November 30, 2016
185 Nogal Canyon Road
Bent, New Mexico
My memories serve me well today and it is so easy to summon the vision of finer moments and the ensuing peace of mind they evoke. If the air is frozen here this morning so it was in Datil six years ago when I might have been standing out on the Plain at daybreak. In fact I could well have been reflecting on the contrast then also, between the heated office such as I currently inhabit and the absolute wonder of the ice filled air. If I might have hesitated to step out into the cold this morning so I reflected, once I was surrounded by it, how some things are easier to accept than others. I would rather face the cold than be trapped in a place I don’t wish to be. Having once having adapted to it I know that the outer garments one requires are far easier to shed than the defenses one must employ against the unhappiness of confinement. I am confined here, though only for another few days, and then I will be free again, in so many senses of the word!
What of the Plains at daybreak. The air was crystalline and twinkled in the dawn. Every drop of moisture was frozen and suspended by some ethereal force which turned them to into prisms and refracted the light. If I have seen much beauty in my life that was the most fascinating and coupled with the utter stillness, as everything else was frozen solid, it seemed otherworldly. The memory stays with me still and I would trade everything I own to return to that place and stay. I have sought to replicate it ever since and the distance of the years is a stark reminder of that failure, as is the weight of the effort of having tried. If I am troubled by the knowledge so I am heartened as well. I will soon be upon yet another plain and if not free to wander as I was in years past so the wonder and the beauty will once more be accessible.
Who am I to complain anyway? If most people go through their lives dreaming that they might one day have such an experience as I just described, so I have lived it more than once! I have ridden to the mountaintops through snow chest deep on my horse to admire the full moon in the darkness. I have ponied horses before daybreak in the heart of the winter cold and I raised my children in a log cabin in the mountains, breaking a trail to the outhouse when the snows came deep. I spent two years measuring wells in the deepest of the wilderness through the coldest of winters, and still yet live close to the elements, as is my wont. Even as I complain about my confinement I am poised to move onto the Palisaded Plains where the wind and snow will blow in equal measures and I am sure to witness the wonders of the same.
If I can pause to reflect on the best of memories so I know I will be making more. I have lived the life of freedom I dreamed of as a child and still continue to do so. Perhaps that is the heart of my angst, I know what I want as I have already experienced it so fully and I yearn for more of the same. If I have always been torn between my feral nature and the constraints of society, it seems to worsen with age! If my years are numbered then all the more reason to live as I please and yet the demands of society limit my means. I cannot simply walk away into the wilderness, though I have dreamed of the same since my childhood. What I can do is to remember it is always in my reach and to retreat there as often as I possibly can, even if only by reflecting on my memories! All is well today!
November 22, 2016
Nogal Canyon Road
Bent, New Mexico
This, then, could be fodder for another book! There are days when I awake to such utter clarity that I must question how and why I live the remainder of my life otherwise. This morning was such a day, waking before the alarm roused me, my abode warm and smelling of the wood smoke from the stove, where last night’s fire still smoldered. My home is heated with but a small wood cook stove but years of doing the same has honed the skill. A few small pieces of wood, albeit in the wee hours of the morning, will smolder through the night and keep the stove, and my living space, plenty warm. I sleep under good blankets also; preferring it to be cool, and the combination speaks to comfort.
I lay still when I awoke, unwilling to break the spell. I have reconvened with my spirit over this past week and the results have been good. I left last Sunday, spent four days in Fort Sumner, the peaceful haven it has become, a night in Albuquerque and then, unwilling to return here went west instead. I spent a night and a day in Datil, savoring the peacefulness and taking a long walk across the Plain. Then, for the lack of a room for Saturday night, I retreated to my Nogal House instead. It was there I built a fire also and bathed before the same, the heat of the stove warming me to the depths of my spirit. The star filled sky restored me as well and when I stepped out the door at daybreak I gave thanks for the stillness.
The peacefulness followed me back to Bent. Having arrived at some great life choices and finding them good I have, in spite of the stress that change always brings, found center as well. If I have known all of my life what the essentials are, and stayed focused on them, the effort of attaining them has remained a struggle. It is so easy to get caught up in that and the frantic demands I have placed on myself sometimes overwhelm the purpose. If there is a touch of that at the moment I am still closer to my goal than I have ever been and once I have moved my camp, as I have decided to do, I will fully enjoy the accomplishment.
If last year was defined by a continual struggle so this one will be defined by change. I lost my father, after a prolonged struggle, in March. By mid June I had quit my job, severed a relationship and then returned to the job I was leaving. Having regained my freedom and my perspective change was inevitable and having realigned my efforts I am now sailing forward. Why it is so difficult to make choices which are best for ourselves has always posed a challenge but having made the effort to do so I will not relent. I am already being rewarded and again been reminded that serenity is the most essential factor of my happiness. Having aligned my focus on that all else has fallen into place.
Affirmation comes in many ways. I was visiting with a friend this morning and she was telling me how in the past she had been obsessed with the attainment of material things. She has since turned her back on the same and instead focused her attentions to her happiness, much as I have. I shared with her some insight into my upbringing and how my father’s desire for wealth came at the cost of personal happiness. She commented, “That must be the reason you have chosen a bohemian lifestyle and the desire for simplicity.” I affirmed that, but also shared how I have challenged myself in so many other ways, seeking adversity in order to maintain my strength only to find, belatedly, the flaw in that as well. Perhaps in retrospect, it has served its purpose, as I am strong, but I will pick my battles better going forward. I no longer need to affirm my strengths and have proven them to myself.
Instead I pose a new challenge. Going forward I will task myself with the goal of staying on course with things I feel are most meaningful. If I have never cared to direct my life by the judgment of others so I have shaken the demands of conventional wisdom. By definition a Bohemian is ‘a person who lives and acts by a different set of conventional rules and practices than the average person. The word evokes the romance of a wanderer’s life.’ I have certainly fulfilled this, choosing the lifestyle before I defined it but living it faithfully to one degree or another from the start. If I have deviated in order to meet the demands of parenting and the ensuing responsibilities of adulthood so I have reached a point in my life where I can realign that focus solely on myself. If not now, when?
Sometimes I feel as if I am the last of the Bohemians, but I need only look a short distance to find another. I see it my friend as she too bucks convention and she and I have affirmed to one another the wisdom in having done so. There are others also though sadly it remains, for the most part, a singular pursuit. My friend Colin affirmed this years ago when he explained that we have become like the whales in the ocean and the interference is so great that we do not always hear each other’s signals. Instead we impart our wisdom on each other in passing, living and doing as we wish with the knowledge that others will learn from our actions just as we learn from theirs. I have little need for approval but the affirmations are most welcome! At the end of the day I would rather retreat to my bus and build a fire than to mingle with the crowd, I prefer the peacefulness of my solitude. Instead I will share the wonders I have found in the practice, the waft of the wood smoke, the twinkle of the stars and the understanding, again, that serenity is the greatest gift we can obtain. You cannot put a price on that.
November 10, 2016
185 Nogal Canyon Road
Bent, New Mexico
It would be easy to blame it on the moon, and perhaps I can do so. I have been sleeping well these past few days and yet waking with complete clarity in the deep of the night. It could be the time change too, as my internal clock tries to adjust while I resist the change. I prefer instead to go to sleep early so I have more time for myself in the morning. I love the mornings, when my clarity is crisp and alive as it is now, before the day begins to rob me of the peace I would otherwise carry with me. If there is one wish I have it would be to work for myself and not have to sacrifice a moment of my day to any other effort than that which I would choose. I would write every morning, sit and create endless art and in my leisure wander the hills and the plains, afoot or on horseback. I am looking forward to more of the same in the near future, my plans are set.
So today I can blame the moon, or more aptly, credit it with the heightened energy I have been blessed with for the moment. I can easily explain there is an essence in the air which is purely spiritual and it has uplifted me as I greet the day. Or else I can look closer at myself and give me some credit also as I have been trying to work in this same direction. If I had resigned myself to another winter here and the prospect of being less that happy with my life in general, so I have decided against that. Over the past two months I have instead sought out loftier goals and in the process rekindled my spirit.
Instead of staying here I have wandered to the east, back out onto yet another plain of existence, literally and figuratively. I have rediscovered the peacefulness of unpeopled places and in the process reached back into myself for that stillness. By removing myself from the steady routine of my life and my work I have allowed the very essence of my existence to return in full measure. I was greeted this morning by the same. In turning my eye and my thoughts away from my worries and concerns and instead focusing on things which have always brought me happiness so they have returned to me also.
From the moment I stepped out of my truck in the solitude of the Llano Estacado, the Palisaded or Staked Plain of eastern New Mexico, my spirit has been restored. If I have missed the arid openness of the San Agustin Plain I have rediscovered it in a different place. If the freedom of these past few months has allowed my thoughts to turn inward rather than the distraction of the past, I have found I had to look outward also. I have stilled myself in such a manner that my attentions can be focused on the very essence of my existence, something I have never quite accomplished while still actively engaged in working for a living. The one exception was when I worked for New Mexico Tech and they paid to me to escape; now I seem to have discovered the bridge I have been seeking.
I could blame it on the moon and wonder if this is but a fleeting moment, soon to escape me, but I won’t. I am becoming more mindful of the things I require for my happiness and I refuse to allow them to slip away again, they have been sorely missed. I am on yet another journey of discovery and having amassed the tools through years of struggle I will put them to good use. There is no effort more important than that and the aging process has strengthened my resolve. When, if not now, will I affirm my existence and reach for the loftiest goals? Do I wait another ten years before I decide my happiness is paramount or do I affirm that now? I am not doing it just for myself but out of love and respect for my children for if there is one legacy I wish to leave for them, and everyone else who might know or care, it is to have lived well and happily, that others might do the same. If I have struggled with my parents’ failure to achieve that goal so I want to spare my children of the same. I may not leave them a wealth of material possessions but they will hopefully recall my smile!
I continue to reflect on the moment just days ago when I took pause as the rain soaked my hair. The thunder had startled me and warned of the oncoming deluge. I had been walking down a deserted dirt road on the featureless plain, marveling at the clouds and the storm, breathing in the coolness of the wind and the rain. The solitude was complete and I have no doubt I was miles from another person, and had no desire for company either. I flung off my hood and let the rain cleanse my spirit and in that moment was as well as I have been in far too long a time. It is moments such as that when I realize there is so little any of us requires to find true happiness, sometimes less is so much more. I can credit the moon, but there is more to it than that. I have once again opened my spirit to the wonderful possibilities which surround us every day, and I won’t soon forget that again.
October 8, 2016
Nogal Canyon Road
Bent, New Mexico
I dedicate this piece to Jacquie Hatzell because she knows how to practice.
I have a friend who is devoted to the practice of her spirituality. She is a member of a group of people who, through mutual support, maintain a focus and devotion to their spiritual beliefs. I work very hard to do the same, by myself, and though for the most part I am successful, sometimes I fail.
Having set my clock back along with nearly everyone else in our country I find myself waking earlier than I must. This practice, which I will do my best to maintain, allows me the precious time to lie still and ponder the day before it begins. If I have always made an effort to center myself in such a manner, and for many years paused to write as well, so I have neglected to do the same. It is not that I do not wish to, or even aspire to; it is that there have been too many distractions to allow for it. Having broken the pattern I am only now perusing the means to repair it. In fact, everything I am doing at this very moment is focused on the same and sometime in the very near future I will have restored much of what I require to my life. In so many ways I have already begun, but I still need to practice.
There are some things which I have understood from the start. I fled my hometown when I was seventeen because I had discovered early on that I required a measure of freedom which would never be available to me there. The threat of the city, a mere thirty miles from my home, New York City, loomed as an ominous reminder of the society which wished to consume me. I was surrounded by people, my father included, who were driven by a fierce desire for monetary gain and a perceived success I could not grasp with my youthful mind. Fifty plus years later I continue to feel the same and have less desire for wealth now, or at least the effort required to amass it by conventional means, than I ever have since. Give me my freedom and a peaceful perch, a warm dry bed and garden and I need so little else!
It goes beyond this also, though in the end the two are one and the same. If I aspire to a simple life so I need to surround myself with the spiritual aspects which I have chosen to define it. If I have never followed a formal religion, nor required one, I am still a religious person and not a day, or at times even a moment, goes by that I do not thank God for the wonders that surround me. I am as aware of that ruling force, that pure and simple grace, as I have ever been in my life and I want to walk in that same beauty for the remainder of it. I want to wake each morning with a word of thanks for the new day, watch the sun rise in all its glory and listen to the joyful song of all of nature’s creations. This, in company with only the most basic human comforts, is all I really need. Sadly it also seems to be the most difficult to attain and practice.
Just a few days ago I drove my truck off the paved highway onto a dirt road that led across an open plain. At the first turn I parked and exited it beneath a rain filled sky. I stood for a moment and breathed in the freshness of the moisture laden air and turned in a circle to view every aspect of the horizon. There were no houses, no highway, not even a mountain in sight, just the plain. If not for the wind and the distant rumble of the storm it would have been silent, but it was close enough. The urge to run overcame me and I headed north at a steady jog, soon tired and continued on at a brisk walk. I paused to take in my surroundings and stood still, reaching for the stillness within myself to match that which surrounded me, and found it quickly. I allowed all of the distractions which too often rule my life to fall away from me, swept off quickly in the wind, and I was still. I laughed for the pure joy of the release, I was free.
I have taken something of that moment back with me and this time I will keep it close. I have learned over the years I can so easily escape to such places when I take the time to do so, but sometimes I forget that. Worse, there are times when I seek it out from pure necessity and find that I am so burdened by my worries that I cannot release them. Then there are moments such as I am speaking of when it flows back into me with such force and such strength I have to wonder why I ever allowed for anything else. There is a measure of maturity which allows for that, and within that same measure is a warning also. I have to practice this as often and as devotedly as possible because it can and will evade me otherwise, I have already experienced this! Some people have others who can support their efforts but mine is, by choice, a solitary journey.
I fled New York when I was seventeen because I knew in my heart I had to escape. Something in my heart told me I required the deepest reaches of the wilderness to surround me that I might maintain my innocence. In spite of this knowledge my life’s adventure has taken me through places where I found the need to armor myself against the challenges I was faced with. I learned in time that as good a defense as this is it also comes between me and all which is most precious. Time after time I have escaped to the wilderness to heal those wounds, and then returned again to the demands of our society.
Now, as I grow older and hopefully wiser, I find I have amassed all that I require to survive and I wish to return to the simplicity which I have always required. I have transportation, I have shelter, and I have the skills to maintain those. There is little else I need and there is no amount of money which can suffice for the sacrifices I am making to have anything more. I want to find my spot, to stay in that place, and just live my life from there. I don’t need wealth, though I would like some security. I want to live my life as quietly and simply as possible and to allow myself the time and the space to enjoy it. I want to live where the stillness and peace I found out on the plains is a constant and always within my reach. I want to shed my armor and allow the wind and the rain to cleanse my spirit and to laugh aloud for the sheer joy of having done so.
I have learned the most valuable lesson of all in regards to all I have spoken of. It just takes practice.
November 3, 2015
185 Nogal Canyon Road
Bent, New Mexico
If I am to share my sorrows
So I must share my joys
If I am to venture into darkness
So I should bring the light
My life has revolved
Yet I huddle in the shelter
Providing for the needs
And the wants
That I must have
While my spirit languishes
I have lived better
And the memories
Are but a page away
As I have recorded
All of them
And stashed them
Like some treasure
To be admired and coveted
At my leisure
Except that they
Are not material
But tangible instead
Giving them a far greater value
Than any gem or stone
That could be sold
For some other possession
They are the greatest
Treasure of all
And instead unlock
The beauty of all things
And the freedom
Of the wonders
Of the earth
And the most remote reaches
Of her wilderness
Where time stands still
And some things
But remain almost static
Except for the touches
Of the wind and the rain
Flood and fire
But even then
To their present state
Because they are
And that sheltered
From the touch
And his society
For they are comprised
River and tree
Bird and elk
Sheltered by roads
Washed by the water
And towering ramparts
That hide them away
From only the few
Who might venture
I would go there now
For the freedom
And the solitude
They will always
If I cannot escape to the Plains or the remote reaches of the Alamosa Canyon so I can still summon their memory with but a slight effort of doing so. I have recalled them now and they surround me but for the bark of the neighbor’s dogs and the hum of my phone. Oddly, everything was silent when I sat down to write but I have been reminded of the close proximity of my neighbors and friends, and my need to escape them also. I would kill those dogs right now if I could, or at least silence them, but then the spell would be totally broken. Instead I will do my best to block them out, if such is possible either!
So it is that some realities are impossible to escape! I need to escape right now, I need the solace of silence and solitude and I am writing before I even brush my teeth because my thoughts are that urgent. And yet my phone vibrates with a message and already the tendrils of the life from which I was partly removed for three days reach to grasp me! How easily we become prisoners of our own device and how challenging it is to escape that when it come looking for us.
Then there are the Plains, and all of the memories I have of their magic and grace. What great fortune I had to have spent a year and a half of my life venturing frequently to a place where the silence was complete but for the wind and the rain. I can still recall waking in that silence and having to take pause to recall where I was. Or the same feeling of wonder when I heard the tap of rainfall on the metal roof of the Bunkhouse at the Wahoo Ranch after nearly a year of drought. Fog was an illusion then and when the clouds settled into the canyon and crept up to the corrals and the barn the dawn was incredible, surreal even. How I wish for the same now and wonder when I can escape again. I have a trip to California planned soon and my time off is so precious. I am using some today and there are no regrets as work is the furthest thing from my mind.
During those years when I traveled for work there were so many things restored to me. Not that I didn’t live well before, because I did, but I was struggling to do the same. Having ventured forth in search of fortune and freedom I stumbled home with neither one. State jobs don’t always pay the most and the economy crumbled in 2008, leaving me landless and with fewer options. The employment which took me to the Plains put me back on track and opened the doors to an adventure I had only dreamed of before then. It also restored my poetry which had languished for years except for an occasional outburst. As with this morning such is only a breath away, given the time to record it, and I need to do more of that.
My point is this; whatever we chose to envision can promptly become a reality if we give it the opportunity to do so. I woke with a determination to do the same this morning and I have already succeeded, even as my tea cools on the stove. Some things are more important than others and our mindset can determine, and capture that. I am not going to lose the wonder of the dawn today but instead hold it close to my breast as a reminder of the same. I am not going to record my sorrows but rather hone in on the joys I have experienced and convince myself that I need to stay focused on just that. I want to write about the wonder of my life and to live the same so I can do so and it is, as was years ago, but a pen stroke away!
When I worked out on the Plains I came to carry a notebook aside from my field journal so I could record my thoughts. Given the constraints of time and my commitment to my work I often just scribbled brief entries, insights and poetry to capture the moment. What came of those were wonderful mental photographs of the most precious moments of that adventure. There were even days when I made ten or fifteen such notes, such were the experiences I had and the joy of the travels, driving across the waving grasses or climbing some narrow two track to another high mesa overlooking the world. I was in a constant state of wonder and there was nothing to keep me from it, my work was a pleasure in itself and there was no radio or telephone to distract or concern me. I realize now how rarely any of us ever experience that and if I took it for granted at that time so I savored every moment because I knew it was temporary. I always had to go home and the job wasn’t going to last forever. When it did end I sought another just the same but never found it…..
I ask myself now how to replicate that. The dogs have silenced themselves and I have captured the thought I did not want to escape me. My book lies in the background of my computer and I am assured that I haven’t lost my grasp on those memories. In a moments time I can summon the wonder of the silence and the whisper of the ravens’ wing as he breaks the emptiness of the clear blue sky. I could walk into the wilderness today if I pleased, I can see it out my window, though I would also have to return. I will still consider doing that, the trees are truly changing and the aspens will be a wonder in the cool of higher climbs. I need to feel my legs ache and the pain in my chest as I struggle to breath and know that when I summit the mountaintop I will be restored. Even if I don’t get there I can still envision it, and work towards the same. For now that will have to be enough.