Sunset Ending Day
There is a reason for everything. Yesterday a locked gate ended with a sunset and a moment of pure pleasure, such as it should be. I started out early on my first day of water levels for the Tularosa Basin and was rewarded by a windless yet still hazy day with the winds having been furious and incessant for weeks. Even today the dust is still suspended in the air as if waiting for the next gust. Thursday was so bad that I stayed home and if I had known that day would be so still I would have gone for the windmill wells. I hope today will allow for the same. I started my day by going to the north and on my second well found myself locked out with the locks all gone from my previous visit. I made arrangements to get in later and headed south. The wind held off all day but for gentle breeze and after a meeting with a friend mid day I opted to make the best use of the calm and measure at least two of my windmills, the ones that are so hard to catch. Heading east and then south I went to the Brownstein Well, an open case and always a pleasure, and found the mill turning lightly. It posed no worries as it is not connected since it has been long abandoned and I measured it with ease. From there I drove on south and further east to the foot of the mountain to the Hust, my favorite though most uncooperative mill. From there I headed west to turn off the Jackass Windmill as it takes a long time to recover. When I arrived the mill was spinning steady in a light but constant wind so I set the brake to let it rest.
Whenever I take pause my thoughts tend to flow into my mind and I study on the things I wish not to forget. Having just recently met a man who captured my heart, even if I have become wise enough to keep that in perspective, my thought easily return to him. The things that came to mind were worthy of recording and I sat on the rocks by the well to do so, glad to have something to fill my time for the moment.
On thinking of Ves: I cannot help but wonder what his partner of thirty years has been through with him, he was a wild one in his youth and quite the adventurer. How precious they must be to each other because of all that! I wonder what my life might have been had I been there instead? Then comes the reality, such as I have witnessed amongst my own friends over the years, that one or the other ages and dies first and that they suffer that together, with and for the other. I then, may do so alone, but it occurs to me that there will still be much to write about; I shall do so furiously so as not to miss anything.
Ves; when we first chanced to talk the discussion leaned towards Catron County for ironically he is a native of Silver City, thus the fine qualities that drew my eye to him from the start. I spoke of Darrell Welty and of how and when I had told him, “You have a wonderful life.” I repeated his reply as well, “If you don’t weaken.”
Ves knows Darrell as their families are connected through marriage. I said to Ves,” Such a life will make or break someone, won’t it?” His stoic reply, so simple and deep as Darrell’s was, “No, you just live it. When you are born into such a life it is all that you know.”
Such was the moment that I first touched his hand and stared into his eyes and truly saw him for the man that he was. He answered all of my questions in just five words, and then he won my heart.
After I finished my work at the Hust I returned to the Jackass Windmill but after a few efforts found the water deep below the usual; adding five feet to my measure, and then ten as I had been inclined to do at the start, ignoring my intuition for a moment. The next measure was off by enough to tell me it needed more time to recover so I left it for tomorrow. As the sun worked its way west and closer to the hills I was inclined to hurry but found it a challenge all the same. I will never have enough of those long dirt roads or the vista of the distant hills and I savored the drive out as much as ever, passing a huge red bull at the pens and pausing a moment to admire him. He was less than pleased and moved off so as to watch me pass.
Nearly an hour later, with the sun sinking closer to the hills, I passed through the now open gate to the South Coyote Well, perched out on the flats along the edge of the lava flow we call the Valley of the Fires. The gate was unlocked but piled high with tumbleweeds, stopped in their never ending journey and bunched tightly as a result. I pushed the gates as far open as possible and then plowed through the wall with my truck. I had to back up to free the mass from my front bumper and it left a narrow passage in the pile where I had broken through. This was the same place where in 2002 David Jones and I rode our horses through a similar pile, though it had been on the opposite side of the fence. It was a wonder that we didn’t have a wreck but the horses were so surrounded by the stiff thorny mass that they had been afraid to buck. Such memories and so much time past, over nine years!
Sailing across the flats and west along the edge of the lava flow I was heartened by the absence of the cows. Droughty years bring pea vine which is deadly to the cows who eat it in their unending search for green fodder and this year promising no exceptions. I reached the well at dusk and the solar pump was already off as the sun had passed its peak though the stream that overflowed from the tank showed it had run even with the cows not there. In a way I was glad of that for even if it is a waste in some ways it also forms a little oasis in the otherwise parched desert. The trees in the arroyo are green and there is a small pond there in the lava which would be lovely anywhere but stunning here in the barren dryness. Certainly there is a plethora of wildlife that depends on the flows and I reminded myself to watch for snakes as this would be a favorite haunt and I killed a small prairie rattler here last summer.
I was able to measure the well quickly and then paused to admire the scenery, quickly drawn to explore further by the unusual flora that takes purchase on the lava where there are plants and cactus that are seen nowhere else in the region. I stopped to look at the prickly pear, melted and dead from the severe freeze and then marveled that in its midst a hardier cactus was not only was thriving but had red and orange blossoms as well, the first cactus flowers of the year. I wandered further, regretting that I had left my camera in the truck but allowing the growing dusk to excuse its absence. I have a lot of pictures anyway and this was simply here to be savored for the moment.
I walked the edge of the lava, following the dirt path of the cows before me and then up a small ridge to the edge of the flow and beyond, drawn in by the scattered rocks and sand but cautious all the same. The lava has a way of surrounding you, especially at the end of the day and is difficult to escape from, even backtracking doesn’t even seem to work. Circling back I watched the sun slip behind the hills and then turned to look around me at the 360 degree vista, broad ranging across the smooth emptiness of the flat sand then reaching for the far off mountains in every direction. The nearest highway, hidden by the slopes, is miles away and the sounds of humanity even more distant in the silence. I am alone here, in utter solitude and for a moment have the sense of being the last one standing, so complete is the sense of solitude. As solitary a person as I am the emotion runs deep and for a moment that flicker of loneliness surrounds me as I think of Ves and how he too would so appreciate this. I am sorry that we will not have more opportunity to do that!
Coupled with the solitude comes awe and the wonder that I am so blessed to live as I do, surrounded by nature and the absolute wilderness that lies just beyond the boundary of civilization but yet as complete as any other. There is no sign of man once you turn the curve of the arroyo and for as far as I can see in every direction there is no disturbance. Nature holds her own here for the land is too forbidding for it to be otherwise and we may only visit. Even the narrow two tracks are covered with the blowing sand and if not used would soon be swallowed up as well and only the cow trails stay deep in the dust, used by the deer and the antelope as well. The light fades and then bursts into color, unexpected in the golden light of the sunset. It arrives as a last hurrah for the day and it blossoms like some evening flower eager to share its splendor. I am once more awestruck and in spite of the late hour remain standing on the flat, knowing this is yet one more moment of my life that I shall not re live, it is here and now and fleeting at best.
Even as I depart I drive slowly, not wanting to relinquish a moment as I need not remind myself of my need for much more of the same. I could live my entire life for this and never tire of it, aside from the utter solitude as I am very much alone. A friend offered to describe me a few days ago and I am still thinking of what he said; “If you want to describe Cathie put her in a four wheel drive truck and drive as far as you can on a remote dirt road until it reaches the very end and you can go no further. Then, get out and walk another ten miles, that is where you will find her.” How right he was………….
Last year the Board which I serve on for the State of New Mexico initiated a discussion regarding the ethics which the members of our profession should be held to. The initial discussion was spurred by the unethical decisions which one of our Board members had made and it led to a Code of Conduct which we all agreed we should adhere to. Once that was established we revised the language to include all of the other people whose performance we as a board are led to pass judgment on. We then held a stakeholders meeting to open the discussion of this Code of Conduct and fielded their questions and comments. What will come of that is a shared vision of the standards of action and performance which we as a group feel to be appropriate behavior. In the event there is a concern then the individual will be judged by a jury of their peers and disciplined according to the degree of the offence.
Ironically I am in a similar position in my own life at this moment, one supported by the very judgment and consequent comments I have made in regards to my own family history. Even as my sister expressed her anger and disappointment towards my abrupt honesty I must now turn my eye towards myself. This is a welcome, if difficult, exercise and one which, in spite of my constant introspection, has been strengthened by a few powerful insights from a complete stranger. Even I would question the merit in allowing such an influence to spur such a deep study of myself except for the fact that I have chosen to allow this. It is a rare and welcome pleasure to encounter someone who I consider to be wiser than myself, though our knowledge is equal as well. The difference is, from what I have gathered, is that this individual has adhered to a stronger standard than my own, honing in on the knowledge and wisdom of the ages before us. Although I have done the same in so many ways my journey has taken a different avenue and even if I too have held myself to strong values in so many ways he seems to have embraced the challenges I have avoided. Although we have both made the choices which we considered most appropriate for ourselves he has led me to revisit that as well. The questions he will lead me to answer to myself are ones I have strived to address and the resolution will be enlightening to say the least.
This is the intrigue; this person and I come from a similar if different background but the ethics and values we were raised with are most likely very similar. What differs the most is that his family seems to have had a strict edict where mine failed to maintain the same. The first and only time we spoke to each other we quickly fell into a deep and challenging discussion of these standards and insights which have so guided our lives. I was both challenged and thrilled by the content of our conversation and came away from it with a heightened awareness of my own capabilities as well as my perceived failings. It has been thirty seven years since I fled the East Coast and all it required of me, taking with me only the degree of discipline which I chose to adhere to. He, in contrast, has lived so much of the life which I chose to reject, even if I too have pursued a profession along the way. What I discovered in the course of our discussion is that my grasp on the code of conduct which I was raised with and the knowledge I possess in regards to that is parallel to my grasp of my second language. I am quite fluent in both but the skills have languished. This man’s direct approach and honest statements, made in both English and Spanish, simultaneously challenged the very reaches of my abilities. How I thrilled at the challenge and I came away enlightened and inspired, I now wish for more of the same.
There is also a question which shines boldly before my consciousness. How much of a challenge am I willing to present myself with? The deepest fear I have is that I will allow myself to languish and I am now presented with a direct opportunity to avert the same. My answer to the question is ‘Yes.” Yes, I am thirsting for a challenge and I shall take away from this perhaps one of the most valuable lessons of my life. God willing I will not only embrace it but will also make every effort to further the opportunity by whatever means necessary to assure I make the best use it. This is not the first time I have been reminded of what may be the greatest weakness in my grand scheme of things for even if I enrich my life through the written word, both by reading and writing, I have failed to seek out those wiser than myself in the manner that I should. If I have sorely missed the intellectual exchange so I have grown comfortable in its absence. I could remain on that same path and perhaps even be satisfied but there is the gnawing doubt that I am not choosing well. If I have taken my own family to task for the same only justifies the need for me to step up also. I have always said that it is not so much the degree of ability which a person has which is important but rather the amount of it they use which determines the integrity of the person. If I do not put my skills and talents to their best use I have failed by my own measure, something I have no intention of doing.
Will I change my direction in response to this encounter? Will I set forth a more sincere effort to live my life to its fullest by not only embracing my dreams but also by delving deeper into my self defined destiny? I want to! Will it take some greater measure of sacrifice of some of the pleasures I so enjoy? Perhaps, but if I approach it in the proper manner the enrichment I receive will more than make up for it. In the end I will be stronger and clearer for the effort, the two things which I have strived to preserve from the start. If I am to equal and fulfill my own standards I will embrace the opportunity and the outcome will be assured. If I am to define a code of conduct for others I should certainly hold myself to that same standard!
(For my friend Mal. Why I didn’t call…..)
The Way Back
The way back is so easy and yet it always amazes me when I arrive. I was there just yesterday, driving up a familiar road whose number I cannot even name. I have traveled it so many times I need not make note of it but instead seek the turn with the thrill of returning to its winding and desolate path. For most people there elicits a complaint if they are somehow forced to take this course and they prefer the rapid transit that Interstate 25 has to offer. I always choose the other, albeit longer route if I am given half a chance, there is something in the open spaces which I require for my happiness and there is far too little of it in my life at the moment. I need the silence and the uninterrupted landscape of rolling hills and distant mountains, the wide open sky and the windswept plains.
This road is one of ruin and there are few people who remain to populate the many miles it crosses. It takes a windy course for a moment after it leaves Corona, New Mexico, following the narrow canyons I suppose, seeking always the path of least resistance. There are some houses on the edge of town but most of them are vacant and crumbling with age and only a few are inhabited. Even the town itself is deteriorating and if not for the railroad and the highway would be hard pressed to survive. It is fifty something miles back to Carrizozo and even further to anywhere else and the nearest Wal-Mart (sadly, the best measure of remoteness) is ninety away. From Corona the road begins to straighten out and soon finds its footing on the rolling grasslands of central New Mexico, high plains covered with brittle yellow grasses and scattered cholla cactus and little else, rolling into and out of the low pinion juniper forest of the region.
The next and only town is Cedarvale, or what is left of it. The little apartment size wood cook stove which warms my bus came out of the museum there when they finally disassembled it. I bought it from a junk dealer in Capitan for $200.00 and gladly transported it home. The stove is in wonderful condition and I am proud to know its heritage. It saddens me to think that so much of the other history which was stored in the museum may have found less recognition and appreciation even if every piece was a treasure in its time. I imagine that the stove, as with so many other items, may well have traveled by wagon to its destination and that it heated many a meal for some struggling family. Life in Cedarvale would have never been easy even if the town boasts a large schoolhouse from its glory days, though even that is now crumbling to ruins. The remainder of the community is doing the same and so many of the homes; including the ones which are still being lived in, appear uninhabitable. The only well kept building in which is visible is the church, a testimony to the faith which has kept the place alive.
After Cedarvale there is nothing but rolling plain and open sky for many miles, except for an occasional barn or adobe ruin to remind us of the other survivors who once settled there. I have at one time or another stopped and explored most of them, trespassing but unable to resist the allure. I am respectful all the same and I have learned to leave behind the treasures out of respect for the past, it is all that is left of it now but for the memories of the people and relatives who lived there. I have always envied them the simplicity of their lives and in spite of a deeper understanding which I have gained in regards to their challenges some of the romanticism of that vision still remains. I would trade their struggles for mine still yet even if it would have foreshortened my life, or not so it seems. The stresses of our modern day life lead to other ills of equal consequence and the ailments we live with now are surely a product of the perceived comforts we seem to so require. Those who lived before could not even comprehend what we deem as necessity, let alone entertain the sacrifices we make to attain them. I have always thought I would have been better off in earlier times and I am as assured as ever of the wisdom in that.
Further up the road before the next town there is yet one more cluster of crumbling buildings, barns, corrals, a bunkhouse and a home. They sit back from the road a ways and the gate is locked. I have met the gentleman who runs his cattle there and he is himself a descendant of those who came before him to this arid open space. I have trespassed there more often than anywhere else though at least now I know the caretaker and feel that I have some semblance of permission to return, which I always do. I have asked after the place and have been invited to stay. I could preserve what is left and oversee the cattle and I have been so tempted to do so! The house is still habitable even if in need of great repair as the rats have made it their domain and part of the roof has caved in where it leaked, but the rest of the place is still secure. Perhaps only I can see the potential but I have lived in similar places.
As is my habit I stopped and parked my truck by the gate. I had a friend with me and I had to persuade him to join me as I walked to the house. He had already drank far too much alchohol and even if he is normally as curious and adventurous as I am it took some effort to convince him. In the interim I stood in the wind and breathed in the peacefulness, as always allowing the feeling to envelope my spirit and sweep away everything but the pure essence of the moment. The wind lifted my hair and caressed my cheek with as gentle a touch as any lover had to offer, kinder even as there was no danger in opening my soul to its gentleness. Even if the place itself reeks of utter solitude there is no loneliness there, not in the moment anyway and the allure overrides such concerns when I consider everything I could leave behind. Chaos is displaced by necessity and purpose in such places and is uninvited. Even when unlocked the gates serve as a barrier against all that the outside world represents and they hold within them almost everything I require for my happiness.
My spirit rekindled I talked my friend into joining me and even his energy returned when he too felt the wind on his face, its healing qualities overriding any poison it came in contact with. Refreshed, the wonder returned immediately and he as I marveled as the young calves bounced off away from us in wonder at our presence. We walked the narrow tracks to the house, stopping to admire the old tractor seat swing, hanging off of ancient metal chains heavy enough for work, suspended on two grey posts and an old crank handle. The children’s laughter still echoed as the wind swung the empty seat and he spoke to them before I did though we both could hear their voices. This man, he hears what I hear as so few others do and he as I feels the same wonder of the freedom in such places where others only see ruins……even if for so many other reasons neither of us could share it over the long term. If I came there to stay I would come there alone, I know not a single other person who would live there!
We explored and I showed him all of the hidden treasures I have discovered in my other travails. There is a root cellar, which from the surface looks to be an outhouse. There is just a small structure above ground, a doorway and four walls but behind them there are stairs, draped with cobwebs and dust from the years of unuse. I beckoned him to follow me before I quickly went down the stairs, not waiting for him to resist or complain. He surprised me by joining me as anyone else might have protested, the entry looking so forbidding. Instead he marveled as I did at the history of the place which adorned the walls and shelves. Cardboard was draped from the ceiling where it had been tacked to keep out the wind and dust, old canning jars lined the shelves and there were old contraptions which neither of us could even find a purpose for, though they were certainly useful in their time! There was even an old rocking chair which had surely been well used, as was the old metal bed frame, folded but ready for some sultry night when the air was too hot for sleep anyplace else.
We perused the barns and then went to the house, the door unlocked as it is better to offer entry than to have it be forced in such an empty place. All of the valuables have long since been removed from the house and there is now very little left, the progression of the years has taken its toll though I hope some family members have saved some of the memories. Once again my friend pleased me with no negative comments, stepping over the refuse of rat and raccoon who have taken up residence in the absence of any human presence. He as I knows that they would leave if we returned and he commented on the same, seeing as I do the ease with which the three best rooms could be cleared and restored to livable condition. We sat on the couches and discussed the same and relaxed in a manner we so rarely chance to do. The silence offered a richer atmosphere than any music or entertainment could provide and we talked as we so rarely do of the dreams and possibilities such a place had to offer. Perhaps in a different life we could have shared this place and all of the efforts it had to offer but his life is different than mine. I can still see the value in the task but he has no perception of it, his Native roots have taught him a resistance to the very things which might preserve his life. I want to farm and work, all he seems to want is to drink…..and dream of a better life.
We sat. I dreamed of everything I could accomplish there and how I could focus my energies on the simple efforts of survival, to write and do my art for income, to garden and farm for every sort of nourishment that it could provide, and to ride my horse in the wind when I had the extra time. My friend sat and told me stories and spoke of the dreams he owned also. Peaceful places have a knack for that, when you are so far from everything else which might worry or trouble you and the truest essence of life flows back in its place, as if some sort of magic still exists between that gate by the roadway and the many miles between the place and the nearest town or person. Utter and complete solitude, yes, and not even the whoosh of a car on the highway as the road is barely traveled, simply a paved connection from one place to the next and necessary only because they are named towns along its route. Even now they are nearly gone, the holders on are there because of inheritance, not even by choice and I am the rare bird who would even wish to live there.
So it is that I have found my way back, even if I also had to leave. I have considered it more than once, that I could go and stay there. I have also thought about the consequences of doing it alone, and how at some point I might become lonely; or not. It seems that with the passage of the years I have found more comfort in my solitude than in anything else, casting away the distractions and seeing through to the pure essence of things, capturing them in my words and being so satisfied by the same! There is a purity in that which I find in so little else, excepting those old vacant ranch houses and on occasion in the drunken laughter I share with my friend. Sadly, he needs the alcohol to take him there; I just need a winding road and the open sky. I have yet to find the shortcut, he has gotten lost because he has. I can find the way back; I hope he can somehow do the same!