One Hundred Years

Looking back but so little has changed!!!!!Woodstove 

January 30, 2011

Nogal House

Vera Cruz, New Mexico


For Michael Swickard


One Hundred Years


I slept past the early light this morning but still arose before the dawn. The darkness had already fled in the face of the day but the sun had yet to clear the peaks. This is the time of mountain shadows, when the glowing orb climbs the slopes to the east and casts their shadows across the rolling hills, receding quickly as the day the begins. It is also the time of day for the train to pass through Carrizozo, its rumble rolling across the flats and reverberating off the mountains, audible in spite of the ten miles that lay between us. Too, it is the time for the coyote to howl and they don’t disappoint me. This then is my welcoming committee and I am glad to be home!


A friend reminded me of something that is an integral part of my life and yet an anomaly to him and so many others. It seems incongruous to write about it here at my desk with my trusty laptop humming softly, even if I am warmed by the woodstove crackling beside me. I washed my face with water that was heated on its top. No, even the wood stacked by my desk does not negate the modern flare of my existence yet the first reflections of the day radiate his comment. “You live as close to how they lived 100 hundred years ago as anyone I know,” he said. But what about the generator in the shed? So what if I have a windmill, a water tap in the sink and nowhere else in the house and still burn kerosene and candles for light, there is a highway out my door!


Ok, but there is this. I drove in at 9:30 pm last night, having stopped to visit my son and his wife, and yes, I took a ‘real’ shower there for it was late and convenient. I arrived home after a weeks’ absence and the house was cold as the woodstove. I lit a lantern and before anything else I opened the door to the stove and knelt before it. I crumbled and twisted some paper as I learned years ago from a Mescalero friend’s father, though not nearly as precisely. I recalled him for a moment for he is gone from us now, demon alcohol won that battle. I then threw in a few handfuls of bark and woodchips from my kindling bucket and carefully selected some smaller pieces of wood from the pile. I gently stacked these above the nest of kindling and made a teepee of sorts and then, sacrilege, but it was late and cold, squirted some kerosene on the whole of it before I lit the fire. Purist I am not but they had kerosene one hundred years ago, didn’t they?


The beauty of all this is the rapid burst of flame and the way the wood soon crackles in the stove. I made a roaring fire, throwing in a few larger sticks once it was going, a chunk of pinion and even an odd shaped but solid chunk of walnut I was waiting to use. When the eve is late and one wishes to go to bed there is a need for an immediate bed of coals to carry the fire thru the night and I was well on my way. It’s a good time to char the creosote in the stovepipe as well though one must be careful, ‘This is how we start a chimney fire my friends!’ could be the title of this chapter. About the time the stovepipe started clanking I knocked it a few good blows with a piece of wood, listened to the rattle of the crisp tar falling to the fire, shut the damper and the vents. I then stepped outside just to be sure there were no flames shooting out the pipe. I have set the pipe on fire before……….rather frightening, but all was well this eve. A good hot fire once a week and there is little to worry about. My wood is all dry and the walnut burns clean.


By the time I went to bed the house was getting comfortable and the flannel sheets on my bed, though still chilled, warmed quickly. Another mountain dweller gave them to me years ago and he knew the value of the gift. One hundred years Michael? That would be 1911, perhaps you are close. In spite of the availability and the presence of all the modern conveniences, my laptop being one concession, the chainsaw the other, you’re close. It is quite deliberate you know? I need this, more than I want it, it is a requirement for me and as easily as I am distracted I might lose everything if I didn’t have it. Yet it is a function of place and mind more than anything else. Electricity would not change it much, and might almost be welcome as opposed to having to run the generator. Even running water and a shower would be a pleasure but………..the place and the fire, they must remain.


Last night I went to your birthplace my friend, even though it was dark. I was startled and then comforted by the light that glowed on the table. I wanted to go in but it was late and I was tired, or else I would have. If the key had been in my hand I couldn’t have resisted. I stood there in the darkness and then sat on the porch and took in the stillness. It takes five minutes to drive up that gravel road from the highway but aside from the glow of Alamogordo some forty miles to the south one could be a million miles away. There are so few lights there, yet enough to draw comfort from. It is good to have a neighbor but above all else there was that sense of ‘place’. Though the desert is forbidding the house is a home and a sturdy shelter in spite of its age. The appeal of its history compliments my way of life and the utter silence and solitude of where it sits is priceless.


One hundred years, there in Oscuro as with here in Nogal the time is greater than the distance, though one is safer there. The land is forbidding enough to limit the encroachment I am seeing here. As much as I love this house it is doomed. There will come a day that it will be nestled here on the hillside amongst more neighbors than I can bear. I can already hear a dog barking and the coyotes cannot drown out the sound. If I grew old here I would, as I already have, become an anomaly just as the old farmhouse on Carrizo Canyon became. It was crumbling with age as the dwellers held onto their legacy, and bulldozed in the end. I hope that doesn’t happen, at least for one hundred years. I’ll be gone by then!


Long ago I recognized the things I would require in order to maintain my sense of self in this modern world that has somehow always been alien to me. I am a gentle soul, blessed with intellect but damned by the need for simplicity. Turmoil robs me of my serenity and I have a tremendous need for silence and peacefulness. At this very moment the windmill turns. I can hear the soft clang of the loose fin on the mill but it is a comfort and the water is filling the tank. I may run the hose to my garden as my garlic grows through the winter. The stove crackles a bit, this means that I am warm and my tea boils gently on its cast iron trivet. Yes, the laptop hums as well, an Orwellian contrast to the otherwise primitive surroundings, but it saves my words. It is a worthwhile compromise, don’t you think?


There is a lesson in all of this Michael and I must thank you for bringing it to my attention. We tend to overlook certain things in our solitude. One hundred years. Aside from my laptop there is little else I have that couldn’t have been had that long ago. My hairbrush might have been silver or ivory with boar bristles. I’d love to have one of those! The ceramic glass I drink my tea from might have been made from the same tin as my tea pot. That’s ok. The wood would have been cut by axe or saw, but then perhaps I’d of had man for that. A woman such as I would have held a high value in those days. Now I am an oddity………….So be it, I love my life! My desire for interaction keeps me from slipping away all together. The more primate world has no need of my intellect, nor can it appease it! I have struck a balance and the ease of doing so is stunning. It has made it possible for me to not only retain my clarity but allows for the time to savor it. It makes a person wonder. Just what is it we have gained in this last one hundred years?




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