamales, mole (chocolate and chile sauce over chicken), and the sweet, earthy scents of pan de muerto (bread of the dead). The scraping sounds of spoons mixing sugar in bowls to form the traditional decorated sugar skulls join the fragrances. Colorful papel picado (squares of tissue paper cut into designs and strung together) hang inside homes and flutter in the breezes outside.

Making pan de muerto.

Making pan de muerto.

Pan de muerto and decorating sugar skulls are two of the traditions our children most look forward to every year. Essential in understand these traditions is to know that in the Mexican culture skulls represent life. The tradition of skulls as poison and danger is foreign in the Mexican tradition. Pan de muerto is traditionally shaped into the forms of skulls and bones to represent life. “Mom, when are we going to make the pan de muerto?” Wynn asked me yesterday.

We use Frida Kahlo‘s recipe and the kids wait all year to eat the small, sweet bread, decorated with brightly colored sugar, that they’ve shaped and decorated right out of the oven.

Her words poked a hole through the curtain that I’ve felt around me ever since the blizzard and in came a shaft of light, reminding me that is the traditions and rhythms of life that help to create a sense of our Place in the world. I’ve learned that it is when we least feel like putting energy into these rhythms, is when we need them the most.

Grandma Janet

Grandma Janet

Tomorrow, we’ll bring out the box, packed away through the year, filled with calaveras (skeletons), papel picado, books about Day of the Dead, and collected treasures for our altar. I’ll lift the photos of Noé’s parents and my grandparents and great grandparents from the wall, dust them, and place them on the altar. I know of two more spirits who will be honored this year, a beloved mother of one friend and brother of another. I will include candles for both on our altar.

The new addition to our altar this year will be the small figure of a cow and all it represents. And perhaps in doing so, create a bit of firm ground within our new landscape. 

Frida Kahlo’s Pan de Muerto

This recipe makes 30 small breads. The hard part is making them look like she did: shaped like skulls and dancing whirligig bones. Just making it tasty is not complicated, but you do have to start the dough the evening before you’re going to eat, then bake them just beforehand.

Noé's parents, Manuela and Amadeo Villarreal

Noé’s parents, Manuela and Amadeo Villarreal

7 ½ cups white flour

2 cups sugar

1 ¼ cup butter

2 pkgs active dry yeast, dissolved in 5 tbsp warm milk

12 eggs

2 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp vanilla 

pan de muerto

pan de muerto Photo © Wynn Wink-Moran

Put flour into a large bowl, cut in the butter, make a well in the center and pour in the yeast and milk, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla. Work it with a spoon, then your hands, until it pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If dough is too soft, knead in more flour. Shape into a ball, grease and flour it lightly, and let stand in a warm place for 2 ½ hours, until doubled. Refrigerate overnight.

Shape chilled dough into balls the size of a peach. Then shape or decorate them in any way that makes you think of your deceased ancestors. Place on greased baking sheets and let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ hours. Dust with sugar and cinnamon, bake at 350 for 30 minutes, until the bottoms sound hollow when tapped.


Sugar skull Photo @ Wynn Wink-Moran

Sugar skull Photo @ Wynn Wink-Moran

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