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Never Saw That Before

northern New Mexico scenery

Jumped out at me so fast I had to duck

The date was April 20, 2012 and we were driving back from Tucson. This would have been the Helen Death Trip, the one where I picked up the ashes at the funeral home, bought way too many copies of the death certificate, and tossed handfuls of mother dust into the wind from the top of Kitt Peak, one for me and each of my siblings. As I’m altogether too fond of repeating, the rest of her sits with the double-wide loot in a ninety-five dollar per month storage unit on the north side of Taos, patiently awaiting interment in the sandy soil of Maryland. You can soon read real-time dispatches from those perilous days in my upcoming ebook, The Helen Chronicles: When Your Mother Falls Apart.

(Say, does Oprah know about this?)

The photo above is probably from somewhere between Santa Fe and Española. My wife was driving, and I was shooting pictures out the window. (Simple pleasures, comrades.) Until today, I hadn’t looked at this one since I took it, but there’s the old lady, sure as fate!

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Float Like a Butterfly

Taos snow scene on April 14th

Not too shabby after all

By God, there’s nothing like an April morning snow to start your week off right! The way it was coming down when I staggered out of bed, you’d figure there was someone on their way to rescue us. We more or less shut down, thinking we were snowed in, but then it tapered off. As you can see, there wasn’t that much after all, and most of it was gone by three o’clock. Okay by me.

[Note: No, you're not seeing things. There were a lot more words here once. Let's call it "transcended content." This is always a positive event, rejoice! - Ed.]

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The Great Dissolve

Taos sunset

Yesterday, before the April snow

Something is going on. A panic has departed. My brain is working differently. There’s a qualitative difference. I don’t quite know how to tell you, but it’s like discovering this trust and now it’s got me. I think I caught it hiking on the mesa by the gorge.

My father used to measure everything. There had to be a template he could use to pare his expectations. That’s why he freaked out when he floated off outside his body during chemo. A clearer pre-death message no one could have wished for, and he blew it, sort of. But what does the entire experience imply?

Whatever it is we call “the heart” can handle this. For example, for most of my entire life, I’ve been obsessed with where to live and what to do, or was it what to do and where?!? Okay, I was an Air Force brat, we moved a lot; just writing that messes me up all over again, but somehow I got this far anyway. Plainly put, I’m being helped. Don’t ask by whom or what or how. But since I am, I can trust my intuition. There are no “right” or “wrong” choices to be made, only going after what I want.

You probably figured this out years ago, but no one in my parent’s generation would ever have agreed. Looks like it’s never too late to trust myself. Well, well…

[dissolve: noun (as in a movie) - an act or instance of moving gradually from one picture to another.]

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Real New Mexico Stuff

horses on a road in Taos, NM

I’ve seen people walk their dogs like this

Those horses aren’t going to move themselves, so I guess that’s why they’re tied to a truck. We don’t mess around down here. The man looking at me over the horse’s butt is a neighbor. You can’t see, but he’s leading three or four more, with a loose colt running alongside. His father is driving the truck. Safer for him than holding onto the rope himself, I’ll bet. Now this is a lot of fun.

Be that as it may, the awful trash we saw on top of U.S. Hill on NM 518 some twenty minutes later wasn’t. What kind of animals are we? (Surely not as worthy as the ones above.) There used to be a nice sign at the lookout. The place looks grim now, battered, wrecked. Mountain bluebirds on the fence posts down the road, household garbage scattered in the grass… By the way, someone spray-painted over the sign and map at Taos Valley Overlook, where I go hiking all the time. Beautiful New Mexico, so fine it makes you want to beat somebody with a two-by-four.

April snow tomorrow night. Maybe a couple inches on the beer cans and the ponderosa pines on 518, less down here in Taos on the horses’ backs…

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Five Hundred Years of Sun

piñon pitchwood

Take a good look and don’t forget

Behold the magic piñon! Do you have any idea what you’re looking at? The dark areas are crystallized resin. You can see it extending in a shallow curve across the cut face of the wood. This particular piece is about five inches wide. It came from the top of a mountain and was probably here when Columbus showed up. My friend only cuts standing or naturally-felled dead trees. In this climate, they cure to perfection and take eons to rot. Some of the trees have pitchwood like this. What I do is split it up small enough to break the pieces in two and use them for fire starters. It’s just insane how well this works.

A piece will ignite with a sputtering hiss like lighting a fuse. In the morning I light one, prop it up against a chunk of piñon, lay another chunk in there to hold it in place, place a stick of cedar or aspen on top, and stand back. That’s it, you’re done. I haven’t used paper or cardboard in years. No, you don’t put a whole firewood-sized hunk of that pitchwood in there! But sometimes I miss one, or gamble that a too-heavy piece won’t betray me.

One thing to remember is that even if you get it throttled back by closing the draft, watch out: the thing can still bite you in the ass. Not long ago I “shut ‘er down” and thought I could relax. After you’ve cut off the air, a piñon fire will usually just incandesce and pump out heat. This time though, after a few minutes, there were enough volatile gases in the smoke to explode, and with a whomp like someone snapped a great big carpet in my face, smoke and great big flakes of greasy soot blew out from every seam and joint! They floated in the air and settled slowly, inexorably, onto everything in sight. This beats burning down the house, but not by much.

I yammer on to keep the riff-raff out. This wood is a gift and doesn’t love abuse. Treat it with respect, and heaven opens up to you. Kick it in the junk, it kills you dead.

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