Archive | June 2014

The Cabraedas (Book Exerpt)

April 9, 2011
Nogal House
Indian Divide, New Mexico

The Cabraedas

It is my nature to seek the positive aspect of all that surrounds me, to do differently would be my demise for there is always the dark side nearby and I care not to embrace it. Every challenge and every adversity in my life has a bit of light in it and will lead me forward to better things. The end result has been rewarding and I have yet to bemoan the outcome.

The wind seems worse this year, stronger, more insistent, pervasive and continuous, coming day and night and unceasing. Regardless of the actuality of it I am certain it is one of the more severe years and the ongoing drought contributes to its misery. The land is dry, dusty and yellow brown with so little of the lush green we all associate with springtime. Even the native plants are slow to come out this year having been frozen solid in February by the rare deep cold. It is easy to bemoan the wind for it limits our every effort and increases the challenge of every aspect of our life, even keeping us awake through the night with its steady howl.

Yesterday I caught another side of the wind as I drove across the ‘Cabraedas’, ‘The Breaks’ as they are called in English, a barren fractured stretch of country south east of Socorro. My employer, New Mexico Tech, published a handbook about the roadway and the geology and as it was along my way home I yielded to the temptation to explore it. The directions led me to a little known road which led into a wilderness laced with valleys and canyons. The sharp cliffs and rolling hills were stacked together by the earth’s ancient upheavals and I could see the layers of bedrock and dirt. The swales and mesas were left behind by years of erosion and the hard rock and stacked gravel is all that remains. It was dusty as the wind was strong and steady and when I emerged miles later back on the paved highway I then drove across the wind scorched plains, once more buffeted by the cross winds and assuaged by the dust. The wind was so powerful that at every low flat where the grass grows thin the earth itself was on the move like some small version of the dust bowl. The powdery clouds drifted into every nook and cranny and were sailing thick on the wind, so visible as to form a mirage where the sun glinted off its turbid upheaval.

Then came a thought from deep within me and born of humility and wonder. This then, is God’s work, and it is his hand that stirs the earth and rearranges soils, leaf and stone, filling in the low places, spreading seed and pollen, manure and dirt, tumbleweeds and branches. The wind, as with all else, serves a grand purpose, and even the stress it places on mind and body has it’s reasons, strengthening our resilience or breaking down the weak, as it has since time began. I watched with wonder the workings of this universe that surrounded me and I marveled at the force of it, as if the wind was born on the velocity of the spin of the earth and I was but a solitary figure clinging to its face. Who am I, I thought, to bemoan the fact I have somehow been inconvenienced by the torrent that was surging past? It is better to stand in the midst of it and glory in its strength.

Stand in the wind I did, just as I did last night when I stepped out my door to glimpse the glow of the new moon and the spray of stars that is the Milky Way. The wind tore at my robe and lifted my hair as I turned to face it, head thrown back with a word of thanks, thrilling at its cool caress as I felt it surround me. This then is life, full force and wonderful, full of grace and wonder and here to be savored for each and every moment. It calms now and I release the brake on the windmill and let it turn free. The water rushes through the pipe, overflowing on the ground, greening grass and garden and I wonder, “Just who are we to complain about such things as the wind, they are not our choice, but His.”

Taos (Book Exerpt)

March 12, 2011
Motel De Fernando
Taos, New Mexico

Taos

First this was God’s Country, and then the Indians shared it. Later the Spaniards came and called it home. The people who settled here built their humble cabins and adobes in the valleys and canyons, along the river or near the water. They raised their crops and their families and they blended into the landscape. They lived almost as harmoniously with the land as the Indians who came before them. Even now they remain here and their crumbling dwellings are as much a part of the history of this place as the ramparts of the cliffs, beautiful in their history and making a statement that few may ever hear.

Sometime in the last fifty years this place was rediscovered and the influx has been ruinous. It didn’t start here, I had to drive through Santa Fe first, then battle my way through Espanola and past the Indian Casinos before I arrived. I found a brief respite as the river and mountains narrowed the passage where a few old adobes still sit and then rolled back into the roar of civilization. The spread of development is so broad that the valley is packed with commerce. I have to wonder where the beauty went as it is only preserved by the mountains that surround it as they are too steep and rocky to be built upon.

It is still a pleasure to be here. I love the drive up across the mountains and the high plains of New Mexico. It was a four and a half hour drive through Corona and Duran and the pinion juniper country before the highway broke over the top to the rolling grasslands. Further north it turned back into the trees and the mountains in Santa Fe County and then into the winding river and the Rio Grande Gorge which I followed to Taos. This is grand country here if not for all the people! I am taken aback by the masses and it seems they have almost ruined this place!

As the road leads into town there are ruins, the eyesores created by the final holdouts that still live along the highway. They are comprised of crumbling adobe houses, a travel trailer scrawled with graffiti and clusters of rusty cars and trucks. Ahh, but education brings wit to a people who are far from lacking in intelligence and humor and a hand painted sign says this is a “Historical Marker”. It should say hysterical instead for it expresses both interpretations of the word, it is funny yet maddening at the same time. The custom and culture of the valley has been mangled beyond repair and this place, as with the youth it has spawned, offers a stark reflection of the same.

It seems I have caught a glimpse of an evolutionary process. One catches glimpses of the dying culture as they gaze upon the wizened faces of the older people driving their aged trucks. I quickly note their sculpted high cheek bones, the dark hair and skin and the deep brown eyes, saddened by the years. The elders are still staunch Catholics and hold to their traditions, but you can see the strain in the younger people also. The men are slim and lean and the girls are beautiful but there is defiance in their eyes. Their rebellion makes them tense and angry and gone is the calm demeanor of their parents and grandparents. They are ready to fight but cannot pin down their enemies; they are outnumbered and have already been overwhelmed. Their only recourse is rebellion and they make a statement of it.

There appears to be no solution to this and I am saddened by it. These people, as the Indians before them, have been conquered. With the exception of a select few who have managed to shelter and educate their children to the old ways they have lost control of their destiny. Education and tradition are the keys but they are being lost in the battle against drugs and alcohol and the apathy of a damaged culture. If the children have something to grasp, if they can see beyond the challenge and not be allowed to feel poor in comparison to their wealthy neighbors and instead recognize the richness of their heritage they might stand a chance. Even if the old adobes that sit on their property seem archaic to them they are still theirs and they have a far greater value than the dollars they represent. The trouble is that as the land values increase the taxes will bleed them dry. The security of the Old Spanish Land Grants are a mixed blessing, it keeps them from selling their land but is a double edged sword. It preserves the family tradition while trapping them in the midst of the urban blight. I am not sure that even I could survive that!

If it were I there would be new stucco on the walls of the historic homes and the orchards and gardens would flourish. If there was room there would be horses and cows grazing the pastures. I would live as they have lived for one hundred years and I would find a way to capitalize on that. I would go to the Farmers Market and make sure everyone knew who I was and I would find a local vendor who would do the same. “This”, I would say, “Is Taos. Taste it and know it for what it was, not what it is!” Maybe it is almost too late for that, but there are still these beautiful old adobes along the river gorge and they could not touch me there. Nor could they touch my children! It is easy for me to say, I am a Gringa from New York and a daughter of immigrants…….

A High Maintenance Woman

DSCF1072May 23, 2010
Nogal House
Indian Divide, NM

A High Maintenance Woman

For all practical purposes I am a low maintenance woman. For starters I am single and I have four grown children who are all dependant on themselves excepting a few voluntary contributions on my behalf. Two of them have partners, jobs and children; one has no children but a loyal girl and a good life. My daughter has a child but struggle to make ends meet and I wish better for her but she must make her own choices. I work several jobs, part time for NM Tech Bureau of Geology as a Field Technician, a good paying job with all the benefits, a vehicle and a wonderful office space in the great outdoors, along with flexible hours. I also run a small water system in a nearby rural town and do some ranch work for good pay with an open schedule. My dress is simple, jeans and leather shoes; I don’t smoke and rarely drink and don’t get out much. I drive a 1988 Ford Pickup and have a real nice little 1994 Nissan Pickup in the shop. Sure I have a few debts but I pay them on time, basically a very simple existence.

My lifestyle is simple as well. I am the caretaker for an old gas company house on two acres with a beautiful view and no utilities, my lights are propane gas and kerosene, my water is gravity fed from a storage tank that is filled by a windmill. My heat and cooking are done with wood. I pay the $165.00 property tax bill each year and a quarterly trash bill of $56.00 to the county and nothing else. The woodstove burns all winter in the living room offering heat, a cooking surface, hot water and some wonderful baked goods when the coals are just right. Now that summer is nearly here the outdoor hearth has taken the place of the wood stove and the steel plate I installed will boil water and fry eggs as well as any other stovetop. The aromatic wafts of wood smoke from the chunks of dry juniper are but an added touch of ambience. I cut my own wood from the ranch where I work and haul it home in my truck which allows for a few hours out in the sunshine when the mood strikes me. It takes some good physical effort to fill the bed of my truck with enough wood for weeks and even allows enough extra to sell an occasional load. The only power source I have is a small generator to charge my laptop and cell phone; soon to be enhanced by an inverter with a battery and solar panel. This is all low budget and self sustaining and the generator will be a backup system if I need it.

Yes, I am low maintenance. One would find few women these days, or nearly anyone else whose household costs average no more than $140.00/month year round including the cost of the wood getting, propane, gasoline, kerosene and some charcoal for the grill. The fruit wood that I add for flavor when I cook steaks and such is mine for the taking as well. Oh yes, perhaps add a little cost for routine upkeep of the windmill but that is minimal also, new leathers and some oil and it seems to hold its own. Still, in spite of all the amenities of this lifestyle it seems most people are quite taken aback by the simplicity and the lack of conveniences. Even I will admit that there is some ’labor intensity’ to be taken into account and before I could have my bacon and cheese omelet with corn meal grits and some hot tea there was some work involved. I had to build a fire instead of lighting the stove, and cooking out of doors required a few more steps, but the wafts of smoke made for a flavorful meal and I was able to water the garden in the interim. The fresh spinach, lettuce and turnip greens I gathered await me for dinner at little cost beyond some seeds and my time.

High maintenance; I spent the winter of 2008 in Tucumcari with a charming handsome man of fine character who had a lovely old adobe house in town complete with all of the modern conveniences. We had city utilities and a woodstove that we fed frugally but adequately, no waste of time or effort but enough wood so as to keep warm and we had a gas heater for backup. We grew a great truck garden and were the boon of the local Farmers Market, I worked full time and he made enough to pay his bills and live to a comfortable standard. When I decided to return here last spring he declined the offer to join me by simply stating, “I have lived like a coyote before and will not do it again.” Perhaps it was the water thing; my baths are still taken from a five gallon bucket of water I must heat on the stove. There is no luxury in that but it is not so heinous that I have made much effort to improve on it either! I looked in a catalog a few days ago and found some RV supplies that could easily better the bath scenario and may consider that after I buy the inverter, but there is no hurry for the moment.

Personally I am sure that his decision was based on more than the minor inconveniences though the degree of necessity in my life exceeds that of the average person. He had other interests and wasn’t willing to forfeit them for me, I left alone and was later glad I did. There is some added physical effort now but there is an exchange as well………it is Monday afternoon and although by all rights I should have gone ‘to work’ today I am writing instead. If I sell this piece I have fulfilled my dreams as well as my purpose for I shall be self sustained in many ways, all without having to get very far from the fire! Perhaps in some regard I am high maintenance and a hard act to follow for the average guy, but then again, there is not much about me that fits the average anyway. The cost of maintaining my sanity goes a long way to compensate for the lack of convenience………..and my house stays warm all winter! There is very little I would exchange for that, no matter the effort it required.

Rat Palace (Book exerpt)

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERARat Palace

From a journey to the western plains:

March 22, 2011
Christmas Canyon Well
West of the Monticello Box Canyon

My field journal is specifically for recording field notes, not poetry, but I made an exception as it is a bit of a hike from this well back to the truck and the thought was too precious to lose. I took the liberty of recording a poem and it will remain there for others to reflect on, a twinkle of humor amongst field notes and measurements.

Perhaps one must have an intimate relationship with the pack rats to really appreciate their efforts; I have lived with them for years and have come to admire them. In fact, I have too often shared my home with them from as far back as my children’s childhood when we lived in the old homestead cabin at the Hammett Ranch. Ronnie kept a pistol loaded with bullets full of bb shot and we would lie in bed at night and wait for the telltale scurry to alert us of their presence. When he heard a rat he would shine his flashlight in that direction and then shoot it!

Pack rats, or trade rats as they are also known, are true to their name as they are not only avid collectors but will also leave things in exchange for whatever they take with them, a rock or a stick, whatever is handy, even a flower or a piece of cedar branch. So too they roof their dens by adding something from every trip and in the process amass huge piles of debris which leads to ornate dwellings built at the foot of trees or cactus, sometimes in some truly wonderful locations!

Christmas Canyon is to the west of the Monticello Box Canyon and overlooks the sweep of the San Mateo Mountains whose ridges run north and south to the eastern boundaries of the canyon. Looking to the south one can see clear to the border of Mexico, many miles away. Standing there on the crest beside a lone cedar tree whose base was wreathed with such a collection,I wrote in my journal:

Rat Palace

“A home with a view,” he said to her. He commenced to build a rat palace at the foot of a dead cedar tree overlooking the San Mateo Mountains from the crest of Christmas Canyon.

What that I could find a man with such vision and ambition!

Two days later I paid a visit to some friends:

March24, 2011
Wahoo Ranch Headquarters
Dusty, New Mexico

When I am working in Dusty I am always invited to stay at the Wahoo Ranch Bunkhouse and I make a point of doing so. While I am there I try to stop in and thank Donna and Cecil Muncy for their hospitality for they are cordial hosts. Besides, it is a genuine pleasure to see them; I have a tremendous amount of admiration for these two people and so enjoy their company. They are both my age but having been born into a life on the Plains they have chanced to live my dream in ways I have not. Where I step in and out of their world it is for them a constant as they manage the ranch and cattle here upon the Plain. Unlike some of the people here they hold no grudge against the life they live; they made the choice to remain here for the last twenty five years. Theirs is a rare love as well, enviable in comparison to anything I have ever experienced in my own for these two people treasure each other’s company immeasurably. Their adoration for each other is evident in everything they do and it makes their house a home.

I stopped in for coffee and could not resist sharing my poem from Christmas Canyon with them, though I begged them not to misunderstand my sense of humor as it so reminded me of them. The simile is clear as it compares so closely to their teamwork and the effort they are making to construct their own home for the inevitable time they will need their own place. They are but caretakers here and in the end only hired hands living in limbo as the ranch has sold and will soon change ownership. (They have since moved!) I then read them my Rat Palace poem from the day before and Cecil grinned and announced, “She has lived there!” as they laughed together. Before I drove off I penned a song for them…………….

For Cecil & Donna Muncy

The Rat Palace

Build me a rat palace
Up amongst the trees
Way up in the canyon
Just for you and me
Oh what a view we’ll have
Of miles all around
Our beautiful rat palace
A home for you and me

I read a poem
To him and her
As it turned into a song
He grinned and said
We’ve lived there yes
At times for far too long
She’s seen that life
Oh yes she has
And borne it just as well
We’ve had a happy life
You see
Even when it’s gone to hell

Oh, build me a rat palace
Up amongst the trees
Way up in the canyon
Just for you and me
Oh what a view we’ll have
Of miles all around
Our beautiful rat palace
A home for you and me

He told her:

We can listen to the wind
As it howls through the trees
Sit out on the porch
And feel the gentle breeze
Look out on the ravens
As they spin and dive
Think of all the joy we’ll have
Just to be alive
Sit here through the winter
And watch the snowflakes fall
Look out on the treetops
Without a care at all
We’ve both our own rat palace
As fine as it can be
We’ll live our lives within its walls
Alone, just you and me

Oh, I’ll build you a rat palace
Up amongst the trees
Way up in the canyon
Just for you and me
Oh what a view we’ll have
Of miles all around
Our beautiful rat palace
A home for you and me

I awakened to a scurry
I’ve company it seems
It sounded like a rat
Or was it just a dream
A vision of a canyon
With ramparts oh so high
The place that I have dreamed of
Where I’d live until I died
I’ll call it my rat palace
And share it if I must
With the furry warm wild creatures
Who are so industrious

Oh, build me a rat palace
Up amongst the trees
Way up in the canyon
Just for you and me
Oh what a view we’ll have
Of miles all around
Our beautiful rat palace
A home for you and me

The Rock House (Book exerpt)

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAStephenson Ranch
Oscuro, New Mexico

Rock House

The rock house still stands though the roof and inner walls have long since crumbled. The mesquites have taken root within, yet the windows still stand, framing the same view as they did long ago. I sit on one of the sills, the wood frame still held fast by the sandstone blocks, each one carefully cut and laid in place. When was that? Could it have been one hundred years ago? Yes, easily, when men were strong and determined. They knew no other way and had no other option. Weakness was not an alternative. I miss these men, who I have never met, love them as I have never loved anyone else. No man, except maybe for Wes, has ever equaled that image; he was cut from that same mold as they were.

The sweep of the mountains to the south ends abruptly at the end of a mesa. I want to stand on its crest just as those men once did; they had to have in order to see the view beyond there. The country was familiar to them but would have been brand new from that perspective, like my life viewed from this window with the frame of the next laying at my feet. I sit here; loving these men I will never chance to meet. I can see their broad shoulders and strong arms in the ruins of their workmanship, admiring them as I have no other in flesh and blood. Where are they who I would go to now and never look back, no matter the hardship? Sourdough and fatback, fresh deer meat packed from up the canyon, carried water from the creek, the cook fires burning every night, long gone.

The rocks still stand, a monument to those men and women who lived and died here. Whatever brought me here has allowed for it to belong to me for one long moment, sitting here in the sun with the wind in my hair. I will never get enough of this, but it is mine to take along when I leave. I will always remember it and my words will recall the moments which I sat here, they will have to suffice!

I take a few pictures, the light here is ever changing and I want to preserve every aspect of this memory. Today this place has spoken to me as deeply as ever, those long dead men revealing their presence, coveting me as I have them. I am looking back into a past I shall never live, they to a future they will never see. Such visions are awe inspiring and stir something inside of me which is buried as deeply in my spirit as their bones are in this earth. It is eternal and precious, unsullied by any modern presence, far too genuine for that! As difficult as it is to leave I know that I must go, stepping lightly over the eroded gully and walking back to my truck. It is time to move on.

My Kind of Whiskey

November 1, 2013
Mescalero, New Mexico

My Kind of Whiskey
By Cathie R. Eisen

It is too early in the day to be thinking of whiskey, but I can think of nothing else. The pull is excruciating, it makes my chest hurt and my heart clench, it is painful. It almost brings tears to my eyes but I won’t allow that, I don’t want anyone here to see me cry, I will keep it to myself. Still, it is hard to control the desire, when I ache for a draught of something strong it prevails in my thoughts and makes everything else seem ludicrous; I need a shot of whiskey.

My mind drifts to the things which bring such joy to my heart and my eye catches a raven sailing softly on the thermals of the breaking day, though I wish he were a hawk. The sun has just broken over the mountain peaks and as it warms the air the rise of the current carries the winged creatures aloft, their wings held steady and the ascent almost effortless. I wish he was a hawk, then I could really take wing and lift my heart to a far higher place than this. I am almost grateful I have already come to work or I might have called in, I need some whiskey.

Many years ago I became addicted to the peaceful solitude of the mountains and the sky and I have returned there ever since. I have learned to substitute adventure for companionship and instead allow the thrill of the journey to fill those empty spaces in my soul. Something about me has never allowed me to fit the puzzle of life but made me instead the odd piece which lies slightly to the side until my space is filled. This is how I found whiskey. It warmed my soul and brought a joy to my spirit which nothing else has ever equaled and I have no regrets, I have come to accept it as it is. One long draught sets me free and from there all I find is happiness and I rarely feel alone.

I have for years questioned the reasons a person might choose strong drink over sobriety. I have of late watched my Native American friends fight their own battles with the same and it seems even more vicious here than anywhere else I have ever been. I have kept company with the worst of the drinkers in my life, on the side streets of my hometown and the sidewalks of the cities but these people take it to another level. Too often the people who have no understanding of the issue or the cause hold it against them and are quick to judge their character. They are, as with their Anglo counterparts, deemed weak or indulgent, slovenly and without dignity, though in fact they are quite the opposite, as often as not. One must come closer to them, sit with them, take a long drink with them and then listen closely.

There is a different conversation which goes on here on the hillside above the bar and in the hidden places where my friends choose to sit. They talk of many things, sometimes even in their own language which they are still proud of. They are men of few words but each statement speaks volumes. They speak of their heritage and their traditions, their dreams and their adventures, their chests swell with pride of their accomplishments.

“I was a rodeo cowboy! I rode the toughest bull there ever was, he nearly fell on me. I rode him.”

“I am a Hot Shot; we fought that fire in Arizona with those guys who got burned to death! They went the other way, they died, we lived, it doesn’t seem fair. I lost friends there, they died. Let’s drink to them!”

“I found a set of elk antlers on that ridge line, way over there! They were over there. We walked for eight hours that day and I carried them, they were heavy.”

“My brother killed an elk deep in that canyon there, over there. We carried it out together……..”

“My best friend died last week, he drank himself to death. He was my best friend, he died. We better drink to that. Pass me the whiskey.”

These men have fought wars for us. They are Marines and Navy Seals, cowboys and firefighters. They are artists, fathers, brothers and friends, they still are. They are traditional Native Americans who are proud of their culture and still practice their ceremonial rituals; they are a proud people, even when they are drunk. They have families and friends who love and care about them but still they must drink, it conquers even their greatest efforts to abstain, no matter how they try. I have seen them try. Sometimes they succeed, too often they do not, but they try. If you suggest they have lost their dignity to the alcohol their eyes will flare and the expression on their face will assure you they are still strong, they will even frighten you with their fervor. They are adrenaline waiting to happen and they can and will walk miles for drink. They always help each other, always.

These friends of mine drink harder than anyone I have ever known and will not stop until they fall or pass out. When they wake up they will drink again, and again. Too often in the morning, when I drive up to work, I will see them waiting for me. They will ask me if I have any change, the bar will open soon. I ask them how they are and they will tell me, “I am hangin’, I am sick, I need a drink.” I don’t give them money anymore; I cannot stand the thought of where it will go. Alcohol is the only cure for their illness and the stronger they are the more they need to consume and the worse it is. It is the best of them who drink whiskey as it is the only thing which can still their restlessness and take them to that place I yearn for also, except these guys are eagles, I am only a hawk. Their power and their insight, their ability, are wasted, unless they are strapped on a bull or battling a forest fire. The inertia drives them crazy, and to drink as well. The same thing troubles me, only to a lesser degree. I can channel it elsewhere, pour it onto the page rather than down my throat, I can still myself, they cannot.

Several years ago I bought a big Quarter Horse gelding. I brought him home and rode him across the hills before I ever decided on a name for him. I hadn’t owned a horse for a while and had momentarily forgotten the pleasure I found when I took a long ride. The moment I left the roadway the wind caught in my hair and my spirit rose as it does when I watch the hawks fly on the thermals. Suddenly I was free again and all the worries of my life were far behind me and my heart was filled with the elation I can only find in such moments as those, like a draught of whiskey. When I returned home I shared the experience with a friend of mine. I told him how anyone who had not ever ridden a horse across an open meadow had somehow missed something more precious than almost any other I had ever experienced.

My friend, he was a drinking man. I could see it in his face, that soft red glow that whiskey gives to a man who is a devoted drinker. I had never noticed it before and it took a little away from my regard for him, or at least the attraction, as I hadn’t had a drink in years and have an aversion to the same. He smiled and looked me in the eye before he replied to my colloquy. His sober response was this, “They have never found whiskey!”

I thought about what he had said, and how the wind felt in my hair, the sway of my horse’s body as he stretched out to run, how my heart rose in my chest when I saw the hawk on the wing, and all the joy I found in such moments. I recalled the warmth which coursed through my veins when those instances availed themselves to me, and how I had never known a greater happiness than that. I also found a name for my horse, I called him Whiskey.

Mountain Woman Perfume

May 17, 2010
Nogal House
Indian Divide, New Mexico

Mountain Woman Perfume

At one point in my career, several years ago, I served as the Utility Director for a corporate developer on a high end subdivision. On occasion I dropped into the sales office for a moment or two and would meet with the Office Manager before I made my way through. One morning when I walked into her office she looked up at me and wrinkled her nose a bit and commented, “I smell hamburgers”. I smiled and laughed, looked her right square in the eye and replied, “No, that’s me from the smoke in my woodstove”, and went along on my merry way. Mountain Woman Perfume that is, essence of pinion and juniper thank you, what that a touch of rosemary or patchouli might round it off nicely……..

Wood smoke, that permeable scent that emanates from all but the most airtight of stoves, wafting into the room the moment the stove door is opened, or perhaps even billowing if the wind comes down the chimney just right. Ah yes and filling the house even, if one is not in immediate attendance, and sometimes even then! It is an odor my oldest son was most conscious of, and not so very pleased by either. He has gone to great lengths to avoid such ever since he left home, I will assure you. The other sons and daughter are far more earth bound and Taijia in particular never fails to comment that the house always smells so good, and she means it. Sure love that girl! What that someday she will be where she can tend her own fires and we shall both be pleased.

I built a fire in the outside hearth this morning, the weather having warmed enough to warrant that so as not to get the house too warm. I built this wonderful stone oven myself and it being my first attempt at such things constructed it poorly so it simply won’t draw the smoke as it should. The consequence of the poor construction is the smoke vents in part from the front of the opening and invariably one must lean into it to perform any task, attaining the resulting odor of smoke in the process. I had no plans for the day but there was still the memory of the casual but cutting comment about the smell of hamburgers from my co worker. I shall never quite forget her reaction and it is still laughable even now but enough to stir the concern for future reference.

Why the fire would be the next question? Well, it’s like this: although I do have propane it is a precious commodity and being as focused on scarcity as any good mountain woman should be and given the ready availability of wood I have chosen that route for the moment. I can boil my tea and cook my meals as easily on the metal plate in the hearth as I can on my stove and for no cost other than the slight effort of building a fire, and of course the inevitable smoke………That the practice also brings me to my knees before the hearth, what that a little reverence does the soul well too, I am as grateful as ever for the reminder. Certainly not all of us have the time for such practice in either the physical or the spiritual sense but for me one supports the other. I have one less bill to pay which in turn affords me one more hour to do as I please, this is what I have chosen. The perfume is simply an added bonus!

The Dusty Road

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERASeptember 25, 2013

The Dusty Road

And then there are the back roads……………….

We can drive the paved roads of New Mexico and view a plethora of history but there is a far more intimate perspective awaiting those of who are a bit more adventurous. These experiences require they be viewed with some reverence and the peaceful journey then allows us to experience the pure essence of what they have to offer. It is here where we truly leave off from the utter distraction of our daily lives and return to our true spirits and travel to a place as ancient as the rocks and the stones which litter our path. Our cell phones and computers become useless objects as the signal fades and we enter the remoteness which our ancestors inhabited, it is a favored view for some of us but is by no means for the faint of heart.

This a day trip, once you have been here you may choose to return for a longer time, you could spend weeks here and never see it all.

Before we venture forth it is best to be mindful of our provisions and preparations. Let a friend know that you are heading south on Highway 52, just east of the Very Large Array. Be sure to tell them you will have no means of communication for the endurance of your travels there. Check your truck’s vital signs; oil, water, fuel (you might want to take extra gas if you plan to go very far, it is 80 miles to Winston on the main road and further if you go astray). Make sure your spare tire and jack are all in good order and that you are prepared to use them, you may not find any help. Pack food, water, a tent or at least some blankets and some warm clothes, in other words be prepared for everything. And, don’t forget your camera and a note pad if you are subject to inspiration, you will find plenty here and nobody else to share it with. You will also want to bring a detailed map of the roads, either a New Mexico Road Atlas or a Forest Map, along with your GPS, really. I have traveled these roads numerous times and still have gotten lost!

If one takes Highway 60 from Socorro they will pass through Magdalena and some miles beyond there arrive at the turn off for Highway 52 south, just before the Very Large Array. Take a moment to study these huge satellite dishes before you turn off as they are a wonder in themselves and the contrast to everything you will view afterwards is stunning. From there you will soon cross the railroad tracks and Old Highway 60 before you enter the portal to the wilderness. You may wish to take pause as soon as you leave the view of the highway so as to feel the difference; it comes as quickly as that. The ever present breeze will lift your hair and caress your face, acknowledge it and embrace it. Breath in the sweetness of the air and the peacefulness which so quickly surrounds you and allow time to slip away, this is the essence of the journey. As you travel onward leave your windows down if you can avoid the dust, if you are fortunate the wind will be in your favor. If there is a vehicle ahead of you pull off until the distance between you clears the air and remember not to hurry.

As you head south the road cuts through the San Agustin Plains. At first glimpse the untrained eye may see little but rolling grasslands so look closely. Watch for the interruptions on the skyline and drive slowly. You will create less dust and begin to see the finer details. Imagine yourself in a covered wagon or on horseback and look for the ‘Stock Driveway’ as you will soon cross it. At first you may glimpse a herd of antelope, wild as the Plains themselves and you can place your location anywhere on the globe, this could be Africa as easily as it is New Mexico. Cattle dot the landscape; they are the sustenance of the ranchers who still live here. You may even spot a coyote if you watch closely and sometimes the deeper meadows are grazed by elk as well. There are hawks and even eagles if you are so lucky as to see them and the ravens are ever present as they ride the thermals for the sheer joy of flight. Look for the windmills and wells and take a moment to study the means of drawing water as they are all different. If you stop and look you will notice old pump jacks, hand hewn towers and Aerometer fans, you will also see solar panels which offer a stark contrast to the ruined mills that so often lay beside them. Consider the challenges and then ask yourself what this place was like without water, when the first people lived here. Take a moment to imagine you are one of them, alone here on the horizon.

Don’t miss the ‘Stock Driveway” as it is only two miles from the tracks. You will see it, running east and west from the gravel road following the fence line. Watch for the dirt two tracks cut deep into the grasslands, multiple tracks washed by erosion and too treacherous to drive. There will be other ruts alongside of them as the travelers took different routes over the passage of the years. Someone still drives beside them to check water and to get home, respect their privacy and do not trespass, though these days most of the gates are locked. This road cuts across the Plains from Magdalena to Arizona and was the “Driveway” by which cattle were driven to the railhead to be shipped east. If you stand beside it long enough and the wind is just right you will hear the cattle and horses and the rumble of their hooves. Voices will echo on the wind, shouts and hollers from those long dead cowboys. Their memory lives on in the richness of their history, barely disturbed by the years, the country and the life too rugged for anything else.

You will drive for miles and see little else than what I have described to you but watch for the trees. Scattered along the roadway, some close and some far, are the remains of the original homesteads and the ever present windmills; each has its own story. The trees remain long after the structures have crumbled back to the earth though many of the old homes still stand, the climate is so dry they are all but petrified, outliving their inhabitants and bearing testimony to their craftsmanship. Further yet you will pass the headquarters of the ranchers who remain here and are still making a living running cattle and guiding hunts. These are for the most part children of the children of those who first settled here, few others could survive here and fewer yet are willing to release their heritage, it is the only life they choose. Look close as you drive past, the old cabins still stand alongside the more modern dwellings, their progression a story in themselves.

In time you will come to some lower lands and some clusters of trees and a couple of house to the west. You will be tempted to explore but restrain your self. There is a sign at the entrance to the driveway which warns of the consequences; they aren’t kidding, just stay on the main road, they don’t want any visitors. A little further along you will drive through Dusty so watch close because if you turn to try for a radio station (a futile effort mind you) you will miss it, there is but a house and a barn and some corrals and you will have past it. Here again you will glimpse the history of the place as all the old buildings still stand, testimony to solid construction and a good life. Just a few miles further and there is more to see, the entrance to the Wahoo Ranch and the corrals and bunkhouse all lie to the west of the gate. Look at the old cottonwoods along the arroyo and consider their age as you imagine the seedlings they were when they were planted. The bunkhouse in the distance was once a one room adobe and many a family was raised there. I myself have slept there as do others when it is time to work cattle and brand the calves; it still serves its purpose. Just a little further down the road you will want to stop. There are two cabins and an old windmill, look closely at them all. The mills fan still turns, almost always as it takes but a breath of wind to spin it and the sucker road broke off many years ago so there is no resistance against the gears, they are still well oiled. The logs which support it are hand hewn, as are the oaken ones which the two cabins are made of. You cannot walk to the cabins but you can study your pictures, it is almost enough. I have stood in their doorways and thought to feel what their inhabitants must have felt, the romance faded quickly! The walls lean slightly these days as the earth has shifted beneath them over but they still remain solid. They will outlive all of us I am sure, they were built to last.

There is more to be shared but I am loath to give away too many secrets. There are deeper canyons to be explored and hidden treasures all along the road, the further one drives the more magical it becomes. Stay on the main road this time, you will get to Winston eventually and be sure to stop at the store. If your truck has burned a lot of gas you can fill up here and get a snack as well. The store is decorated with history and it will allow you yet another glimpse of the past. If you still have a taste for adventure you can explore Chloride also as it is just up the road, another glimpse of the past as very little has changed there either. Leaving Winston you will follow the highway back around and up over the higher curves overlooking the valleys below. Be sure to stop and look, it is the finest view of the Plains you have yet to cross. Watch the narrow road when you return to the pavement and it will take you back to civilization, you will exit through Cuchillo. The road will climb out of the canyon and lead back to Interstate 25 just north of Truth or Consequences. As you leave the wilderness and crest the mesa take a moment to stop once more and let the wind touch your hair. Breathe in the soft breeze and the freedom and embrace the peacefulness. You can then turn your phone back on; it will soon find the signal you lost, eighty miles ago.

Christmas Canyon Well

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Christmas Canyon Well
By Cathie R. Eisen

It is easy to categorize history, to view it as something long past and part of another era long dead and forgotten. Even current events quickly fade from view and we remain unaffected except for the momentary sense of wonder or outrage and our lives left untouched in spite of the anguish. The media promotes and even encourages that, it is our defense from hardship, viewed from the comforts of home with the flat screen television transforming our living rooms into theaters.

The wilderness offers a fresh perspective. There are canyons within canyons there, insulated from the outside world and hidden from view unless you are either very adventurous or tasked with a job to go there. My case was the latter and my job entailed I travel to the depths of the San Agustin Plains to monitor the water levels of a network of wells. Over time I began to pick and choose the order by which I measured them so as to optimize my efforts as well as my enjoyment, I saved this one for last.

The Christmas Canyon Well sits deep into a canyon which can only be reached by passing through several locked gates and a winding dirt track through the mountains which overlook the Monticello Box Canyon in southwest New Mexico. The road leaves the gravel track at the first locked gate and follows the more passable slopes of canyons and hills before it dwindles to a faded two track up and over a rocky slope, pebbled with agates and rhyolite. The final half mile is behind a gate for which I no longer had the key, so I walked from there, my steel tape in one hand and my tool bag in the other.

The climb is steep, but the many hikes my job required had long since restored the strength to my legs allowing me to take pleasure in the effort. Knowing the trails, I cut across over the hill rather than following the road, I have learned all the shortcuts. Cresting the slope I walked down to the well, an old windmill whose fan had been lifted by the wind and deposited back on top of the tower, torn and useless. I always wonder at the gust which allowed it to do that, it should have hit the ground. I measured the well quickly, having learned its tricks, and recorded my readings in my journal. The season being late summer, the morning was still cool, and the unexplored hilltops to the west beckoned me to come forth. I chose to follow their call.

The mountainsides above the canyons are steep and rough, peppered with volcanic rocks and outcrops, steep and challenging, treed with cactus and all manner of thorny plants, forbidding at best. A slip equates to a fall and there is no room for mistakes. I carried only my water and my camera and I was glad my calves were wrapped with leather chaps which protected them from snakes and stones both, a necessary piece of equipment for one such as I who never shirks adventure. I climbed quickly but cautiously, occasionally taking pause to capture my breath and the view, both of the utmost importance. The steep slope carried me quickly to a higher elevation and the vista expanded as I climbed. I was surrounded by Plains and mountains and the elevation changed the perspective as the length of the canyon spread further and further into the distance. The thrill increased in equal proportions as I have driven the length of the canyon also, all sixteen miles of it, and was familiar enough with the terrain to recognize the outcrops below me. When I reached the peak the view was spectacular and looking to the west I imagined the distance to the Gila Wilderness which covers the ground all the way to Arizona. To the south I crossed the border to Mexico and to the east I looked towards home, far enough I might say. To the north one can imagine the haze of smog which lingers over the city of Albuquerque, where in spite of the arid climate and the open spaces beyond it the mountains still trap the air.

I might have been satisfied if I hadn’t known the country so well, but as I looked towards the next hilltop, higher than the rest and overlooking the depth of the canyon, I accepted the challenge. I was too close to do otherwise in spite of the rugged terrain. The hilltops here are nothing more than rugged hogbacks where the lava rock pushed high above the flats to form ridges of ragged stone which make every step an effort. I also knew this was a one shot deal, in essence I was trespassing and though I might beg for forgiveness I might never gain permission. My job gave me license to the well, not the kingdom, but I ventured forth in spite of that, a rare exception I might add.

The final climb made my breath ragged and I took care not to stumble or fall as either would be painful. I crested the peak and might have stopped except that there was one final outcrop of rock to be reached and it offered a small sitting place, so I climbed the final stretch. From there the hillside tipped precariously to the canyon below, nearly perpendicular but accessible all the same, the row of ancient fence posts bearing testimony to that. At the crest of the ridge stood one of the same, so old as to appear petrified, dark brown and weathered and still adorned with strands of ancient barbed wire. Tied to the wire dangled a horse shoe, as old as the post and the wire, hand forged and worn thin at the toe, well used and rusted, pitted by the years it had hung there. I sat, the ponderance of such things requires complete stillness and it was afforded to me in complete measure.

What hand had hung that shoe? How old was he when he came here and left that monument to himself? Was he a young and handsome cowboy with some deep insight into the future or had it been on a whim. Was he some old weathered cowhand who squinted at the sun and thought to himself it would be there for another hundred years to remind someone he had been there? I could hear the jingle of his spurs as he stepped upon the stone where I now sat and twisted that wire around the narrow toe of the shoe so as to secure it for the centuries to come. He didn’t look at it very long and he likely forgot all about it before he left. He would have had to nail another one onto the bare hoof it left behind before he rode back out of the canyon as the trail was too rough to do otherwise. He could not afford a sore-footed horse, it was his livelihood and he had to protect it.

History dangled on that fence post, over one hundred years remaining from just yesterday and only the rust betrayed its age. The fence was long fallen but the wire remained and the fence post was still sturdy. Nothing rots here, it is too dry for that and what rainfall there is runs off of the rocks as quickly as it hits, the post was embedded in that rock. I didn’t touch that shoe even though I was tempted to; it was too sacred for that. Instead I took pictures and captured it in words, memorializing it, incorporating it into my history and recording it for future reference. The memory is still fresh even though that was three years and many miles ago. It remains as precious and wonderful as it was the day I discovered it and brought with it a lasting impression of what life was like in that place over a century ago, it still lives there. Even as our society plunges forth into this modern age things remain static in the wilderness, as untouched as the shoe dangling on that post, ageless. It will be the same one hundred years from now, the post will still stand, the wire will still be there and the memories will be the same, there were cowboys and one of them stood there. He tied an old worn out shoe to a fence post and he left, that simple, that poignant.

On television the news history flashes before our eyes and quickly disappears. It touches us but just as rapidly fades from view as the next image is displayed on the screen. It distances itself quickly and then it is forgotten. In the wilderness it is different; the signal is lost before it ever gets there.