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, and I didn’t want to leave. This is what I came for, I remembered. A window to the Unnameable.