2015_01_10_1501-2-1000pxBack in January, feeling emotionally exhausted after a very busy holiday and months of navigating my daughter’s increasingly irrational fears, I jumped in my car – alone- for a weekend road trip.  I know I needed a change of scenery and- I suspect- felt the need to prove to myself that I was still capable of engaging with life bravely. I stopped at El Malpais National Monument – which I could only scratch the surface of without a hiking partner- on my way out to the Bisti Badlands, where I hoped to catch some of the site’s amazing hoodoos and other wind carved stones.

I had taken the long route on a narrow highway through very desolate reservation land, progressively more suspicious that I had taken on more adventure than I should have (in hindsight, the whole thing was far more reckless than brave).  I arrived at the Bisti about 2 hours before sunset and had the place to myself– probably not the best scenario when dealing with trail-less trekking without cell coverage in an unfamiliar badland.  Stubbornly refusing my own hesitation, I pulled together my resolve, my camera, and my backpack, then set out.

As there are no trails or markers in the Bisti, I (thankfully) had the forethought to purchase a handheld GPS device and download coordinates of key landmarks. It’s been a long time since I have gone geocaching or done any serious hiking, and I began to think I’d lost all navigation capabilities as  I moved toward landmark points and found 1) nothing or 2) huge barbed wire fences obscuring any reasonable paths to my destination. After stepping over a dip in a short fence (ahem) and following horse tracks for a while, I found still more fence and no progress.  As the sun began to set, I was standing in the middle of the most frustratingly barren, confusing, and overwhelming space I have been, feeling the very real fear that I needed to get the hell out of there before dark.

I let go of my hoodoo hopes and resigned myself to being present with the arid, hard-lit land around me. As I navigated back to my car, I laughed at my naivete, expressed gratitude for my ridiculously good luck, and drank in the deafening silence and strange beauty of that space.

I hope to return in the near future – by way of safer roads, with a good map, at peak season, and with a hiking partner, of course, lol – but only to augment my experience, not rectify it. I’ve grown quite fond of that afternoon’s vibrant desolation.

A Love Letter to New Mexico

I ask every person I meet who moved here the same question: “Why did you decide to move to New Mexico?” I have been told, to my chagrin, that I even ask it with the same specific head tilt that others tilt with- the others who who grew up here but long for somewhere else, all of us longing quizzically at approximately 45 degrees.

I will be the first to tell you that I did not wish to live here; I have made no bones about it since I could articulate my feelings on the subject.  Born here as my mother was, raised here as she and HER mother were, I was not going to get stuck here. I was going to be from here, but not BE here.

I escaped for a few glorious years to the Northwest, where trees have leaves and food grows in the earth and water falls from the sky. There I found my earthy side and found my limits for rain and had my babies and discovered just what it was like to actually be able to SMELL spring.  But, as often happens, family was here and I found myself at a point where being where I wished to be was far too far from where I needed to be. So we came home.

A divorce, a new career, and 7 years later, I am still here- and with 11 years left before I can even think to leave again, I find myself asking every new transplant to this state WHY they have chosen what we only-half-in-jest call the “Land of Entrapment.”

So it was with a deep surprise (and a few head shaking chuckles) that I found myself this weekend full of soft sighs and a big heart for my State. Like a girl who finally realizes she’s in love with the boy next door, I found myself falling in love with my birthplace.

Maybe it was the book I started reading on my trip- Rebecca Solnit’s “A Field Guide for Getting Lost” – with its beautiful explorations of all the ways one can be lost – and found- and often in the very same place.  Maybe it was the way Ms. Solnit’s words made me feel open to getting lost myself- which I did a number of times, both literally and figuratively.  Maybe it was her descriptions of her travels in the desert that reminded me what I have always really meant when I said that “you have to appreciate all the shades that brown can be” when I would describe New Mexico to my Oregon friends. Maybe it was the beautiful music – Kesang Marstrand‘s haunting album Karmapa Khyeno, and the song “A Traveler’s Longing,” which has become the soft hum I lull myself to peace with.  Maybe it was my destination- Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs– where, after two years of putting it off, of telling myself I couldn’t gift myself the experience alone, I finally found the quiet sanctuary I was craving, right beneath my nose, a space to float and soak and think and rehydrate my soul.

Maybe it was all of these things- or none of them- maybe it was just the softening of my heart to finally allow that I could wish to be elsewhere and still love this place while I am in it. Left speechless, I let my camera sketch out the beginning of a love letter to this place I have known for over 35 years, but maybe only now have started to see.

 (Bigger versions of these pictures can be found on Flickr)