Rio Grande Gorge

2014_10_20_1275-1-1000pxDo I change like a river, widening and deepening, eddying back on myself sometimes, bursting my banks sometimes when there’s too much water, too much life in me, and sometimes dried up from lack of rain? Will the I that is me grow and widen and deepen? Or will I stagnate and become an arid riverbed? Will I allow people to dam me up and confine me to wall so that I flow only where they want? Will I allow them to turn me into a canal to use for they own purposes? Or will I make sure I flow freely, coursing my way through the land and ploughing a valley of my own?”
― Aidan Chambers, This is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn

Arid

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.

Cottonwood

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For Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness collection this week, I have submitted an IR shot of my favorite cottonwood tree – she has branches like lightening and tangled bark that suggests the tree has previously met the real thing.

Afloat

2014_10_19_1172-1-1000pxThere are few things I love more than a summer float.

Suspended and soft on my back in a large body of water, watching a summer thunderstorm roll in overhead, the sounds of kids playing as auditory bokah through the water, my body simultaneously moved by and distanced from the activity around me.

I can float there for hours, filling the space my body occupies and emptying my busy mind.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Afloat.”

Alma Mater

Two weeks ago my boyfriend and I took a photo jaunt on the UNM campus, figuring there would be folks there doing far stranger things than taking random pictures of random things (my favorite) or resurrecting old photography knowledge (his mission).  While the math doesn’t work out quite right (surely I haven’t aged the 14 years that have passed since I graduated), it was quite eerie to be back on campus- both because it still felt like a place I could belong and because they have made a number of big changes while I was away.

My intentions were good but we didn’t get far, as we only had a couple hours and I was quickly transfixed by one of the remaining fountains running on campus, but I am very happy with the shots we got.  I am also quite confident I will be returning soon- either for photos, classes, or (gasp!) both.

Blessings!

A Very Large Array

Last month, with an itch to get a couple hours away from home for no good reason at all, I visited the Very Large Array (VLA) about an hour west of Socorro, NM.  If you haven’t acquainted yourself with the VLA’s work (either in person or via their website) I highly recommend it- pretty mind blowing stuff.  I am very proud that the austerity of our state’s landscape is good for something beyond rattlesnakes and film crews– the VLA makes a lot of amazing astrophysics possible!

The visibility on this temperate winter day was infinite, and I fell in love with the VLA dishes, both at an iconic distance (Contact, anyone?) and up close with the zoom lens.  I don’t know why, but I love me some hardware pictures.  Even better than getting up close and personal with one of the dishes (which are, should you be curious, about 84 feet in diameter) was the fact that the entire area is a no cell phone zone.  I found this fascinating, if not kind of redundant (ATT doesn’t cover much of the state, so my cell phone is really in a “cell phone free zone” any time I am outside the city limits).  For all the technology around me- designed to listen into the deepest, quietest parts of space we can find- cell phones can ruin it all.  The only thing I was permitted to listen to for about an hour and a half was the wind whipping my ears and my thoughts.

Awe inspiring, contemplative, challenging, and completely liberating, this was one of my best photo trips to date. It was BEAUTIFUL.

The trip also furnished me with week’s monochrome madness picture. I love the way the light shines through the dish, especially at the edge, where metal meets sky.

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Bright Blessings!

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)

The Caves

If you have never felt the moist, heavy air of being 800 feet underground, I highly recommend it. If you have never sat cross legged on a stone bench in the maw of a cavern and meditated until your toes tingle, I would encourage you to give it a try.  If you have never felt the wrenching, disorienting feeling that comes from ripping straight out of the earth’s belly by elevator after hours of silent reverie, I assure you, the sensation is quite overwhelming.

If you have never tried to get good photography shots (sans flash) in a dim, wet room, navigating your tripod on a small path with hundreds of your fellow visitors, you are probably smarter than I. (But I loved every minute of it.)

Painting the Sky

I would freely posit that New Mexico has one of the best skies in the country- day in, day out, the bluest sky with the puffiest clouds, the best sunsets, the most captivating thunderstorms.

But once a year, we get a little crazy and paint it.

(Or find us on Flickr!)