Six years ago today……………
July 17, 2011
Monticello Box Canyon, New Mexico
It has been too warm here at night to sleep well. This was something I did not anticipate and I was afraid would threaten my creativity, the very thing I came here to make full use of! As it turns out I am ok, not perfect but still grateful for the seclusion and the peacefulness. I have so looked forward to this adventure and waking here each morning is heavenly. That I am a bit stiff from my hike yesterday reinforces the dual purpose for my journey. I brought no other materials aside from my writing and reading to busy myself so I will get some much needed exercise as well! I never gave that a thought or I should have brought some leather so as to do some handwork as well. Too late for that.
I awoke this morning to clouds so perhaps the weather will cool, though the threat of rain then looms as a concern. The canyon floods even when there is no rain nearby and even yesterday with no clouds in the sky the creek ran brown and muddy. The water must travel a long ways to get here. I will have to ask Randy about that as I had believed that the origin of the flows, excluding flooding from the rainfall, was from the springs we had sampled when I came here with NM Tech, in which case perhaps somebody was working on the road upstream.
I am savoring the brilliant green of the cottonwoods and the irrigated fields, something that is at once alien and familiar. The land surrounding my house at home is parched and dry except for my garden and fruit trees. I do have a similar escape when I go the ranch where I water the grass and have the big walnut and elm trees to admire. Even the towering hills are not unlike my own but these are sculpted lava rock carved by years of wind and rain and because of that more spectacular. The looming canyon walls up and downstream are also thrilling. That there is new country to explore adds to the pleasure. I have looked only at the surface of this place, the canyons hold many secrets.
Then comes the lessons, those that only change and seclusion can drive home. In spite of the fact that I have spent many weeks out of my last year and a half in this very area in utter seclusion I was also assigned a task. Each and every day required that I go out and measure or sample wells from dawn to dark and then I returned to camp. Nearly every morning I took a few minutes to write and then wished that I had days to do just that, now I do. What I had nearly overlooked was the fact that I am so terribly accustomed to being busy at something that I might find the idleness daunting, and so it is! Not that I haven’t plenty to do but there is so much time available to me and nothing specific already in place. When I am at home there always is.
Many years ago, 1980 to be exact, so that being thirty one years ago, I was equally alone. I spent a summer in Ribera, New Mexico caretaking Russell and Dawn Bienvenu’s house while they were away on vacation. I was twenty one years old and had never in my life been so alone for so long. It was a challenging experience. This is by far less traumatic yet I can see that by the end of the week I will have delved into places that I will be grateful to have explored. They have wished for a visit for a good while, perhaps since I left Oklahoma in 2005. Doing so will also aid my transition to the Grand Canyon. As it was when I moved to Tucumcari, change always reveals the areas of our lives that need more attention. My life is always full but diversity is a must and routine tends to offset that. Too well it seems, which is much of the reason I am looking forward to a change. In all likelihood this is one of the reasons my life has been so full of similar transitions. I want to stay awake!
I am here to write but had no plan to begin another book, not yet, even if I was already considering it. All the same, here it is. What makes me think that my thoughts will be of such great interest to anyone but me? For one, simply because I find those of others so fascinating, especially when they are coupled with adventures and lessons. When their journey goes beyond the realm of my own travels and experience I am a rapt audience and I hope it will be the same for everyone else.
When I finished writing yesterday afternoon I found myself ready to do something, anything else than that. It was fortunate that it wasn’t any hotter outside than it was for it was then I discovered the lack of any material to occupy my hands or mind. I do not like to read during the day as it is such an idle pursuit and I need to be busy. With no work, no garden, no art to fill my time I had to go walk and it was a pleasure to do so. I set out thinking to follow the creek back west down the canyon but quickly wet my feet in the process. I followed the muddy stream bed for a ways and then decided to explore the canyon above me, so off I went.
I scoped the hillside for a good trail even as I sought a good destination in the peaks above me. My eyes first found the old fence line and followed it to the highest peak. It was tempting but too steep, even if the view would be fabulous. Instead I sought a lower crest and some large rocks that protruded from the mountainside and once I found an established path proceeded to follow it.
Just West of O’Tooles, climbing to the south. Feild notes……….
“I thought for a moment how regrettable it was that I have so quickly fallen out of shape, even if I have not been idle. I have, over just the last four weeks, spent hours sitting at my desk and working on my book. I have gained more inches than pounds as my firm muscles go lax. So, I thought, this will determine the scope of my trail as I leave the muddy creek bank to scale the hillside, the rocky crags inviting me to climb. I will tire too soon and turn back even as I look for the elk trails I wish to follow. Even now as I take advantage of the rare shade, sitting on the lee side of a cedar on the rocky hillside I see this will not be the case. It will be the rocks instead, not the ones that I find beneath my feet but rather the ones I simply cannot leave behind! I have already added two to my backpack, and certainly there will be more.
The shadows of the clouds walk the hills. I am jealous, they can move much more quickly than I can and I want to go to where they are! I lack both wind and endurance though I will have regained both before this week has ended.”
Several times I had to stop as I scaled the rounded hillside I had chosen to climb. At the first I was out of breath, then leg weary and finally becoming dizzied by the effort, slightly concerned but far from worried. I had simply not exerted myself this much for a matter of weeks. Somewhat fatigued I considered the possibility of being satisfied with what I had accomplished, having climbed high up the hill and close to the rocks I had admired from below, but I also wanted to see over the crest. After a moments rest I continued and soon recovered my usual vigor, I simply had needed to clear my veins I guess. From there on I never again felt the vertigo that had stalled me for a moment and felt that I could climb for hours. I did avoid any further steep grades and considered carefully what I might or might not have to scale if I had to backtrack again.
At the end of my walk it turns out that neither leg nor lung was as limiting as my nerve. Having climbed higher than I had intended to I had to decide whether I was to return by the same way that I had come or risk the hike around the steep mountainside in hopes of negotiating another way down. There was the chance of either getting lost or of coming to some great cliff or canyon whereby I would have to turn back and find my way in the direction from which I had come. Mind you also, as usual, nobody knows where I am and it is already late afternoon. Darkness comes early in the canyons.
I chose to take the chance. I had my bearings if no compass (duh!) and a line of sight on a landmark that towered just below my cabin, so off I went. Still, I carefully placed myself and noted some landmarks and paths so that in the event I had to come back this way I would not get lost. The country always looks so different when you turn your back on it. After measuring the risk and the slope of my back trail I carefully judged the difficulty of the return in case I needed it and hoped I would not. The slope would be steep to climb if I was tired. With that in mind I chose the higher trails rather than the easy escape to the washed out arroyo, and in the end chose well.
I rounded a curve to find myself on the west side of the same towering rock and deep bowl shaped canyon I had discovered when I had hiked up the Christmas Canyon on my last visit. Now again I had to choose. I could either hike around the rock and return down a familiar path, back through the deep arroyo and down the ladder that scaled the cliff within it or follow the elk trail. Knowing that the trail must lead to the green meadows below my cabin, where the elk grazed at night, and having already thought to climb the hill facing the same, I was somewhat assured of a passable exit
My confidence somewhat restored I took the later even though it led to parts unknown. I still had to circle the mountain before I knew what I would find on the other side. Finding the elk trail once more I was then led around the slope and back to the east, the only way to go in these rocky hills. The path led around the steep side of the hillside, narrow and precarious, overlooking a sharp straight fall to the bottom but headed south and east as I knew I must go .As I ventured further I felt a rare sense of panic start to rise in my chest, my heart striking a note bordering on fear. I need not slip or fall! I was still concerned that I would round the hill to find myself teetering on some great precipice and though not afraid of heights cared not to scale a cliff face either. I would have to take a long walk back instead. The cliffs here are sheer and forbidding and even though I was in familiar territory I had no clue where I was in relation to that.
Finally, steep though it was, I rounded the slope to find a full view of the irrigated fields. Then, as I got closer, the roof of the cabin and the nearby house came into view. I found some relief then for I had chastised myself already for my foolishness. This is forbidding country and I had taken an undue risk by striking off as I had, even if I had some good bearing on my location. That I was there alone and my friends an hour away in town had only briefly crossed my mind, let alone the lack of cell service. The trail wandered back a little to the west and I was tempted to walk straight down but was cautious instead. The elk know these hills better than I ever will and always find the best path. I soon arrived back at my cabin, my spirits refreshed and having learned another trail!