January 10, 2011
Indian Divide, New Mexico
A Gift of Time (For Candy and Stacy)
Just a moment ago, as I took pause from the effort of containing the dust and ashes that come with burning wood, I was reminded of the gift of time my two dearest friends have provided me. I was on my knees by the stove, dust pan in hand, when I stopped to gaze out the open door of my cabin, catching the soft glow of the morning light as it filtered in the doorway. There is a particular essence to the first light of dawn that is lost in the brilliance of the breaking day. Once the gentle glow of the sun crests the hill it becomes full daylight and brings with it all the demands of our lives. Only the dawn is our own.
It is my habit to allow such instances to take my full attention. I set down the whisk broom and breathed in the cool morning air, thanking God for all the blessings he has provided me and taking the time to access them. Time is such a precious commodity and one which I have been afforded ample measures of these last two years. The credit goes to the opportunities that were offered to me by two women I count amongst my dearest friends. It might have been far different if not for them but I took a chance and was rewarded in return.
There are times in our lives when we have a choice as to what the future will hold. If we dare to sacrifice security to follow our dreams, to grasp the precious moment for all it is worth, we discover new opportunities. Even as I was savoring the rare freedom of receiving my “Thank you for not working check” on a weekly basis I was offered two part time jobs. Candy asked if I wanted to assist her with some ranch work and then Stacy offered another, measuring water wells across the county and far to the west. I took them both. Even though neither held any long term guarantees and paid little more than my unemployment benefits, which I might still be drawing, they promised both pleasure and adventure. They also afforded me the time and freedom to do as I please and the rare chance to enjoy such moments such as these.
Time. How rarely we have the chance to do as we wish with our days, and our weeks are committed to full time jobs. Our weekends are devoted to our chores and perhaps a brief and much needed respite. Excepting our vacations we so rarely have a series of days to pursue the things we most wish to do, yet here I sit. Work I do, and work I shall, but at this very moment I can choose and I have been reminded by the sweet caress of the morning light of just how precious these moments truly are! Sunlight fills the room and the warmth of the woodstove hold back the chill of the winter winds. The ravens make their daily circuit over the house as I sip my morning tea. As if in answer to the wonder I am feeling I watch as the raven assaults a hawk who has drifted too close to his territory. The hawk flies on unhurried, unimpressed but offering no resistance, he has other places to go, and all he has is time.
Losing the Last of the Yankee
I am losing the last of the Yankee, out here on these dirt roads, bounding off along the mountain trails, traveling alone and taking risks my father never dared to. There are arroyos and wash outs, holes beside the roadway and soft patches of sand hidden beneath the flowing snowmelt and all are waiting to bog me down. I tore a mirror off of my truck today in just such a place while heading east through an arroyo where the road and the water run together, taking a turn with water half over the tire rims and having to make a quick choice. There is no stopping here once committed for the sand is wet and soft and the arroyo narrow. After the road enters the chasm there is no turning back and one must simply lie on the gas and go forward, never mind the dirt bank and the protruding roots of the cedars that cling up above. The truck leaped forward at my urging and as I traversed the rocky path through the creek bed, dodging the deeper holes, the mirror hit a branch and slammed back into the window, breaking the mirror but not the window glass even though it left a shadow of its shape in the process. Minutes later I drove out safely, back on solid ground.
I left New York 32 years ago and soon became a traveler of the roadways before I finally settled here in New Mexico after ten years on the road. Over the years I learned the language and the ways of the locals and how to build a fire yet it is only now that I have lost the last of that girl from the east. It seems I grow braver as I become older and the adventure is now as much a part of my spirit as is my very soul. I seek these distant places and I find myself at home here while thriving on the challenge and I am ever eager to go forward to some yet unexplored avenue. The faded roads beckon me forth as do the deep canyons and now I am there. Long ago I shunned the comforts of the conventional life, now I dream of being feral and never returning.
I am losing the last of the Yankee. I am no longer worried about being alone, even if on occasion I am lonely. My boots and leggings protect me from the cactus and the rocks and I am less fearful, though surely cautious, of the snakes. There is a shovel, a rock bar and a high lift jack in the back of my truck and I have used them all. I spend many of my days here in the distant hills and I am content, loath to even return to town. I wander in the wilderness, one as genuine as I had dreamt of as a child with civilization in reach but as distant as the highway I left behind me hours ago. It is sixty miles across this ranch on these windy dirt roads and if I drive fast enough I shall lose the last of the Yankee.
How Do I Get There From Here
How do I get there from here,
When the way back,
Is a million miles,
And too many highways,
How do I find that feeling,
The one of the wind in my hair,
When I could turn and go,
In any direction,
That I wished to.
There is a place,
Along the highway,
Somewhere in Montana,
Where the universe,
Opened its arms,
And I could have flown away,
If I had decided to do that.
It was where the freedom,
And as pure as the windblown prairie,
In the winter,
Where nothing was still,
For more than an instant,
And then moved on again,
Before the wind.
Such was my life on the road,
With each moment,
Presenting a new challenge,
Where nothing was a constant,
Except that it would change,
And the transition,
Was always a welcome one,
For how can you ever,
Get stuck in a rut,
If your tires never touch,
The same place twice.
I cannot go back there,
For the times have changed,
I am older,
As well as wiser,
Recognizing the risks,
And thus acknowledging them,
Thereby giving them credence,
That was once so easy to ignore.
All the same,
I can still return,
To the freedom and the grace,
In both memory and reality,
Each time I step out the door,
For I am still free,
To go and do as I please,
And will be ever grateful,
That I have learned,
That lesson well.
The wind still touches my hair,
The challenge still presents itself,
And I still get to choose,
To which I shall turn,
And now I can see,
That in all truth,
I am already there,
For such is the distance,
Back to there.
September 4, 2010
Wahoo Ranch Bunkhouse
Dusty, New Mexico
Nobody Knows Where I Am
I met one of the Welty men a while back and struck up a most informative conversation with him regarding his life here. We shared many insights regarding our ventures into the real world; mine from a very conventional beginning having grown up 30 miles from New York City, country/suburbia. His was different, but in many ways we shared the same opinions in spite of his having been born in this wonderfully remote place and only having ventured forth as an adult in an effort to ‘better his life’. In the end his parents failing health brought him home and he was glad to return. The majority of the men he had worked with were toiling for money alone and were unhappy with their lives, he knew better than that.
These days he works the ranch and cattle and cuts wood for extra cash. It is good work, outdoors all day, hard effort but just rewards and at the end of the day one can see what he has done. There is a good market as well and we discussed the different outlets for the various products and the many ways to approach that, with an ample supply he had much to work towards. We spoke of the days spent in the gathering process, the hours away in the fields running the saw, the peacefulness when one took pause. There was but one genuine concern regarding the pursuit; when one is working alone ‘nobody know where I am’. He summarized it with a simple statement, “If I was to get hurt they would be hard pressed to find me as they don’t know where I have gone.”
What a concept in this modern world of cell phones and instant communication, for such is nonexistent out here. The icon on my laptop computer still shows on the screen but there is a red X thru it and no bars……………same as my phone who’s battery goes dead in search of a signal. We are fifty miles from the paved road and the nearest reach of any tower, ground phones are still the rule and cannot follow our trucks. This is a remote place, still sheltered from all that lies beyond, and the dwellers grateful for the isolation. Even myself, who most often carries a satellite phone for emergencies, having left it behind this trip shares the same feeling. My young student helper appreciated it as well as he too comes from a far more populace place. At a given moment we are many miles from the nearest person, let alone dwelling and are at the mercy of our solitude, if we were in trouble it might be days before anyone even knew………..
Nobody knows where I am; I have lived such a life, for years at a time, from my youth in my wayward travels, and now as a consenting adult for I have come to thrive on the distance as well as the ensuing freedom of the same. I think no more of what is out of reach than it does of me, my phone rarely rings these days and my calls are mostly professional. Truly, the missed calls that show up as I return to the highway are often a reason for concern for there are few who would require me in my absence, it is always a relief to know they are ok. How many people these days know the feeling of such freedom and detachment? Surely anyone can slip away for a moment or even a day but how far would they have to go until they might not be found? Nobody knows where I am.
November 23, 2013
185 Nogal Canyon Road
Bent, New Mexico
I am an idiot! (Thank you Karl for the insight, it is one I will never forget!) Even as I now recall driving the dirt two track from Head Springs in Mescalero to the road which leads out of Nogal Canyon in Bent, I reflect on that statement. I had been persuaded by one drunk and soon to be delirious Native American man we should really go get some beer in Tularosa which was ten miles away on the paved road. It was late in the evening and the bar in Mescalero was already closed and he was going to have a bad case of Delirium Tremens if we didn’t go. Of course we didn’t discuss all that, he simply wanted some beer and had sobered enough by then to consider the pending crisis if he was to stop drinking. He had enough money in his pocket to make the choice between the two and the alcohol won. I was foolish enough at the time to go along with him, something I wouldn’t choose to do now. The problem was that the road by the church was closed. There had been a bad wreck there before we headed out and the only way out was to drive the forest road to either Bent or around to Highway 244 and over to Ruidoso. We went west.
It was already 8:30 at night and it must have been a moonless night as the forest was dark and scary, true wilderness once we left the gravel road and embarked on our adventure. I being fearless and in company with a man who for the moment could do no wrong was thrilled with the prospects, drunk on his company I suppose. We were talking about the Bigfoot who lives on the reservation and what we might do if we encountered him. The people here don’t think it might live here but rather know it exists and have all had personal encounters at one time or another. He had me full of laughter as his drunken humor never failed to intoxicate me and when we stopped to pee deep in the mountain silence I was quick to follow him towards the trees as he suggested.
As he stopped on the edge of the road Karl cupped his hands around his mouth and as I stepped up beside him, warmed by his closeness, he yelled, “I am an idiot!” Rather than the much anticipated response he always speaks of from “The Grinch Stole Christmas” of “You’re an idiot!” there came an unearthly voice from deep in the woods. He visibly cringed and I shuddered as I too have come to believe the Bigfoot dwells here in the safety of the Indian Reservation. It seemed we had unknowingly summoned one in our drunken humor. We moved closer to my truck, and each other, and then paused to listen for a rustle of feet coming towards us but heard none. Instead there was silence, and then, moments later, the high whine of the coyotes who also answered the voices which echoed in the darkness. We laughed around a bit and joked with some great seriousness that Bigfoot had answered his call but soon departed as he still needed some beer and we were both still shaken by the experience.
Miles later and well committed to our journey we came to a sudden stop where a tree had fallen across the road. Although Karl’s humor still prevailed he was rapidly becoming sober, his metabolism requires a constant flow of alcohol it seems, especially when he is drinking beer. He is a high proof sort of Native and prefers to drink Vodka; it is the only thing really strong enough to get him where he wants to be. He is a devoted alcoholic and he makes me glad I do not drink as it would kill me as it is rapidly killing him. He mumbled some expletive and we both wondered if we had the strength to move the barrier across the road and pondered the time it would take to get back to his house if we could not. Fortunately we managed to make room for our passage but even the brief time we spent doing so was enough to make me nervous. A fearful person I am not but when you are deep in the forest darkness at such a late hour and certain that Bigfoot is somewhere nearby there is reason for fear. The hair on the back of my neck was stood on end and I asked Karl what he would do if Bigfoot came. He said, “I would give you to him and leave, save my own ass!” He was only half kidding and I suggested it was time for us to get back in the truck and leave, he agreed.
When we got to Tularosa I followed Karl into the bar when he went to get his beer as he had promised me all he wanted was a six pack. Instead he grabbed a thirty pack of Budweiser and a half pint of Vodka. I gave it my best shot and summoned all of the feminine while and drama I could muster to try to dissuade him and leave the excess for another time. Failing at that I left him standing there in the parking lot and drove off in furious tears. He waved goodbye. Gone was the laughter and the wild humor of the night and all that was left was the stark reality of our lives and his addiction, coupled with the knowledge he would have also given me over to Bigfoot if we had actually encountered him. Rather than the dear friend I appeared to be when submitting to his will I was in fact only a convenient presence, an enabler at her worst. I drove off in tears and then went back to get him, I had called his bluff but could not leave him to the elements, even if he deserved it. He taunted me when he was securely in the truck and told me it didn’t matter, he would have walked to his cousins. The next day he thanked me and said he might well have gone to jail instead. He doesn’t like those relatives very well, nor they him.
Driving back I thought about Bigfoot and the laughter we had shared just an hour before. I berated him for his meanness and he sat there quietly and allowed me to do so. I considered his meekness in the face of my ire and was later thankful he is so respectful of me, though he had gotten what he wanted. He didn’t have to be and well could have hurt me worse than he did, as others have in the past. He knew he was wrong but he is a prisoner of his weakness, nothing else matters when he is drinking and he hates to be sick. I thought of the power of his voice and the utter honesty of his words as he spoke to the wilderness and the Bigfoot sheltered in the darkness. “I am an idiot!” he yelled, and in his own way he meant it. Perhaps the voice which echoed his words had in fact been a Bigfoot speaking in some primitive language, affirming his statement, “You are an idiot!”
I still love this guy and as I write these words I recall an idiom I created many years ago for a very similar and equally flawed man who I had given my heart to, one who hurt me far worse than this one ever will. It is a catchy phrase into which one can place any key word of choice and it will still work. I had told him at the time, “There is only one thing worse than a “Failure” and it is someone who admits to that and then uses it as an excuse to continue that same behavior.” The word “Idiot” works just as well. Karl is an idiot, and so am I, even if it is a poor excuse to continue such behavior. I still love him, and he loves me, he just loves Vodka a little more. What an idiot!
Adventures of a Simple Life
Mine is a simple life even if it is wrought with challenges. My basic needs are no different than those of anyone else but I chose to address them in a slightly different fashion. We all require the same things, food, shelter, warmth and water. I have all of these just as most everyone else does but in most cases the similarity ends there.
Food, I buy this from the store unless other opportunities arise. I have been known to stop and load a road killed deer into the back of my truck and have served many a meal from these forages. In all truthfulness the meat is cleaner and fresher than that we purchase at the store and even my father has come to tease me about the habit. Then too there is my garden and in the years I have prepared for it I can harvest carrots year round and have greens as soon as spring warms the soil. I am proud of my industriousness, my summers are rich in produce and in the winter there are canned goods and pickles, crisp and good.
Shelter comes in the form of a house, aged though it is. The walls and windows are still intact even if the roof is starting to fail. As I live in an arid climate I am free to chide that it only leaks when it rains which has led me to skip around the need to repair it for more years than I care to admit. It is only just recently that I have realized how remiss I have been in that regard and I have amassed the materials that I need to repair it. God willing we will address that today. I also have a roll of plastic on the couch and if I were not so devoted to my prose I might be applying that to the eastern windows also. It is the wind from the east I am most concerned about; it is the bearer of the worst of storms.
Warmth comes from my woodstove. The iron box sits comfortably in the corner of the living room and in a moment of clarity I moved my workspace from the kitchen to the living room. This served a dual purpose for not only am I closer to the precious warmth of the stove but I was able to face my desk to the north where the view through the windows never cease to amaze me. A young man who came over with my son a few days ago was warming himself in front of the stove when he asked me why I had firewood stacked in the living room. He grinned peevishly when he suddenly answered his own question. I smiled at his naivety, mine is an uncommon life these days and I find more pleasure in cutting wood than I do in going to town.
Then there is the windmill which even now spins in the steady breeze. My water comes from the ground and then flows into a storage tank before it gravity feeds to the kitchen. This part of my existence is somewhat compromised as well, though not from neglect. Over time the iron from the well water has settled out into the storage tank and the valve that once isolated the pipe to the house now leaks some. Though it is not an issue in the summer when I have no worries of it freezing in the winter I must let it drip at night. As the leak is small I catch the drops in a bucket and save it for my daytime use, there is very little waste.
These are the adventures of a simple life and I would have it that they ended there and my existence were no more precarious than that. I have no remorse when I reflect on the daily challenges of assuring I have the creature comforts I require. There is as pure a pleasure when I cultivate the soil as when I dig in the garden for my food. I love my home as much when I battle the cold wind as I do on a calm sunny day. I am warmed by the gathering and stacking of the wood as I am in the burning of it. The ashes grace both my outhouse and my garden, everything goes to good use. The water which is so precious assures I can remain here as it cleanses my body and also feeds the garden. The wind and the windmill deliver it.
There is but one other reality I am now confronted with. In spite of having lived frugally I also have my debts, few though they are they must be paid. I would have it that I need not leave my solitary perch except for an occasional venture to town, but life requires more of me than that. All the same I am fortunate to be able to live a far simpler existence than nearly anyone else and it is mine to share. I have decided I need to be more creative than I have been in the past and the following efforts will be a result of that conclusion. Mine is a simple life and one which is full of such adventures as few people chance to experience, it is time to share them……………
By Cathie R. Eisen
There are two types of wild women.
There are the droves of bleach blonds sitting at the corner tables, cigarette in hand, sipping their drinks waiting to be asked to dance. They wear tight jeans, a little too much makeup, and are willing partners, at least for the evening. They are often fairly pretty, especially after 10:00 pm and a few drinks, and might even welcome some company after the bar closes….wild women.
Then there is that other gal who stepped in before the crowd. She looked around and would have walked back out if the two gentlemen at the end of the bar hadn’t stopped her. She accepted their invitation for some conversation and calmly sat between them. She wore sneakers with frayed toes, her jeans had worn out knees and her vest was made of the Carhart canvas stuff. She wasn’t exceptionally pretty but she wore a little makeup and had a nice firm ass, a working gal. She asked for a glass of water and struck up a conversation with ease and 9:00 pm, right about the time that the music started and the crowd began to grow, she announced she was going home to stoke the fire….a wild woman.
There is a great distinction between these two sorts of women. The first get open admiration on a routine basis. Men walk up confidently and ask them to dance, grab them firmly around the waist and whirl them across the floor. They buy their drinks and they laugh and talk over the music (catching a word here and there), proposition them and on occasion even take them home. The women share their fun and their whiskey in a tobacco haze and they see each other every weekend, growing old at a corner table. Their faces never seem to change and neither does their hair color, blonds always have more fun and never seem to go gray. It seems that even after all these years since I’ve been in that bar they all still look the same. Wild women.
Now that other gal, just who was she anyway? It seems that face was familiar but was it at the store or the racetrack? Did she work at the grocery years ago? I think I saw her at the County Commission meeting, or did she write that editorial, I know her from somewhere. No, haven’t seen her at the bar in years. She lives somewhere out in the county, over the mountain, Nogal perhaps?
This other woman, who wasn’t dressed for Friday evening, just happened to drop in. She laughs and smiles at the two men at the bar, humors the one but won’t give in to his not so subtle advances. She says she would consider going to the barbecue but no, she won’t ride with him but take her truck instead. She talks of horses and cattle with his friend, and how beautiful the day was. She says yes, it is spring and she can hear the coyotes from her front porch and her garden is ready to be planted. No, she won’t stay, it is late and her horse is wondering where she is, and yes, they ought to be fed at the same time every evening, but he’ll get over it. No, she doesn’t want a drink, water is fine. She tips the bartender $2.00 and goes home about the time the tear slips down his cheek. Wild woman.
The downtown bars are a shallow pool on a Friday night. The bleach blonds and the local cowboys entertain each other, find a friend or three for the evening and go home. They wake up late on Saturday morning, stumble over to the coffee pot and nurse their hangovers. They live in rented houses or mobile homes and have a few nice western shirts and a pretty pair of boots in the closet. They work at the grocery stores and local construction businesses, watch TV at night and cook their dinners in the microwave. Some of the others are reasonably prosperous and even have nice homes and ranches. They are successful in their careers and well known around town and just looking for some entertainment on a Friday night. Still, they all have one thing in common. After a few drinks life is good, they have no worries and they can laugh and smile as if they haven’t a care in the world. And what about those wild women?
Then, there is that solitary woman. She really isn’t pretty but there is something attractive about her. Is it those dark eyes, her easy smile or simply the confidence that radiates from her posture on the barstool? The men and the women watch her curiously when she walks past. The women look at her resentfully as if she were a threat and the men wonder who she is and why she is there, but they don’t ask her to dance. She’s not drinking or smoking but she’s sitting with Glenn and Bill so she must be a local, but who’d she come in with?
She stepped into the bar out of curiosity, thinking that she should make an effort at being social as it is Friday night in Ruidoso, New Mexico. She thought that just maybe she’d run into someone she knew who might be good company for an hour or two. She lives in an old gas company house out in the county, has a few good pairs of jeans and some riding boots with the spurs still strapped to the heels. She runs two water systems and doesn’t own a TV. She cooks her meals on the gas or the wood stove and although she doesn’t drink she might take a toke on occasion. She doesn’t go out very often and has a few dear friends, but she also enjoys her solitude. She smiles every morning when she steps out the door, thanks God for each and every moment and laughs out loud that she has such a blessed life. She is a wild woman.
What is the definition of wildness? Is it that whisky smelling laugh from a smoke filled mouth in a barroom? Is it that gal that will go home with you after a night of dancing and drinking? She will drink your last beer tomorrow morning to kill her hangover before she gets in her car and goes home. Or what about the one who would stay? She will warm your blankets every night, dirty your dishes and cook an occasional good meal. She will end up fighting with you when she gets drunk or run off with your buddy when you’re not around. It seems there are plenty of wild women and lots of men to entertain them. You can find them at the bar or at Walmart, take your pick, they will be there.
On the other hand, perhaps wildness is something far more subtle. It’s that gal that drives by in the old truck and who always sparks your curiosity. It’s that women you glance out in the yard of that old house off of the highway that sits in such a pretty spot and always has smoke pouring out of the stovepipe. That place always looks warm and cozy and you want to stop by but you never do. She is that woman who always has a smile for someone and seems to know everyone in town. You might see her at the country club or the pizza place. She is almost always alone but she has a serene look in spite of her seriousness. She radiates simplicity but there is intensity about her that you can’t overlook and a strength that is obvious and just a little intimidating. She used to run around with Ronnie Hammett, that guy who shot himself. Now he was a wild one…so is she.
The light this morning was deceiving with the glow of the full moon brightening the sky long before the sun arose. As if in defiance of her light he remains suspended in the western sky, unmoving. It seems he is saying that he has taken possession of what is rightfully hers, at sunset. Her light gradually supersedes his as she brightens the peaks of the mountains but he remains clearly visible. In the perfect moment I would sit and watch the transition from an outdoor vantage point rather than here by the stove but it is another cold morning. I would rather write and record the moment for later reflection. I marvel at the fact that my life allows me all of these moments, the vision and the reflection, and that they are mine to record as well. True, I awaken early to assure of that but it is still a rare luxury and it is mine to keep.
This is all good medicine, as was the waft of sweet sage and cedar as I stoked the fire this morning. The coals remained hot from the pinion log that I tossed in late last night. When I rolled it over it crackled and burst into flames. I tossed a few more sticks into the fire but failed to finish the effort before the smoke wafted out the door of the stove. Rather than the usual smell of burning wood it was laced with sage, good medicine. I was reminded of the power of the smoke and knelt for a moment to absorb its essence, a breath of Zen and peacefulness, a morning blessing from the fire.
There is a ritual that follows the smoke. The Indians know this as it is a part of their religion. We borrow from that just as we do from the eastern ones and in this moment I must question our definition of ‘western religion’. It seems that we have corrupted that as much as we have everything else. What is a truer version of the western beliefs than that of our native peoples? Were they not here for centuries before we ever arrived and were not their beliefs as powerful as any religion that originated elsewhere? Isn’t their form of worship as valuable and meaningful than any other? If I atone to any set of beliefs it is theirs, it is good medicine.
Before I arose this morning I allowed myself to lay still and ponder my life as it is so important to do so. I asked myself what else I needed and where I thought I was going with my current pursuits. I have left my loftier plans aside, at least for the moment, and have decided to stand still instead. Work I must and work I will, but I find no need or desire for movement, I am where I am supposed to be. I marvel as much at the forces that brought me to leave as at the ones that caused me to return. I had to leave to rediscover the peace I found here and all the events were timely. Nothing but good has occurred since my return and is an affirmation that I have done the right thing.
As I stood before the fire to drive back the chill of the early morning air I asked myself what is it that I might wish for this morning. I often do this for myself as it centers my attention on the things I should do. I found no selfish wishes; the needs of others go well beyond my own. I thought of my sons and daughter and wished for them the things they require. I thought of my closest friends and what they need and prayed that they would be addressed. Only then did I direct my thoughts to myself and they grew still, I have all that I need in this moment. Mine is a simple life, it is all that I have ever wanted and it is mine to be had. I could make my house a bit warmer, which I will, but beyond that I have no other immediate desire. What loftier goal could there be than ones’ own basic happiness such as I have attained in these last several years that I have lived here. That is what I call good medicine.