Taos Valley Overlook

Leave the path

Nothing over there but air. I’m still sleeping on the sheets I changed to on her final weekend when I thought that she’d be coming home. I used to come to bed and run my hand along her hip to let her sleeping self know it was me. Three weeks ago I put an extra blanket on the bed because I wake up cold and crazy. This morning I traced an arm along the outline of her body in my mind. The volume that she occupied, the warmth, her little sounds, the scent and touching reaching out into my brain. The way I’d read her moods, stay in bed a while to hold her or get up to start the day. Tucking in the bottom sheet on her side was impossible at first. I’m already on my knees to do that so the pillow’s right for punching, but I don’t. Food lasts twice as long now. I don’t have to keep the old New Yorkers. There’s all this fucking tea. I have so much to tell her, dammit.

This week was the worst. At least I walked, though. Every other day in fact. The muscles have already snugged up against my knees so they don’t rattle quite as much.

We used to come out to walk the Rift Valley Trail until she started feeling “shaky.” Now I know it was the aneurysm and the blood clot. Maybe she was having mini-strokes the whole time she suspected Parkinson’s, or something else. One of the last days we hiked there she strode out far ahead. No power on earth could slow her down and I lost sight of her. A minute later I came down a steep place where the trail crosses a small arroyo and found her sitting in the path. She wasn’t resting. “Where were you?” she wailed. Her knee was cut and bleeding. She’d badly skinned a shin, and there were gashes on her forearm where she’d tried to break a fall.

“God, what happened? I’m so sorry, look at you, you’re all banged up!”

“The trees closed in on me…”

The trees? They what?

Oh what a dark cold gust blew through my chest.

I’d fallen out there too on longer solitary hikes (not where she had), twice on another isolated stretch in both directions. Both times I felt for sure that something pushed me. I didn’t remember that this afternoon, too scared of what I thought the tree thing meant for her. It would have been a good thing, though, and quieted my heart.

On Monday and Wednesday I stayed on old familiar ground, climbed the hill I measured long ago to know where I should turn around. Maybe too familiar. The place where Kathy fell had always had a feeling to it, years before in fact. On Friday I felt strong when I walked past and then my gumption drained away. Farther on I reached the large arroyo at the bottom of the hill. Long ago I named it “Aster Gulch” for the purple flowers that bloom there if we have a rainy spring. I’d never walked farther up or down it than it took to hide away, but yesterday I wanted to explore. The will was there for that.

You never know where arroyos go unless you give in to the impulse. Eroded banks can give up treasures. Sometimes I find bones. The sand and clay dust in the bottoms hold clear footprints for a while. I followed boot prints, small ones like a woman’s, that quickly disappeared. There were critter dens and not a speck of trash, untrod rocks and silence if I didn’t click my pole against them. The sagebrush scratched my legs and drew a little blood. Somehow that appealed to me.

In places there are stunning boulders smoothed and rounded by primeval floods. Not this time, but I did see tall trees on a ridge line not too far away and decided to climb out. (Carefully, in case I had no cell phone signal.) When I hit the ridge the only thing I saw was miles of sagebrush and piñons, but I knew where I was headed from the mountains and took off, meandering around the vegetation. Five minutes later I was shocked but happy to stumble out onto the trail.

Amazing when that happens, and you’re almost home again.

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John Hamilton Farr lives at 7,000 feet in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore tells it, John is “a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” This JHFARR.COM site is the master writing archive. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page. For a complete list of all John’s writing, photography, NFTs, and social media links, please visit JHFARR.ART  

  • Duncan Nebbe May 2, 2021, 5:46 AM

    Hi John
    It’s interesting to me how you are bravely working through your grief.
    This is a process which is required to finally find closure.
    But though closure is reached, I’m told the longing never does.

    I too have lost my wife.
    38 years we were married. A lifetime.
    Volatile though our relationship was, I love her dearly. I miss her so.

    You see, though she’s gone forever, I didn’t have a body to bury.
    Oh the grief is there, the tears, as is the pain and the longing. But no body.

    She’s still alive, but where she is I don’t know.
    Why she’s gone I will probably never know.

    But oh God, I love her so.
    My heart is smashed.

    If only I had a body, someone to mourn, a grave on which to place flowers and to finally get closure.

    • JHF May 2, 2021, 9:58 AM

      Hi, Duncan—

      I’m so sorry to hear of this. I gather you’re speaking either of dementia or abandonment. In a way, the latter might be easier to bear, but either one is devastating.

      I don’t know what closure is. Her ashes are in a box for now but they’re not her. It’s hard to see that I will ever work through anything. (I don’t even want to.) When her spirit left her body right in front of me, there wasn’t any pain because the love was so intense. Afterwards, the body was a snapshot. I don’t know where my wife is either, but she’s also here. Can you imagine that?

      Onward, brother.

  • Marti Fenton May 2, 2021, 12:49 PM

    The inescapable pain, strangeness, and intensity of such a huge change in the trajectory of life are palpable in your words. I can feel the air, smell the dirt, and my heart searches for more space. This life is so big and yet trapped on the little things a loved one’s spirit hangs onto. It is those things that squeeze the heart and make one breath hard to stay upright. Thanks for not losing any piece of your love. I know I will have to go through this too and even though I try to hold onto each experience in memory we can’t keep the sound, touch, and smell fresh forever. I bless your courage for taking us on your ride. We all have to take it sometime.

  • JHF May 2, 2021, 1:12 PM

    Thank you, Marti.

    Just found the hat she wore for almost 40 years. Her signature hat. The worst and best thing yet. I’l be okay, but the hat has killed me. It’s barely 1:00 p.m. The rest of the day is gone.




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