If You Don’t Weaken
I am running with the wolves………………Karl, Rusty, Chris Prins (The wind in my hair….). It wasn’t until today I realized that in reading that book, in the giving of the book, there was always a perception it was a bad thing. When my friend Marcella gave it to me I was flattered and thought she was offering me a gift, which she was but it was also meant as a kindly warning. As she told me years later when our perceived friendship crumbled, “It is not a good thing to be incorrigible!” I had taken the comment as a compliment and I still do. I guess this truly makes me my father’s daughter and if we sometimes resent being able to see ourselves just a bit too clearly in our parents it is also a gift. I have always held some resentment against my father’s selfishness but it has also allowed him that same spontaneity which I myself have so treasured. If I had not battled the constraints of my upbringing and kicked over the traces I would not be who I am or have had the adventures I have witnessed. Neither would he and that too would be regrettable.
But I didn’t set out to write about my dad, it is my mother I have been thinking about, she who sits quietly in the nursing home waiting for someone to take care of her. Though I love my mother I also resent her selfishness, her failings, her weakness, I wanted and needed her to be strong also, but she is not and never has been. Not for long anyway though as a girl I thought she was. These are emotions I can express but not admit to, relay them in some covert fashion as I speak of my regret her life is what it is but I can also summon the fear it has ingrained in me. Just as the ranchers on the San Agustin Plains will point out that their survival depends on their strengths, mine does as well. When I think of my mother, or when I am saddled with my own doubts, I remind myself to be strong. I am unwilling to fail, to relinquish my power over my own life and direction, I want to be free and able to do as I choose. I also go to great lengths to assure that I don’t fail in the effort. My dad is still alive and well for the same reasons, he will never give up!
Karl is cutting wood on the hillside. I can’t quite recall how we got started on this cutting wood thing but it is working, for all of us. This is September in the mountains, the hot dry days of summer behind us and we are working now in a late and most unusual monsoon season. It has been raining for days in Mescalero, and all across New Mexico, which is unusual but good, we need the moisture. It is also colder and instinct stirs our blood, it is time to get wood and for those of us who like comfort as well as having a desire for a purpose in our lives, wood cutting is good. I myself have always thrived on it and Karl, who has worked as a sawyer for the Forest Service for years, also likes the roar of the saw. Sadly it has been more than a year, since last fall, that he has been called out on a fire or ran a saw and he barely cut any wood for his mom last winter, she bought it all. He would be angry to read this but it is true, he preferred to drink or complain about everyone else’s inertia than to make any effort towards that end. Something has changed now, he is cutting wood, finding some purpose for himself, and it is good.
I have learned a new lesson today, one about those wolves and one for myself. Karl texted me at lunch time and said he needed a six pack. He has been drinking again, for the last four or five days, and needs to keep a little alcohol in his blood or he will be sick. He is in fact about half sick, which makes him somewhat delirious, but he is wildly focused also. He can stay on a task and maintain a rapid banter of talk but he is wild eyed with the sickness that drinking puts upon him, the delirium tremens are alive and well in this part of the woods. If not for his physical strength and great intelligence he would be dead or close but instead he thrives. I bought a six pack of beer and then walked up a steep mountainside to deliver it to him, a thirty minute hike up the equivalent of what, 30 flights of steps perhaps? More maybe? Steep, slippery, as it has been raining for days, thrilling, exhilarating, challenging………….a power walk for lunch if you will, my heart pounding with the effort, unswaying and grateful I can do it with such ease, in spite of sitting too much at work. I am fifty six years old and pray I am so fit when I get older. I am thankful for the encouragement I receive from Karl, that he has given me a reason to make the hike; we have done the same three days in a row. I am enabling him, yes, to stay there and cut wood rather than give in to his sickness and go to the bar. He is punishing himself for drinking by pushing his body to its limit, something no one else I know would be capable of! It is a vicious cycle but he is making progress, this is the most work he has done in a year and we are doing it together.
When I arrived on the hilltop I found Tristin, who is Karl’s nephew and his brother Allen there along with Karl, him lecturing one on the way to run the chainsaw and the other on rolling wood off the hillside. Ever the alpha male, his chest swelled with muscle and the work, he was covered with sawdust and commanding everyone’s attention. Such an ego he has that he interrupted everything I was saying, while also listening with one ear, resenting my need for sharing my thoughts as much as he prided in my ability to do so. He had me bring the beer as much to show the others I would, including climbing the hill, as he did out of the need for a drink. He won’t hardly thank me for the things I do but brags on me behind my back and teases me into an argument just to show his companions how well I can stand up to him. He is a bully and until now I have sometimes overlooked the obvious, he needs me to counter that, as much as he wants me to flatter him.
Here’s my point. I learned a very valuable lesson today, in keeping with my desire to make everything a positive, to justify and to affirm my actions. I am running with the wolves. We are so often warned against too much spontaneity, too much adventure, too little constraint. I have never capered well to that and have always resisted the obvious boundaries. I need more than that, I need challenge, I need grace, I need to rise above my own weaknesses, my own failings and to have a purpose in my life. So does Karl, even if it is for different reasons, he has that same desire I do and we are so very much alike! This is not always an easy thing to do and worse, there seems to be so few people who can understand and acknowledge that. I thrive on my strengths and fear my failings; it is what defines me as a person. I have a quick mind and a need for adversity to keep it on its toes. I also have a very difficult time finding others of equal wit, insight and strength, let alone one who also desires my company. Karl is one of those rare individuals who bring all of that and more to my life. Though he won’t tell me to my face I do the same for him. Our friendship endures because of that and we are both better people because of it.
Karl is a wolf and makes no effort to disguise it. He is the alpha male and throws it in everyone’s face, daring them, wanting them to challenge him. Too often they back down and he walks over the top of them. If the cubs challenge him he thrashes them, but perhaps secretly priding himself in instilling some strength in them also. He challenges me too, and tests the limits of my strength, but he also waits for me. He has treated me unkindly, and not always fairly, yet he somehow always repays me with kindness, especially when I resist him and offer to fight back. I’ve been missing this but somehow of late he has chosen to be more generous and I am reaping the rewards of that. Tristin pointed it out to us both when he laughed at our role changing and the ensuing arguments we presented to each other for his benefit. He saw the humor in it and said out loud, “Now I see what it is you do for each other and it is good.” It seems that he, like everyone else, my own self included, has questioned the alliance. It took someone else to point it out for me to see it, and I am thankful for the reminder.
We draw closer when I am strong, and it strengthens him also. He has been watching me for my strength just as I have relied on him to sharpen mine and it seems we have found some common ground. Winter looms close and we all need wood, we have been gathering it together. Karl has his saw in hand again and the roar of the chain biting deep into the wood has given him some purpose. He hasn’t stopped drinking yet, and perhaps he may not, but he is trying. I, on the other hand, am finding some greater strength in the face of adversity, and with his steady encouragement I am realigning myself and finding the purpose I require to leap forward. Somehow I think it will enable us both to stay on task, to focus our energies on building and maintaining our much needed strengths. We are reminding each other of that most precious lesson, that life is good and can be lived well, “If you don’t weaken.”
On rare occasions there comes an event which is so priceless, so poignant, and so fleeting that a person can but stand on the peripheral edge and marvel at the symbolism and try their best to capture the moment so as to preserve it in memory. I created such a moment yesterday, deliberately yet innocently, only recognizing the depth of the ensuing contrast as it occurred before my eyes.
I work with and for a most fascinating group of people, a Native American Tribe, the Mescalero Apaches, amongst who live the descendants of the last of the free living people of their race, rebels all. Even now, in their modernized existence they still carry their traditions and their beliefs along with them. They will never be fully conquered even though they are confined to a reservation in the midst of a far greater holding which was once theirs to live in. They differ, as we all do, in personality and attitude but share a common thread also, their sense of humor surpasses any I have ever encountered and it is an inherent trait, a part of their nature which defines their very existence. They often frown at my overly serious approach, I savor their laughter.
I received a stack of calendars yesterday which had on each page a memorable painting of Norman Rockwell’s, some dating back as far as 1929. All of them were created for various advertising spiels and each was accompanied by a brief paragraph explaining their origin. I had, while leafing through the pages, read each caption and marveled at the history it described, less than one hundred years past and yet light years from the present. All the pictures pointed towards the new found prosperity our society had discovered, pharmaceuticals promoting better health, corrective lenses improving sight, catalogs selling any number of luxuries and conveniences and the wealthy couple entertaining the purchase. All the pictures illustrated in their own way some part of the indulgence of the Anglo race and the comforts they expected, as well as the softness of the pillow it all rested upon.
I handed out calendars to my co workers who are a lively group of young men and some of them were quick to take one. Others, less interested, soon gave way to my prodding and their own curiosity as I encouraged them to see the content. I explained who Norman Rockwell was and the story behind the pictures as I rapidly recognized the disparity between life on and off the reservation during that period of history and how it struck such a harsh contrast between them! While the people in the paintings were all dressed in the formal garb of the most favored in our society during that same time these men’s immediate ancestors were still battling confinement and starving through yet another bitter winter on the new found reservation. Children and elders likely died each day and were relieved of suffering by doing so. They were still sheltered by rude and inadequate housing with nothing more than their immediate necessities, if that, while some wealthy couple chose yet another dainty addition to their well filled coffers.
These men were as captivated by the pictures as I was by their response, each with a calendar in hand and their laughter pealing amongst them as they found likenesses of each other. Nobody was spared of ridicule and the laughter rose to a new height as they came upon the painting of a city slicker boy, visiting his country kin for the holidays. The unfortunate lad, dressed in his Sunday best, was fleeing from the turkey he had been tasked to slay, the sharpened axe flung over his shoulder. His cousins’ faces were as stretched with their grins as were the faces of my coworkers with me the merry witness! Even if I had a camera I could not have captured the moment and they would have been insulted if I had, but the memory shall never fade. It was as if I was witnessing the same event which Rockwell was so quick to capture, his on a canvas, mine destined for a page. The posture of each man gave me yet another perspective of who he was just as clearly as each character in the paintings they were studying.
These people have brought to me a deeper understanding of a culture I have always admired. I am inclined to ridicule my own, in company to their sentiments. Perhaps the contrast has never been clearer; we have imposed so many of our values upon them while taking away so few of theirs. We have done them a disservice in so many ways and yet improved their lives in others. Even as I huddle close to them in hopes of gaining some deeper insight into their religion and beliefs so I bring change also and I hope to offer an equal measure of affirmation in the process. I make every effort to reinforce the understanding that their way of viewing things may well be better than ours.
There comes to mind an insight which was shared with me regarding the Natives way of doing things. These are a people who understand it is best to wait for things to happen while we Anglos work so hard to make them occur. In our modern world it strikes us as a necessity to do so and yet if we listen to the words of the Bible it says quite the opposite. What if we simply let go and let God, in whatever form he appears to us, and rather than thirsting after outcomes simply put our houses in order and await the will of Heaven? This does not relieve of us of any responsibility; to the contrary it requires us to take care of our immediate business. The difference is that once we have made the effort we might have a moment to take pause, to leaf through a calendar, and to find the humor it was intended to express. We might even share a few moments of unrestrained laughter. Rockwell saw the need for that, as well as its value. Funny how it took a bunch of Indians to remind me of that!
There is so much dust in the air today it makes everything shimmer, not just the distant horizon either, even close in the air has an unearthly glow. It lies in waves making the most distant hills almost unintelligible, it strains my eyes to try to discern them. A huge dust devil swirls across the plain like a small tornado. I am grateful when it turns north before it reaches me and I can still see it as it spins away, thirty or forty feet across, it will reach the hills in a minute.
There is a young raven squawking in the lone elm above me, best nest on the plain, there is water here. New life at an old ruined homestead. I love this place as I do all the others and have sat here and imagined what it must have been like to have lived here. This was one of the first places I came to with Trevor when we first set up the network and it has stayed clear in my mind ever since, it was the one which made me recognize a degree of struggle I had not previously acknowledged. Here is where I first recognized the utter solitude such a life entailed, where the plains could become so endless you could begin to believe you were completely alone here, especially in the winter when the storms locked you away from all else. How did they survive that? How did they even grow a garden or establish these trees which even now are bent to the wind, the few which have survived.
The hedge of salt cedars died in the last winter freeze after enduring the years of drought and cold, this past winter took all when it came through and left no moisture in its wake. These trees, along with the sparse elms, the scattered remains of the old cabin and a couple of water tanks are all that remain to mark this place as having once been someone’s home. The trees death hastens the process of nature returning it to the earth, there will come a time when nothing will be left in this place and it will be forgotten. Perhaps someone will walk across it and kick the old concrete slab by the well, take a moment to sweep off the dust and read the date…………..but there will be nobody left who would recall it.
I leave the old homestead behind me, still in awe that I have even chanced to be here.
I woke to a rare blessed day, the week long rains still soaking the sky and the earth. The moisture cloaks the mountaintops and fog hangs heavy in the canyons, mystical and comforting somehow, clinging close to the shoulders of the hills. Rainfall in New Mexico offers a rare and wonderful respite and it is easy to imagine I am somewhere else, the fog shrouded hills of California coming to mind. I can almost hear the ocean as it rolls against the beach and quickly recall the gallops down the beach back in my younger days. I can go there now, if only in memory, and it is almost enough.
So it is with my dreams and wishes today when my mind and spirit are freed from the oppression of other influences. It is so easy to become a prisoner of my immediate circumstance and yet I am liberated just as quickly by the insight of the moment, my life is so much richer than that! It is with grace and thankfulness that I speak to God in such moments, thanking the forces of the universe, the wind, the rain and the sun for all the blessings of my life. I watch as the fog surrounds the treetops, hear the elk bugle close by and watch as the sun futilely struggles to break through the clouds. The light and the warmth of the glowing orb are pushed back by the dense moisture which hangs in the air and instead brings a halo of light to the horizon. Gods light it is and it instills a joy and hope I might have otherwise overlooked, in sight.
I learned a lesson from my mother many years ago and I have carried it with me since, it is my buffer against the fear of my own possible failures. We are what we believe ourselves to be and if we focus on the obstacles they grow as large in our eyes as any accomplishments we might have incurred. I myself have done this and in the process drug myself down to the crest of the abyss, where the way back was so treacherous and challenging I feared complete failure. It seems on occasions of late I have entertained the same and wondered what my future had in store for me. Then I awoke again, as I did today, and the brilliant light which strained to shine through the clouds of rain touched my spirit as deeply as any other, in sight. My faith restored I greet the day with a renewed vigor and inspiration which has been such a constant in my life and has provided the insight I require to light the way forward.
The sun won’t shine today, or at least not much, the rains have come to New Mexico. The ground itself, so drought scourged and dry has opened up to the moisture and draws it in as fast as it falls. My hair curls into the cues I so miss as the dry air has straightened it and I smile at my own reflection, I am who I want to be today and there is nothing to keep me from her. I marvel at the depths of my sorrow which have threatened to conquer me and instead look towards the light which has always led the way. I spoke a prayer as I drove to work and asked for guidance and affirmation even as I as quickly offered my thanks and contribution; it takes two to make anything happen in this life. I am as willing to give as I am to receive and I am once more back on my path towards such success, the way forward is in sight.
‘She Says the Rain Follows Her’
She told her husband, “She says the rain follows her” and he replied, “That is good, we need it”.
The rain follows me, it is a given that it does for there is little about my work that can be done in the rain. The rain muddies the roads, wets the precious blue chalk that covers the end of my steel tape to indicate the level of the water in a well, ruins my paperwork even if my journal is waterproof, and when I take samples dilutes the water I have captured from the well, rendering it invalid. I cannot work in the rain and therefore even if it threatens it can turn me back from my efforts.
Even yesterday, as the day grew late, I had to make my choices carefully, the distant wells beckoned me, the promise of the fading day and the long shadows across the valleys a temptation not to be followed. Earlier Anna Lee had escorted me to one of her wells, opting to take her four wheeler rather than the pickup truck in spite of my warning. There is nothing about her actions to belie the 63 years of her life, swinging her leg over the seat and driving off like any youth would do. Before I was finished I encouraged her to head back to the house before she got soaked and she agreed!
Having, wisely, decided not to drive into the remote reaches of the Wahoo Ranch I chose a more sedate venture, a couple of wells down canyon where I was fortunate to catch one stubborn windmill out of the wind, making note of the same in my journal for the wind always blows there. It is another obtrusive element of my work, the wind follows me. Even as the dark clouds circled again and threatened with thunder I chose one more well, the Cupit Rattlesnake as it is named, and headed up a long arroyo to another high vista, albeit only two miles off the road affording an easy exit.
I crested the hill as the sun began to wane, though not enough to slow the trickle of solar power to the well, requiring giving it a rest before I sought the water level in the casing. There is no point in trying to obtain two like measures before it had recovered, I had been here before. As with the rain and the wind, bright sunshine prevails even when storm clouds fill the sky, this is New Mexico and even the sun follows me. Rather than taking the usual effort of arranging my paperwork I opted for a short walk and a moment of enjoyment as the view from this spot is spectacular and beyond anything that words or even photographs can replicate. This is one of the places one must delegate to memory alone if they wish to recall it later, a practice worth repeating when stopping here.
The Rattlesnake Well is deep, 280 feet to the bottom and last time I measured it 243 feet to the water below the top of the casing, not difficult but still not one you want to pull the tape out of too many times. It recovers slowly meaning that the water is trickling back into the casing at a slow rate making the levels change constantly until it has settled. As I am required to obtain two measurements within 1/10th of an inch apart I gave it ample time to recover, 20 minutes, as I looked off over the undulating landscape, watching the grey shadows spread in the deep canyons between the tawny hillsides. Such spectacular country, the breath of the plains spread far in every direction, rising slowly to touch the distant mountains. Too I watched the storm as it circled back once again, grateful for the choice I had made and wondering if I would have to flee from here as the thunder echoed through the canyons. The crackle of distant lightning roused me, and I returned to my task, steel tape in hand on the hilltop, climbing over the fence and for a moment the highest thing for a mile, becoming the proverbial lightening rod as I went back to work.
The well was stubborn today, resisting giving up a good measurement, making me throw my tape down its throat twice, three times and then again. All the while the wind rose, the sky darkened and the thunder rolled. I watched as a rainbow formed to my south, the storm circling from the west heading into the east over my shoulder. The static in the air grew tangible and the light faded even as the arc of color made me wish my camera was in my bag. An elk crested the hill heading for water, cautious, as the hunts are on, pausing long enough for the fading sun to reflect off his golden flanks.
I finally used a trick one saves for late afternoon or stormy moments when time is of the essence. I took a measurement, held the reading in my mind, and then sent the tape back down quickly hoping to beat the progression of the water into the well and succeeded in capturing my repeat measurement as the thunder clapped again. Quickly as possible I recorded the numbers and gathered my tools. I stepped over the wire fence as I thought of lightening and the ever present risk at such moments and thought that since I had made my leggings I was more concerned with that than rattlesnakes. Snakes are predictable, if not always visible, and they generally offer a warning, the lightening is not quite as considerate. I loaded my truck as the raindrops spit at me, paused and took a picture of the distant elk before he moved off and looked up at the black clouds as they drew closer, glad that my day was done. It is always the same here, I have never measured this well without the rain close by; it follows me.
Sometimes solitude is the perfect key, waking alone to utter peacefulness, uninterrupted or distracted, nothing but the cloudy haze of the dawn to capture my attention. The quiet was deafening and such a rare presence in the confines of the narrow canyon which captures every sound, as if the clouds had buffered every vibration which might have otherwise reverberated in the breaking dawn. I lay still, savoring the moment, my thoughts slipping quietly into place in the twilight of waking, when sleep still reigns but consciousness is full. Lying still in the luxury of my own space my mind filled with the comfort and pleasure which can so easily evade me with the distraction of other people’s needs, even if those are second to my own they are too often placed first!
Solitude. I have always been a solitary creature even if there were years of my life which I feared the same would become a permanent condition. My mother lived alone for many years, never taking another partner after her failed marriage, as lovely as she was. She spoke of the desire, shared her distant loves with me and spoke of better things, but she remained alone. I grew to fear my fate would be the same but still wandered the mountain trails, on foot or horseback, and reveled in the beauty of nature and the wonders of the wilderness. Even if I wished to share those moments there was so rarely anyone with whom I would care to do so, they were too precious for that. When I hit the road at seventeen I did the same, there was no one else who I cared to travel with and the adventure was mine to take alone.
I have shared years of my life with others also. I partnered and had the best of times, but even then I pined for my solitude. Through the years of motherhood I would rise early to record my thoughts, or to take my morning run, often before the sun even touched the sky. Sometimes solitude is essential, the distractions of life can be deafening and the simple act of greeting ones’ own thoughts can be the most difficult practice. It is only in moments of utter peacefulness that we can see our lives for what they truly are and chance to reflect on all that is good in that. I found it here, this morning, alone and at peace with myself, and with my solitude.
A flock of birds lands in the weeds outside my window, their weight so scant as to barely bend the late summer branches as they gather the seed for their winter lard. Their song breaks the stillness and draws my eye away from my thoughts; a welcome distraction for it is momentary and affirms what I speak of. With no other diversions every detail of the morning comes to full light, the soft grey clouds of moisture, the deep green of the shadowed canyons and the first light as it touches the mountaintops. If there were no other demands on my day than to record the details of the coming fall season I should be content to accept that. I could spend the day alone and not feel the least bit lonesome, my coffers are all full. I have had plenty of company of late, and have no complaints, but sometimes solitude is all I really need.