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Life on the Frontier

snowy shot of old adobe in Taos, NM

[Gulp] Even deeper since I took this shot!

The days and nights are all a-jumble with the snow. I don’t know where one stops and another one starts. When did it begin, last week? Feels like the stuff has been drifting down in tiny little flakes since I was born. It just keeps building. We woke up this morning to at least another six inches of fresh snow on top of what we already had.

Almost half a foot fell the night before as well. I do remember that. The next day my wife and I spent three hours shoveling snow so we could get the car out. She was unstoppable and insisted on shoveling the entire road as far as the community mailbox. I can’t call it work because I was having too much fun. Once the snow reaches a certain depth, I’m excavating instead of cleaning. The artist in me plans the paths and shapes the snow. When there isn’t any wind, like yesterday, I hardly notice the cold. It feels good just being outside in all that beauty. All the shoveling paid off, too. Later that afternoon, I was able to drive us to the bank. The roads were fine, and Taos was still there.

The thing is, though, that dealing with the snow is all you can do. I certainly haven’t been able to write, and my wife can’t get to her studio to pack or play the piano. Every day I have to dig the paths and uncover the wood pile, and other important things need taking care of. Today, for example, I went up on the roof for the first time in weeks, because water from melting snow was running down the kitchen wall and threatening to float the cat box. As charming as it is, this place is just as bio-degradable as any old adobe; it’s a feature, not a bug, unless you’re living in one at the time. Anyway, once up on the roof I realized I had to clear the snow from around the canales (roof drainspouts) if there was to be any hope of getting the meltwater off the roof. The snow was almost two feet deep, and I had lots to shovel. In the process, I discovered the snow had all but covered a sewer vent and the vent for the bathroom gas heater. If the latter were stopped up, we could go to sleep and never wake up, so it’s a good thing I climbed up there.

Overnight it snowed some more. Not enough to undo all the work I put in yesterday, but partly. We haven’t had the car on the road for two days now. My morning task is to clear the area around the car and do what I can to make the top of the driveway passable. When we did get out on Friday, our two hundred yard stretch of dirt road abandoned by the county was unbelievably bad: the holes are so large and deep, the car was on the verge of bottoming out. When two feet of snow decide to melt all at once over the next few days, we could well be stranded by the mud.

As a way of life, this simply will not do. Neither the spirit nor the body can withstand it. We absolutely have to move, like I’ve been saying for five years now. If old-time Taos winters are coming back, I’m not about to live out in the sagebrush, whether the county plows or not. To stay in Taos, we’ll need to find a home in town. Hitting the road is problematic and expensive, too. The thing I tend to forget is that our old farm house in the Maryland countryside required emergency attention every winter just like this place does. Maybe even more! Strong northeast winds would peel the siding off. Melting snow routinely flooded the basement and wrecked the screen porch. The balky oil furnace often failed to light just when the temperature fell and threatened all the pipes. But spring did come eventually, and not with snow and dust storms like it does here. The road was paved, too, and I miss that.

The weather is a factor no matter where you live, but everything about our life now seems so daunting. Recently someone told me that I’d already lived the “Taos dream” and didn’t have to any longer. I knew exactly what she meant. Living just beyond your means, savings slowly dwindle. The intensity of the highs and lows can break you, and if you stay too long, you end up stuck. I call this the Taos Trap™. The other day my wife said (not for the first time), “I’ve done Taos! I’m done!” No explanation needed, especially if you’ve been here long enough to understand the history and sociology.

I honestly don’t know how to stay or where to go. In my confusion, I tend to try too hard and miss the obvious, like trusting in the flow of life. The road to just a little bit of ease, if not to Easy Street itself, is surely right beneath my nose. The key thing here is calmness. Slow down, read the tea leaves, know that we are loved, appreciate the Now.

Does anything make more sense? Is anything more real?


old adobe on a snowy hillside in Taos, NM

Om tare tutare ture soha

The sun came out on Wednesday after a cloudy, snowy stretch. Everybody needed that. We went out for dinner later at her favorite place. After we left the house, a heavy snow squall slammed us hard on the Paseo, but we made it to the restaurant on time. Everything was perfect, and she loved it.

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Solid Bronze Cat Skull Stovepipe Yang

bronze cat skulls hanging on stovepipe

Chains draped over the damper rod

Because we need it, that’s why. I can’t believe how much it improves the old Ashley wood stove. God I love those stoves. You could burn a stump in this one, and maybe a small canoe. I never saw a better way to make heat inside a house without burning it down.

I made those cat skulls years ago, cast them in bronze from wax positives in coffee cans. I don’t remember what the other students wanted to copy in our mold-making class at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore, but I knew what I was after. With what I learned in the big city, I was able to take an actual cat skull, produce a flexible plastic mold encased in plaster, and turn out as many wax cat skulls as I wanted.

Next you’ll wonder where I got the real one. There were two of them, in fact. The one I used to make the mold came from a roadkill cat. I set the head under a bucket next to a bush, and a couple of months later, the ants delivered a nice, clean skull. The second one showed up all neat and tidy back in the hedgerow. Something had fallen off the old John Deere garden tractor while I was mowing along the edge of the yard. I was down on my hands and knees looking for it when I peeked under the honeysuckle, and there it was, staring me in the eye.

At first I thought I’d found the skeletal remains of poor lost Clementine. “Bad to the bone,” we called her, at first because she was shiny black with dark brown chocolate toes, later because we let her out one fine evening and she never came back. I always thought she might have snagged her flea collar on something back in the woods and starved. The thought stayed with me for years. Oh, the tragedy of that damned cat! There wasn’t any collar with the skull, though. An angel squirrel must have stolen it away to save my ass.

Before the Midnight Snow

backyard in Llano Quemado, NM

Back yard looking roughly east

Aremarkable thing happened the other night while I was editing my latest book. It has the coolest cover, dangerous at this stage, and the work moves on in fits and jerks. Another Day in Paradise, the title taken from a biker’s shouted greeting on the trail, is supposed to be a collection of my best blog posts from 2010 through 2014. I’ve spent a lot of time getting the formatting right for printing, and what I have so far is looking good. One seeks to monetize the past, and so on. The problem, insofar as there is one, is the content, which is kind of like saying that the problem with shooting yourself in the head is death, not to mention the mess you’ll leave.

After saving a duplicate, I proceeded to toss every chapter that was whiny, wimpy, preachy, or otherwise embarrassing. I tend to suffer a lot, so there was plenty of that. (Suffer, suffer, suffer.) As I worked my way through the file deleting everything best left to an analyst or the trash, the word count started plummeting. This made me suffer even more, which I noted. Duly. But hey, what’s wrong with tossing out the junk? I even thought of other ways to use the good parts, if anything survived the cull.

Considering this led me to a long look back, wherein I realized I’ve been doing things the hard way for my entire adult life. Oh no. Oh, yes! Any area you care to name, across the board. Not hard as in hard labor, but in terms of missing out by walling part of life away. This always involves a limitation or condition: “I can’t do this until I do that first” is popular. Not that these are causally connected, but one must be deserving. This will fuck you up six ways from Sunday if you let it. The “easy way” is everything I ever thought I couldn’t have!

Morning Mountain

Taos Mountain in the clouds

All Retina-screen devices served high-res photos, ya know. Zoom in with clarity!

Yup, had to pull on the emergency cargo pants hanging on the bathroom door and zip up a hoodie to walk down the road before coffee and take this shot. I love the clouds. They also change moment to moment, so I had to hurry. This is of course the taller 12,305 ft peak of Taos Mountain (or Pueblo Peak), cropped from a telephoto image. Snow-capped mountains are amazing things to have around you in the landscape. Fifteen years in Taos. That’s a lot of oh my.

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