March 16, 2020 This is one of my favorites from six years ago. I am so glad to have recorded it!
March 15, 2014
Nogal Canyon Road
Bent, New Mexico
Earth and Sky
I wish that I was walking the ridges with my native friends (Karl and Rusty) today, but I am not. I begged off as I was neither physically or emotionally fit for the effort today and the remains of last night’s rare storm still threatened to return. The sky is peppered with clouds and the air is rich with moisture while the peaks of the higher mountains are still kissed with snow, it is a lovely day. I might have joined them with some encouragement but I am grateful for the respite, I am still coughing out the remains of the dust which has clogged the air and my lungs until this morning and I need some more time to recover. For the moment it is enough for me to picture them on the mountainside and to recall their shouts through the canyons as they sounded off to each other as the ravens do in flight, I can still hear them. They will come back richer in antlers and I will be fuller of thought, we will all profit from the effort.
I am still trying to learn more from and about my Native compadres. While we are the same in so many ways, being human beings on a shared planet, in others we are inherently different. Our sensibilities may be shared and yet they differ as do night and day, and some things make no sense at all. Where I, as an Anglo person, seek the peace and clarity I have attributed to the Native Tradition of earth and sky so it seems these men I know I have embraced everything but that and they seek solace in distraction instead. Where I walk into the desert to find my peace of mind they turn up the music and guzzle vodka. I seek respite from the world which surrounds me while they embrace the chaos. What, I have to ask, is the sense or the logic of that? It defeats all of my judgment and contradicts everything which has brought me to desire to live and work amongst this community. Where they seem to fail in their quest for knowledge I enhance my own existence with the very essence of their faith and find more solace in the elements of this earth than I do in the company of humanity. They crowd the hillside to share their bottles of whiskey and stumble down the road inebriated to the point of senselessness without ever achieving the comfort they desire. I escape to the desert to replenish my spirit in the utter solitude I find there and when I attend their ceremonial dances I am transported into another realm of existence. When their ceremony ends at midnight and we Anglos are banished from the feast grounds they celebrate the event by getting drunk. The contradiction is so maddening I cannot even define it.
Just days ago I parked my truck alongside the road and climbed the gate to the wilderness. I wandered along a dusty path to a deep arroyo where the river runs winding down the slope through rock and sand. Willows and elms towered from the depths of the draw and the glow of their fresh new leaves was illuminated by the setting sun. Filtered through the branches of the trees the sun’s rays spread like a fan into the canyon and I captured the moment on camera while kneeling on the crumbling edge of the wash. All the while I hoped the sandy wall would not crumble beneath me and send my body plunging to sure death below, buried in dirt and stone. The resulting photo portrays a celestial moment of glowing light through which the curve of the river can be distinguished upon closer inspection. It was Godspeed to say the least, heavenly light at a bare minimum. I saved the picture and texted it to my friend, who was off on another binge, with the caption, “May all be well with you fool, I will leave you alone now.”
Having satisfied my need to risk my life in order to capture and share the moment I wandered further into the desert as the sun slowly made its way to the distant horizon. Its glowing orb faded from white light to a rich golden glow as it settled on the distant mountains on the western horizon and the sky took on an amber tint. As the last light glowed over the mountain peaks I found my knees. I was mesmerized by earth and sky and drawn to the moment with a reverence that required absolute devotion of mind, body and spirit. It was in this instance that the contradiction between my personal practice and faith glared in such a contrast to that of my closest friends. While I found absolute comfort and solace in the complete and utter solitude of the moment and established such a connection with the totality of life itself my Native counterpart was whirling out of control in an alcoholic stupor. Such a terrible injustice seems beyond belief and comprehension to one such as I who has found such comfort in the simplest things which life has to offer. The very set of values it is based upon is something I learned from the study of the native beliefs! Just where is the disconnect and how can it be reattached?
If our ancestors captured the Native peoples and herded them onto the Reservations like cattle into a corral did they also effectively slaughter their spirits? Can such a strong and proud race such as they who lay claim to being the “First People” simply lay down their weapons and allow themselves to be killed off by a far lesser human presence? Of all the tribes in this state the Apaches were the last to be driven into captivity and yet they are as defeated as any other I have met with. Can the force which is so effectively destroying the very atmosphere of this world even poison the spirits of those who inhabited this planet in absolute harmony with the earth and the sky and who held such a reverence for the same? Can the distillation of alcohol, rendered from the very fruits and seeds which nourished generations of people, be the final destructive force? What an injustice that would be! That these men and women willingly allow this to occur is the greatest injustice of all and I must ask each and every one of them how they can permit this to happen. Who then will inhabit this earth when the other peoples have destroyed their own lives and the animals return without the Natives? They will have relinquished their own right to the planet by making such a choice.
I implore that there will be Natives who will read my words and wish to contest them. I hope and pray that they will rise above the defeat and the apathy which has allowed so many of them to relinquish their very spirits and that they can vnquish the demons which were introduced to their lives in order to conquer them. I beseech them to return to the desert and the forest and to call upon the same Gods who have blessed my heart and to find the strengths in themselves to restore all which has been taken from them. I have searched my life through to find the solace and the comfort of earth and sky and have found it no place else except for the solitude of the desert and the forest. I wish for them to do the same. I cannot know their Gods or their spirits but have found something equal to them instead and I can only imagine the power they have for their own people!
I am amazed and saddened by the failings of the people who I have idolized from the early days of my life. I have taken the Native American wisdom and imparted it on my own spirit in order to rise above the fear and the strife which defined my youth on the east coast of this great country. I fled from the masses for the protection of the forest and desert here in New Mexico and sought to heal myself from that pain. I succeeded to a great degree but have also nearly defeated my purpose at the very instant I thought I might have found sanctuary! It is the very failing of these people who I have idolized which has driven me to the brink of my own failure as I have taken on the very sorrow which they have allowed to destroy them. If they cannot survive it how can I possibly manage to do the same?
Survive I will, it is an inherent part of my nature to do so. I have communed with the earth and the sky and found it to be good. I have embraced the warm breast of nature and found the comfort I required. I have found strength and direction in the wind and the sky and all is well with me. I have walked in quiet solitude as the day faded to night and found the answers which I needed for my questions. I will walk forward proudly and in strength and offer my words and my accomplishments to everyone I meet with who might wish to listen. I pray that I am able to share that. I will turn my back, as I already have, to all which is out of harmony with life itself and instead embrace the goodness of the world while hoping that the very people whose wisdom taught me how will also do the same! May all be well with you, my Native friends.
March 14, 2020
Indian Divide, New Mexico
The crisis outside my life seems surreal this morning. I woke to a cool clear morning, the air moist and fresh from yesterday’s rain and the sky a brilliant blue. All of the colors of the landscape seemed sharper for the touch of moisture and for a moment I stilled completely by the beauty of the dawn. My morning prayer was raised with the sun in my eyes as I slept well and late, unhurried by any urgency or pressure. My life is as good as it can get right now and I am taking the time to savor that while I can. I have chosen to take pause while still putting forth a sincere effort to support myself and so far it is working. If my income is sparse the money trickles in as needed and my time is well used. To compare this to the rapidly escalating events beyond my solitary perch is ludicrous, but necessary. This event is affecting all of us and each day it creeps closer to our lives. I don’t know anyone personally who is ill but before this spring break is over I imagine I may. I could even be exposed and have already had a close brush with it at the airport in California. So far I have been spared.
Do I stay home today because of this? Can I allow an excess of caution to keep me here rather than trying to market my wares? That could be an excellent idea but I still need to sell my art and now is the time to do so. There is lots of traffic today and the travelers pass my store. It is a good day to be there and I can sell outside and limit the risk. I will do so, but not without some trepidation. It seems foolish to take the risk and I have to consider that, but life goes on as well and this is bound to get worse. Two weeks from now I may have no options but for the moment I do.
This is surreal when I compare it to my immediate surroundings. I am ten miles from town in either direction and I live well away from everyone else. Given my simple life much of my time is devoted to my daily routine, my writing and artwork. The necessity of travel to obtain my staples and to market my work take very little of my time, though my gallery begs for that attention. I am ready for the effort in so many ways but this virus has me stalled just at the moment I was ready to get going. I will go anyway, at least for today, but I am also ready to retreat. My appreciation for the opportunity to make that choice has heightened immensely and I will not waste the chance. If I have to hunker here I will continue to work and create more product and endeavor to market more on line as I should be doing. That has been my least favorite option but it is a good one and the appeal just redoubled also. I can and will succeed, and do my best to stay well in the process.
It seems to me that the ultimate outcome of this entire event will be to drive us all further apart and to propel us all towards the digital reality of the times. If we can work remotely we will and going forward that transition will likely become a constant for so many people. In some ways that will be a good thing but the ‘social distancing’ that it creates is a life changer also. Whether this entire outbreak was purely coincidental or highly engineered the powers that be are going to take full advantage of that as well as the fact that we will instinctually respond to it also. It has already turned our focus to our immediate needs and none of us will ever return to the place we were before it happened. I have never been a ‘prepper’ per say but I am now prepared! Certainly my lifestyle has always been geared in that direction for many reasons but it has taken a new light for certain, and I am not disappointed in the outcome. In fact, it has already taken me another step forward towards my independence from the mainstream, and I find it very comforting. The ensuing contrast to the reality that most other people exist in is almost surreal also, at least from where I sit. The thought of living in a large city at this moment is appalling and my heart goes out to each and every person who has no options but to do so.
I started a story many years ago when the rain forests to the far south were on fire. The smoke reached us here and for weeks the sky had a dull grey tint to it. The feel of it was oppressive and it loomed over us like some ominous portent of Doomsday, much like this virus is now but it was visible and distant. I began a fictional journal at that time with the intent to write a full length book but the sky cleared and I abandoned the effort. I hope to return to it someday as it was a great story and for some reason I have always been fascinated by the human response to some worldwide crisis. It seems that from the present perspective that is because we have all lived with the potential for the same and having some understanding of how that might play out prepares us for that.
Because of that same practice I am somewhat prepared, and even more so than most, but not at all enthused to exercise it either. I prefer the serenity that I have surrounded myself with and having finally established some means of maintaining that I am unwilling to go backwards. Presently there is little choice in the matter but to settle myself deeper into the solitude and stillness, and it is a welcome retreat. Certainly I am concerned about my finances but quite honestly I am more focused on my immediate needs than anything else. In some ways I could view this as a welcome respite even. If this whole issue does escalate I am so off the hook for a minute because everyone will be in the same situation and I will be absorbed into the lot of that. It works for me, and I am but a small fish in a very big ocean who is simply trying to do what I feel I am obligated to do, which is pay my debts. I thank God that my living expenses are so few, and I appreciate that so greatly at this moment.
Instead of worrying any further I am going to go plant some seeds, seeing that a garden may be of the greatest importance right now. I am then going to market my wares for the day and hope to make a few dollars for the days to come. So long as I am outside and mindful of what I do I feel reasonably safe. If someone comes by who is ill I will kindly ask them to leave, it is as simple as that. I have never been rude or unthoughtful but we should all practice the same. Maybe I am even wrong to be in public myself, as we should all be careful, but for the moment life goes on. It seems I will be hunkered down soon enough, though I pray that we don’t have to. In the meantime I will send out my blessings and continue to pray for each and every one of us. I saw a falling star just last night as I gazed on the incredible beauty of the cloud spun sky, the stars illuminated by the moisture in the air and the rain still falling gently above me. My prayer came quickly and easily that we all remain well and healthy and that this illness be short lived. This all may seem surreal but such prayers are as real as it gets. Be well my friends !!!
March 13, 2020
Indian Divide, New Mexico
Today is a day for rationale. I feel the need to share this today because even my own usual calm has been disrupted. If just yesterday I returned from a short venture north to a rich appreciation of my simple existence I am off kilter as well. I rarely live with fear even if there is an occasional concern. I have over the last few weeks distracted myself too often with my concerns and even found justification for worry. A week and half ago I ventured to California in spite of the need for caution and even flew back from there, against my better judgement. If I was the only one on the plane with a mask I was not embarrassed, and I am glad that I wore it. Two days ago I found out that three of the TSA agents at that airport are ill. They were on a different shift and airline than the time of my passage through there but they got sick from someone! I have tried to keep my distance from everyone since that trip. Today is day nine since I traveled and I am feeling well, and rather relieved also. Hopefully I avoided any contact with the virus but I am still nervous.
Today is a day for rationale. I perused my dwelling when I returned home from the last adventure and found it to be adequate. If anything I am as prepared as anyone for a lengthy containment, though I wish the windmill worked. Aside from relying on stored water I have all that I need for weeks of isolation, for all the good it may do. It seems that at some point we will all be at risk to get sick as this is likely the new normal. None of these things just go away on their own, but it is nice to hope they will. Regardless of the future it is the consequences of the present that loom over all of our heads. It isn’t just the worry as to how ill we will become, or how that process plays out but the volume of what is happening around us. Things will never be quite the same after this is over and we know it. It will be months before we really know the entire scope of this event, and we may never shake hands or hug someone again without recalling this time, let alone use any public facilities! I’m rather glad I have worked in wastewater for so many years as I am already mindful of the things that lurk on surfaces and ultimately my hands. Sadly, I still bite my nails on occasion.
What is my rationale this morning? My appreciation for every aspect of my life is at a peak. The warmth of my family nearby is as precious as it has ever been and I am more concerned for them than I am for myself. I want my son and his wife to be safe and I hope this is not the new normal for my grandkids. I had the longest conversation I have ever had with those two boys last night and they listened closely and contributed their thoughts. I wish they weren’t so wise or aware but then we had our own fears at their age also. Hell, we grew up with the Vietnam War, 1984 and the Brave New World, birth defects from medications and friends who had polio. Maybe this isn’t so very different after all? At least our children are the least vulnerable to this latest scourge and if anyone has to get sick, let it be me. I have a fairly good survival index and if I don’t make it it’s been a good ride! If it spares us all, as I hope it will, my appreciation for all things just upped a few notches! It is good to be alive.
I think it is the uncertainty that bothers me the most, as I am sure it does everyone at this moment. My business plan is shaking on its foundation. I can open the doors as I may but I am inviting in something I would rather avoid. Now is a great time to stay home! When I was traveling this week I avoided stopping anywhere unless necessary and I peed on the roadside. My thought is that any of us who is mindful of ourselves and others will be doing the same and anyone else is less cautious and therefor more dangerous. What a thought, right? With that in mind do I want to open the gallery doors at all? The answer is no, but I still need an income. I was fortunate to have a contract offered to me that will help me out but I, as with all of us, am worried about these next few months. The word appreciation arises again because I will have a roof over my head regardless of what happens, even if I can’t pay my bills. I know how fortunate I am because there have been years out of my life when I had so little to fall back on that I would have wondered where to go.
I hope that we are all overreacting, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. That the older population seems to be much more vulnerable to the virus is concerning. I have had pneumonia before and even the usual is scary, and this seems much worse. That it seems to spread so easily makes it even more frightening. My instincts say to be still and I am considering that closely. My appreciation for where and how I live has never been as great as is it is now, and I have always been grateful! That I am even more prepared for such an event as this than I thought I was is a huge comfort, and a genuine affirmation also. I am glad to be where I am! When I said my morning prayer today I had so much to be thankful for.
Speaking of prayers. I have said a morning prayer for many years now and it has humbled and educated me to some great degree. When we acknowledge that there is something greater than ourselves that guides our lives it changes our perspective on every life event. I have come to say thanks throughout each and every day as there is so much to be thankful for. I also pray for others, for my life is already full and there is so little I can ask for, or feel the need to do so. Instead I pray to extend those blessings in any way, shape or form that I can. Today I prayed for us all, for our health, protection and good grace that we can come through this challenging time as well and complete as we possibly can. Now is the time to trust that all will be as it is meant to be and that we should all be here with and for each other. It is a good lesson to remember and a much better focus than being fearful or afraid. What will be will be. May all be well today, for all of us! That is the best rationale I can think of.
March 6, 2020
Indian Divide, New Mexico
Contrast, earth to sky, mountains to plains, desert to ocean, solitude to the press of the masses. I have run the gamut in a matter of days, crossing three states, New Mexico, Arizona and California, all the way to the coast, and back again. I left paradise with my final notes expressing the wonder of the silence of my solitary perch with my ears ringing in the peacefulness. I then drove off into the fray of mankind’s activity and spent three days on the highway. I drove the backroads to Flagstaff and then joined the press of the interstate, running eighty miles per hour with the best of them clear to the ocean and washing my hands continuously.
California, with her beautiful green fields, lush vegetation, rolling hills and towering redwoods, viewing them all as they rolled past. Arriving, diving into the sprawl of suburbia and then just as fast turning off onto some narrow road, paved and then not, winding and climbing, deep through the redwood forest and then out on the edges of the mountainside as it climbed to the ridges and beyond. The road was narrow and precarious and the drop below the edge was endless. When I chanced to take my eyes off the road the views were spectacular. Eleven and a half miles and several mountaintops later I turned through a gate onto a narrow two track. After another half a mile I crested the mountaintop with a view of the Monterey Bay and the oceans endless expanse beyond. For a moment I returned to solitude until the darkness revealed the lights of the cities huddling the coastline below me. There is no escaping humanity in such a place and if it was truly beautiful the reality dimmed the ambiance to a subtle glow.
Contrast, when driving back out of the mountains to the highway where every car rushes headlong towards the other on narrow roadways through glorious scenery, unseen for the fear of taking one’s eyes off the road. Everyone is in a hurry there and the traffic screams with their desperation to arrive on time to whatever destination they are seeking, even in the absence of deadlines. The highways are bumper to bumper whether they are going ten miles an hour or sixty, so reminiscent of New York even forty years ago and all the reasons for me leaving there. On a scenic drive we escaped for a wondrous interval and plunged into the deepest of forests with the towering trees dripping with moss. The mysticism of the filtered sunlight illuminated the brilliant green hues of the forest floor and drew me into their beauty. I was then freed of their spell as we rushed back out into the sunlit reality of the highway. I might return one day to explore those mystical depths of nature but as likely I will not. I know of places in Mescalero that have offered me the same fascination and the memory of them is enough.
We then returned to the mountaintop and its view of the bay. I wandered the hillside, finding the trails through the manzanita and madrone that reached and stretched to recover what is theirs. They choked the hillside and crowded the trail and even aspired to overtake the roadway. Nature reclaims everything with time and the lushness is wonderful until one considers the continual battle to keep nature at bay. What the rain and the trees doesn’t reclaim the winds will take instead. The wind there is even worse than here and when one stands on the mountaintop the sun is equally intense. There is beauty yes, in copious amounts, but it is still no match for the mountains and the plains that surround my own home. Nightfall brought a glorious sunset and again the glow of the lights on the coastline far below, which were lovely in their own right. I stood and gazed on them for a long moment, conveying them to memory along with the distant curve of the earth across the bay leading to the ocean. I do miss the water, the cool ocean breeze, the thunder of the waves on the coast, but could not exchange that for the peacefulness of New Mexico. I was grateful to depart come morning.
Then there was the journey back, the drive off the crest of the mountain at sunrise. I took in more of the beauty of the drive as the road was a bit more familiar. It is a stunning place and I am glad to have chanced to explore it. Still yet, in spite of the sense of solitude and wilderness a line of cars materialized behind me before I even reached the pavement. The traffic to San Jose was even heavier but steady on. Having left early I stopped for breakfast and a brief taste of the local culture. I savored it for the moment, knowing that I am missing some vital part of my existence by distancing myself so thoroughly but unwilling to change that either. It will have to do as it is because I cannot exchange my solitude for the masses of people elsewhere, not now and not ever. I even met a most pleasant man before I left and regretted not having more time to spend with him. I marveled at the reality of that as he drove past me in his shiny Porsche, waving and smiling as he passed. What did I miss just then?? I will never chance to know.
Then the trip to the airport, somewhat surreal with the taxi driver complaining that the disinfectant he has to use for his vehicle gives him and others headaches. If the virus has yet to appear in San Jose the Bay Area headlines say it is close. The airport itself seemed fairly normal though some of the personnel wore masks and they all had on gloves. I kept my distance from everyone all that I could. I will admit to a slight twinge when someone coughed and I am sure they were embarrassed also. I donned a mask for the flight even though most passengers didn’t but I will rest a little better for having done so. I relaxed a little more when I arrived in Phoenix and was grateful to be out of California. I had experienced some mild concern that at some point they may close the airports. Why would they not close them? Perhaps I worry more than I should but it seems that they might want to contain the outbreaks before they spread endlessly, though it is likely already too late. I hope not to travel again until this is over.
Returning to New Mexico I gladly reunited with my truck, quickly leaving Albuquerque to Tijeras, Tijeras to Estancia and then the utter wonder of the road from Willard to Cedarvale which was absent of everything but the sun and the sky and not a single car for miles and miles. I could ask for nothing else. As I sunk back into the reality of this place I call home a sigh of relief escaped my lips and my spirit revived itself instantly. I fled the masses of humanity over forty years ago and promised never again to return to them. I have for the most part kept that promise and only return for brief intervals out of the desire to reunite with my family on one or the other coastline. I have added another friend to that list though I passed over a much needed visit with my aunt in southern California. I might have gone to visit her but there would have been yet another airport in Los Angeles where even more fear of infection would have been present. If I was grateful to fly out of a smaller airport the concerns still followed me there and these next two weeks will be worrisome enough.
Returning, waking again in my own bed with no need or desire to be elsewhere. The wind is up but I am okay with that. My garlic is breaking ground, the peach trees are trying to bud and the temperature was forty degrees at daybreak, a sign that spring is getting close. I am as taken by the contrast this morning as I was yesterday when I hit the road south of Willard and drove out across the plain on cracked and empty pavement. I never passed a car for over thirty miles and even then there were few. The absence of people made up for the barren scenery and I would exchange such utter solitude for the press of humanity indefinitely, and I mean that. If I had to choose the choice has been made and the contrast is as stark as the landscape. Let the sun and the sky fill the coffers of my soul and I shall be content.