The season has begun to change again and the first breath of fall comes early, the mornings already crisp even as the days are warm. The rains come also, almost daily and heavy at times, refreshing the drought scourged earth and providing good fodder for the coming winter, the fields are green. I caught hint of the change a week ago but this morning it hit me with its full force, stirring my blood and bringing that same tear to my eye which it always has. It comes in company with the restlessness which I have never quelled but have instead learned to live with and I had to steady myself before I met the day, it is time to ramble, but I won’t.
Of course there will be the trips north and then west, my work has allowed for that and even if it didn’t I would go anyway. I went last week, though with a companion I might have left behind, and likely should have. I am better off alone at the moment. Even as I work my way towards my long term goals so I am still hindered by the same and the burden of responsibility grows heavier with the passage of the years. It is the gypsy I have to contend with when it comes to this, she languishes and yet refuses to be ignored and she begs me to meet her demands. I may live alone but my inner self speaks to me constantly and even now she dances across the page, taunting me with her freedom, we are one and the same.
So it is she speaks to me now and she is quick to remind me that this is the fifty-sixth season of my life and as with the coming of fall it is also the same season for me. This then will be my favorite! My youth lies behind me and yet I have not quite begun to age and it is now that I must dance my best, before my knees become stiff and my vigor wanes. I intend to do so. Even as the first touches of fall begin to make themselves visible in the bright flowers and the heavy fruits on the trees so they express themselves in my life also. My cheeks still have the blush of a ripened spirit and there are still chestnut highlights in my hair. My eyes sparkle with the same light of the morning dew on the leaves and grass and my heart rejoices the same tune of the larks song, life is good.
Another summer has passed and it all went by too quickly. Now is the time to consider what I want to do next and even though I am bound by responsibility I have no firm commitments. Perhaps there is one, the gypsy won’t let me forget that. Though I may be devoted to pulling my own weight and meeting my responsibilities it is my spirit to whom I have the greatest commitment. Having maintained my freedom to choose my next move so I must remain focused on the same. If we spend the first half of our lives cultivating the soil and planting seeds so we must reap what we have sown also.
I have tended my fields well and the crops have flourished, my words fill many pages with rich memories and experiences, ones I have continued to add to with each passing day. Though I have yet to establish a permanent footing I have provided myself with sound shelter. As I watch the summers bounty come into full bloom I ready myself for the winter, cutting a little more wood and cleaning the stove. My camping gear is in good order also and I have promised myself the leisure it allows, now is the time to enjoy it. I am ready for the cool taste of the fall and the smell of the smoke from my fire. There is work to do, as always, but towards a good end. If the summer is time to run and play, even as we tend to the garden, so the fall is the time to rejoice in the fruits of our labors as we put them back for the winter. We are mindful of the hardships of the coming months and yet we can still celebrate our freedoms and this is my season to do so. The gypsy will never allow me to forget that!
February 15, 2010
Eagle Guest Ranch
Datil, New Mexico
Ojos Feliz: The Man With the Happy Eyes
I met a man with dancing eyes today, eyes that twinkled and frolicked as the man did and possessed of a rare humor which brought a smile and laughter to my lips before we even spoke. The banter was constant and flowed so easily, so unlike the stiffness I have met with so recently from another and sheds a pale light on any other considerations. I could love this guy; not saying it would be correct to do so or that it would be a lasting alliance, for such is doubtful when I give it full consideration. Such knowledge only comes with age and experience for some lessons are difficult to learn, let alone to remember at such moments. I flirted shamelessly but have no regrets, gave him my card but doubt he would ever call, though perhaps I may call him?
What of such fun on a work day, a brief interlude laced with laughter that now summons tears as I look back trying to recall the last time anyone made me laugh so easily and regrettably too long ago to recall. It is enough to make me question my long term goals and I wonder if I could I allow myself to live so simply if he would allow me the chance. Perhaps I could, truthfully, for I have already considered it, even as I cautioned myself that such a union could be a recipe for disaster as well. Yes, there would be the first flare of love and passion, the thrill we could share and even a time of bonding and affection, of long excursions to cut wood and a shared effort. But then would come the tension, his inability to cope with my wit and intelligence in spite of the fact the same drew us together. Perhaps he is too simple, another Samuel Gilbert Herrera, proud of his culture and history but most likely lacking the modern skills which in spite of an aversion to them somehow belittles and limits them as well. Such is my first impression from past experience!
Yes, I could love this guy, I already do and I yearn as much for the laughter as for any other emotion I could experience and I desire it equally as much as I do the love and affection which is so absent in my life. It is tolerable all the same for I am happy, so what then is the answer? I so hope to make a friend of this man but I am too shameless not to seek more than that, and for what end? Would it be like Charlie Wetzell then, a love unfulfilled and such as I miss deeply but cannot risk nor in all fairness justify even though he too has that rare ability to make me laugh?
Dancing happy eyes, a frolicking sense of humor and handsome to boot, it could almost be enough! If I even thought for minute he could feel the same I might risk it but to what end I must ask. Such a fine quality, true wit and humor, I do wish for a joyful man! Happy eyes, ojos feliz out in the plains of New Mexico! Antonio………….
Indian Divide, New Mexico
The Vera Cruz Mountain
Dawn comes late this morning and even as it finally struggles to light the sky I still have a lantern burning and I write by the glow of my computer screen. How incongruous that sounds! I will have to live with the contrast for even if I resist technology and “progress” I am so grateful for my laptop!
The sky is grey and damp in contrast to the arid dryness we have learned to adjust to. Just yesterday I marveled at the warmth of the day and the duration of the drought and mused that old man winter may have spent himself last year in all of his fury. So he rises this morning, scratching his beard and grumbling as the wind comes in from the east and he flings the clouds across the sky while hoping he has the strength to make it storm. I have my doubts; it is too dry for all that and as with the summer rains it may never reach the ground. Still, the contrast is wonderful for one who has seen clear sky for weeks on end and the clouds are a joy in themselves.
Speaking of joy, what of yesterday when dawn outdid herself and spread her colors from east to west, drawing me out to the porch and then to the hills, rushing to don my boots and grab my pack and water as I headed for the mountainside to join the breaking day. My direction was clear and I headed for the Vera Cruz Mine which sits far up the mountain and in view of my window where I write each day. I have been close to the structures only once when having scaled the steep slopes to reach its perch my approach stalled me as I reached the loose slag on the eastern face of the mountainside. The crumbled rock tailings posed too great a danger for me to continue as I contemplated the fall from the narrow path above them and the depth of the canyon below where nobody might ever find my tattered remains. As I had already exhausted myself with the climb I decided to turn back before I reached the prize. That was years ago. Since then I have yearned to make the climb but have never made the effort to do so.
I took a different path this time and followed the elk herd up the slopes from the western edge while planning only to reach the mine and watch the beauty of the breaking day from that vantage point. In spite of older bulls having been hunted hard these last few weeks the herd stood still and watched me for a long time, the group being composed of slick fat cows and one young bull, unworried by my presence but finally giving way to caution. They moved off slowly only to be found again on the next slope. Up I climbed, taking the gradual incline as the elk did, their trails always being the wisest choice when approaching any mountain. The climb went easily with my legs being strong from a week of traversing the dunes at White Sands and I marveled at the old mine shafts, pausing briefly to study and photograph them as I neared the prize with the mother lode and her crumbling structures finally within my reach.
Funny, once I was there it wasn’t enough. The towering summit of the Vera Cruz Peak called to me, looming another 1000 feet above me, or more? Her steep slopes are awesome and forbidding but the thought occurred to me that I might never again have the chance to conquer her and I could not resist the challenge. I checked my phone for a signal and called my son David, who lives with his wife and children in the valley just below my perch. I perused the risk and told him where I was and what I planned to do. I am sure he was smiling even as he cautioned me to be careful, he knows me well! Up I went, surprising myself with my strength, pausing to catch my breath and moving on again, reaching the crest only to look higher to the peak, twice deceived by the greater distances but not discouraged. As I climbed even higher the view stretched further and further until I could see the Capitan Mountains and then even the Capitan Gap came into view. There sat our old home, the Hammett Ranch and all its memories. Within a few steps of that vista I found a survey stake, its tape faded but the cap still legible and stamped ‘Tim Collins and Associates’. Perhaps Ronnie Hammett himself pounded that marker in when he was working for Tim and even though I will never have the chance to ask him I felt his presence as if he were standing beside me. His death closed so many doors and yet he appeared there all the same, he who I hiked so many mountains with all those years ago. I found no coincidence in the event, it seems as if he is always nearby at such joyous moments and his memory will never fade!
I followed the elk trails all the way up the mountain and marveled at their efforts in the places where I struggled to climb. They make the journey on four legs and weigh far more than I do and always appear to be off balance to me with their heads set high on their back turned necks. What would bring them here, so high above the grass covered flats but for the safety of the peaks and the profusion of the oak brush? The grass grows thin on the parched rocky slopes and the wind howls there as it does no place else. I imagine this place must be the source of the wind as it never seems to cease and its song always resonates in the crevices and canyons that separate the mountains below, a phenomenon I have always deeply treasured. I marveled at its strength as I climbed towards its origin, buffeted by its fury after leaving the stillness down below.
Now I could see into the canyons which I had always wondered about as they lay just out of sight over the crest of the neighboring mountain and my eye followed them down across the valley. I studied the smooth surface of the plains beyond them which are carved apart by the deep arroyos that carry the runoff from the rains, when and if they come. The narrow crevices were all deepened by the floods of 2008 but have been dry ever since. My son’s house came into view as well, miniscule in comparison to the breath of the valley below me and providing a welcome perspective of the height I had reached. Further to the west I could see the Town of Carrizozo and the winding railroad tracks heading north and south and could better appreciate the distance which the trains rumble travels before reverberating off of the mountainside. It is clearly audible from my house in spite of the ten miles which separate it from where I live as there are no obstructions to dampen the sound. Its whistle even carries over the distance on a given day. Off to the east I could see the village of Capitan and to the south the towns of Alto and Ruidoso. Climbing even higher I could finally see from the peak to the long sweep of the Carrizo Mountain to the northwest, blocking the view further to the north but with all the rest of Lincoln County within my sight.
The Vera Cruz Mountain; I reached the summit and on the highest point discovered a monument of rocks which had been built there many years ago. They were moss covered which revealed their age and some had fallen with the passage of the years. I picked a few back up, the ones that I could lift, as they were large and heavy. I added a couple more as well but all the others were firmly rooted in the ground and the top of the shrine towered above the reach of my arms. Such men these must have been who ventured here years ago, their powerful arms placing these rocks upon each other to remain there forever after as a marker of their presence!
I stood on the crest of the mountain and then walked its level peak to access all the points of interest while marveling at the height and the reach of my view but I didn’t linger long. Perhaps the thrill of my accomplishment erased my need for contemplation but even more so the tremble in my legs and the howl of the wind prodded me to go. The winds had become incessant in spite of the stillness of the dawn and I had been climbing for three hours! Still, the absolute thrill of the accomplishment and the broad vista that was offered to me was enough to make me giddy and I rejoiced in the heady feeling of my adventure. In retrospect I might have sat for an hour at least but instead I headed back down, picking my way with caution as the slope was even steeper on the decline and heading off the east side I found myself continually battling the wind.
Throughout my descent the wind was unmerciful, almost as if to say I trod on sacred ground and wasn’t welcome there though I felt no trepidation except for my own safety on the descent, knowing it would be treacherous. These mountain peaks are the haunt of the elk, deer, antelope, coyote and mountain lion and are now the only place they are safe from the continual onslaught of humanity. None of them would harass me if we met on the trail as they would rather flee than confront a human, unless cornered beyond escape. The older spirits lingered there also as many an Indian must have sighted from those heights for hundreds if not thousands of years and if their spirits have followed me through the canyons at dusk so they lingered with me now. I could sense their presence stronger than the living ones whose trail I was following, likely the same ones these people had traversed during the time they reigned here. I have found their sign as clearly as the tracks I followed in the dust, petro glyphs carved in the rocks as well as chips of rock and the tools they carved from them. They are as sacred as the distant reaches of these canyons I have ventured into.
The wilderness of the mountains beyond my dwelling is their haunt and not mine yet they drew me there as well. For all the years I have lived at the foot of the mountain I have yearned to climb her summit, the pull coming from deep within my spirit and it is the same energy which pulls me off into the canyons on a routine basis, it is a draw I have never been able to resist. This day it was the dawn herself which beckoned me forth, it was my day to come there, my first and so likely my last!
I was cautious and aware that I was vulnerable as well. Although I saw no cats I noted plenty of their sign. As I crossed a narrow draw I kicked up a fat buck and a doe out of the canyon. The doe was curious and even took pause to observe me but was quickly prodded away by the buck’s sharp horns in her rump, his dominance and caution made clear as they moved off across the mountainside. My knees ached as I walked sideways down the hill, falling softly more than once when the loose rocks gave way; the words “Careful, careful!” echoing in my brain for this was rough stuff and one slip or fall could have been the end of me, or worse. I had to pick my way carefully between the rocky outcrops which were covered with the prickly pear and cholla cactus which flourish along the steep decline of the slope, capturing whatever moisture occasions to flow down their smoothed face. If going up was a challenge so climbing down was worse, handholds are few on the descent. The wind tore at me constantly and threatened to push me off each ledge and send me tumbling into the canyon, unrelenting in its onslaught as it drove me down the mountainside. It took me another three hours to make the journey back but I made it down safely, tired but overjoyed at my accomplishment.
Once I was off the steep slope I paused to look back and marveled at the thrill once more while feeling as if I now had some ownership of the mountain for having stood and walked upon it, I had summited its peak! The wind still howled and buffeted me even after I found the gentler slope, angered perhaps by my trespass and strengthened by the coming storm as the clouds began gather, seeded by my foreign presence. As I followed the narrow trails I soon found familiar landmarks and places I had walked before. They brought all the more wonder to my climb as I measured the distance to the crest and thought of the people who had been there before me; what a tough lot they were! We had all conquered the mountain in our time and yet it still loomed above us, the challenge undiminished by our conquest.
I now sit at my desk and listen to the wind which even now, a day later, has yet to cease. I look up at the Vera Cruz Peak and mark the mine sight which before now had always posed a challenge to me. Then I look up to the crest of the mountain and marvel at how just yesterday I stood there. The wonder of the adventure will never desert me!
May 27, 2014
Bent, New Mexico
A Base Human Being
I have spent my entire life just a little apart from most other people, the odd one out, never quite fitting in, the kid everyone seemed to pick on. I blamed it on my hair, which was too curly and always frizzy, my glasses, my heritage (Jewish), and my weight as I was a little pudgy to start. Later when my family fell from grace and went from nuevo riche to poor it was yet another excuse, along with my freckles. As I got older I thought it was my strength, my independence, my solitary nature, all fruits of the earlier rejections, which set me apart. I left home as soon as it was possible and hitchhiked across the country, finding myself along the way but also pulling away a little further, never quite finding my niche. It is only now, as I consider the beguiling qualities of my newest friend that I finally recognize what it is that always separated me from the crowd and the very quality which lets me fit in here amongst the Native American community.
I am a base human being, just as those who I care for the most are, and always have been. I have met them on the road and on the street, in the mountains and out on the Plains and we have always recognized each other. I have read their stories and dreamed of their adventures and have sought their company from the time I was a child. I have looked into their eyes, the elders and the children and known them for what they are yet until now I have never put the words to it. In this instant it all becomes so clear.
Base: 1. Low in thought, morals or rank. Of humble or low birth. As with so many other definitions there is a play on words which twists the meaning and the intent. Base, to me means simple, basic, down to earth, qualities I revel in but which are so easily judged as inferior. Just as I have said that one can have intelligence without intellect, so it is with people such as myself who are unfairly looked down upon because of their moral values and their social status. The very choices which to me are ethical and descent appear to others to be a failing of character. I choose to live close to the earth, to embrace nature and the simplicity she has to offer. I prefer to cut wood and carry water as opposed to living in some fancy dwelling and I find my happiness by doing so. This does not make me less of a person and in many ways it has enriched my life, yet I am judged all the same. I am base and have no misgivings about it, I am only sorry I did not recognize it sooner.
It is only now that I can truly question what it is that makes some people feel that they are so high and mighty due to their ‘social status’ that they believe they can look down upon others. I have felt this disdain and been treated poorly in spite of my own upbringing which groomed me for the same. I left home because of this very measure of humanity as I was unwilling to play the part they had chosen for me; I have never lived to regret that. Certainly we are all entitled to live and be as we choose but what right do we have to render judgment on others for their choices or their lot in life? It was the very rejection I received from my piers which set me free to be myself, it was a gift I never had a chance to thank them for, at least until now. I hope they will read my words and learn from them and perhaps find some greater happiness in the process. I hold no grudges, if anything I feel sorry that they are so trapped within the constraints of their own beliefs! I am instead free of the same.
If anything I have come to believe that this form of social hierarchy is actually a mechanism meant to force people to live and work beyond their personal desires and ambitions. Just as we train and drive horses to race and perform so we groom our greatest minds and spirits to do the same; we must excel, we must win and stand above others to be recognized. Without this pressure and demand how many of us would devote their lives to providing greater comforts and luxuries for the whole of mankind? How many of us would have been content to simply provide for our own livelihood and then relax and enjoy the comfort of the same? It is far easier to demonize those people and things we cannot understand than to try to accept and understand them, fear trumps doubt every time. I am a contributor because I have to be, not necessarily because I want to even though I do enjoy the part, I have been taught to do so. Given the choice I would have kept my life far more simple, it is my goal to return to that!
There are many different sorts of people amongst the Native American community I live and work in. I am not sure how they classify each other, or if they even do so, this is a decidedly Anglo practice and it has little place here. These people may be judgmental at times, as we all are, depending on the standards each of us holds ourselves to, but the acceptance of these differences is what sets this place apart. Everyone is someone here, no matter their heritage, their appearance, or their life choices; they are all still very human and are treated accordingly. When there is a feast nobody is turned away, if a hand is stretched out for help it is almost always given, if the need is there it is filled. I have differentiated the people by my own measures. There are those who are part Spanish, part Anglo, or simply of a modern mindset, and there are those who are not. Invariably I am drawn to the ones who are not, though I am equally fascinated by those who are as they seem to have made an adjustment that I myself have struggled with for my entire life. If anything it is these individuals who are judged the most harshly for trying to advance themselves. It is as if they have betrayed their ancestors by embracing the Anglo values and beliefs. It may be for this very reason so many of them fail to return to their homes where they could benefit so many people and live off the reservation instead. I have never even wanted to make that transition, I have simply been forced to adjust in order to survive and there are those here who have not. I am learning something of life from them all but in drawing close to those who have neither the desire nor even the ability to move into the modern realm I am finding more of myself. I love these people as I have loved few others and for the very reason of whom and what they are and how it so fits the way I have always been; base.
The people here within this reservation can trace their lineage directly to the fiercest of the warriors, the greatest of the leaders and the very roots of their community, they know their history and they are proud of the same. Theirs is a story which reeks of injustice and struggle in more recent years and yet reaches further back to a rich and fulfilling existence, the heritage remains. They need only go back a couple of generations to visit a life which was in harmony with the earth itself and with each other, a community such as I have never known, at least until now. There are those who have made the necessary adjustments and grown with the times, there are others who have never made the transition and in spite of their intelligence and education have remained much the same sort of people their predecessors were, unpretentious, uncomplicated and humble to a point of reverence. I love these people and wish to be more like them than I will ever be able to be! They are genuine and honest, calm and simple and so direct as to challenge my very faith in whom and what I am. I am honored that they have taken the time to point this out to me; most others would not have bothered to do so. They think enough of me to want to show me a better way, I am an eager pupil.
I am intelligent and I have the intellect to go with it. I am also intellectual but it baffles me more than it helps. It is what causes me to go off on a tirade trying to understand and explain the reason for it rather than simply just being who and what I am; it is far more complicated than that. It is the same complexity which sets me apart from my closest friends here, they think I am out of my mind to worry so much about such things, and they are all so right. Everything must have a foundation, a starting point and a supporting structure, a base. These people understand that principal and I have, after so many years of searching, finally found one also. For them it is simple, they just are who they are and live their lives accordingly. I wish to do the same and I have been trying to do so all of my life. If I stay here long enough I just might learn how to do that!
If innocence still lives it is in the eyes of a child named Meagan. She is a woman child, caught in that fragile instance between a young girl and a woman. She is an adolescent and naïve to what lies before her excepting the depth of wisdom in her mother’s eyes. They are so like her own, set in another face.
Meagan, she stands as a reminder for her mother and I, of all we have left behind us and all which lies ahead. She returns to us in her every breath all which we have treasured and tried to hold onto. Her searching gaze and her questions are a breath of fresh air, one to be savored and studied as our Zen teachers would tell us, to be felt as it comes and goes. She has strength where her mother is more fragile and she is blessed with the awareness of the necessity of that. She will be wiser for the wear, my own mother was fragile and I too became strong because of it.
She is a teacher even as she is still a student, the exchange of lessons will be of equal value to us both and nothing will be lost. She has already returned to me what life has tried to take away. I will give her other gifts which she can carry with her. Her mother will receive an equal share and the blessings are multiplied by three. Her mother and I were both in need of that feminine compassion which is so hard to find, and all young girls need mentors. We three can mentor each other for innocence reigns up that narrow canyon we all call home and I will bring with me adventure and experience in return.
We stood before an ancient cabin as the afternoon waned. We spoke of the history and the effort which went into the construction of the adobe and rock shelter, and of the life which had been lived there. Kelly spoke of the beauty and the mystery of the place and of how she stood inside before the roof fell in. I recounted my own experience far west of here in the San Augustin Plains and how upon deeper study of the homesteaders lives some of the romance had faded from my mind. It was a tough life, theirs. Kelly’s eyes widened a little; she had never thought of the hardships, such is the innocence she has maintained. Meagan listened to every word, their weight growing heavier in her learning.
If innocence still lives it is in the eyes of a child named Meagan. She has inherited it from her mother. One will never meet another with such a gentle spirit.
The young girls laugher
High pitched and joyful
Echoes off of the canyon walls
Like the chatter of coyotes
Exuberant and unrestrained
Free of the constrictions
Of society or domesticity
Still innocent and alive
I am so grateful
For the reminder
Of how life should be lived
Hah Hah Hah