I can’t believe how good it looks, for all the lunacy and exile boojum soaked into the ground. I can’t believe that elm tree hasn’t fallen yet and taken out the wall. I can’t believe a bear broke half a pear tree down right after I moved in, and the rest took ten years to die. I can’t believe I clean the chimney with a stick. I can’t believe the piñon burns so hot. I can’t believe this works so well, for all the useless desperation of the past. New Mexico, they got this down. The basic stuff was always here.
Most Americans call these antelope. I know we do. That’s not what they are, though, and it would be more accurate to call them “pronghorns.” Although Antilocapra americana evolved under the same conditions as Old World antelope and (except for their horns) are physiologically very similar, the animals are unique. According to Wikipedia:
[The pronghorn] is the only surviving member of the family Antilocapridae. During the Pleistocene period, 12 antilocaprid species existed in North America. About five existed when humans entered North America, but all except A. americana are now extinct.
It’s always a joy to see them. I think one reason is that they’re symbols of the West. “Where the deer and the antelope play,” etc. You’ll only find them in high desert or grasslands—open country, undeveloped land, any place one might graze cattle. Not in the mountains, not in the trees. I know a couple who went up to Washington State once from Taos to check out places to live. They didn’t like it, though, and said it rained a lot. But on their return trip, they saw some “antelope” in southern Colorado and felt like they were almost home. There’s something reassuring about the beasts, all right.
We spotted this bunch and quite a few others on the road from Cimarron to Rayado, NM. That particular stretch of highway follows the path of the original Santa Fe Trail established in 1821. My God, the history! I get chills just thinking of it. Kit Carson had a ranch nearby, too. Rayado is a ghost town now, in tip-top shape however, thanks to the Boy Scouts of America and the Philmont Scout Ranch. I need to go back soon and visit the Kit Carson Museum and the reconstructed Santa Fe Trail stage stop. One afternoon just doesn’t cut it where the mountains meet the plains.
Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to be here. Other times I want to shoot myself, but still. I think the lucky stuff is winning out. It’s kind of been a long time. I used to drive to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. The freeways were all walled in. You couldn’t see a thing. I told myself, that’s just crazy, this is no damn way to live. We saw this guy just south of Cimarron about sixty miles from Taos. I only passed one car going our direction. Wild animals beside the road. There’s still no snow, my wife is beautiful, and I’m not dead. Sometimes I can’t believe it, you know, how lucky I am.
Forget about Taos. This is six miles south of town. When people say it’s beautiful here, they don’t mean Walmart, they mean this. And if they don’t, to hell with them, they only want to sell you something. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the old adobe buildings are gorgeous, even in their frozen-in-time stucco shells adorned with neon signs behind a row of parking meters. But you could drop them all into the gorge and never even notice. This here now, this is…well, Creation.
The horizon is seventy, eighty, ninety miles away. That gorge is 800 feet deep. It’s raining between two mountain ranges. After fifteen years, it still rips me open. My rib cage is flapping in the wind.
The first thing is, there are no mistakes. Anything I do results from all the forces acting on me at the time. I can look back and say something like, “I’ll bet she would have let me” or “I should have bought that motorcycle when I had the chance,” but why? No way could I have acted differently. In the telling of a story, maybe. If an entirely different person than who I was then switched places with me in a made-up world that can’t exist because no time repeats itself, the outcome might be different. But all of this is steenking little movies in our brains that fall to pieces in the light.
The second things is, what about bad habits? All those things I learned along the way when I was young and stupid? What came to me was “shine more brightly.”(I know, I know…) There’s no way I could teach that, either. If you’re like me, God help you and you have to bleed a lot. I don’t know how it happens, but then you get this shot of grace. There’s just a crack and something happens. You know you’re loved and you can do it and soon you’re happy with a project. You’re being who you are, who you were always meant to be, the reason that you got pushed out when and where you did with those poor fools who raised you without thinking. When that happens, the ties to those bad habits weaken and eventually dissolve. The brighter you burn, the more freedom you earn.
All this goes away from coloring outside the lines and getting scared, but sometimes I remember. Maybe the music works, or I look at where I am and see I’ve dreamed a perfectly good life and I’m the only one whose judgment matters. Good times on the frontier, folks. Exactly where I want to be.