Back and Forth, Again
October 12, 2016
Bent, New Mexico
Back and Forth, Again
I am traveling back and forth again, though now I go east and return west, rather than west and returning to the east, yet I am finding a comparable contrast by doing so. Where years back I ventured towards Datil and Dusty, and the true wilderness they guarded, now I go to Fort Sumner where the western way of life has also been preserved. What that it is a town, it is huddled in the shelter of the river valley in a wilderness of arid plain, much like that of the San Augustin Plain, but with a Spanish name, the Llano Estacado, or Palisaded Plain. The palisades consist of two caprock escarpments which break the monotonous landscape of what Wikipedia describes as, “flat, featureless terrain”. True enough, the rolling plains have little character of their own but the view of the horizon is endless and fascinating for one who has been sheltered by mountains and canyons for nearly five years. I have always gloried in the wide vistas and the fabulous sunrises and sunsets and just yesterday, driving north and breaking over into the caprock, thrill at the variations also. The ambiance of the ranch life is not lost on me either and the scattered windmills and remnants of the old homesteads and school houses give rise to much nostalgia.
The scenery aside it is the peacefulness which captures my attention the most and in this case it even overlaps into the community. Though I work within the shelter of the Mescalero Apache Reservation and live in a secluded canyon, so my life borders a well-traveled highway and a tourist town which, although peaceful between the racing and the ski season, is a boom town also. It has a history of the same, born into the heyday of iron and goldmines and then becoming the home of what is now the richest quarter horse race in the country. I sought this place out years ago for its ambiance but the same has faded with the growth of it. I still visit on occasion for both necessities and some entertainment but my old haunts have faded into memories also. I too have changed some with the years and don’t require the same thrills my younger days begged for.
Instead I am content, for the most part, with my solitude, and the peaceful haunts of sun and sky. Driving east I am drawn to stop along the roadway in the most desolate of places and exit my truck to simply taste the silence. The wind might sing across the rolling surface of the plain but otherwise there is no distraction, and traffic is negligible. Traveling at night three days ago I traveled 84 miles between towns and only met two other vehicles and saw but one large tree, standing like a sentinel along the roadside. The lights of Fort Sumner came into view perhaps fifteen miles before I arrived, scattered sparsely along the river valley. As little as I care for civilization it warmed me to see the town draw near and I can only imagine how previous travelers with less swift means of transportation must have felt to know they were close. Or those who walked The Long Walk before them…………for this was where it led to.
Waking in Fort Sumner has already become yet another comfort and I look forward to venturing out into the community knowing I will be greeted warmly by the residents, as I am in Mescalero. This is one of the contrasts I find between these small communities, in comparison to most others, where people feel for one reason or another more comfortable avoiding contact with one another. This small village, so isolated from the larger towns and cities, is a welcome respite from the hectic activity of the rest of the world, even if it is lively also. Being the burial place of Billy the Kid it has its own tourist draw, but it also has its share of local commerce, being the County Seat and a prosperous agricultural hub. The Pecos River breaths the life into the valley that the major highways otherwise bring to most western towns, and the railroad shoots through here also, connecting the village to the rest of the country. There is a depot though I am uncertain if the trains stop there or not. The BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) uses the facility and there has been a lot of work on the overpass and the tracks, including the addition of another set of rails after a train tipped over off the broad curve which borders the village. As if that was not enough to keep the community alive NASA also has a presence there, launching their Scientific Balloons from their facility at the airport.
Given all the activity which supports it the town has still maintained the peaceful demeanor which is so absent anywhere else I have been, excepting the western plains. The contrast I find in Fort Sumner is that even if the ranch life on the surrounding plain is still hard scrabble, the town has some greater sense of stability and the local populace enjoy the simple life it has to offer. The cowboy way still exists there and the warmth of families who have lived and grown together seems to have lent itself to a culture of its own. I think too that I would have been made welcome even if I was a complete stranger but due to the fact I am offering a valuable service to the village I have been greeted with handshakes and even hugs. It makes me want to stay and I find myself inclined to spend an additional day there even after my work is done to simply enjoy the comfort of doing so. I have already begun to explore the back streets of town and have jogged the road along the Bosque Lake twice. This without even venturing to the Sumner Lake which promises even more opportunities.
I drove back to the west last night to go back to work this morning. I listened to the bugling of the elk all through the night, though I slept well also. I stepped out the door before daybreak and heard yet another whistle echo off the canyon, this one so close I thought it could well be a hunter calling in the bulls in hopes of making his kill. I innocently walked around the corner of my studio bus to go to my truck and heard the whistle again, so close that when I looked up my eyes met that of a bull elk standing but twenty feet away. We startled each other and neither of us moved for a long moment. I even chanced to greet him good morning before he gathered his wits. He stood there a minute longer, studying me and considering his options before he trotted off quickly towards the shelter of the trees. I stood quietly and listened to the thump of his feet on the dry ground of the canyon and smiled at my luck. I thought how I would miss that part of my life in the mountains if I lived on the plains, and had to weigh the two with great seriousness.
I am not yet ready to uproot my life from where I have been for so long. There is a comfort in routine, as well as the steady paycheck it has to offer. Too, the trees are starting to change and the weather has cooled more here than it has in the lower elevations. Fort Sumner sits at 4,032 feet elevation as opposed to 5,823 at Bent where it quickly rises higher as it heads into Mescalero. The summit to the east is at 9,600 feet and stays snowcapped all winter, if it snows…….The summers are far hotter to the east and even if I treasure the peacefulness and simplicity the community has to offer I have to be sure it has everything else I require. I am in fact more social there, as much by necessity as wont, but it has its limits also. I can still convince myself that I could be content there for I find a peace of mind which I have missed since I left my adventures to Dusty behind me. My life has the same feel as that, the back and forth I recall from years past when I was traveling for work, and when I was torn between the two lives I lived while doing so. The reasons are the same also and the separation from the steady stream of humanity would relieve me of the concerns contained within its presence. Fort Sumner is removed from that, just as Datil was, even if there are highways which run through them both. They are secondary roads which tie back into the mainstream further on. They bring visitors but so few of them stay and they rarely find the means or even the desire to do so. Those are the places I am more inclined to settle in and at some point, when I chance to move on, I may well have found one worthy of consideration. For the moment I will be back and forth, again.