Hearts and Bones: a leisurely meander along the Sangre de Cristos

20160518_173259_resizedOh, 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 Gorge
Rio Grande Gorge

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.

Continue reading

Travel as a state of mind: microadventures close to home

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
– Henry Miller

A microadventure to City of Rocks State Park outside Deming, NM a few years back.
A microadventure to City of Rocks State Park outside Deming, NM a few years back.

I love it when friends or family come to visit us in New Mexico. I look forward to these visits not only because I enjoy spending time with those I don’t often get to see, but also because playing tour guide reminds me how beautiful and wondrous New Mexico—and indeed much of America—can be.

It is so easy to get caught up in the prevailing notion that adventure is the exclusive domain of overseas travel. Let’s be honest–in our consumer culture, travel has become yet another commodity, another sign of wealth or status comparable in some circles to a Porsche or a home theater system. We tick off countries and compare our lists: I’ve been to 16 countries – how many have you been to? Our travels are material conquests, notches on our belts that are confirmed through colorful stories and exotic snapshots. Photo albums on our bookshelves, neatly labeled: Thailand 2006, Czech Republic 2008, Zimbabwe 2011, Patagonia 2013, etc. While this brand of consumerism appeals more to me than the alternative (I would much rather accumulate experiences than “stuff”), sometimes I still question my own motives and the impact of my travel compulsion on myself and the world around me. Continue reading

Home in the land of the homeless: Pacific Northwest

Then we’re home
Finally home
Home in the land of the homeless
Finally home

-Paul Simon, “Hurricane Eye”

Misty woods in Washington
Misty woods in Washington

I have always had a restless spirit. When I am grounded, I dream of taking flight. When I am flying, I look for solid ground.

It’s not that I am dissatisfied with where I am at. Not at all. It’s just that there is some ineffable force pushing me constantly onward, almost as if I am a fish and if I stop moving I will no longer be able to breathe. The specter of stagnation forever gnashing at my heels, spurring me to seek new surrounds.

Like I said: restless spirit.

All of this restlessness leaves me also with a perpetual sense of homelessness. I live in a dichotomous limbo between craving a sense of home and being compelled to continually refresh my surroundings. In short, I never feel truly rooted anywhere when I am always preparing to leave. And indeed it seems I am always either coming or going, returning or departing. I often come back to a place which harbors fond memories, strong memories (like Maine or Oregon), and my experience is an unsettling mixture of nostalgia and renewal. Like meeting up with an old friend who is now a stranger.

My summer travels brought this fact into sharp relief: none of us can ever go home. Not really.

Continue reading