February 24, 2015
Reflecting on the past I can see where my logic holds true. I wrote this piece in a moment of reflection that proved accurate in so many ways. Although I have returned to the ‘work force’ as much out necessity as anything else so I yearn for the freedoms of the past and hope to make that transition soon as I can. Knowing there is a way back makes all the difference, I have already been there.
May 26, 2010
Indian Divide, New Mexico
The Way Back
I am beginning to wonder if there is a way back from here or if instead this path simply meanders forever to parts unknown. This journey of life differs so much from that of my work for even though my travels take me to remote places on winding and sometimes even indiscernible roads there is always a way back, the ever faithful GPS marking the way and even in its absence the fresh tire tracks leave a path to follow. My life has perhaps left a trail as well but the marks of my passing are far flung and the winds of time have left little to follow. Perhaps if I had picked my way more cautiously or chosen to stay on the beaten path I would have something as a reference but I have neglected and avoided that judiciously, the conventions of my youth having led me to flee half hazard from the start and it seems I never really slowed my flight.
Eleven years ago I made a decision for my children’s sake to make a sincere effort to attain more stability and security, to get a ‘real’ job, purchase a house, provide for them all of the things that my parents had done their best to give me. I went back to school, studied hard and in short order was a Certified Water System Operator, racking up my levels quickly once I was employed and assured of a just reward for my efforts. I shall never forget the heady feeling of seeing the doors open before me, or the sense of responsibility that came over me the first day I drove to Carrizozo, New Mexico to take my position as the Water and Wastewater Operator for that community of 1200 people. I knew that not only that I would be responsible for the quality of their water supply and wastewater disposal but also that if I failed I was doomed to a life of struggle once more and that my children would also suffer for it.
Fortunate I was that I not only succeeded but excelled and I stayed in Carrizozo for three years and then moved ahead to other equally rewarding positions. Ultimately after nine years I was holding a Level 4 in Water and Wastewater and taking a position as a Regional Water Technician for the State Parks in New Mexico, a weighty title and a great responsibility. The position proved to be more than I could address and still maintain my integrity with personalities and regulations making it a more challenging task than I cared for. I was relieved to part ways with that but left with a bitter taste as well. Several months of unemployment cemented the deal and much as one needs to get back on when they have been thrown from a horse the time to mull the fall served to make a return to a technical position an unappealing proposal. Fortunate I was to have other work and a chance to return to a State job with lesser demands, but even then I accepted it cautiously.
I wonder if there is a way back from here; the path winds and twists and even though the inclines before me are equally steep it seems the way back could be more treacherous. A friend asked me today why I don’t move back to my house in Carrizozo which I have been trying to sell for years; I easily replied that I don’t want to. A nice house it is, but the mortgage is more than I care to pay, I am done with all of that now and have no wish to return. Even as I teeter on financial failure with my credit and integrity at stake I am uncertain that I can return to the mainstream, even though the door is still open. I still have my Certifications and my reputation, my skills are still in hand and there is little to stop me except for my self, but she is the tough one. I have spent the better part of the last eleven years trying to do the right thing. I have made a lot of money, bought a sold land and homes, raised my children well and seen them out the door, now it seems I am nearly done. If not for the house I own nothing of value, and I still have my debts which I pay all I can. I work every day at something but it seems the garden and the mountains beckon me more and more. The bills are piling up and I must do something, but I prefer to write!
Maybe I am already there, where it is that I wish to get to. There is a path back, at least a little ways, I can see that now. In all honesty I could go there right now, click on the New Mexico Environmental Department website, go to employment and look at the jobs. I am qualified for almost all of them, and would surely get a nod. It really is that simple, go back to work full time, make the big bucks, at least for here, find some more land………I am just not so sure that I want to! The clouds are billowing on the mountaintops, the windmill turns steady and I can see the garden from my window. I can just as easily sit here and go out there and pick some lettuce, boil some greens and put a cheap steak on the grill. I could work my way through this rough spot a dollar at a time and hope that I can rent or sell the house again. I can see the road there, it is not so very far from my door but I think I will go close the gate and go for a walk, the oak brush just greened up and I the cholla are ready to flower; it is time to go take a look. The road will always be there and besides, it is a long way back………………..
A Picture Post Card
I have a picture post card which I have carried with me for years. It is a painting, a very simple one of the sort that might not be my favorite if it portrayed simply the vase or the chair but it became a treasure all the same. You see, the vase is filled with cut wild flowers, a few of which are still scattered on the table top, and the chair faces an open door. The late afternoon light streams in through the windows which face snow covered peaks to the west with clouds tinted orange and purple from the sunset. The beauty of the setting is enough to catch my eye but it is the serenity he captured which grasps my heart, it is everything I have always aspired towards and something I have yet to maintain.
It isn’t that I have not lived it either, so I have and that is what tugs on me so severely as I know just how it feels! How many times have I sat in such a place in my life? I know that same spot and I have been there since my youth, the cabin where Sam lived, hidden in the hills of New York, the cabin of my own in Hunters, Washington, and the log homestead cabin in the Capitan Gap, New Mexico where I raised my children. Later, the place I still have, my Nogal House on the Vera Cruz, where I could go now if there was not so much to do…..though go I may just because I should! In fact I will go tonight if my truck is fixed as that is all that could keep me from doing so.
A picture post card. How can one small piece of card stock hold so much of my dreams in such a small space? It almost oversimplifies it as there are no excuses left when I gaze on the image I have treasured for so long. This card, tucked away in a notebook from three years ago, remembered often enough and stored beside my bed where I have slept most every night, but hidden from my view. I will leave it plain sight now, as it was before I left Nogal, a constant reminder of everything which is most precious to me. If my words rein me in the picture will give the added focus I require, the direction I sometimes fail to follow. It isn’t that I have not been true to that purpose but only that it is taking me too long to get there, my path should be more direct and with the end in sight it will be, the ache in my heart will allow for nothing less!
The view out of my window is near the equal of the picture, I can see this now. It is even closer when I stand in the doorway of the Nogal House but I cannot afford to live there, not now, not yet. I have made it work for certain, my words from three years ago reflect so much of that and I was, in some ways, closer to the dream then than I am now. In the physical sense it was wholly there, the serenity was complete and the light which streamed in through my windows and doors was much the same. I have that here also but to a lesser degree, my neighbors and my worries are too close and a constant reminder of the effort of my quest. Perhaps it has been worth the sacrifice and it has brought me closer to that goal but I see now the failing in the logic also. Long term is not an option; it is the here and now which counts the most! It took a worn, old picture post card to remind me of that and it is a lesson it will not allow me to forget.
A Good Day To Walk
Today is a good day to walk. I woke to a morning of pure stillness and clear blue sky, warm enough that I had no need for a fire and will soon need no heat at all. Winter is far from over yet my garlic has broken ground and the weeds are emerging as well. Both will survive any further freezes and the rain soaked ground urges them to grow quickly, which they will. New Mexico is fickle at best and in spite of the rains and snow which have blessed the last two months we are still in a perpetual drought and we likely always will be. Still, for the moment, there is plentitude and it triggers every part of nature to respond in full fashion and man and beast will follow suit.
So it is with the elk, and the Native people whose lives revolve around the seasons as well. The word is out, someone found a set of freshly shed elk anters and it is time to seek the rest. It is not just the monetary reward, though that in itself is something of value. It is instead the urge to seek out the treasures laying in the soft duff of the forest and the flats. It is the inborn desire to put their feet to the paths the elk have worn deep into the mountainsides and to see who can find the most horns by the end of the day. The pride on the faces of those who find the biggest and the prettiest prize is evident in every aspect of the contest and it drives everyone to make some effort towards the same, myself included even if my needs are simpler. I desire the peacefulness and the adventure as much as I do the forced exercise which will firm my buttocks and thighs, as well as restore my spirit.
Today is a day to walk. Most times I would eagerly await a phone call from a friend and gladly set aside all my other projects for the opportunity. Not today though, my hiking partner and I have distanced ourselves and I have important things to do which will keep me from those ventures, even if I regret the same. It is my conundrum to deal with, the one I have the most difficulty with but which ceases to go away. I want both to be in my reach but the very fact I indulged myself so freely in the past year holds me prisoner in this one! If I am to have one I must tend to the other as the greatest difference between my life and that of those who will be walking the mountains today is that my version of necessity far outdistances theirs, even if I am ultimately better off. I may struggle to maintain the balance between necessity and true happiness but the sense of purpose that requires will also save my life while the lack of it gradually destroys theirs.
Today is a beautiful day and begs to be enjoyed just as the past few have done the same. It is springtime in winter and the harbinger of the months to come when nature restores her coffers and new life begins again. It is a day to walk, or to turn the soil, clean the yard, air the blankets, anything to get outside and absorb the sunlight into our winter pale skins. Everyone will be drawn out today for one reason or another and I will do the same, even if my day will be busy also, I am grateful that I have plan. My week was filled with the same restless yearning that will drive me forward today. The difference is, with the day being my own, that I will be moving forward towards fulfillment of my goals and I will have the freedom to choose my activities going forward. Now is the time for me to affirm those efforts and they will see me back to those elk trails soon enough and allow that the bounty of that effort, coupled with all the others, will fulfill my every need. Today is a day to walk, and walk I will, along the path of purpose and direction which will see me towards my dreams.
When I wake to a day
Of just sun and sky
When the blue sea above
Meets the mountains
And the winds lie still
When my time
Is my own
To fill as I wish
And there is nothing
I need do
But for that
Which I chose
Rather than things
That I must
When the moment
As static as the air
On such a windless day
And the mountains call
Is my own
And the trails
Are soft and dry
Will lay waiting
Their fresh white tips
In the silence
Of the canyon
To be found
Once A Gypsy
Once, I was a gypsy, and in so many ways I still am. When I was in grade school I read ‘My Side Of The Mountain’ and spent many hours scanning the hillside from my father’s station wagon looking for that hollow tree…..and building shelters in the woods in its stead. In my teens Jack Kerouac took me out ‘On The Road’ and introduced me to a new set of adventures and later Bob Seeger ‘Rolled Me Away” to the Great Divide. Not so many years later I stood alone in that very same spot and reflected on his words.
From the start I was seeking something more than what I saw surrounding me in my suburban life, thirty miles from New York City. By the time I was seventeen I had hitchhiked more miles than I had walked and made the one hundred something mile journey from college in the Catskills to home more often by thumb than by car. When I took my first journey west I left my car along Route 80 in Illinois and bought a back pack before I headed to California. It was eight years before I hung that pack on the wall and settled down.
I am still that gypsy and even if I settle on occasion to pursue those long term dreams, I am ever moving all the same. There is little irony in the fact that everything I own has wheels beneath it as I have amassed a few conveniences and they come with me when I go. So I have roots as well but I am still in search of the dream I had as a young girl, that peaceful place with mountain and stream and perhaps the man I had hoped to share it with. I have been there, more than once, but the plan was too flawed to last and in time I traveled on. In spite of the failures I have remained true to that dream and it draws ever closer with the passage of the years, such goals are those which drive us on and are the substance of our lives.
I live in a community of people who so often share the same restlessness which I have lived with through so much of my life. Their lives, in so many ways, are ruled by the same forces as mine, even if they express them different ways. Their patterns follow the seasons, the spring is for planting and searching for antlers in the mountains they call home. Summer is feast time, full of woodcutting and so many preparations and a sharing of the effort and rituals which guide them. Fall is time to prepare for the winter and winter to prepare for spring…….My pattern is different but in so many ways the same, the preparation of the soil and the planting of the garden, the cultivation of the earth through the summer and the cutting of wood for the winter stores. In the fall I preserve the fruits of my labor and ready for the colder days and nights, or not. There were as many years that the seasons ruled my travels also, the winter was time to work and prepare and the spring through the fall to travel and explore, ever seeking greener pastures and always with a purpose.
It is the purpose I wish to speak to, for my Native friends and myself. It is this which drove me to the gypsy life, the challenge, the adventure and the search for a richer existence than the material life which surrounds my every effort. It is this reality which seems to hinder me the most, the requirement to conform, to fit into a box which holds so little of what we need and yet contains everything we somehow require to exist. It is much easier to walk to the highway than the wilderness and unless one owns a piece of land there is little means to stay. The allure of doing so alone fades with the years also, though it is still preferable to any other alternative. For my Native friends it is worse, they have the land and the freedom to live as they wish, but the necessity of doing so has been removed also. Instead they so often walk in circles, or worse, to the bar……
What of the challenges people had when they lived simpler lives? Where they were once ruled by necessity and the ever present requirements of survival so now there is so little of the same, and in such a different form. I have spent much of my life chopping wood and carrying water for that very reason, recreating a necessity which meets my every need. As long as I put my hands to the things I require for my comforts and have the direct rewards I am at peace as I am with little else. So it was as a gypsy, for life was ever changing, an everlasting adventure and challenge. In much the same way that the Natives and the early settlers depended on their instincts and their physical ability to survive so it was on the road. If I made one mistake the consequences could cost me my life and it made me stronger in the process. The restlessness still draws me, as it always has, the allure of the adventure and the change of the seasons both have the same affect. If I cannot till the earth then I can wander off into the wilderness where the steep trails will make up for the effort and the wind in my hair will sooth my soul. I was once a gypsy and perhaps I always will be, I have little desire for anything else.