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Kachina Peak from Taos Valley Overlook

Compare with previous photo, shot in roughly same location

My wife said this was spooky. I’m pretty well impressed, myself. It’s like the Universe is out to get me, and when it does, it’ll stick a big cigar in my mouth and honk a clown horn! First there was the hummer visitation in the sagebrush ocean. Then three days ago I got yelled at in my head: “HAVE FUN!” (twice) was all I heard, but if you have to talk about hearing voices, this is pretty nifty. After all, it’s not like being told to go jump off a bridge.

Yesterday I went hiking and hit the trail with vigor. Oh no, someone was coming! (I go out to the overlook to be alone, goddammit.) Okay, okay. It was a man, about my height but heavier, strangely dressed for 72°F in a hoodie and overalls, of all things. No hat, either. As I approached, he stopped and waited for me. (Nooooo….) I could see that he was smiling.

“Nice to see you out here,” he said. I mumbled something back and nodded. As I passed, he added, “Have fun!”

[BOOM]

Again?!? Oh yes, and brother did I notice.

Twenty minutes later, I was standing dumbstruck in the path, watching an astounding cloud formation: rain shafts from a passing cloud approaching the Sangre de Cristo mountains were twisting around each other like the beginning of a giant cyclone. I rolled my eyes because my camera was at home. No one would believe me, anyway. I turned to fertilize a cactus in the shade of a nearby piñon. When I zipped up and looked again, every trace of the amazing sight was gone!

I kept on walking. Happily, there’s nothing else to do out there. After a short while, I was startled by an obvious bird shadow that passed right over me. Looking up, I saw two ravens skimming low across the mesa. Just then a bluebird flew out of a juniper right in front of me and ducked into the next one! For the rest of my hike, every time I looked up to the horizon without consciously intending to, I saw a raven, flying low. Even from the highway driving home! You know what ravens are and what they stand for, right? How can I not pay attention to these things? Why would anyone even try?

The landscape and the creatures in it, even angel guys in overalls (?), interact with and respond to unseen issues of the heart. TV, movies, news, and other bullshit just get in the way. Get the hell outdoors and smell the air! Even in Ohio, stuff just happens all the time.

It has to, dammit. Everything’s alive.

Where the Cool Stuff Happens

Kachina Peak in clouds

Kachina Peak obscured by clouds (from Taos Valley Overlook)

“It looks like Nepal,” she said, checking out my photo of Kachina Peak. Yes, it’s amazing what you can produce with Photoshop and a washed-out telephoto image. If only I knew what I was doing, I thought, pulling sliders back and forth to make things happen that I hardly understood, retracing my steps, boosting this and cutting that.

Earlier that day I’d been out walking where I took that shot. At a certain spot, I took off my hat, stood up straight, and tried emptying my mind. I do this occasionally in special places. It can take several long moments to have no thoughts and just be listening. If I’m calm and present and sincere, something almost always happens then. This time I heard words quite clearly in my head: “HAVE FUN!”—twice, for emphasis, loud and in no voice I recognized. The angels finally found a nail to pound into my skull, I guess.

Stepping back onto the trail, I thought of my sister Teresa, who would have had no problem with this teaching. Another time out hiking, I seemed to hear her in my mind, far away and quiet. She wanted to tell me something then, be yourself, in fact, and here it was again but more direct. Kryptonite for crazy with my history, chilluns. You just have to pin me down first.

Light Years

clouds over Taos, NM

Walking rain in the distance »Buy This Photo!«

I was just about to serve our dinner when I saw the battered Jeep Cherokee pull into the driveway. The driver stopped but left the engine running noisily, then got out and started walking to the door. I put down my spatula and went outside to meet him. Barefoot, as it turned out, which put me at a disadvantage, but perhaps that would be useful, I thought.

He’d left his driver’s door wide open. The Cherokee was running badly, hiccuping and jerking while it poured out blue smoke backlit by the setting sun that made me shade my eyes. We walked up to each other. He was about my height but younger, with a closely-trimmed black beard, wearing jeans and cowboy boots,a flannel shirt, a black leather vest, and a black flat-brimmed western hat with silver conchos on the band. He moved slowly, as if weighted down, and when he spoke, the words came half as fast as mine, dragged by chains from very far away.

“Good evening, how are you?” he said, and ambled closer.

“Fine,” I said. “How can I help you?”

“I want to do something about the road…”

My God, the road! The awful, stinking, muddy road! The terrible, demoralizing Road from Hell! The road that Taos County decided to stop maintaining years ago, the road with holes so deep you’d lose a wheel if you were going fast enough!

The Cherokee was belching fumes and shuddering. Clouds of smoke came drifting towards us as I shifted hands to keep blocking out the sun. My visitor’s name, it turned out, was Ramon. “I live in the blue house, over there,” he said with a jerk of his chin. When we shook hands, his grip was loose and warm, and he didn’t let go right away—distracted by the view, I thought, the way he stared right past me. He also wasn’t quite sure how to get moving on the road. Start a petition, maybe, or get the property owners together, something he said they’d done before in Arroyo Seco. I was half-suspended in a state of disbelief, but grateful. He wanted action, though:

“I’m going to drain those holes! I don’t care, who’s going to stop me?” he said, allowing a glint to flash across his eyes. We both understood this meant digging a ditch in someone else’s yard, someone who hadn’t cared enough himself to do what must be done. (I’d emptied the largest one back in February, working in the afternoon when everyone was gone.)

Before he left, I told him what I knew about the county roads department and the trouble I’d been through. Though he said he’d call them, it was clear that he preferred to pay to grade the road and get it done, never mind who owned it or what the county said. But maybe coming from Ramon, someone would pay attention and a miracle would ensue. I hope it does and happens before the summer, so the movers can get us out of here before the snows come back again.

He took a long time backing out. The Cherokee stalled twice. I watched him from the kitchen as I served our hot dogs and potatoes in the here and now.

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Pronghorn Up Close

another pronghorn

How can I miss you if you won’t go away? (Thinks he!) »Buy This Photo!«

Another candid critter shot from the empty road between Cimarron and Rayado! Looks like this male is shedding his winter coat. I still don’t understand about the horns—just when they shed the outer covering—but you can see them fine here. The female version lacks the upward-turning point. It may not look it, but these are the fastest land mammals in the Western hemisphere. The official New Mexico state animal is the black bear (think Smokey), but you may never see one. These guys, on the other hand, are everywhere out on the plains.

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Rayado Moment

Mule deer in the shade, Rayado, NM

I think I want to be that deer »Buy This Photo!«

Oh man, Rayado. There are some buildings there, but this is pretty much it. You never saw a quieter place. I’d live somewhere around there if I could—feels like a fine location to write a dozen novels. Maybe two dozen. We drove past this resting mule deer on the way back to Cimarron—hey, did I see what I thought I saw?—and I decided to go back and take a picture. For that, I had to let the car roll backwards down a hill about a hundred yards—my wife was great and didn’t say a thing—and the doe was still there in the shade. No, of course there wasn’t any traffic. I mean, like none. Zero. No one. Nothing. For some reason, this impresses me. The peacefulness is so damned thick, you want to keep your voice down. And to think Kit Carson lived here once! I’ll bet it wasn’t half as nice back then.

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