Watching The Weather
November 18, 2018
Wild Horse Casino Hotel
Dulce, New Mexico
Watching The Weather
I am watching the weather this morning, as the clouds find their way over the mountaintops. I am much farther north than I have been in years, except for the occasional journey at least. Karl and I drove to Montana a few years ago, but aside from that I have stayed farther south. Much of the reason for that has been the avoidance of the colder winters, though now that I have walked again in the snow I feel differently. Certainly I would choose to avoid the bitter cold, and yet I have sacrificed the glory of the higher elevations in the process. Having left Mescalero two years ago I have rarely ventured into the mountains or walked amongst the pine and spruce trees. Yesterday I ventured forth into the same. Today I am watching the weather and wondering where I will go.
If I yield to my heart I will go to Santa Fe and see if I can catch up with Yancy, a new found friend who slipped away as quickly as he came close. How could I have known that the warm embrace would be a parting glimpse rather than the chance to follow my heart? If I am wise I will leave well enough alone, I can read between the lines and his constraint is as much a warning as it is an allure. If he were to be chasing after me I would likely flee, and if I have not pursued him, neither has he reconnected. Still yet, it has been a long time since someone other than Damacio has stirred my heart, and I have been alone for two and a half years. This solitude begs to be broken, even if I am quite content to be alone.
On the other hand I could go to Questa and stay out yet one more night. There are jobs there, two of them perhaps, one for the Village and the other at the mines. The one at the mines would be challenging, interesting, and educational. It would also quite likely pay very well. The Village, not so much, and it would come with the usual challenges I keep trying to avoid, with so little success. Having interviewed for a job here, I have already chosen to decline it as there are similar challenges associated with it. Even if the odor of chlorine at the water plant could be addressed, there is the close quarters of the building to contend with. Add to that a project manager who likes to assert his dominance over the women he works with and it is a no go. He and I would lock horns at a very base level, which leaves little room for professionalism, and I am too old for all that!
Where to go on this fine day when the freshness of the Rocky Mountain high still lingers in my memory. I drove the dirt roads to the north yesterday, passing old homesteads as I climbed towards the state line. They stirred my memories of years and lives past. Surely I was one of the first settlers here, in heart if not in spirit. Those crumbling ruins and the still standing cabins bring a depth of emotion I associate only with the things which are most precious to me. Perhaps the desire to live that way, which I discovered with my first exploration of that history, is so ingrained as to become personal. It is not so much the desire to explore such a way of life as to go home to it instead. I have been there, and it is all I have ever wished for or desired, and always will be. Driving through those valleys stirred all those dreams I have ever had, and lightened my spirit in the process.
Traveling on I drove up into the higher elevations where the pine and the spruce trees tower high above the roadway. Their roots clung to the steep hillsides and I had to stop to explore them. I pulled down off the highway and found a place to park, carefully locking my truck before I left. I know myself well enough by now to recognize that a short hike could be longer than planned, and chose to place no limits on it either. If my intent was to go to Pagosa Springs and see what it had to offer, I also wanted to savor the adventure. A climb to the mountains, as it turned out, was the highlight of the day. Even as I dove into the willows on the roadside, following the trails of the elk as I have learned to do, my attention was turned to the mountain. The soft muscles of my legs, which are only now becoming restored through forced exercise, begged for some exertion. It wasn’t long before I walked out of the snow covered shade of the bottoms and began to scale the mountainside. If I began cautiously at first, I soon warmed to the effort and ventured up the steeper climbs. Karl Peso’s memory urged me forward and I could hear his voice taunting me when I paused to rest.
If I have hiked for all of my life, since I was old enough to climb my first hill, Karl was the one who taught me to climb. Where I once would take pause the moment my breath quickened, now I go beyond that. I will walk until either my legs ache or my heartbeat pounds hard in my chest, and even then only rest momentarily. It was Karl who made my second wind truly what it is, and once I catch it, it seems I can climb for hours. I did so yesterday, if only briefly in comparison to the past. It was as much caution as anything else which really limited my travels, as I had left my boots in the hotel, and the slopes were slippery with the both snow and dry dirt. The risk was real, the hillsides steep, and the remoteness, in spite of the nearby highway, dangerous enough for a solo traveler. Nobody knew where I was, how long I had been there, or how far I would travel.
In spite of the hazards I walked to the first ridge and then followed the elk trails along the side. I was in search of beauty and utter peacefulness, in company with the elk antler shed I never ran across, though sought hopefully along the way. I climbed through the fence on the mountainside, and then ventured deeper into the dense forest of towering trees, unthinned, and unburned for a millennium, and much in need of the same. I climbed as high as my weakened muscles would allow me to and then turned and walked the side of the mountain as we would do in Mescalero, searching the uphill and downhill slopes for the telltale glint of an antler tip, or the branched bone of the same. I recalled Karl’s presence with every step, and missed him more than usual because of it. Too, having spent two days amongst the Tribal community on the Jicarilla Apache Reservation, I have been reminded of him at every turn. What that every slim Native who walked by in the distance might have been him in years past.
Eventually caution, and the shortness of the day, turned me back towards my truck and my original intention of going to town. I had decided from the start of the hike that I was happier to explore the wilderness rather than the community, but I also wanted to at least see the town. Having returned to the serenity of the forest, and some of the sweetest memories it generated, I found it difficult to turn back, and as I soon discovered, the terrain offered the same challenge. Turning gradually downhill, the steepness of the slope quickly revealed itself. When one ‘walks the side’ as I have learned to do, it is easy to follow the elk trails and find good purchase in the dirt, even when it is dry and loose. When one turns downhill, even on the elk trails, the surface suddenly becomes smooth and slick, especially with a little added snow, too dry to even moisten the dirt. Add to this the smoother soles of my walking shoes rather than the vibram grip of my ‘hiking boots’ and one has a recipe for danger. The term ‘sledding’ comes to mind immediately, which defines the action one encounters when your feet slip out from under you and as quickly you are sliding downhill on your ass at a rapid rate. This is dangerous to say the least and potentially fatal if you land on the wrong slope with no handholds.
Having been there and done that I was extremely careful, and chided myself for my foolishness. If there was no harm in venturing up the mountain as I had, given my skills for the practice, the shoes I was wearing were inexcusable. Worse yet, I had considered taking my boots and had declined, as I would have had to carry them past the scrutiny of the ever watchful eyes in the lobby of the hotel where I am staying. What that I might have gained a little respect from the onlookers for having done so? They studied me a little each time I passed, I being the white woman on the Rez, with some obvious mission as I have stayed for three days. Their curiosity might have peaked to think I was also going to hike, as if any of that really matters in the end.
So it was that I made my way carefully down the slope through the trees while still looking for antlers. I had the luxury of knowing the road where my truck was parked was directly to my right, but as I quickly learned it was not near as accessible as it seemed. A slight drop down the slope revealed a steeper incline than I could negotiate, as the hill was nearly vertical. I quickly recalled that this was part of the reason I had chosen the path of my ascent in the first place, but it was too late to go back along that same trail unless I had to. Instead I sought out the ever present trails the elk had followed and then very carefully sought handholds amongst the sparse growth on the steeper slope. I only fell and slid twice, and both times was prepared to do so, but still struggled the entire way down. How I missed the grip of my boots and the protection of the leather gloves we always wore when walking in the past, well prepared for all of the challenges. I was also grateful for not tearing my nice shirt, as the oak brush always reaches and grabs as you pass it. I also would have welcomed some company, just in case I fell, but none was to be had. Karl has been dead for six months and we had parted ways well before that.
I found my way off the hillside, sighting my truck before I landed firmly on level ground. Weaving carefully through the willows on the narrow paths I eventually crossed my own trail, my footprints showing clearly in the snow, and took a different route. It as with some regret that I neared the road and my truck and I wished I could have wandered further before I returned. In years past such a venture would have taken all day and we would have walked the snow line instead. I still miss those long walks, the sound of our voices echoing across the canyons to stay in reach of each other, and the utter silence when we were quietly traveling the depths of the wilderness. What a thrill it was to be so alone, even when in company, and to kick up the occasional elk as we wandered through their territory. I wonder in this moment if I shall ever find another partner such as he who I walked with, all those years past, or if I shall ever push myself hard enough to regain the fitness he pushed me to. I was strong and slim when we were hiking partners, just three years ago, going on four, as we walked together less in the end. If he was patient for the most part he pushed hard also, eager to cover all the ground he could in search of the valuable antlers the elk had left behind. I went along as much for the adventure and the company as the bounty we gathered, but preferred to savor the landscape. When he pushed me too hard I began to turn back, and over time my heart followed that same path. We eventually parted ways, his alcoholism challenging our friendship, and foreshortening his life in the end. His absence now that he has died still echoes in my memories. He was with me every step yesterday, even chiding me when I slipped and fell, still a most welcome presence in my memories. He added one more reason to my wanting to walk the rest of the day.
Finally I arrived at my truck. After brushing the dirt and the spruce needles off of my clothes, little though there was, I continued on my journey to town. The views of the snowcapped mountains thrilled me just a little more for having stepped off into their grasp, and I ached for more adventure. Reaching town was anticlimactic as I so prefer the wilderness. The echoes of tourism, and the remote rudeness of the visitors, nearly appalled me, as my armor against the same was still laying in the forest. I had stripped myself free of the need for those defenses against the coldness of humanity for the long moment I was walking in the silence of the hills. I have so little need or desire for the company of most people, and am always reminded of that when I escape them. The same makes the thought of this most recent employment opportunity, and the close quarters it has to offer, unappealing at best. I would so rather work alone, even if my closest coworker was of my same spirit and would have been a welcome presence. I know he will hope I take the job, but he will understand why I won’t also, only to affirm his own sentiments I am sure. I wish I could invite him to work in Fort Sumner and we should both be happier!
Here I sit in my hotel room, having lost myself in the memory of yesterday, and those fonder ones of the years past. It is good to recall the finer times, and to remind myself of my need for so much more of that going forward. This is the lesson of this journey, and the blessing I received for having taken it. There are actually several lessons. The first and foremost is that I am no longer tolerant of any pressure from anyone else who trespasses on my person. I decided years ago that none of us, including myself (remember this Cat!) has the right to impose themselves on anyone else’s space. It is one thing to supervise and direct others to accomplish a task but the personal manipulations are unwelcome at best. Direction yes, dominance, no, and I refuse to even have to defend myself against the same. It is better to simply avoid it.
There are other lessons also, and they are equally personal in the end. I have a clear need for peacefulness and respite, such as I have not afforded myself nearly enough of. If my heart aches for the same I have confined myself to a small space in my camper and the location I have chosen for it. If I am to remain in Fort Sumner for any amount of time I need to find a more comfortable space to do so. I also must take the time to renew my body and spirit on a daily basis, as I have always practiced in the past. The prioritization of my time means less hours at work, on the computer (Duh!), and in pondering the things which only bring me misery. Foolish me, to allow the stress and strain of other people’s problems to overcome my own serenity, and to let myself be so focused on them for no reason. My life is and always has been my greatest priority and I give up my time to improve on it, not to take away from the things which I value the most. I wonder how many times I have to relearn that?
I can hear the raven’s harsh caw in the distance. He speaks to me, as does the silent wonder of the forest and the surrounding wilderness. My feral spirt has again been awakened and she has no desire for further sleep. I had to drive far to the north to restore this awareness, even if I find the same solace on the plains when I allow for it. All of this will influence my future choices and even now I am weighing the possibilities. Questa is not so far way, and the other set of mountains which surrounds it. I love this North Country, as much as I do the plains. I also know from experience that either place will do, and that it is warmer to the south. The sun is streaming in through the windows now and my heart is aching for some other adventure. I should, and will, seek some other hillside and go for another climb. I will also peruse the map and consider what direction I want to travel today.
Having ventured this far north it seems foolish to not venture farther and see the sights along the way. Taos is not so far the east and Questa but a short drive from there. The politics of the small town may be prohibitive, if I was to seek employment there, and it is certainly colder than my present post, but it would be fun to see the sights. There is also something of this North Country that still tugs on my soul, even though I have avoided it for years. I have become spoiled by the warmer winters for certain, though the crunch of the snow underfoot yesterday thrilled me also. I recalled Karl again in that instance and how we had thrown each other to the ground and rolled like children in the snow drifts. I had not shared such a moment with anyone since my childhood and our laughter was as youthful as that also. It was, in the end, one of the most purely innocent moments that we shared, for an instant free of all constraints. I want to seek out more of the same emotion, even if I must do so alone. At least in such solitude I can still reach the pure essence of that joyfulness which is far too often absent in my present existence. I want all of that I can find to fill the remaining time I have in this life, and there is no reason I should not seek it out.
The clouds have cleared from the sky and the sun feels warm even here, sitting inside. I have ventured far already and recalled, recorded, the wonders of yesterday. I have no promises to keep and have already warned that I might be tardy tomorrow. I do not owe anybody my time for the moment and it is a lovely day. I will likely wander east, driving rather than walking the sides of the mountains for the moment. I will stop at some roadside diner along the way and feed myself, and then wander on in search of another adventure. I will also wear my boots today, so that I may safely traverse whatever hillside may offer me the chance for another hike into the wilderness. I will take pause at every vista, as I am in no hurry today, and will find myself a room for the evening if the hour grows too late. I have had too little peace and too little respite to do anything different, though of course, I will take care to watch the weather. They say it is supposed to snow sometime soon. Then again, I am in no hurry to get anywhere else.