Here you go. Out into the cold, clean air for a thirty-seventh anniversary hike. The trail was rough, up and down with large rocks to step around and plenty of holes to break your leg. “I’m not going up there,” she said, at an uphill section that resembled a barely-groomed rock slide, but she did. After about a mile, we hiked down the hill to a nearby paved road to have an easier walk back to the car. There was virtually no traffic, but it was freezing. We marched along the empty asphalt in the shade of the cliffs as the sun went down.
FYI: I’ve been dealing with a mouse tonight, so I decided to post this edited chapter from my Taos Soul book. Same cat now, just not as deadly. – JHF
“AAAGHH!” she screamed.
“Are you okay?” I shouted from the bathroom. (I was not in a position to render assistance.)
“Yes… but THERE’S A MOUSE IN MY PURSE!” she yelled back from the living room. Just at that moment there was a loud rumble of thunder: the afternoon storms were making their appearance. “I’ve got to go get the clothes!” I heard her say, and then the screen door slam as she hurried down to our clothesline by the acequia.
It’s a good thing I couldn’t hurry anyway, because the moment demanded savoring: it was the first time in my life I’d heard those words from anyone, and it would probably be the last. A mouse in her purse? A real, live mouse?
When I got to the living room, she was still outside grabbing the laundry off the line. There was her big red purse sitting open on the low banco next to the table, and everything looked normal. I
peered cautiously inside: nope, couldn’t see a thing except the usual wallet, keys, eyeglass cases, cell phone, makeup kit, Kleenex, and Lord knows what. Nothing in there to make a lady scream, certainly. Just then Callie the Wonder Cat wandered into the next room looking bored. AHA! I thought, I’ll see what she can do. In my experience this never works, cats not liking direction of any kind, but these are not normal times. I quietly eased over and scooped up the cat. Supporting her weight and holding her firmly by her hindquarters, I walked her over to the purse and poked her nose inside: instantly it was as if something had grabbed her head and wouldn’t let go!
I still couldn’t see anything to be excited about, but I set her all the way down on the banco and stepped back. Her head never lifted out of the purse. She sniffed here and there, then batted the outside of the purse rapidly on both sides, something I’ve never seen a cat do—a ruse to spook the prey, of course. All of a sudden, she reached way down inside the purse, and WHOOSH flipped a BIG FREAKING MOUSE six feet in the air. The mouse landed and shot for the other side of the room, running right between my legs, but Callie was faster: WHAM, grab, got it! She moved so fast, I literally didn’t see her. There she was, though, with the doomed mouse clenched trembling in her jaws.
“You wanna go outside with that?” I asked, opening the screen door. Of course she did, and I went after, intending to snatch the victim away like I usually do if I can. She wasn’t having any of that this time, however, growling menacingly and biting down even harder on the squirming mouse. I could have gripped her by the scruff of her neck and shaken it loose, but I also felt like she had earned it this time, so I let her go.
In less than 90 seconds, she was back at the screen door licking her lips, waiting to be let inside. I did so, and half a second later, along came my honey with the clothes. (Let me tell you, if you ever want to make a woman really grateful, just get a live mouse out of her purse.) The questions remain, however: where did the little bugger come from, and how long had he been in there?
“Pet-free”? Hell, no.
That’s bringing a knife to a gunfight.
We were celebrating our own New Mexico Christmas by driving beside the Rio Grande north of Pilar, creeping along at fifteen miles per hour in second gear the way I do with no traffic when I’m looking to be surprised. As we approached a spot to pull off the road facing the river by an old gaging station, something happened and I did, parking some distance above the water. This was quite spontaneous. I turned my head left to look downstream and was startled to be looking damn near right into the face of a huge bald eagle humping its way up north: slow flap, slow flap, glide…slow flap, slow flap, glide…
My wife was in shock, too. The eagle was so close, maybe thirty feet away, and flew right past us just a degrees above eye level. I knew not to reach for my camera in the back seat. This was a moment for direct experience, and we drank it in. I’ve never had a closer, longer meet-up with an eagle. And then we lost it. I got out of the car to take a better look.
“Over there! In the eagle tree!”
It was true. Some years before we’d seen a bald eagle sitting in a dead ponderosa pine on the east side of the canyon. I named the perch the “eagle tree,” and there we were again, but the bird didn’t stay long. For the next ten minutes at least, it swooped and circled overhead, crossing from one side of the canyon to the other, grazing the rim and skimming the slopes, then soared higher and higher until we finally did lose sight of it, never once flapping its wings that I could see. Ten full minutes of eagle medicine in the face! I get crazy high just thinking of it.
Something made me turn off the road. We were meant to be there, obviously. In the wild, these things happen all the time.
The Xmas Angel saved my life again. When I needed to cry, she let me. When she needed to cry, I understood—it’s not easy living so far from her family. That’s why she was sad, along with missing her dear departed mother and dad. I was crying because I remembered my family Christmases and wanted to go back in time with a taser, wild hyenas, and the finest weed in all the land because I’d need it. Five years after she died, my mother’s ashes are in the storage unit, not buried next to Dad in Maryland like I promised. Who would come to see them, anyway? Their generation is all dead—we survivors live in Texas and New Mexico. Why drive all the way across the country to find the mower-nicked flat stones hidden in the grass and wonder where the wasted years have gone?
Oh, I’ll do it, never fear. My grandfather bought a block of cemetery plots to keep us all together in death, or did he get a “deal”? Either way, he meant well and is so remembered. Grandad told me things my father had no time for, showed me pussy-willows in the spring. The plot my father’s in—I buried the urn myself—has room for Helen, too, and once we have a home again, I’ll travel back to Maryland and dig a hole. I don’t hate these people, you understand, I only want to yell at them a little. (I’m old enough to see the blessing of the wound that shows us what we really are.) But times like Christmas, when the internet is filled with people showing off their kids and presents, awash in comforting hubbub of the holidays, are when I should probably be as far away as possible, having Christmas in a quiet cabin in the snow or on a beach where no one else speaks English. Most years, though, I end up where I am and thank God for my angel.
We’ve always done it our way, especially now that so many have passed on. Whether the house is festooned from to end to end with ornaments or minimally adorned, whether we buy cards and gifts for everyone, ourselves, or just remaining family, whether we go anywhere at all or simply have a quiet day for art and music, the time is what we make of it. The theme this year was “New Mexico.” We spent Christmas Eve together talking of the past and wrung out all the sadness. Yesterday on Christmas Day we drove fifteen minutes away to commune with the Rio Grande in the canyon. The scenery was stunning. Bright sunshine and incredible blue water. We saw Canada geese and buffleheads. A very special eagle flew into our lives, a religious experience if ever there was one. The two of us were cleansed in awe and came home high as saints. After the sun went down, we feasted on champagne and steaks, finishing off with cocoa and bizcochitos (the state cookie of New Mexico).
Possibly and most ironically, one of our best Decembers ever.
Oh, and then there’s this: as I was wrapping up this post, my sister-in-law in Minneapolis texted me that her son’s wife had just given birth to a baby girl. Congratulations to Evan and Annie, and welcome to Elnora!
nor being well-informed
und so weiter
will “save” me
rock & roll might
nature wants to
until I know that
there is no thing to be