Not Suburbia

old Taos scene

By tomorrow evening this will be a sea of mud

Just another day in Llano Quemado. The last time I saw the same guy moving horses, he was driving a pickup—slowly!—with several of them tied to the bumper. This may be a seasonal thing, shifting animals to a cold-weather location closer to his house, or maybe he’s just lonesome. This is New Mexico, after all, and stranger things have happened.

You will note he’s talking on the phone as he rides. You will also note how nice and sunny it is. There’s a winter storm scheduled for late Sunday into Monday, with lows in the teens. That’s why I busied myself today with making sure sufficient firewood is split and stacked inside the house, the snow shovel is in grabbing distance just outside the door, and making sure a load of laundry made it to the clothesline before the clouds rolled in.

No, we don’t have a dryer. There’s nowhere good to put it, anyway. We don’t have anything except computers, musical instruments, books, an old cat, and each other. I threw away a rotten pair of Eddie Bauer fleece-lined slippers today, along with a ratty old Levi’s shirt. If I were honest about the thing, I’d toss almost all my clothes, but as I seem to be afraid I’ll never have nice things again, I guess I’ll keep the rest and look like hell. Probably I’m not doing this right. I had a psycho-analyst once, but she was crazier than I am so I fired her.

Jesus, do we ever need to leave this black hole of adobe hell.

The next phase may be just as looney but an atom bomb of joy. I hope it happens well before the spring. The love of my life has a birthday coming up in February—what a present that would be for both of us. I tell her every day I only want to be with her. Turns out she only wants to be with me. That’s it, it’s all so simple. The luckiest man on Earth will find a way.

Queen o’ the Mountains

2001 Dodge Dakota

This here truck has rack-and-pinion power steering

What a fun machine. You’d never think it was 17 years old. The 4.7 liter V-8 in full bellow always brings a smile. Torque, baby! There are a couple of things I need to do with her before it gets cold, which by the way is going to be Sunday and Monday, when it’s actually supposed to snow a few inches. (Get outa here!) No, really.

Pride of Altitude

Brazos Cliffs

The really HUGE cliffs are on the side you can’t see here and drop down into the valley

It was dangerous to read the altimeter on my iPhone at 60 mph, but there’s little I haven’t done behind the wheel and naturally the road was empty. Fortunately, my wife was there to shriek whenever I started to launch us into space. I don’t know where this fascination with high places comes from. Back on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, the lowness of the land would slay me: ten feet, seven feet, etc. Here in northern New Mexico, it works the other way. On US 64 from Tres Piedras to the Brazos Cliffs, you hit 10,000 feet about three times. When I stopped the car at a scenic pullout to take this shot on Sunday, I was almost two miles higher than our old home on Still Pond Road. It’s almost too much to take in that we used to walk outside and hear ships blow their foghorns on the bay.

It may have taken almost twenty years, but I’m more of this place now. It’s never really been about what’s on the outside, anyway, more like how I feel about myself. I hope that makes some sense. I’m dithering at lower volume as well. When we were visiting in Minneapolis this summer, I saw many things I appreciated (the urban energy and trees especially), but wasn’t tempted. The same applied throughout the so-called heartland I used to wax nostalgic over, although I’ve never really lived there. In the middle of Kansas in July, we stopped to ask directions in a pretty little town, where the women who tried to tell me how to find the highway we were looking for turned out to be clueless as to east and west! Think about that some. I surely did.

Rio Arriba County, home to 40,000 people and the location of the Brazos Cliffs above, is the fifth-largest county in New Mexico. It’s also bigger than Connecticut. On the windy day we took that drive, we saw cowboys on horseback rounding up a herd. Coming out of the Tusas Mountains at Tres Piedras, a trio of burly bikers wrapped in leather charged the rain.

Callie and the Skunk

ca and skunk

No I ain’t gonna chase it away

Far too psycho to write today, but here’s the cat looking at a skunk eating all the birdseed. Enjoy!

Up for Air

Rio Pueblo gorge

Rio Pueblo just below. Cliffs across the way are Pueblo land.

Fortunately I’ve learned (?) that I don’t have to tell everyone everything, but we’re dealing with meat and bone here. A couple of weeks ago, there was a horrendous rolling crash in the kitchen. I immediately said, “Something terrible has happened,” and got up from my chair in the next room to look. It had. One of the cabinets screwed into the wall near the sink had fallen down, spontaneously, all on its own, spilling virtually all of its contents onto the hard concrete floor. I didn’t take a picture, but maybe I should have: virtually all of our everyday dishes, bowls, glasses, plates, and more had shattered! I’ve never seen so much broken glass and ceramic wreckage. It was apocalyptic.

The next day I went to the hardware store and bought larger masonry screws. The cabinet had been mounted on the concrete stucco that covers what I grew up calling a cinder block wall. After getting the thing rehung and usable, I realized the stucco itself would be the next thing to go. We’re okay for now, but only sort of. The concrete is slowly pulling away from the wall because an apparently unfixable water leak is dissolving the bond. (That same leak had softened the fiberboard backing on the cabinet where the screws gave way.) We have so few dishes now, it’s ridiculous. I don’t want to buy new plates before we move, because they’d only have to go into that same cabinet and be next in line for sacrifice. The gods aren’t going to fool around the next time, either.

I do not understand what our housing dilemma has been about all this time. I honestly don’t, and it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except right now, the almighty present, where I’m trying to focus and let the past die. Today my wife and I sat down together to look at all the real estate listings in Taos County on Realtor.com. I set the price filter for $100,000 more than we could pay (so we’d have something to see), and even at the high end, there wasn’t a single property we were interested in. That’s how it’s gone for the last four years. I check the listings at least twice a day, we drive by anything we sort of like, and almost nothing feels like “home.” I thought our old house in Maryland was pretty ordinary when I first saw it, but the location near the bay was a huge attraction, and I loved the fields and tall green woods on its 2.57 acres. The house was secondary to me, in other words. It really was. All it would take here is that 90 mile view across the Rio Grande, plus surrender. I’m ready to surrender. I simply haven’t found where to lay down my rifle and raise the new flag.

Not a day goes by, however, without one or the other of us saying something like, “The air feels so good!” Or “Jesus, look at those clouds!” Or “I’m so grateful that it stays so cool inside this old adobe!” And at the end of our long, frank talk today, mostly me ranting about cheap housing where neither of us wants to live or go back to, she said:

“I really like it in the mountains of New Mexico…”

Well there you go, jackass.

Live harder.

Break rocks.

Die close to the sky.

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