Yesterday, before the April snow
Something is going on. A panic has departed. My brain is working differently. There’s a qualitative difference. I don’t quite know how to tell you, but it’s like discovering this trust and now it’s got me. I think I caught it hiking on the mesa by the gorge.
My father used to measure everything. There had to be a template he could use to pare his expectations. That’s why he freaked out when he floated off outside his body during chemo. A clearer pre-death message no one could have wished for, and he blew it, sort of. But what does the entire experience imply?
Whatever it is we call “the heart” can handle this. For example, for most of my entire life, I’ve been obsessed with where to live and what to do, or was it what to do and where?!? Okay, I was an Air Force brat, we moved a lot; just writing that messes me up all over again, but somehow I got this far anyway. Plainly put, I’m being helped. Don’t ask by whom or what or how. But since I am, I can trust my intuition. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices to be made, only going after what I want.
You probably figured this out years ago, but no one in my parent’s generation would ever have agreed. Looks like it’s never too late to trust myself. Well, well…
[dissolve: noun (as in a movie) - an act or instance of moving gradually from one picture to another.]
I’ve seen people walk their dogs like this
Those horses aren’t going to move themselves, so I guess that’s why they’re tied to a truck. We don’t mess around down here. The man looking at me over the horse’s butt is a neighbor. You can’t see, but he’s leading three or four more, with a loose colt running alongside. His father is driving the truck. Safer for him than holding onto the rope himself, I’ll bet. Now this is a lot of fun.
Be that as it may, the awful trash we saw on top of U.S. Hill on NM 518 some twenty minutes later wasn’t. What kind of animals are we? (Surely not as worthy as the ones above.) There used to be a nice sign at the lookout. The place looks grim now, battered, wrecked. Mountain bluebirds on the fence posts down the road, household garbage scattered in the grass… By the way, someone spray-painted over the sign and map at Taos Valley Overlook, where I go hiking all the time. Beautiful New Mexico, so fine it makes you want to beat somebody with a two-by-four.
April snow tomorrow night. Maybe a couple inches on the beer cans and the ponderosa pines on 518, less down here in Taos on the horses’ backs…
Take a good look and don’t forget
Behold the magic piñon! Do you have any idea what you’re looking at? The dark areas are crystallized resin. You can see it extending in a shallow curve across the cut face of the wood. This particular piece is about five inches wide. It came from the top of a mountain and was probably here when Columbus showed up. My friend only cuts standing or naturally-felled dead trees. In this climate, they cure to perfection and take eons to rot. Some of the trees have pitchwood like this. What I do is split it up small enough to break the pieces in two and use them for fire starters. It’s just insane how well this works.
A piece will ignite with a sputtering hiss like lighting a fuse. In the morning I light one, prop it up against a chunk of piñon, lay another chunk in there to hold it in place, place a stick of cedar or aspen on top, and stand back. That’s it, you’re done. I haven’t used paper or cardboard in years. No, you don’t put a whole firewood-sized hunk of that pitchwood in there! But sometimes I miss one, or gamble that a too-heavy piece won’t betray me.
One thing to remember is that even if you get it throttled back by closing the draft, watch out: the thing can still bite you in the ass. Not long ago I “shut ‘er down” and thought I could relax. After you’ve cut off the air, a piñon fire will usually just incandesce and pump out heat. This time though, after a few minutes, there were enough volatile gases in the smoke to explode, and with a whomp like someone snapped a great big carpet in my face, smoke and great big flakes of greasy soot blew out from every seam and joint! They floated in the air and settled slowly, inexorably, onto everything in sight. This beats burning down the house, but not by much.
I yammer on to keep the riff-raff out. This wood is a gift and doesn’t love abuse. Treat it with respect, and heaven opens up to you. Kick it in the junk, it kills you dead.
Who the hell are you, they wondered
Sometimes a cow is just a cow, unless it’s a heifer or a freemartin or a cattlebeast. For that matter, these might be steers. (Those are all legitimate terms, by the way.) I usually don’t pay that much attention unless we’re talking about bulls or have to steal some milk. In that case, you’d better get it straight. The only certain thing is that most of these will end up on a bun, which makes me sad and hungry.
For someone who doesn’t know much about them, I have a special relationship with cows. Er, cattle. Everywhere I’ve ever lived, if there are bovines on the other side of a fence, I’ll go up to them and try to communicate in cow-speak! (The beasts above were very paranoid, however.) Once when I was just a lad, my great-uncle Herbert in New Hampshire showed me how to milk one. I’ll never forget the sound of the stream of milk hitting the bottom of the metal bucket or how it steamed in the cold air in the barn. Later he sat me up on top of one (below). That’s him with Mrs. Ellsworth, his “housekeeper.” They were something of a scandal, but that’s the way it was with him. Quite the man, my granny’s older brother.
I was surprised how warm the cow’s back was
When we first moved to New Mexico, we lived in the tiny mountain village of San Cristobal. (The rest of America has absolutely no idea what that’s like, but check out Buffalo Lights for enlightenment.) Everything is different here, even the ungulates. I’d always see these awful-looking cattle in a wretched field and finally asked our landlady about them. Here’s a third-person narrative I wrote at the time:
“Those are THE cows,” his landlady explained.
He’d wondered about them, the small herd of a dozen or so rough-edged beasts he saw nearly every day. They were not quite like any others he’d ever seen, with their thick, curly, dust-colored hair, “nappy” as she described them, and their nasty-looking horns. They usually hung out just behind the rusty wire fence on the south side of the dirt road leading up the valley. Every evening a woman came down the hill with a bale of hay in a wheelbarrow and heaved their dinner into the near end of the narrow little pasture. The ground here was bare except for cowflops and a few rusty pieces of machinery—an old truck axle, a wheel or two, and three-fourths of a dead tractor. But the cows didn’t seem to mind.
“They’re descendents of the original herd brought over by the first Spanish settlers,” she continued. “An old breed they’ve kept going all this time.” Well, no wonder! That accounted for the scruffy, wild, yet tired look these bovines had. THE cows, indeed.
Apologies to the ghost of Earl Scruggs
My wife got back from her exercise session around 7:20 a.m. Amazingly, I was dressed and standing in the driveway with my camera when she rolled in. It wasn’t the fog, but the little panic thing that woke me up. That miniature black hole where all your good thoughts go to die. The thing that sneaks up in your half-sleep when you’d really rather just go back to dreaming, but you can’t because you have to pee. She asked me why I was up so early and I probably lied, but I was really taking pictures of the fog by then and everything was fine.
The fog was moving slowly to the north (left). I walked out on the mesa just a little way and got shots of frosty cactus spines. Then I waited for the fog to drift past Taos Mountain, so I could see the peaks above the clouds. As soon as that began to happen, the fog reversed and headed south! I didn’t know fog did that. There was hardly any wind at all, but in a minute I was in the stuff and it was cold. Wearing only pull-on clothes and Crocs, I retreated to the house, where I’d already built a fire. I am living one oppressive life here, am I not.
My wood guy showed up after lunch. (Yes, I had to get some more. That’s freezing fog, you know.) He’s much more than that, of course, and has the “wood man” thing down to something like a spiritual path. We talked for half an hour before unloading the truck and roared like lions. Literally, I mean. By this time the sun was out, the air was almost warm, the sky was blue and perfect. The wood was unbelievable. More 500-year-old piñon, but special. I’ll post a picture soon. It’s from his personal stash. His personal five-year stash.
“Do you know why?” he said. “Do you?”
“It wanted to come to you. This wood wanted to come to you.”
After he left, I stayed outside and played with my wood. Retrieved the stragglers, straightened the pile. Sorted out the cedar and the aspen. Raked all the chips into neat little piles, made it look like someone cares. (I do!) The universe provides, and not just fuel. Everything I need is here or coming to me. It’s probably been that way for years, but where was I?