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.