Sunset Ending Day (Book Excerpt)

DSCF1117April 16, 2011
Nogal House
Indian Divide, NM

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………….

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