Even more editing, especially at the end. – JHF
Other than the truck, I don’t remember many details of the murder up in Questa sometime after we arrived in ’99. Not the sort of thing to savor, obviously. It happened just outside a bar. The perpetrator used his wheels to crush the victim, back and forth repeatedly, and may have shot him first. Along with the thugs who stomped the fingers of a young man to make him fall into the gorge, the three kids gunned down at what we call “the triple-murder Mustang,”* the mysterious fire that destroyed the brand-new mansion of an uppity newcomer, and more humorously, the well casing pulled out of the ground at the home of a transplanted city-slicker who tried to tell his Cerro neighbors how to run their village—and man, is there a whole lot more—this is how the shadow rolls in our el Norte. The darkness of the past is worse, yet pure Americana. Kick any pile of dirt and scatter bones. Much like anywhere, I guess, but easily discerned here.
While the marketing of the town and real estate shenanigans are transgressions of a milder sort—though harder to ignore for being in your face—much about Taos is expensive, dirty, cruel, and stupid, once more with the dark side in plain view. Any competent observer can find a motherlode of blasted hopes and irony to mine. Local cultural institutions are an easy target, too, all but irresistible sometimes. Where am I going with this, we wonder?
Well, I like this stuff. It helps me feel complete to know what makes the wheels go ’round, especially the things nobody talks about. Anything that’s buried and reveals itself, messages from the unconscious, unseen energies ike vipaka, “the result of past karma that we cannot change”—see here—manifesting as unhealthy thoughts. I learned about this just the other day and thought it made a lot of sense. (That first paragraph isn’t exactly wholesome, is it?)
Anyone who’s suffered from depression knows that thoughts can kill. After moving here from Maryland fifteen years ago, I become a kind of expert. This has to do with housing, making a living, and getting on with life. The transition was simply too abrupt. I never got over the shock of finding nothing half as good as what we had for less than three times the price, and then the dot-com boom went bust and I got walloped. This was way back when, remember. You couldn’t visit Realtor.com and look at houses. You saw the little photos in the paper and went on that, or maybe telephoned from far away and asked a lot of stupid questions.
As a result of that [vipaka], for much of our time here I’ve been living in two landscapes: the one in front of me with the ninety-mile views, and a shimmering golden one that never was, assembled from the pictures in my mind. The unhealthy thoughts were something like, “You stupid bastard, now you’ll never have another home and everything is ruined!” If you think that makes it harder to succeed, you’re warm, but keep on going. Creativity is bound to suffer. Aging brings on panic. Your ego scuttles like a cockroach underneath the stove.
“My God, what if this is all there is?”
All there is?
Living in the mountains with a beautiful woman who loves you? Breathing all that clean air? Driving through spectacular vistas most Americans have never seen? Learning more about yourself, your partner, and the terrible beauty of the world than you had ever dreamed? Having the freedom to configure your own destiny?
Just yesterday I thought about the past and something shifted: I felt a different way of knowing it was really dead. A gift of grace, I think. For one long moment I keep trying to recall, I wasn’t under the lash. The wonder is, it only took me fifteen fucking years to feel this way. All the reasons and the rationales, all the dead bodies, all the money, all the losses we endured, they were what they were and could not be retrieved. In the wake of this experience, I had a sense of moving forward in an unencumbered way, as if the best were yet to come.
What’s a man to do if he no longer has to focus on the things he hates to gin up reasons to escape? For one thing, if I want to, then we can escape, lifestyle-wise or geographically or in the mind. It’s not the place, in other words (although that’s relevant), it’s me. Not you or them or her or it, just me. Fifteen years, you motherfuckers. Fifteen years, and here I am, ka-boom.
Watch the things you tell yourself.
Pay attention and be true.
* A nearby gas station mini-mart. You can still see the three descansos.
Yes Taos is raw. That is a truism. What could you write about if there wasn’t so much gory material lying about in plain sight. We all fondly remember the lovely stagnant world we left behind, but drama, trauma and discomfort keep our senses stimulated. I once read a book about the Zuni people titled “The Beautiful and the Dangerous.” I always thought that was a perfect description of Taos.
You’re right, of course. It blows my mind that so few people seem to grasp how dangerous it is, not in terms of actual violence but because of what it makes you see if you can stand it. There’s something in our makeup that protects us from too much revelation or learning more than we can take, I guess. I look at people who show up in their Audis, buy nice homes, and start becoming “artists” and wonder why they don’t explode.
When I came to Taos there were no Audi’s, BMW’s, Mercedes and so on, except very old ones. We didn’t stand out with our 12 year old Oldsmobile and even older Plymouth. Taos didn’t have a veneer then. Now I think the Audi crowd has a slightly thicker layer that schields them from the rougher layer. Besides most of them don’t live here all year and socialize mostly with each other.
That they do!
Once again, I totally relate. I left a nice little oak-floored cottage and permaculture garden two years ago. I had long-time friends and also family that would have cared for me in my old age.
But I am happy in my 88 Fleetwood (26 feet of plastic, plywood and partical board). I look out onto a field and watch the birds and the clouds, or walk around picking chickweed for my salad.
Yesterday I couldn’t stand it any longer. I started tearing out the ugliness, peeling wallpaper and ripping out those horrible curtain valances that were covered in pinkish velour 16 years ago. It smells so much better in here already.
It is harder to be happy living somewhere where you can’t be improving it all the time, especially if it is dysfunctional, ugly, or annoying. My old house had gotten to be too much maintenance for an aging single woman. I was ready to leave.
And another reality to consider is – where would you guys want to be once the other one is gone? But surely you have thought of that.
The only thing I miss is being near people who have known me for many years.
Those are all excellent observations. But I can tell you that “where would you guys want to be once the other one is gone” has never come up for discussion or in my mind. I can’t speak for my wife, but as much as possible, I think the two of us are living in the present. Stuff hasn’t finished happening yet, anyway.
Look at you, you ripped out the wallpaper.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the old friends. I miss ours, but they’d still be our old friends if we could get together, and I regret very much that we haven’t. That was all part of the original plan, and I’m sure we will again somehow.
Living in the present is the only option I’ve had since living in Taos. Most of the time I’ve had no idea how the bills would be payed next month, nor time to worry about what would happen when one of us is on our own. Somehow it works out. Taos isn’t predictable enough to put trust in plans unless you have very flexible plans. There is almost always an alternate route, though sometimes its a cliff hanger.
Thank you, Marti
I always enjoy your comments. I do try to be flexible – and mindful, and watch “which way the weather blows.”
Boy howdy. Stripping wallpaper is taking it’s toll on me, but I like looking at mahogany plywood a lot more than the old decor. Something tells me this is just the beginning of my little remodel. Maybe I will put in a wood stove… if I can figure out where.
It tickles me that I bought a “home” for $3700.
That would tickle me, too. We just need room for two pianos and some tools. Mahogany plywood! This is very cool. What about a little wood stove? In a small space and gentle climate, that would do the trick. There’s nothing like an actual fire.
I say “boy, howdy” too. Maybe from Texas? Is that a southern thing?
Yep. South Arkansas.
BTW – I have always heard that Taos is dangerous, and New Mexico in general. But I am pretty quick to tune in to danger, like the time I refused to rent a house with glass doors. Good grief – anyone can see how easy they are to break into, but some folks don’t, I guess. I have been a survival/prepper type all my life.
Really? I wouldn’t say it’s behaviorally dangerous, except maybe on the highway. The Hispanic culture is very family-oriented and compassionate. Natives, too. (The Anglos are kinda crazy, though.) I honestly haven’t seen much evidence of crime at all, my list of horrors at the top of the page notwithstanding. I think it has to do with what one attracts.
The thing is, it’s a big state with hardly any people. Isolation can do strange things. And back in the sticks, no matter where we’re talking about, you want to watch your step. There is danger, though. By far the most dangerous things are curves and cliffs and weather. The physical environment is harsh and can be deadly. People drive somewhere, go for a walk, and disappear. It happens all the time.
Actually, the danger I was thinking of is the good chance that all of your demons, fears and unconscious avoidances, will ambush you, and your heart may be mauled as well. I used to call it the land of instant karma. You don’t have to wait for the next incarnation to reap the punishments and rewards of this one. Both good and bad are usually experienced through the exaggerated size and color of a telescope.
YES! ABSOLUTELY! This is what happens here—it’s the energy in the rocks or something—and no one who shows up has a clue until it does. “Land of instant karma,” indeed. I’ve written about this often over the years. I imagine people from other places are completely baffled to read such things, but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually, this is a very dangerous place. Whatever is hidden will be revealed… That’s why the idea of “retiring” here seems so crazy. It’s much more suited to blowing up your life than settling in to peacefully exist.
Interesting. What I heard was that racism in NM made it dangerous for whites, which did seem true in Las Cruces, where I helped a friend move for her Phd. She was a beer drinkin’, banjo playin’ , campin’ out young woman with attitude. She dressed skimpy. I looked up the statistics for rape and urged her to consider driving her truck instead of riding her bike late at night – coming back from the bar, for instance.
I visited Guy McPherson near Gila two years ago and met a bunch of people in that rural area. I noticed that no one locked their doors or cars. It was all white, though, even in Silver City.
I have always said that thieves can go anywhere, so no neighborhood is “safe” and finally started locking up after losing some things from both house and car about 20 years ago. I feel like all those thieves were white. I confess to being afraid of men of any color, but the darker, the more scared I am. As for my own demons, I doubt geography will stop them, but I think they slinked off when I quit drinking.
The most dangerous place I have lived was probably Puna district of the Big Island winter before last, where I read about racism, meth, poverty and senseless violence. I never actually saw it, though. I think people go to places like that to disappear. A journalist there keeps a long list of missing persons on his web site.
Great article…deep and true. Fifteen years goes by so much faster the older I get, and reaping what I have sown is actually very true and trustworthy…especially if there are friends that have shared a similar journey! Great comments with this post!