Leaving the lush yellow-green beginnings of spring for the New Mexico desert brought enormous challenges. After long travel, including a 7 hour flight, (haggling with the car rental agency employer about the ‘toy’ matchbox compact car’ offered me, of which I could not see the road over the dashboard, and insisted on an upgrade), I arrived in Grants 3 hours west on highway 40, dodging 75 mph ‘semis.’ I was greeted warmly by my hosts who waited up for me, and slept three hours. Still on Eastern Standard Time at 7am, I looked for breakfast, which I never found, having walked one mile each way in the startlingly brilliant desert light. The poignant pinion smell, or, “New Mexico” smell, brought me immediately into the land of dust and sand and enormous sky. There were many one-story adobe storefronts, (which I could not eat), with dusty old and broken ‘open’ signs, all closed, at that, of signs that said, “Texas Watermelon,” “Turkey Vultures,” Tattoos.” Town had no life in it, except for passing cars and trucks en route to the next towns, and a continuously running cargo train bringing goods east from China, returning to the west coast empty to repeat it again. There were no crosswalks.
My first visit was to the Sand Bluffs at Malpais. ,”(Badlands),” of twisted rolling liquid lava mass frozen in time from 300,000 years ago, which runs 100 square miles 40’ deep. Lava never changes, but it is pores, so that tiny little roots can grow, forming little blue bushes that obscure the lava. Now I have a sense of the power and age of a volcano. The next day I took 371 north, (right between the Continental Divides), off 40 west, at the very road I was instructed to take east to Chaco Canyon, but it was closed, and I had to drive all the way south again to catch another road east, driving and extra 80 miles, but so what? I could not get enough of the space in the landscape. It was as though I was not even driving…I was flying through the landscape. I saw a house built way far deep ‘way out there,’ with electrical wires connecting it to the world. Dust from sand suddenly whipped up like passing ghosts. I saw an antelope, and passed signs that said things like: “Rodeo,” “Bingo,” Bible,” “Talk of the Town Carwash,” (the only action in town), “Church of God,” all of which had in common that they were worn old signs falling apart. Radio stations preached what the Lord says you are supposed to do, and Indian Language shows played their music or told the news or stories…I have no idea which. Once I got back on the right road, there were no road signs, but according to the map, this had to be the right road, I prayed, 14 north, but soon it became a ‘non-road,’ the surface of which was a washboard, dusty of sand that whipped up into the air at every split second my tires touched surface. My first impression, having arrived at Chaco Canyon, was physically being so high up in the sun scorched desert, present at this sacred site, of a people disappeared like @ Macchu Picchu, who chose to live in bitter cold winters and seething hot summers. One is forced to imagine so much about whom these people were. Why did they build here, and why did they leave? At Pueblo Bonito, the architecture informs much about its former inhabitants. The rooms were small, and there were so many of them one could get lost in the maze. There were common entertainment amphitheaters. Wood was carried from a forest far away, used as roof beams in the stone structures. One particular window was aligned to allow the sun to come through at solstice, perfectly aligned for four days. There were moon alignments and stars alignments. Driving back south, Mt. Taylor was parallel to me at a distance, but then jumped ahead, way far ahead, like 100 miles ahead, and I don’t know how it did that, unless I was driving backwards. Out of curiosity, I took the detour onto a sandy road and was instantly asked if I was lost. The people responded well to their new stranger, but I was afraid they would invite me to dinner. There were oil rigs in action and the town smelled thusly; Hosiah is a town of long dusty roads to nowhere. People looked Indian and/or Spanish, with pleasing countenances.
I walked many miles through the beautiful town of Santa Fe. I passed a Guatemalan Church that had a glass box with many handwritten notes dropped in it, stating wishes. There was a poster asking people to do so, if they believed in: doing good in the world, believing in a great power, many things which sounded just fine to me, so I qualified to make a wish as well. As I was writing my wish, my cell phone rang. It was my sculptor friend Janis Mintiks, so I asked him if he ‘wanted in’ on making a wish. He did not hesitate: “To go back to France,” so I wrote a paper for him, too. I then visited a painter in Galisteo, Judy Tuwaletstiwa, and her Hopi husband Phillip, a Crow Indian, a geodesist. I had been navigating maps and directions, driving great distances, for days. That day was extra hot and dry. I arrived unknowingly dehydrated, with a red face and a headache. Phillip greeted me warmly, and Judy hugged me right away, and gave me water and ‘clean,’ good food. Judy took me into her studio, where we stayed talking for hours. Her work is elegant, inventive, playful, intelligently imaginative, working with strings of glass, (things one would never imagine could be done with glass), animal parts, things she finds, (like the skeleton of a crow: she uses everything). Suddenly here in my life are new friends. They live in a refurbished old adobe filled with light, space and love. Philip gave me a DVD “The Mystery of Chaco Canyon,” in which I later discovered what a large part he had as one of the narrators.
From their house I drove on to Albuquerque, another hour’s drive through endless open space, brilliant light, to return my car rental. The man who accepted the car back clocked in that I had driven well over 2,000. miles, (I, who do not like to drive). There I met up with a painter with whom I attended undergraduate school decades ago, Louie D’amico, who runs a clay studio. When Louie touches clay, it turns to gold. He took me to the Rio Grande where we both painted, in Corrales. An impending dust storm closed the roads, so we walked with our easels great distances, fine with me but hard on Louie.
Back in New England, I have been floating through the walls of my house, or, more like flying/hovering, getting stuck in mid-air. My familiar New England landscape welcomed me back home lovingly. There are more birds than when I left, and the trees are coming into full blossom, and lush yellow green in the fields and mountains.
My Aunt Pearl passed away two days after I returned, but the vast New Mexico landscape keeps throwing itself in front of me.