Comforting. Clean. Cold.

winter scene in northern Taos County

About 45 miles from Taos, looking west near the Colorado line

I pulled off the highway at a certain spot near the foot of the mountain so we could pee. It’s maybe a hundred yards down this little dirt road to a big sign with all the regulations. Beyond that, the road continues into a wide, shallow valley and then disappears over the edge of the Taos Plateau. In seventeen years I’ve never been any farther down this road than to the sign (which I stood behind while my wife dropped trou beside the car) because I am an idiot.

This was eight thousand feet above sea level. The measure works because the world is mostly water—you might spend your life in the middle of a land mass, but still you know. The last time I stood next to the ocean was a few years ago in Maine. It was impossibly immense and terrible, a living thing that heaved and breathed and thrilled me to the core. Here no tenemos agua but there’s an ocean of air, and the high desert landscape rolls from the mountains to the horizon like a sea.

The wind was gusting over thirty miles per hour. Ragged snow clouds raked the plain below blue sky and sun. The drama and the scale was overwhelming. (It’s almost always like that here if you just get away from town.) The emptiness—in human terms—was comforting. I felt surrounded by a greater presence that I didn’t want to leave. This is what I came for, I remembered. A window to the Unnameable.

Arriving back in Taos was depressing, frankly. Piles of ugly fake mud houses in the sage, trailers, rotten pavement, greed and murder in the air. Toward the middle of town, you get more trees and nicer buildings. (The next big local venture is a bowling alley, of all things. They’re going to call it “Gutters.”) Taos has residential neighborhoods but little planning and hardly any infrastructure. Miles of minimal roads without a sidewalk, park, or useful business to be seen—outside of the old historic town center, most of Taos looks like hell, probably due to the lack of greenery to hide the junk.

But never mind all that. You have to, anyway, and everybody needs a home. No matter where you live, a deep non-human truth abides. Some places this is easier to experience, that’s all, and some of us are pulled there.

Hawk Medicine Telephoto

red-tailed hawk over snowy hills

It’s not spring yet

There it is, a red-tailed hawk. I didn’t see it when I took the telephoto shot, which makes this even better. For those who may not know, sightings of particular animals (and the nature of these encounters) often have great significance in Native American and other aboriginal cultures. (Google away, there are many books and references.) Hawks have extraordinary eyesight and awareness of their surroundings. They see more things than we do and are akin to messengers. In my experience, the appearance of a hawk always suggests a commentary or counterpoint to whatever big picture view may dominate my thoughts. True in this case, absolutely!

These sightings constitute a gift from other realms. All the more reason to protect and defend the Earth and all its creatures, for without them we are lost and blind.

And the Sun Did Shine

looking west from Llano Quemado

The view is probably the best thing about this neighborhood

A few hours before I took this shot, we headed south to Pilar to look for ducks along the Rio Grande. As soon as we had a clear view out to the west, I saw a wall of rain and snow marching across the vastness. In the way it often does around here, one half of the sky looked like gimme shelter and the other half like Picnic City. This was obviously the leading edge of a cold front, which reached Pilar about the same time we did. There was precipitation of almost every kind (corn snow, large wet flakes, sleet, drizzle, pounding rain) very different for the bottom of the canyon in my own experience, and beyond Pilar, the road was virtually nearly deserted. No wonder, under the conditions. In this dramatic setting, we saw a few mallards and a mess of common goldeneyes. In a short time the temperature dropped about fifteen degrees.

By the time we got home, it was snowing hard. I built a fire and we groused about the winter, which we’d dared to hope was over. (Isn’t that quaint?) Half an hour later, the sky looked like it does here! See the magpie? Look again.

Beautiful Dreamer

raccoon track

Morning raccoon track!

“Yyou’re doing this to yourself,” she said. It was the sickness again. The impossibility of anything. I ought to give it a name, like an invisible raccoon, and tell it to go sit in the corner, except it would probably be the size of an elephant with fangs like butcher knives!

Related or not, for some reason I was thinking about Lady yesterday. I used to have a dog, a smallish white German shepherd—raised her from a pup until I came home from the vet with just a collar… Twenty years ago that was, and no dog since. That’s the way it is after a relationship like that. How could any animal replace Lady the Wonder Dog? She’d even climb trees that had a little tilt to the trunk. So I was sitting here like I am now and wished out of the blue that I could stretch my arm and grab a panting dogface by the snout as he or she walked by. (My hand remembers what that’s like.) Perhaps wherever she is, Lady has helped me to forgive myself a little, that I could feel this way again.

We drove by a couple of houses for sale, too. Neither was affordable without a twenty percent haircut, and even then they were both ridiculous unless traffic noises are your thing. But instead of merely driving past and swearing, I actually parked so we could get out and walk around, peek in the windows, and get a feeling for the atmospherics. It was a lovely day in any case. At each location there came a point where my wife said, “No need to see any more!” and did I ever love that we were on the same page. But something was different this time. We didn’t get depressed. I’m not sure how to handle that. It might be that a different narrative is settling in. Something more than “Jesus Christ, we’re old and poor and fucking doomed!”* None of that, it just felt normal, as in: we need a house, we’re looking, neither of these will do.

* El Mapache

A Knock on the Door

New Mexico sunset

Claim it, chilluns

“I come from the mountain,” he said, and growled. This was no game, however, but serious shaman voodoo meant to jolt me. I knew the mountain, too. “Do you know how many people I’ve taken out there?” he asked. “Just you,” he said.”You’re the only one.” We talked a long time. The rest of this is secret, but it really happened. “Say good-bye to this place,” he told me near the end.

That was the least of the energy he’d come to share, but today I tried it. Whenever my eyes lit on something in the house or outside that I was predisposed to hate, dislike, or wished I’d never see again, I addressed it with a firm “good-bye.” The actual word in real time. I felt a tiny shift each time I did it. The faint dissolving of a bond.

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