Travels in a Very Large Landscape

We set out on the back roads, crossing the Great Wide Open.

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Oh New Mexico. She looks like nothing much, but is everything.

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Pick a road, and it will take you beyond where you thought there was to go. So we just kept going.

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80 miles of dirt road, skirting mountains that look like smudges from the distance, but are filled with hidden mountain things. Crossing in and over, around.
IMG_0558Some folks say they prefer a place colored green. I say, I’ll take this glory.
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I’ll take these long hidden roads, and the places they lead to.
IMG_0572 I’ll find my way with the ragged map, the poems that tell old stories, the brightly dressed children like flowers in the dry land. IMG_0582We’ll make camp far from anywhere. Call the long grasses, the stone crags, the dark mountains and thirsty junipers home.IMG_0681For it is.

How to House the Fairies

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To start, you’ll need labor: tiny hands, unfathomably huge imaginations.

The workforce might grumble. I hate the mountains. Why do we always have to go? Add more molasses to their bowls of yogurt. Pack two pairs of shoes each, some wooly garments, the tie dye sunhats. Honey beans are a nice name for candy covered, malt sweetened chocolate. Don’t try to get too far up the mountains without them.

The husband, where is he? Oh yes, playing the guitar. For goodness sake. Go ahead and sweep. Then just a minute of weeding and two more to forage for those seven green beans that have to be picked this instant.

He’s started another song. The kids have changed into sparkly shoes. Have you had a cup of tea yet?
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Ah, there it is, the road open and rising into the hills, the peaks, the ponderosas, the firs. Then the aspens, green and good as ever. That little creek you have walked a hundred times, in all seasons, just as you remember but always better, so much better.

Thimbleberries ripening, fireweed flaming, mushroom and Russians (it’s always Russians) to pick them. The grasses have gone to lacy seed. The forest is its ripest self.

The designer/builders will want to stop at the first picnic table, the one ten feet from the parking lot. They will whine. You will wonder, who are these creatures? Somehow, you will think to start storytelling, and it will roll from your lips and you and the children and the singing man will be walking higher and higher, up to that good place where a little trickle joins the creek. Follow it.

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There will be an open spot that welcomes you. Soft grasses, a view of green light and dark woods. Stop and be still. The workers will eat their honey beans, will look about and take it all in. You can get your sketch book out, your man can wander upstream.

The hands, so little and expert, will soon reach out, will take up a piece of wood, a leaf, a pinecone, will hold it and know. They will know just what to do.

And the fairies will be very grateful indeed.

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An Elegy for June

For every plume of smoke rising like a storm form the mountains, for every beloved place we witness in flames and for every burned place we have never walked, nor seen, nor imagined.

For the memory of monsoons and green sagebrush mesas, of hollyhocks bursting from the sidewalks, of the smell of sweetness in the air.

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For the green forest. Have I sung often enough of the powdery white beauty of aspen skin? Of the fireweed blossoms spiking into bloom? Of the light that shines through the canopy, against rock walls, shimmers in the brief laugh that is the stream? What of the deer and her child drinking in that same place at dusk, with those eyes, that grace? What of all that is unseen, unknown?

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For the dry acequias that once irrigated our valleys, and the fields they watered, the lives they sustained, the past they connected us to. For the gardens unplanted and the rivers that are dry, but should not be.

For an entire culture, a tapestry of lives and histories, stories, beliefs, and dreams that are sustained by this place. For all the love that is rooted in this land, the lives that have been shaped by it.

For all we are losing, and fear losing.

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In his beautiful interview in The Sun this month, John Elder says that because of climate change we are “at the point of active relinquishment…of things we don’t know whether we can do without.” It is strange to grieve in June, but it must be done, my friends. What else is there for when the plume of smoke pops back up, when the old trees on your street are dying, when you begin to realize it’s not one bad year, but the beginning of the future.

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A recently published report claims that in fifty years New Mexico’s conifers will be gone, and with them life as we know it. Maybe, maybe not. But I do know the forest closes on Monday, and that is enough to grieve for now. By the time it reopens, I’m pretty sure web worms will have eaten every green aspen leaf, no more to twist and tinkle in the breeze.

So, an elegy for this glory we are graced with, have walked amongst for these many good years, for this beauty we have been shaped by. And will never stop singing praises to in our thousand different ways.

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Speaking of praises, I have a little story to tell about the tiny but mighty town of Mora, New Mexico. Poor as dirt, dryer than hell, and nowhere near as liberal as most Northern New Mexico towns, Mora recently became the first county in the country to ban fracking.

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Way to go frackers for bringing the ranchers and environmentalists together!

We drove through there last week on a camping trip, and I choked up at the sight of each and every ordinary person walking down the street. At the little grocery store, it was all I could do to not tell the teenage girl ringing up my groceries how grateful I am, how proud I am of her town.

“Thank you,” I said from the heart when she handed me my plastic sack with chocolate milk and four plums in it. But I didn’t say, “Thank you for being a part of the story of how the world could be saved by people saving themselves. Thank you for reminding me that in a day in which it seems nothing is getting better and ever more obscenely and horrifically worse, we are not lost. You have shown the world beauty and reason and hope, and for that I thank you.” Maybe I’ll write a letter to the town, instead.

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While we were passing through a neighboring village, we stopped at a backyard junkyard my husband has been monitoring for almost twenty years. Under a tarp, in between a Datsun Honeybee and a Toyota Tercel, sits a rusty old 1965 VW 21-Window Deluxe. It’s kind of like the holy grail for Volks like my husband. Mr. Old Recipe visits every five years or so to see if the owner might be persuaded to let us tow it home. Last week he knocked on the door and tried again.

As usual, the answer was no.

“I’m gonna be buried in that bus,” the old guy, bearlike with a long pony tail and beard, said. Standing in the rotting doorway of his dilapidated home, surveying the junked cars and detritus of his yard, the man added, “A while back a couple came up from Santa Fe and offered me $25,000. I told them I don’t need money. I love that bus.”

And so it sits, and will someday be returned to the earth.

On our way out of town I commented that the attitude of the old guy who won’t sell what he loves was likely the attitude that saved the town from frackers. Money? What do we need money for? This is the land our families have lived on for two hundred years! We don’t need your money, we need our water.

Show us the way, Mora, show us the way. And may your waters run sweet and clear.

 

 

Gift from the Chama

We traveled to the Chama, some friends and I.

Her beauty rose to meet us as we dropped into the arms of rock walls of layered time, through dusky green tides of rolling desert, to the river flowing like blood in a beating heart.

The land opens and we behold the rainbow of shifting light, clouds passing over, wind brushing the tops of willow thickets.

We behold all this, and remember that just as the land contains such beauty, so too are there blessed places hiding in our own souls. Wild places, where everything–drought and rain, rock and cottonwood, flowing water, and light, so much light–exists to make us whole.

We come to this place, and grace comes to us.

Reverence fills our thirsty hearts, awe floods our humble lives. And in the grace of this place, we deepen into the grace of ourselves. Those hidden canyons that are timeless, that belong to the sacred.

We come and in coming find joy–communion, laughter, song, feasting. And more than a few rattlesnakes.

We delight in our togetherness, and the many lights shining out of our circle, lights that have found one another, and so grown brighter.

 We celebrate our families and friendships, our blossoming children, our musical menfolk, and another year around the sun (that would be me!)

Most of all, we celebrate the life giving waters of our dry land.

Oh Chama River, what a gift you are indeed.

Home on the Range

We took Miss Shelley, our 1971 VW camper (hands up if you cruised one of these when you were a kid) with a rasta stripe, for a little spin up country, round about the Spanish Peaks in Southern Colorado.  We retraced our footsteps from long ago, places we visited as young herbalists newly in love, then a little older, then pregnant for the first time, now a family. Still in love, it seems.

We’ve known this land in many lights. This time it was overflowing with green plants. Some places burned down last summer and were springing back to life. There were bears in the thicket and turkeys on the run, arnica and red clover blooming to make a gal swoon. One favorite place, an aspen covered mountain, had been eaten alive by bajillions of caterpillars that left not a green leaf in sight. But oh, the birdsong in that place! Mountains we once climbed still pierced the sky, and we were content to tell stories of what it felt like on their summit.

We had hard moments, good moments, and plenty of time to move between the two spectrums. We walked the trails, dug in the dirt, shopped for produce at SuperWalmart (whoa!), made stick houses, tied bonnet strings just so, bickered about whose turn it was to keep the children from wandering into the forest while dinner cooked, and practiced positive thinking when that seemed like the hardest thing to do. We went to bed together with the sun, and felt at home in our little home on wheels. At home with each other, at home with the land.

And that’s the story of how we added another layer to our migration through this life.

On the Open Road

We fired up the old bus, Miss Shelley, for a springtime tour of the land. Up and down mesas, along dirt roads and highways and foot-trails we went, getting a little lost, but even more found.

 A night on the banks of the mighty Pecos river, doves singing in the willows, children playing in the dirt, light falling in unexpected ways, a burst of rain, an old lowrider cruising slowly past the cows.

Back in time to the old red rock villages hiding like forgotten gems in the piñon juniper scrub. Past acequias flowing full, and freshly tilled fields flooded with that snowmelt bounty.

We’ve traveled this stretch of land many times, but each time we crest the horizon it is to find the mountains and mesas opening anew, bigger than before. There are layers upon layers of history to peel back, roots to sink deeper, stories to discover and tell.

When we pause to listen and look, or at least travel very slowly (as Miss Shelley loves to do), it all comes pouring forth.

We’re Universe in a Grain of Sand people, my husband likes to say. Oh, New Mexico, you might be sandy, but you are home.

Walking in Place

Another ski date, this week. Oh, I love when it is perfect, that snow.

Just as good as that was the very ordinary family hike in the foothills this morning. We moseyed along a stream bubbling with snowmelt, the air full with the smell of willow trees before they bloom with spring leaves. Little feet splashing in mud, sliding on ice. Little hands holding our big ones.

And a very special treat was a hike with a friend and her baby (mine were home with papa). So much talking and sharing, so much to say about life and motherhood and marriage. So much sun shining on our faces.

Sometimes it is hard to get out on the land, away from our obligations and the busyness that creeps in even when we are always on guard against it. Sometimes it is a great push (against whining and time constraints, stress and no snack) to claim this space for ourselves and or families. To insist upon it.

It is a holy thing to me, these hours spent wandering our homeland. These mountains have carried us through the seasons–from winter on into spring and beyond, from our free and easy years into the slower footsteps of family life.

When we are planted in place, I’ve noticed, we can’t help but grow.

Postcards from High Summer

Summer, that season of such bounty, unfolds before us. And behind us. Maybe even within us.

It’s been a good run, so far.

We’ve been known to leave home, a handful of times. But always in our home away from home.

Slowly as a snail, we go to the good green places.

We’ve watched our mountains burn down and waited for rain.

We’ve been missing the frequent trips into said mountains (closed till rain comes), but getting occasional doses of green when we can.

Our meals are simple-simple. With the occasional pie.

Pulling the bedraggled weeds from the bedraggled vegetable patches (oh, it’s so dry!), making a feast from twenty two green beans and thirteen kale leaves. The bounty of less? Everything is precious!

Getting uber organized, but mostly on paper. Which is a pleasure in it’s own right.

Maida’s been learning to sit, and then to crawl, to delight us all endlessly.

Cora is her constant champion.

I’m saying no to too much of anything that calls me away from these empty-full days, from the gentle way life unfolds when there isn’t obligations or deadlines or ambition for more than a clean sink.

Thinking that there is one ambition I plan to fully indulge: learning to spin the rolls of fleece we carded these last few weeks.

Saying yes to the simple, nourishing, celebratory things that come along–knitting night with my compañeras is heaven. Live music on the plaza with all the locals is a constant pleasure.

Not to mention swinging in the hammock.

Or turning Thirty.

And especially not to mention swimming in the kiddy pool under the apple tree each afternoon, and gazing up into the green canopy and feeling kind of sad that there won’t be an apple harvest this year, and also strangely elated that I can continue this lazy streak well into autumn’s habitual canning season (okay, I’m mostly sad).

Happy that the Man of the Place is not so lazy. Happy for all the amazing things he’s accomplished on our humble city lot sized paradise.

Spending evenings writing in my journal, reading novels, knitting this and that. Only occasionally remembering to read blogs, and much less frequently to write a post here. I feel as if I’ve been freed at last from the World Wide Web. It is lovely.

In essence, this summer has been like a long retreat at a Vipassana meditation center where the refrain is nowhere to go, nothing to do, no-one to be.

We’re just here, in the backyard.

Thanks for dropping by!


And a book, too.

And now I’d like to introduce my other baby, which was also “born” last month.

This book was conceived just before my first daughter, and came to life the same month as my second daughter.

A fruitful few years.

The Return of the River is an anthology of community voices speaking on behalf of our little river, which was named most endangered river in the USA back in 2007. A little literary activism, if you will.

I’m so proud of it!

You can learn more about our river and the book it inspired by checking out this article from our weekly paper.

The Way Home

I can’t say why I love this land the way I do. Maybe it’s the years of walking the same paths, of watching the seasons cycle in and out, the droughts come and go. Perhaps it is simply that I have so long been held in the strong arms of this arid landscape.

In any case, I welcome the shifting seasons that return us to the arroyos and piñon-juniper hills that surround us. We leave behind the high mountains, with their lush green summers and brilliant fall colors. (Long gone are the days of our radical adventures skiing and winter camping.)

Now we just mosey. Up and down the same paths we’ve taken for years. The occasional coyote, a cawing raven. Sunlight shining through the lacy gramma grass. Onto our faces.

We know these well worn trails by heart.

We’re home.

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