Oh, sweet desert rain. That smell of water evaporating off of sagebrush is intoxicating. They say that scent can evoke deeply ingrained emotional memories and, standing at the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge, the sweet mist swirls around me in the stillness and silence, conjuring what I can only describe as love. I know this response is nostalgic; some of the best times of my life have been spent in the high deserts of this country with the people I love most in this world. Central Oregon, Eastern Utah, Northern New Mexico… desert rain on sagebrush brings it all back.
Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, like many New Mexico destinations, is a hidden gem. The Rio Grande, here still wild and relatively unrestricted, cuts a deep gorge through basalt and the desert plateau, plunging almost a thousand feet below the rim. The Red River joins its flow in this gorge, creating a peninsula-like mesa above. We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves this week, with no other campers in the entire campground, and only one group of hikers and llamas on the Arsenic Springs trail for a couple hours. Other than that, our two days in the monument were still and silent, with dramatic storm clouds racing across an expansive sky.
Between intermittent thunderstorms, we hiked down into the gorge and to the Rio itself. The Rio Grande holds some sort of sacred place in my heart that I cannot describe; plunging my hands into her milky chocolate-colored spring flow felt like a pilgrimage. I pressed the red clay beneath my feet, closed my eyes as the sun came out, and listened to the lonely calls of ravens and desert songbirds. And there was that smell again. Just like that, I was home.
The prize of that view, that feeling that you are a giant, that in fact you might be a god, and the entire world stretches out before you, the snowy mountainside falling away beneath you and the solemnity of those dwindling pines at the treeline… I feel like these things should be earned. Perhaps these beauties should be more rarefied, the sole domain of those willing to struggle endlessly upward to attain them.
But here, in Breckenridge, I stand strapped into a pair of long, slender planks comprised of wood, carbon fiber, epoxy, polyethylene, plastic, steel and wax. I glide across groomed, domesticated snow (some of it probably man-made) with hundreds of other “outdoor enthusiasts”, queuing up in orderly lines for the ski lift. Jovial teenage boys scan the breast pocket of my jacket with a device that then produces the sort of fake laser noise you might hear in a 1980s sci-fi film, or maybe Star Trek. We all scoot along slowly and awkwardly (skis are meant for going fast, not slow), sort of like cattle in a pen, toward a row of electronic gates that open and close rhythmically. As my row of six skiers bursts through the gates and shuffles toward the loading line, the attendant delivers an oft-practiced speech about holding your poles up, looking behind you, grabbing the back of the lift chair… Continue reading →
At times it is folly to hasten; at other times, to delay. The wise do everything in its proper time. – Ovid
More than six months have passed since we moved to Colorado and, regrettably, since I last wrote here. My extended silence has certainly not been for lack of inspiration; here we are surrounded by indescribable beauty, settled in the eastern shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Endless jagged peaks rise to the west as a seemingly impenetrable fortress of granite, snow, and ice. Aspen groves scatter like boneyards, their golden leaves long abandoned by the frigid night. Rivers, half frozen, wind tortuously through hidden valleys and intimidating gorges. From these mountains, the eastern landscape spills forth almost as an afterthought. Foothills kicking at flatlands. Waist-high grasses rolling in the wind like waves on a golden ocean. The eastern horizon interminably flat and unremarkable, save for a jumble of urban monoliths protesting the impending monotony. Beyond, innumerable fields of sunflowers, wheat, corn, and soy, waiting patiently for spring. The Great Plains, expansive and uninviting like the southwest deserts from whence we came. Continue reading →
It has been quite a while since my last post. While I could enumerate the reasons for this, it’s unnecessary. The gist of it is: plans change.
It’s amazing how fluid life can be if you let it. One can easily lose sight of the peripherary when the blinders are on; make plans, lock them in, and stay the course no matter what might arise. This, in my view, is a difficult way to exist, always in opposition to the continual shifts in our surroundings, our options, and our future.
Every one of us has a sacred place somewhere. I believe there is a physical place on this earth that occupies an unsullied space in each of our lives, where we retreat when we are in need of respite. This is not a “happy place” per se; it is instead a powerful place, forcing us into a state of retrospection, introspection, and an openness of spirit.
For me, that place is the canyon country of southeastern Utah.
There is something about the mesas, towers, and gaping expanses of this place that speaks to me, draws me in and holds me willing captive. We go there on the pretense of climbing, but what I feel is far more than the cold sandstone against my skin, the hollow breeze whispering in my ear, or the echoing cries of coyotes in the night wind.
My memories of this place stack on top of one another in a multifaceted tapestry of joy, sadness, triumph, pain, curiosity, fear and healing. There is a rawness here that envelops me, leaves me exposed to both memory and discovery. This place has its own voice, and it calls to me from open country. Continue reading →