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Reunion

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

Looking north from La Junta Overlook

All right, this is serious. The Upper Gorge, formerly known as Wild Rivers Area, now part of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Haven’t been up here for years. This is where we came in ’98 before we moved, when I looked out at pure landscape (not this view) and started to cry. It was my birthday, too. That’s kind of what did it.

There’s such power in this place. As soon as you drive back to the nearest village, it mostly goes away. People just mess things up. I’m sorry, but it’s true. There aren’t many places on the planet where you feel this non-material sustenance. Like your spirit taking a long drink after exile in the desert of culture. I didn’t want to leave today. The open spaces were full of yellow flowers. The air was absolutely perfect. So wholesome, so clean. You can’t have air like this with lots of people! This is Nature. The actual real deal. It’s simply radical. Just come hang out here a while. The peace is overwhelming.

We’re looking north in this view. That’s Ute Mountain in the far distance. The basalt cliffs are four million year old lava flows. You can see the Rio Grande in the distance, far below. What perfect habitat for animals: perpetual water, grasses growing by the banks, trees for shelter, protection from the winds. Caves and hot springs, too. If you climb down to the river from any of the numerous trails, you can hike almost forever. Your cell phone wouldn’t work, but you could disappear and live. There must be bears and mountain lions down there that never come out. Hell, I wouldn’t.

I said I hadn’t been up here in years. What on Earth is wrong with me? This is where it started, this is where the big bells rang. I told my wife I wanted to live right there at Wild Rivers. I could, you know. The hermit in me. There’s a similar feeling south to San Cristobal. I like it because it isn’t Taos. (You’d have to spend a few years in these parts to understand.) It took about an hour to drive up to this spot. A spectacular drive, by the way. We had a picnic lunch of tuna sandwiches. I’ve almost never felt so good.

My wife’s sister and brother-in-law live in Iowa. Whenever we visit, we get to drive this way. From Taos north to Colorado is like another world, whichever way you go. This year their son is getting married in Minnesota. Kasota, Minnesota, no less—I can’t believe we’re going to a wedding in Kasota, Minnesota—but anyway I love the kids, the thing will be a hoot.

The route is similar, once again through omigod country, whap-slap, then over La Veta Pass. A few hours later you’re in a land where people watch cable news and walk around afraid of stuff they never see. I fill up at the Kum & Go like a traveler from another planet—do you know what’s back there where I just came from?—and we motivate on down the road. In my soul I’m branded, though, and no one knows.

Neighborhood God

mountains south of Taos, NM

Higher Picuris is actually the one in back, just left of the dark peak in the center

I was driving down the road and had to stop. Right in front of the worst beat-up trailer you’ve ever seen, in fact. The latilla fencing is reinforced with rusting sheets of corrugated metal. There’s nothing in the yard but rocks, an old car seat, and busted children’s toys. But when they open their front door, this is what they see! Or do they?

You’re looking south here. There’s a spur of the original Camino Real up there in those mountains. The royal road. It might still take you down to Santa Fe if you could find it. In the old days—like before the Pilgrims landed—it went all the way to Mexico City. So much for Anglo bullshit then, but never mind.

When I see things like this, I want to pray or dance. (To hell with churches, just make everybody sit outside.) It’s the depth and scale that kills me, and the felt if unseen veil of softness on the crags.

An Unimaginable Land

clouds sweeping over the rift valley west of Taos, NM

Clouds sweeping over the rift valley

Nature is a portal. When I crave confirmation of my origin, all I have to do is take a hike. Amazingly, some humans are immune. Most of them, perhaps. But just look! You could probably put all the people in that landscape on a bus.

I need bitch no more. When I was young, I thought the only reason to be rich was so you could go live on a mountain or a beach or anywhere you wanted that was far away from cities, close to Nature, someplace that would give you access to the truth. I never wanted a big fine house or luxuries, never gave that any thought at any time. Mysteries were another matter. There were always things outside my view, something hinted in a book, that drove me crazy. I couldn’t get there from the curbs and sidewalks. I just couldn’t.

The potential is there. I’m evolving like snakes on acid. Don’t believe anything anybody tells you. Don’t believe this.

Summer’s Gone

Taos Mountain in the clouds

Taos Mountain today with dark October sky

Oh, you can tell. Never made it out of the sixties today, heading into the forties tonight. I asked my wife if I should make a fire. Deviously though, as if she were the one to want it:

“Not in August!”

I understand. Summer is a state of mind at seven thousand feet. (Believe you must, so you can have one.) This year it was actually “hot” for several days, the kind of thing where you feel the sun outside but dig the coolness in the old adobe when you come back home.

It rained all day today, an actual gray drizzle. The damp sharp cold triggered vague memories of other days and other places. I put on a sweatshirt so I could leave the front door open and hear the raindrops falling through the leaves.

Quiet Thunder

clouds and mountains near Taos, NM

In fifteen minutes they were gone!

What a fine day today! The monsoon storms did a slow dance all around and left us high and dry. Not that that’s a good thing, but at least we’re spared the noise of extra growing things and lambs a-frolicking in the dew.

In a similar vein, we noticed yesterday evening the extraordinary presence of silence in the neighborhood. For at least six weeks now there have been several hours of thumping bass, shrieking kids, and barking adult male voices starting at about four p.m. at the single-wide at the top of the hill. I have no idea why. Last night there was nothing. “Perhaps they’ve all asphyxiated themselves,” I speculated. It was that quiet, like after a poison gas attack. As if I know.

There’s a man’s voice in the mix that I’ve heard for at least ten years in this location in every season. I call him “the shouter.” Even in the dead of winter, mind you, when I’m outside chopping wood, I hear the shouts. They sound like vocalizing without words. In my mind’s eye, I see some poor person chained in a garage who’s either hungry or his shackles are too tight. I even wrote about him once in a column for a now-defunct alternative newspaper we had going here. I say “had” because eventually the publisher sold it to a woman who’d showed up to start a new life. She tried to make it a business-friendly publication, which didn’t work of course, and all the writers quit because we had to plug these things inside our pieces, after which she either died or killed herself. Taos is a hard teacher—and here you thought it was just a dusty ski resort with artsy-fartsy aspirations.

The funny thing was, a few readers wrote in to complain about the essay. I’d used the same description, you see, and one woman in particular thought I should have searched to find out who he was and how to help the fellow. Helping him wasn’t what I had in mind, of course! I think this was the same person who’d castigated me several years before when I wrote about walking to the post office in San Cristobal and how I had to use a stick to fend off devil dogs. (More of a peacemaker, she, and probably scarred about the ankles.) As I wrote about it at the time:

I took to carrying a long stout stick on subsequent walks and learned a few more things about the evil pointy-faced one: the first time I placed the pole across her throat to push her away from my leg, I had the distinct impression that she liked it. A stroke is a stroke, after all. The second time I had the pleasure, I caught her in mid-bark and was rewarded with a satisfying strangled gargle that made my day. The third time she met my stick she tried to eat it, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.

You can read about those days in BUFFALO LIGHTS, which someone ought to buy and make into a film. I could use some nice new days myself, as nothing seems to have changed that much except some restaurants failed and stuff is more expensive. Rumble-rumble (you didn’t hear that from me), and onward through the fog.

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