Prisoner of the Great Indoors
What I might have missed last night if I had opted for the warm comfort of my bed, the cozy house with the woodstove crackling away……….if I hadn’t of awakened at 12:00 am and instead waited for the alarm to rouse me for a glimpse of the eclipse? What that it was a full lunar eclipse colored by the smoke from some far away volcano! That would have been spectacular enough but it came also on the cusp of the winter solstice, a once in a lifetime event. I got up, put on my pajamas, wrapped my warm robe around me and walked outside to view the moon, already shadowed and copper colored but still glimmering brightly.
I pulled my heavy sleeping bag out of my work truck where it rests safely for emergencies and for my trips to Dusty, New Mexico, and thought to roll it out on the ground. I thought better and rushed inside to pull the rolled mattress I use for camping and star gazing (duh!) and rolled it out first. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that sooner since regardless of the fact that it is winter the nights are still in the thirties and I have plenty of blankets. I was soon bundled in my bag with my favorite quilt thrown over it for extra warmth. In all truthfulness my outdoor bed is as comfortable as the indoor one with but one difference; it is such a challenge to get back out! A lover of the outdoors I am; of the cold night chill when scantily clad, NOT!
If I had remained a prisoner of the great indoors, entrapped by the comfort of the four walls and roof I should have missed so much in my life, including the eclipse. Such a wonder it was and I lay transfixed for over two hours as I watched the progression of the earth’s shadow as it overlapped the moon and blocked the far away sun. Over time the colors and light altered gradually and spectacularly, wavering, glowing and shimmering in the darkness. Every star came into view as the sky grew darker, meteors flashed, not one or two but three, four, five……….so many wishes to send off with those falling stars!
Even as I thought I was growing tired I could not close my eyes, I was transfixed. I worried, wondering if I had somehow damaged my vision as the light and color flickered and altered but I was unable to look away. Then, even as I thought to turn my alarm off so I might sleep later in the morning the sliver of light revealed itself on the crest of the moon as the shadows moved away. It was this I had failed to see in the beginning, trusting the newspaper that the first stage would not be visible to the naked eye. Even as I saw the shadow at first glimpse I knew I had missed something. Here it was, the gradual revealing of the light, the moon distorted by shadow, the bright glow of sunlight on its uneven orb. I stayed awake until it was over half revealed and finally went back inside.
I awoke at my usual time, in spite of being awake half the night. Truthfully, even though I was awake I still rested, my body lying still in the warmth of the sleeping bag, my mind focused on the light but relaxed and calm. I didn’t miss anything out there in the cold night, even as the wind howled down off the Vera Cruz Mountain. I knew where it was coming from, since the day I summited its heights the winds are now familiar. I am meant to be outdoors, and I thrive on it. The warm safety of four walls is a requirement but not a necessity, save for shelter from the bitter cold and storms. The days I spend in the field nourish my spirit and I would grow pale and weak otherwise; I already know this! Surely this is the malady of modern man for we linger too long under the artificial light, cringe from the sun and shrivel away in the darkness. If man has not evolved then what great strength our predecessors must have possessed to survive as they did even a scant 100 years ago when they traveled on horseback and open wagons. How many of the people today would die under such circumstances?
I watched a historic event last night, a spectacular display by nature herself and then rose to meet the dawn as well. Ahh, dawn, she was not to be outdone either and she donned her best finery so as to traipse across the morning sky in her brilliant pink dress, her tresses of gold and orange strung behind her in the wind and the lavender puffs of clouds tossed randomly across the sky in her passing. Hurray for her, she knew we would all be watching this morning after the wonders of the night; that we would be just a bit more attentive for having stayed awake. She didn’t want to disappoint us and she is not at all shy. “Come out!” she cries, you are free, the door is open!
October 18, 2014
185 Nogal Canyon Road
Bent, New Mexico
Out of Necessity
My friend Candy has been writing to me as she has made her safari through the Plains of Africa, in spite of the fear of Ebola, terrorism and traveling alone. She has expressed only elation without a tinge of regret and has shared with me and all her other close friends an experience which only the doing of such an adventure can bring to us. I can and have shared my connection with the same. Still in all, a person must take that journey themselves to truly experience this heightened sense of awareness, it cannot be fully transmuted no matter the effort of doing so.
So it is with necessity. We can express it, define it, try to identify it, but it is in the actual living of it that we come to understand the depths of its true meaning. I, we all, have needs and wants which guide our daily activities but necessity goes deeper than that. It is of itself an essential factor and the one which determines our quality of life and in the end our life itself. It is much like the broad expanse of the plains, like the wind which dances through the waving grasses, just as it is the dust and death of the drought. It is clear and stark whether it portrays beauty or tragedy. It is the body on the sidewalk, not yet dead but past the point of dying, the crack of a rifle in the distance, the solitary moment on the edge of the wilderness when the emotion runs so high it can only be expressed by tears of the most joyful nature.
Today is one of those precious days of late fall, Indian Summer. The change of season is inevitable even if the night was as warm as the dawn. I lay in a fire in my woodstove before I even made my tea, not for today but for tonight or tomorrow. It was not a necessity but I know I will be grateful for having done so whenever I put a match to the paper, it will be in readiness. So I made a list also, there are a few things I want to have done as soon as possible, maybe before the weekend is over. I have a few windows in my bus (house) I wish to panel over for the winter and a few cracks I need to caulk by the stove. I got by without either last year but they will add to my comfort in this one. It is so much about my comforts at this moment, they have come to be the most immediate necessity and there are few others of equal importance.
The one thing necessity does do is to evolve. Though the immediate requirements of our physical survival remain a constant, no matter how they change over time, or not as is my case as I chose to live close to the elements, our personal needs still alter themselves through the years. Though in many ways they too remain a constant the urgency becomes more apparent as our lives roll past. There are things that might have once been distant goals, or ones lived from moment to moment, which later become essentials. This is where I am at this moment, I have tasted them, lived them over weeks, months and even years of my life, and so I would have it now. I want, and need, the broad expanse of the Plains, the soft wind through my hair and even the torrential storms when they come. I have questioned my desire to live through more drought, as it is sure to come, but the drought of the spirit is even worse than the long, dry, dusty months or even years I have spent praying for rain. Even through the worst of times, which were part of the reason I chose to venture forward several years ago, there was still the comfort of the wilderness close at hand to draw me back. I am in need of the same now and it seems just out of reach for the moment and I wish to return there. Even as my dearest friend travels ‘Out of Africa’ today so I will meet the day, ‘Out of Necessity’. We will both be embarking on a new journey from this day forward, but with a common goal clearly defined in our minds.
Safe travels my friend!
An Element of Sanity
It is the stillness which is most important. It settled over me late last night like a blanket while at the same time something else lifted and moved off of its own accord. The sense of elation was tangible even as I barely wakened to its presence, and just as quickly fell back to sleep. I woke early but lay still and breathed in the freshness of the cold morning air as it drifted in through the partially open window by my bed. Beyond that nothing stirred but my thoughts and the stillness was absolute, and precious, an element of sanity in the midst of what was heretofore chaos. I gathered my thoughts and wrapped the emotion around my shoulders before I ever got out of bed and it warmed my spirit well before the heat of the stove took hold.
Stillness. I have been aware of this from the moment I became conscious of the energies which influenced my every thought and action. Even as a small child I sought it out, sitting on the soft moss bordering the brook which ran through Brooklands, the place we lived when I was young. I found it too in the forest at Charnwood and later in the Ramapo Hills where I walked and rode so often. It was on the shore by Lake Welch also; the place where I sat and dreamed of leaving New York for places west, knowing I had to escape, the city was too close. So I found it also when I traveled across the country, high on the Great Divide, that same place Bob Seeger sang of, he felt it also. I learned to wake early so as to have that time for myself, I still do.
There are places where stillness is almost a constant, even if everything is ever changing. It surrounds my Nogal House, it exists on the Plains of San Augustine, and it rolls across the Tall Grass Prairie in Oklahoma, as long as the wind is down. It is, most importantly, an absolute requirement for my sanity and sometimes so out of reach I forget to seek it out. I learned a lesson many years ago, but I forget it sometimes. “It is better to put things in order and keep them that way than to continually try to make order out of chaos. It seems I forgot that for a moment and even if I instinctively sought out the stillness I require to attain that it wasn’t quite enough. It returned to me last night of its own volition and I will keep it close from here on, it will not evade me again.
I see now the allure of returning to the Plains and staying there. I understand, as I always have, what it is and what it was which set my spirit free over the two years I spent wandering the dirt two tracks close to home and further west. It is that same thing I require now, the time to surround myself with stillness and not allow anything else to break the spell until I am ready to do so. It is why I live alone, and why I spent so many years of my life drifting the highway and living as far from society as I could get. It is an essential element of my sanity which cannot be ignored and I need to honor that awareness by allowing myself the time and the space to experience it. That is my promise to myself, one I care not to forget, again.
Authors note: I would have it that everything I shared could be on a joyful note and for that reason I move back and forth to previous essays from brighter moments. At the same time as my Blog expands and grows I see that honesty and inspiration must follow its own path and that each entry has its own story, and its own lesson. I appreciate any and all feedback from my faithful (THANK YOU ALL) readers as I hope to inspire you as well as be inspired in return!
October 16, 2014
185 Nogal Canyon Road
Bent, New Mexico
Fearless Then, Fearless Now
Thirty six years ago I got into my car and drove west, fearless of what was ahead of me even if I was a little nervous about the journey. There was certainly nothing that was going to stop me, not even when my car blew up in Illinois. I sold it for $200.00 and bought a backpack, and I continued west, never to go back to the east coast except for an occasional visit. I had already promised myself a better life than the one I envisioned there and it was a promise I meant to keep.
I have kept that promise. That fearless young woman found her way through a lot of challenges since that time and for the most part she has remained true to herself. Even in the face of hardship she always found her way out and although her definition of fearlessness evolved over the years and imposed a greater sense of caution as time went on it has also empowered her. The greater the successes in our lives the more faith we come to have in ourselves and our abilities. Too, if we choose to, we develop other strengths through our failures and we learn what not to do again in the process.
What not to do is to allow our less than ideal circumstances to become a constant. It is in the face of adversity where we are most tested and we cannot allow ourselves to become burdened to the point we feel unable to change them. Having been there and done that, through abusive relationships to addictions which are so easily one and the same, the requirement of fearlessness was the key to change. By definition my sense of fearlessness was a realization that the known factors in my life were more frightening than the unknown. It has always worked for me, at least until now.
Age brings with it, for most of us, a greater sense of caution. It leads us to weigh the consequences a little longer than we did in our youth and begins to push back against the spontaneity which led us to so many of those decisions. I have always been spontaneous and being ever the gypsy have fled in the face of anything which hindered my freedom or happiness. My resume has suffered from that for my choices have led me down many different roads since my virgin flight west, but almost all of them have been good ones. Why worry now?
Why worry now except that I know the taste of poor choices and the challenge of finding another good job, especially one which pays well. It is more than that though; it is the desire to not have to have a job but to be able to support myself independently. I can do the latter but one of the prerequisites is to reduce my debt, which I am doing very well at this moment. I am finally in a place where I am covering all the bases I have set out to do and if it isn’t optimal, it still works. It is this I am hinging my efforts off of now and once more I have the same goal in mind I had thirty nine years ago. I intend to live the rest of my life as joyfully and as a well as I possibly can. I am not going to allow the constraints of society or necessity to guide my choices or my direction. This is my life to live and to live as I please and there should be no reason for me to be fearful of the consequences of that, I have never allowed it in the past. Perhaps the rules and the challenges have changed, I have lost my youthful innocence along the way and I know the dangers I once could disregard, but I am still fearless.
What comes to mind is yet another life lesson which speaks to the uses of adversity. I have been challenged before as I have been challenged now and I have always gained from the experience. In spite of the struggles I have faced in trying to meet the requirements of my own standards I have also grown through the process. Where I once would have fled I have instead faced the problems and made the best of what I have. I am stronger and wiser for having done so and it has led me to place an even higher value on all my future goals. Rather than being fearful of the known, or the unknown, I am instead focused on the fulfillment of my dreams. It has given me the strength to see this through. It is a good lesson and it leaves so little to be afraid of!
My Next Thirty Years
One of my favorite quotes states, “We are all teachers and we best teach what we most need to learn.” I find it ironic that I am reading comments on my book which allude to the adventure and the freedom which my life was, and always has been, based on, and in the process being reminded of the importance of that. It isn’t that I have forgotten those lessons for they are the foundation of my existence but rather that I have become so distanced from them that I have instead begun to yearn for their return.
During the adventure I embarked on which became the body of the book, and the months after the journey ended when I wrote the final pages, I lived on shoestrings. I paid my bills but added debt also, consciously balancing the pleasure and the risk while honoring the opportunity to live my life as I wished rather than as I felt I had to. I knew I would repay the debt and the rewards were worth the commitment. When I finished the book I went back to work to meet that final goal and to pay off my debts, an effort I am still pursuing with good results. That was over three years ago.
My friend Karl and I took a Sunday drive yesterday, wandering the two track trails across the Mescalero Apache Reservation, up where the elevations foster the towering fir trees and the quaky aspens, the later whose upper leaves are already golden from the first frost. If I had been alone I would have drove in silence but he likes the radio and Sunday here in the mountains is pure country, literally and figuratively. I focused on the brilliance of the sky and the plethora of nature; he was looking for juniper trees, which, as we learned, only flourish at the lower elevations. The song, ‘My Next Thirty Years,’ jogged me back to reality and I couldn’t help but reflect on my own measure of years, so starkly speaking to my current circumstance. I have been happier in years past and even if I can recapture that happiness in my ventures to the hills I still must return to work on Monday mornings, less than willing to do so.
Thirty years will take me to my eighty-sixth birthday. Even if my youth is spinning away behind me so I am still young. In thirty years I will not be by any measure except, hopefully, in spirit, as that does not seem to dwindle in the ways my youth has. I still have the levity and the desire to live my life as fully as possible and the thought of the same reminded me that I have been less than mindful of that promise. The words of the song jogged my awareness as did the praise I so recently received for having lived my life far from the constraints of convention and instead making my own path through the wilderness. I have wandered far from that path of late and only now have realized I must turn back and realign myself with the same; there is nothing more important than that. I will honor my debts but my first commitment is to myself and I must fulfill that, everything else will follow.
This then, is the turning point. I should have another thirty years to look forward to, maybe more, maybe less. I promised myself as a youth that I would live my life in a manner which would leave no regrets and so I have. I also recognized there is a broad variety of hardships we must face in this life and the struggle for survival has always been preferable over the one for success, at least in the material sense. The irony of my most recent challenge is that the goal I am most set on at the moment, to publish my book and pursue the fulfillment of my literary and creative goals could potentially meet both definitions of success. If I don’t focus my efforts on that I will never know the answer, or the outcome. When I sat down to write my book it was with the awareness that I would never fulfill that dream unless I simply applied myself to the task and I succeeded in doing so. I am now faced with the same challenge and if it takes me another thirty years to fulfill it I will have met all of my own expectations. This is a lesson I have always taught and one I apparently still need to learn!
Things That Sound Like a Rattlesnake (For Jody Solome)
There are a few occupational hazards that must be dealt with when working out in the mountains and the plains and when they are coupled with the utter solitude of the job caution becomes paramount. I spend all day driving on gravel roads that give way to two tracks, miles from the nearest person or dwelling, hours from town let alone a hospital with Socorro being the closest, at a given moment a three hour drive away. There are pot holes and rocks, the ever present chance of a flat tire or getting stuck in an arroyo, always a possibility of tripping and falling or some other foolish dysfunction but none more predictable than the rattlesnakes, they are a certainty. It is not if but when I will have a close encounter, this is their territory and they as all other creatures in this arid country are drawn to water, as I am measuring wells and springs, so am I.
I have made myself a pair of leather leggings. Originally they were a gift from a friend who was profess in making such things and we made a soft light pair from some pretty deer tanned leather. They wrapped around the calves of my legs and doubled below the knee with a pretty fringe around the top and laced on with doubled strings of leather, pretty. I donned them when I went to work to give them that weathered look that only real use will provide as I wanted them to look original and period correct. Once I wandered out to measure wells with my legs so clad I quickly concluded that they were not only stylish but very practical as well. I decided I should not only wear these houseauxs routinely but that they should be serviceable also; the original intent was to protect ones legs from both thorn and tooth, a heavier pair was in order.
I now dress my legs with heavy leather coverings made out of oil tanned leather suitable for chap or bag and standing as a barrier from all that would threaten my tender flesh, snake boots if you will. I have long since come to ignore the sidelong glances that I occasionally get and receive an equal number of compliments from those who appreciate their purpose. Even when Antonio asked me what the chingaderos (a Spanish slang word for anything that doesn’t have a proper name) were for I had to smile and he could not help but agree they were a good idea, he can appreciate their function.
In spite of the fact I have learned that rattlesnakes would far rather scare you away or flee whenever possible I am still well aware of their threat. I have had enough encounters with them to know that even if you come close to stepping on them they will almost always coil up and rattle a warning instead of striking and I have never had one attack me without provocation but they strike fast and far when they do. I have been bit by lesser snakes, the gopher snake is far more aggressive that the rattler he wishes to portray and will not only coil up and shake his tale while he hisses a close second to the deadly rattle he will also chase after you when angry. They strike fast and I have foolishly allowed them to draw blood from my hand while taunting them! The Mexican people will tell you that the rattlesnakes have crossed with the docile bull snake and birthed these hybrids; they are in fact a separate breed, the desert version of the bull snake if you will.
Having often startled at the rattle of a bush or even the clash of my steel tape when its coils have loosened on the reel I decided to compile a list of ‘Things that sound like a rattlesnake” as they are far more varied than one can imagine. Just as my ear has become attuned to the hum of a well pump running deep in the casing below the ground so I can hear the telltale buzz that warns of a snake. With the smaller prairie rattlers the sound is soft and subtle, leading one to cock an ear to every small buzz that comes to their attention. Here is a list of just a few things that sound a warning to the cautious listener:
Cicadas – The rapid vibration of their legs rubbing against each other on a hot summer day. In plentitude they could evoke an Alfred Hitchcock nightmare!
Seed pods on thistles – Even the slightest breeze can bring that distinct familiar rattle of the seeds within their pods.
Seed pods on anything that rattles – They are everywhere on a breezy day and when walking are prone to rattle at the slightest touch; the yuccas are my favorites and surely a snake dwells beneath each one.
Wire rattling against a post – Again the wind is not always my friend! There is wire hanging off of many a post out here, saved back for the ever present need for a repair.
Dry leaves on gourds – They form the perfect combination and hang all around the fence on my garden, another snake haven.
Dry leaves on weeds – Or anything else that one might walk through!
Gopher snakes – They would have you believe they were rattlesnakes before you had them for lunch.
The metal spiral on a notebook against dry branches – My bad!
Rattles on snake tails – I take this one seriously and use great caution in killing the source whenever they are a threat to me or anyone else, even if they do kill rodents! Traps and poison work just as well if one wants to be rid of rats!
Steel surveyors tape – The clash of the tape against itself is as clear as the abrupt rattle of a snake when you have come too close, sometimes their final warning, this one always gets me.
Water splashing on rocks – Really! Perhaps I am getting a bit edgy but it really does! Better safe than sorry, snakes like water too and the grass is always thick.
I wakened to peacefulness, huddled deep in the blankets in a familiar bed that I haven’t slept in for months. My Nogal House, perched on the slope of the Vera Cruz has become a distant haven, rarely visited and begging for my presence. I went there late last night, arriving after the sunset had faded and the sliver of the new moon lighting my way. I told myself I would stay if the generator would start and it did but with some difficulty, the gas is getting old and it has been idle for too long……….Lights on in the house I then built a fire, the paper and the wood damp from the plentiful rains and the moisture in the attic, the roof is still leaking and a panel of the ceiling sags. The roof has always leaked but it so rarely rains! After the ten years of my residency the need for action has never been more evident and the repair is long overdue.
The fire sputtered and smoked, presenting a rare challenge for one such as I who always has dry wood and kindling. I even had some pitch wood from a pinion tree to better start the pine I stacked on top but it took two tries to get the flames going. I put a pan of water on the stove for my bath and stepped back out in the darkness, unloading the truck full of wood which had brought me there in the first place. Junk wood all, odd pieces of pinion and pine, some olive wood and a few chunks of juniper, all more suited for the big woodstove which warms this house than the small firebox in my other. The sound of the wood as it struck the other pieces was a comfort and the ensuing stack assured me I could come here safely and always be warm. Even if I live an hour away this is still my haven and the knowledge I can retreat here is a true comfort, I will always be at home.
I bathed in front of the stove and read a few pages of a book before I stepped back out to turn off the generator. The stars overhead twinkled brightly as I walked back to the house and found my way to my room with the flashlight; I need more kerosene for my lamps also. Sleep came easily, even with the occasional car speeding past on the highway and the howl of the wind in the eves, it is always windy there. Although I have become accustomed to the comforts of my current dwelling the contrast is clear, the realm which surrounds the shack on the mountainside is in great contrast to the other. Both are surrounded by wilderness but somehow the Nogal House is further removed, I can see lights but the neighbors are more distant. There is also the memory of happier times which draws me back in, the hours of writing, the creation of my art, the garden and the wood, simplicity at its best. Even the solitude is a comfort, there are so few distractions and the temptation was to close the gate and stay, but I could not. Morning came quickly and with it the necessity of work, an hours drive away.
The contrast between the two realms is a clear as it has ever been. I sit at my work desk, hoping not to be discovered at some personal effort but beyond caring either. The sense of futility I have come to have in my workplace has never been so clear and I have become uncaring. I would be blessed if they would fire me because I cannot bring myself to quit, I am paid far too much for such foolishness, not now, not yet. I reflect on the peacefulness which greeted me at dawn, the soft pink clouds, the quiet whoosh of ravens’ wings, their familiar call as they flew to their daytime travels, heading east toward the rising sun. I had to leave before the first light touched the Carrizo but recalled the thrill instead. I drove into the dawn and marveled at the plumes of moisture which rose from every canyon and shook off the chill of the dawn, winter is looming closer and it feels like fall, one more summer has passed. The traffic was sparse until I hit the main highway to Ruidoso and from there it was a mini rush hour, making the thought of returning to my haven a little less appealing, it is part of why I don’t. Even if I take another route it is still an hours drive and it just isn’t practical. Still yet it is almost worth it, there is something there I so need and the reminder is clear. I need to come home, if only on occasion, to replenish my spirit and focus on my goals, the path is so much clearer from that vantage point.
I would that my life was as it was before, when things were more simple and my days were full of grace. There was never enough money it seems but I always survived and between my ventures to the Plains and my ranch work I always made it work. Those jobs are behind me now and I am gainfully employed but the emptiness is maddening, a means to an end but the end will come first, it simply must. Will I return to Nogal? Maybe not, necessity rules I go somewhere else but it is there just in case. For the moment it is the contrast between the two realms which is most important because it serves as a reminder of everything which has the most value, and which is more lasting. Money may be important but serenity is more meaningful and for me a far greater necessity, it has always been that way. It is the reason I have always returned to Nogal, it waits for me now.