Dusty (Book Exerpt)
The last time I was here I was certain that I had seen the driest this place could be, but I had not. My arrival this time was accompanied by the wind, steady and even fierce at times and swirling with it the dust devils I associate with more familiar territory, a natural occurrence in Carrizozo and further south. Too, there were clouds of dust kicked up from the roads and corrals, every place that the grass didn’t still cling to the earth and hold it still. Adding to the brittleness was the ever present reminders of the recent epic freeze, the blackened branches of the prickly pear turned to mush, wilted cholla and the barren branches of the greasewood, chamisa and mesquite that most often hold their leaves through the winter. Absent is the deep green of the native bushes and in its stead only brown and black branches amongst the remains of the bleached golden grasses, sparse as well in this late winter, early spring time.
Adding to the sense of desolation and struggle are the cattle, grown gaunt over the last two months with sparse feed and new calves all drawing off the fine flesh of the fall. Fat has turned to lean and then, for the older and less resilient ones, turned to skin and bone. I have yet to see the worst of them but I know where they will be found and hope that I miss it, I feel too deeply for these animals for it not to pain me even as I accept the reality of ranching on poor soils. While this may be good grazing in ideal conditions they rarely occur and it is marginal at best when they do not. The summer rains are few and far between and coupled with a dry winter such as this adds up only to dust……they named the place well.
Still, even as I watched the dust billow all day yesterday, enough to cloud the sky and obscure the distant mountains this place is far from lacking in beauty and peacefulness. I stood on the high mesa edge yesterday at the Garrett Ranch and was spellbound as always. There is no possible way to drive up onto the flat top of the mountain without taking pause to allow the height of the moment to surround you, or to feel its power, at least not for me! I am so taken with this place and all the wonders it holds, even more so now for I know what the deep canyons hold as well and can recognize the ramparts from above, each brings its own thrill.
I arrived at the bunkhouse before sunset, but not by much, and quickly built a fire to take the chill out of the house before I did the rest of my chores. I unloaded my truck, fixed my bed and carried water from the corral. There are no luxuries here but there is at least water nearby and good shelter and electric light. The woodstove provides ample heat as well, none of the necessities is lacking and I truly love to stay here. While waiting for the water buckets to fill I sat on the bench along the loading chute to get out of the wind, or at least diminish it a bit, and watched the dust clouds roll across the flats. It was in that moment that I gained a deeper understanding of the people who live here, their sun lined faces and their quiet determination, all the results of years of struggle to maintain their grasp to the land. I saw too where the bitterness and failing that I met with in Oklahoma came from; these are the children of the people who survived the worst of times and made it through and their legacy carried forth, these people are survivors such as few others can recognize in this day and age. There is a deliberateness in their actions that nearly equals resignation and the purposefulness of their lives reflects their commitment to their legacy yet lacks the enthusiasm that I require in my life. Even I, moving back and forth from the comforts I encountered in Santa Fe and in spite of my own simple existence, still take so much for granted. My life is easy compared to theirs, I visit and they live here! Though my own self imposed efforts to maintain a humble existence may be the equivalent of theirs they are but a small portion of what they face each day and I am free to walk away from mine at any given moment. For those who were born here and other such places it is a legacy that follows them everywhere even if they choose a different life.
Then comes the evening; the wind settles a little and the stars come out and I am suddenly overwhelmed by the utter peacefulness. There are so few places such as this where there is no light but that of the stars and no sound but the silence of stillness. Even where I live there is often an interruption, a passing car or truck, a dog’s bark if even at a great distance, still audible and a reminder that I am being encroached upon, here there is not. If there is a bark it is a coyote and followed by a howl and if there is a passing truck it is but one and gone in but a moment, offering a welcome reminder that there are a few other folks out here. I stepped outside to pee and then remained there in spite of the chill to take in the feel of this place for it is like no other. My spirit is replenished in a moment and the love I feel for this place is a deep as I could feel for anything or anyone, it is complete. I returned to the comfort of the house and the wood fire with equal relish. I required nothing else but the warm softness of the small bed in the back room for this is as much a home as my own and I cherish the time I spend here.
The wind howled on and off through the night, rattling the doors and the roof and then gave way to a clatter that at first was unfamiliar and then recognized as rain, such a rare occurrence here or at home. I cannot readily recall the last time I heard it rain and rarely if ever has it done so of a night when I was here and never with such force. It was a brief storm and the clouds never fully filled the sky but it was welcome all the same. It will call forth a few sprigs of grass perhaps but that will be all. It did quiet the dust though and made for beautiful glimpse of the night sky, illuminated by the waning moon. Too; it caused me to sleep late, something I rarely do though the time change still has me fouled up. I am a follower of light and dark and my internal clock has yet to adjust.
Morning brings again the comforts of home, a pot of tea and a good fire. I am slow to go to work, my thoughts too full and rich to ignore, a day full of writing if such were allowed but instead will give way to my commitments and more adventure. Where to go on a windy morn with the ground still damp from the nights’ rain? I will leave the Wahoo windmills for tomorrow and go to the solar wells instead, the roads will be firm and not muddy on Cupit’s, or so I hope, and the clouds are my friends with these wells. I will still have to wait for them to recover but they won’t be pumping as hard as usual, or as hard as the windmills! Too, the time I spend waiting on the wells will be filled with wonder and ample thoughts, it is a day to write!
Such a joy to come here and be paid for the time spent. I fill it well and work hard to be deserving of it while still taking in the full wonder of it all! I hope to have the chance to return here on my leisure as well and this would be a place to add the final touches to my book, to review and edit it and to take pause to savor all that I am surrounded by. I will never fully abandon this place and I will have to come back to visit and will also return ever more often in mind and spirit. Even as I write these words I know this to be so for I have but to sit and think, read or write and I am here once more, such a place to escape to!
This is the sort of windy day when the ravens fly backwards. I stepped out the door in perfect time to watch as one of these glossy black birds set his wings and allowed himself to be carried back and then slowly turn himself into the wind with but a flicker of a feather. I watched, spellbound, as he slowly arced into the steady breeze and gracefully followed its current, sailing off into the glow of the early morning sun. I was blinded as I tried to follow his course and he disappeared into the dawn as if he had never even been there.