Nearer Than I Have Ever Been

San Antonio Mountain in snow

San Antonio Mountain, 10,908 ft of free-standing volcanic peak 42.5 miles away.

This is your secret message. Read it, wad it up, chew it well, and swallow. No need to tell you to forget you ever saw this, because you will. Maybe down the road, something will trigger an association. A synapse or two will fire, and you will find a thing you never had before.

My wife and I are healthy. We’ve done hardly any of the things that one’s “supposed” to do to prepare for our old age. We are old, in chronological years. It doesn’t seem to make a difference. We want the same things most people do. We hunger and thirst and thrill at a warm touch. The most important thing is how you feel.

I’ve always been the great disruptor, depressed and driven almost every day. Like my parents, I can wreck all loving expectations. I hate this, I hate that. There must be something wrong with me. What am I supposed to do?

In a word, nothing. You heard me.

This morning I walked outside to feed the birds. I hadn’t yet had any coffee or breakfast or even built a fire. The ground was damp and muddy, a raw wet wind was blowing, the sun was blocked by dark gray clouds. I focused on my breath and thought of nothing as I scooped the birdseed mix from a red enameled bucket. (The lad, surprised, was happy.) A sense of calm well-being radiated from the rotten boards, the half-dead elm, the old tarp flapping in the breeze, a faraway barking dog.

It comes from here, right now.

Some tinkering is involved. I woke up from a nap this afternoon and and felt a wave of awfulness and guilt. The ancient stuff, unreal, that comes from certain ugly thoughts that whirl and scatter in the light. Only thoughts, like hey, I wonder if he’s dead yet, maybe I should pee, or is it Saturday? Except these are likely ones connected to progenitors and friends, the preachers and the priests, gods of culture, history, unconscious pain and gore, people pushed from cliffs and babies drowned at sea. They ricochet like pinballs in a cave, ding-ding-ding, you’re dead. At least that’s how it is with me, or was. (I am the work of pros.)

Today I saw the cockroach and replaced it with a swan. Now the words come easily, with fire, and the fear is burned away.

Easier to Buy Heroin

Questa, NM scene

Questa, of course. Buy this photo!

There we were, leaving the Ranchos valley heading up Blueberry Hill [sic] on the way to Questa to drive by a house. It was one of those mostly sunny winter days with shifting layers of half-clouds against a deep blue sky. A thin coating of snow lay all about, already turned to mud along the rocky roads that passed by scattered brown houses in the sagebrush. Despite the latter, the view was splendid. I had no expectations for the listing and am usually wary of Questa. This quiet Sunday afternoon I felt more curious. The sunshine and lack of traffic likely helped.

“Instead of saying, oh no, we’ll never live there,” I said, “I’m going to think of good things about Questa. [clears throat] Okay, it’s closer to real wilderness, cheaper than Taos, and…um…oh, it’s easier to buy heroin there! Ha-ha.”

She paid me no mind and looked out the window.

“Hey, remember when we lived in San Cristobal and Bill Whaley wouldn’t hire me to be the Horse Fly reporter for Questa because he thought I was too naive and might get killed?”

[silence]

And then:

“The mountains…the sky…”

My default state of mind had won. She was living her appreciation, I was hosting a late night talk show.

The mountains were stupendous, and the road stretched on across the mesa, plunging through Arroyo Hondo, down the curve and across the valley where San Cristobal splayed out along the creek, up the steep half-mile to Garrapata Ridge, past Lama where Baba Ram Dass wrote Be Here Now, finally dropping down to Questa, a roller coaster 30-minute ride over the shoulders of snowy peaks, past miles of forest, distant dead volcanoes, views to sharp horizons all the way to Colorado.

“I can’t believe we live here,” someone said.

It could have been either one or both of us. There’s nothing like this anywhere I’ve ever lived, and I have been around. In my elevated state of mind, the lumpy, broken semi-pavement on Cabresto Road was just the way it was, and no one cursed. The house we’d come to “drive by” was way across a valley from a ridge that felt like darkest West Virginia, crammed with trailers, old adobes, and a few nice homes. The entrance to the lane was dark and rough and steep. I didn’t turn there since we weren’t expected. An old man in a flannel shirt came walking down the road. We passed him and explored a little more, circumnavigating the valley before retracing our entire route. No one else was out and I drove very slowly.

The thing was, neither one of us was judging. My wife is good like that. I can be an uptight jerk and on this afternoon, I wasn’t. On the way back down Cabresto Road, I saw a hand-painted wooden sign that simply read “CHURCH” with a great big arrow, so of course I did as I was told. We ended up behind a stunning large adobe building, San Antonio de Padua Catholic Church. I’d heard about the place for years and never ventured two blocks off the highway to investigate.

We were in a different dimension. That’s really all there is to say. Despite the mud, I got out and walked around. My wife was grooving, giving off vibrations like a tuning fork, and stayed put in the car. It was cold and gray by now, the air was still, and all around was utter quiet. In the courtyard by the entrance, I saw someone sitting on a bench. It was the same old man in the flannel shirt we’d seen before (probably younger than I am), leaning forward with his hands together. I thought he was looking at his phone, would you believe it. Of course, the man was praying. He stood up as I approached, we said hello, and he went slowly back the way he’d come. I located the visitor’s entrance and tried the door. Much to my surprise, it opened, and I entered.

The lights were off and there was little light coming through the windows, so I could hardly make out much more than the altar and the pews. The carpet underfoot was soft, the air perfumed with incense. I carefully turned around, took three steps out, and latched the door.

What on earth had happened?

The drive back home was just as wondrous. I was—we were—in this place. Twenty years, and it had always been here. Maybe I was not.

Dakota Saturday

truck in snow

Garages, man.

Friday morning looked like this. The stuff was roughly four inches deep and sticky-wet, like heavy cotton candy I imagined, as if I’ve ever tasted any. Instant snowball makings, anyway. I walked up to the top of the driveway, decided the Vibe would never make it out, and cleared the windshields of both vehicles so the sun would shine in, warm the interiors, and melt clean all the glass. I had an errand to run later and knew the Dakota 4WD would do the trick. The rest of the morning was for shoveling paths.

After lunch I headed out to take off for my trip to town. Not only was the glass completely clean all around on both machines, the roofs and sides were dry and shiny. Sunlight, baby, plenty hot at 7,000 feet even in the winter. I climbed into the Dodge. Everything was fine until I turned the key: the fuel pump powered up, or tried to, the starter solenoid did a little clickety-click tap dance thing, and that was it.

I knew exactly what this meant but had to test. No, the windows didn’t work, and the headlights were a little dim. Some juice, then, but not enough. I trudged down and back up through the snow with my trusty Radio Shack voltmeter (where do people buy such things today?) and got a reading of 10 volts. Well, hell. The Vibe would never make it and I was already shot. No way was I going to wait around for AAA to come jump-start the Dodge, and besides, the wind was picking up. Tomorrow was another day and that was fine. I’d see if O’Reilly’s had a battery, juggle some funds around, and call AAA as soon as I knew what I’d be facing.

Last night I researched batteries. My God the things had gone the way of insulin and houses. But O’Reilly’s had one that fit exactly (size group 27), was stronger than the one I had, and cost a semi-reasonable $139 plus tax and $18 for something called a core fee. That, it turned out, meant you got the fee back if you gave up your old battery, hey-hey. The fucking thing weighed 50 pounds but there were 4.9 liters of engine to spin. I paid for it on the website and went to bed in pretty good shape. All I had to do in the morning was call AAA, get the Dakota running, drive it to O’Reilly’s and fetch the battery.

This morning it was eight degrees and sunny. I put off going outdoors until noon. After examining the situation once again, I decided to try backing the Vibe through deep snow to the road. Who wants to talk to AAA anyway, especially when someone from Pakistan insists I have to give directions for the driver like they never use their phones. To my amazement, the little front-wheel drive fake Toyota pulled out fine because the snow was crunchy-frozen. (Once it starts to melt, there’s nothing doing.) All I had to do was go pick up the battery and install it here at home instead of in the auto parts store parking lot.

I pulled into O’Reilly’s, grabbed the battery, a terminal cleaning brush, and a packet of anti-corrosion goop and loaded up the Vibe. Before I could back out, a late-model Cadillac with a smashed-up front end missing some bits of trim pulled in beside me. The driver was a young Latina in a black leather jacket. Her daughter, about five, had on a pair of purple-colored mirror glasses, pink tights, and a turquoise jacket and looked like she was on her way. A huge decal that went all the way across the back window read “HARLEY DAVIDSON,” which I appreciated for the irony. The fine young man who sold me the battery came out to meet them and it all made sense.

Back here on the frontier, I took my own damn time and switched the batteries. Three whole hours, counting breaks. It took forever because I’m scared to death of batteries—one exploded on me once—and did I mention these weigh 50 pounds? I had to use a kitchen stool to stand on so I could lift the old one out and lower the new one in. There were clamps to clean and tools to find that someone dropped under the truck. Also the fine print on the anti-corrosion goop packet more or less said I’d die if any of it got on my skin, which it already had (how could it not), and much rubbing of hands with snow and paper towels ensued. My skin has not peeled off.

It all felt good, however. I was so confident of my work, I cleaned up all the trash and put away my tools before I even tried to start the Dodge. To my enormous satisfaction, the brand new battery spun that V-8 ten times faster than I’d ever heard it turn and a mighty roar was heard across the land. On the way home from dropping off the old battery for my 18 bucks, I stopped to buy $5 worth of lottery tickets from a Taos Pueblo grandmother at my favorite gas station. Three-hundred twenty-one million dollars would go a long way toward having a garage, you know, and maybe a new mattress.

The other thing is, I’ve decided I need a pro model Stratocaster before I die. This pleases me very much to think about and so I shall. Goodnight, and pleasant dreams.

Mess

my studio, ha-ha

Buy this photo!

It has begun, the Great Undoing of the Great Beginning from three years ago, when I brought in boxes to pack up books and obsolete electronics, Xmas cards, and precious (?) artifacts—rocks!—for tossing in the trash or cramming in the storage unit. The half-filled boxes became furniture, with things like wallaby pelts, I kid you not, and old rebozos covering them up. Stacks of things To Deal With, later, only later never came. The shelves and piles became enshrouded with layers of cat hair, spider webs, and dust, an obscene gray layer hiding correspondence, bills, that thing I meant to send in to the V.A. to get money for my poor dead brother’s sad cremation, necessary tools I never found again, dead bugs, and a little mouse poop. The photo doesn’t do it justice, not at all. You can’t see everything that’s on the floor. Besides, I’ve made a little progress. Today my progress is to take a picture, which I imagine some of you will say looks better than your place.

What I’ve been doing here is pulling everything away from the walls and off the shelves, cleaning the exposed spaces, then slowing putting back only what I want and need. The things I’ve found, oh my. This time when I’m done, there will be piles to haul away. You can call this moving preparation. You can call it clearing space to work. You can call it Freddie, what the hell do I care. The very first thing I installed after cleaning underneath my desk was the subwoofer for the Edifier S350DB bluetooth speaker system I bought for one-third off a while ago. That’s the principle, see, set things up a little better so I like to be there, even though we’re moving—hopefully like yesterday—so I can have some goddamn fun. In the process, I’ll have separated what I want to keep and carry down the road.

My next project, besides getting out of here, will be a new digital publication at Substack.com. I just wanted you to know that I’ve been busy, not contemplating my demise, which all of this activity is planned to postpone till the proper time. More on the new stuff later. Follow me on Twitter if you’re bored with how long it takes for me to publish something decent. Everyone behave now, hear, and have a smashing day.

If We Ever

clouds ripping over the peaks

Buy this photo!

She tells the truth and loves me like no other ever has. The deprivation is a mirror of my madness. If we ever get out of this alive, I will worship her for the rest of my days.

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