(A room within rooms at MEOW WOLF)
Despite an immersive eleven days discovering the profound beauty within the southern half of New Mexico, I had returned to Santa Fe the day before Valentine’s Day. I was tired and exhausted and feeling the bookend of my time in New Mexico drawing closer, but I didn’t let that stop me from attempting to venture out once more. I figured I’d put myself someplace public and frankly, go and do something I wanted to do. Which was visit the Meowwolf exhibit in downtown Santa Fe and perhaps meet a kindred spirit within this fantasy world.
MEOWWOLF! House of Eternal Returns;
Friday. February 14. 2020
While sitting on the couch of the living room within the House of Eternal Returns, I heard a voice say out loud, “I’ve come back here three times now.” I look up and see a girl standing in the room, which has lots of frequent visitors, but this one was looking and talking to me. I acknowledged her, but we were both occupied with searching for more household clues regarding the mysterious disappearance of Lex, the son of the fictitious family that lived in this Victorian-styled house. This room in particular held a litany of access points and clues for solving the puzzle, and I was there studying all that caught my eye in hopes of figuring it out. I had already thumbed through a planner from the uncle of the family and had been holding some documents addressed to him in a manilla envelope. I say to the girl standing there, “Here.. check this out... I found the safe code written in there!” I pass her the planner and she sits down on the couch. I put the documents back into the folder as it was far to complex to interpret the situation that prompted its inscribing. I had spent close to two hours exploring and making a halfway attempt at discovering clues and decided to instead switch gears and start sharing and conversing with this energetic person next to me.
She asks, “What safe, where” and, “Have you read the obituary in the kitchen?” I said I hadn’t and then explained where the safe was located at. We laughed at the novelty of trying to explain locations in a place that has you walking through refrigerators and entering into inter-galactic travel agencies which then lead you towards upside-down rooms and further on into chaotic and illuminated forests. She flips through the planner and I lean over to call attention to the parts that I found interesting and relating to the unfolding story.
It was refreshing to take a break from the brain-numbing storyline that was not laid out in such a way that allows you to simply walk through and discover a series of obviously placed clues, but to instead comb through the contents of an entire household that was abandoned without explanation. Could there be something written inside a book, among the hundreds placed normally along a bookshelf or was there an important paragraph written in a fully constructed newspaper. Perhaps read through one of the family members' journals which are pages upon pages of seemingly benign information, until you pass a page that screams relevancy. Would a drawing on a wall be significant or could even the absence of something be a clue? Could you figure out how to tune electrical devices that resonate with disturbing sounds or decipher meaning from the interpersonal relationships that existed amongst at least nine different human and non-human entities that lived there in this fabricated Mendocino household?
This is the thought-provoking, immersive and imaginative conceptual art exhibit created by Santa Fe’s own resident art collective known as, Meow wolf. It’s an interactive space that begins with an underlying mystery of the strange and unexplained disappearance of a family and the outward disturbances it caused in space, time and the shape of a seemingly normal house. Venturing beyond a certain room could very well lead you into an other-worldly fairytale environment and all of which have the overtones of a science fiction event taking place. Written into various rooms and installations, by way of flipping through books on a shelf, tuning harmonic devices, listening to sounds coming from walls, browsing through drawers and totally immersing oneself into the spaces accessed through secret portals is a never-ending mystery encoded into a world of lights, colors, patterns and amazement.
Needless to say, my mind was abuzz with the ferocity it required to pass through hordes of people to search for obscured clues hidden within the house and beyond out into the multiverse. I desperately tried to remember and familiarize myself with the fragmented pieces of information I obtained as I interacted and explored, but there was absolutely no connections being made at the time. It did make for a fun and frantic time returning to a room you had already visited after finding out something about it in another room. Which even then, the passage from room to room was an enigma of itself. The place was created as a dream-like maze of corridors.
Having someone to finally bounce ideas off of and reveal out loud the discoveries made created a newfound sense of enthusiasm. She too was relaying her findings and before long, we were racing up the stairs to see if we could crack into the safe.
The code would not work. So, we circled back down towards the kitchen so she could show me the newspaper that contained the boy’s obituary. Before we got there, we became distracted by the secret passageway underneath the stairs. We laughed and laughed at the novelty of this place and how much it could suck one in, leaving them helpless to try any sort out any logical progression through it all. We started going around and around the 20,000 square foot amusement park exploring and commenting on things more fully together. Even still, after two hours spent investigating the place prior to our conjoined effort, we were still finding new places that had remained hidden to us both.
Our friendship had become instantly palatable and as we explored meow wolf, we also began to research each other. We had both been on very similar travel paths up until this Valentine’s Day meeting and had ventured into similar places across the US along the way. In fact, many of those stops were nearly identical having both visited parts of the Ozarks, Missouri, Arkansas and practically within days of each other, had made stops in New Mexico at White Sands and the Lincoln Forest. It was as if we were both circling the state, bound to meet each other once our concentric circles could become crossed at that exact same time. Even more jarring, was after an eleven-day journey all over the southern half of the state, I had made one last stop to a saloon in a town twenty minutes outside Santa Fe. She was actually camped there at that time. It should really be no surprise then, that by the next morning, we had both awoken with similar interests and desires to go to meow wolf during the exact same hour.
While our recent paths had been eerily similar up until this point, from there we would travel in two, very opposing directions: hers being west towards California and eventually up to Oregon and mine being east back towards North Carolina and further on to Florida landing us in the most opposite corners of the United States.
But the strange and unexpected similarity in our trajectories had one more surprise left to be revealed. Before I felt my time in New Mexico could be deemed complete, I had to visit the second town that ever came onto my list of interesting places: Taos.
Initially, I was planning to give myself a few days recovery from the long and lengthy excursion I had just completed, but when I heard the words fall from her mouth that Taos was to be her next place to visit, I jumped at the opportunity for us to see it together. She smiled at me, sensing my enthusiasm and it was set.
We continued to wander through the exhibit and she disappeared into a tiny little passageway that dead-ended behind a spaceship. It was totally surrounded by 3-D writings and drawings done in blacklight ink. We here with our 3D glasses on getting to know each other further while gazing upon the artistry.
The time in the multiverse had flown by. Before we knew it, another two and a half hours had disappeared. We decided we should leave and I had mentioned a chic lounge place I had been recommended. It looked like the total opposite to the psychotic world we had been burrowed into and it may cause such a jarring adjustment that we would crumble and fall to pieces should we try and enter it. So, we instead searched for someplace else and landed on the Dragon Cafe. Before leaving we spent a bit of time in the gift shop, attempting to decompress from the intense visual and mental experience before heading outside into the cold night air. She suggested we ride together and offered to drive.
As she moved things from the front seat to the back, she had been apologizing for the slew of items having gone a mess in her car, but I had been thinking of how much stuff I would have had to move should we gotten into my vehicle. We park at the capital building where I had gone previously for the luminary walk near six weeks earlier and from the cold, windy walk, we slipped in and grabbed a table near the back. It was packed and it had a tree growing in the middle. For us, having come from a world of trees and magical lights, it seemed appropriate, but flipping through the menu we thought it was not the place to be and just as quietly as we had entered, we stealthily escaped back outside unnoticed.
Next door over was an Indian restaurant and it sounded so perfect, but unfortunately they had just stopped serving. The man standing there made a halfway decent attempt at saying he would serve us food if we knew what we wanted. A few things came to mind, but we weren’t in any rush to get our food to go. The man was in a complete state of exhaustion and even went so far as to say exactly that. We said we wouldn’t be a bother and thanked him for offering to feed us. We left and were now back to the cold, wandering the streets trying to find someplace else. We found another Indian place that was within walking distance and lucky for us they were not exhausted and still serving food! We dined on chickpea masala and aloo gobi with two different types of naan. We ate half of each and saved the rest for our trip tomorrow.
(La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs)
Saturday. February 15. 2020
The drive north was mesmerizing. I had seen a portion of these views on my return route from Bandelier, but this would continue the mountainous corridor between the Jemez mountains and the parts of Carson Forest I’d not yet seen. Before we had even left La Cieneguilla, however, I saw her brake lights flicker as she drove past the petroglyph site there. I could read her intrigue and desire to go in, simply by the stop and go hesitation after passing by it. She pulled in to the next dirt road and said she wanted to go in. I smiled big saying I’d hoped you would! I lead her up to the mesa cliffs that housed the drawings and gave her a rundown on all the history I’d collected over the past seven weeks. She remained mostly quiet the entire time, soaking up the energy of the place. The biggest takeaway I’ve had from visiting sites like this, is how shockingly close I feel to being in their presence despite the near thousand-year gap between our two time periods. We climbed along the volcanic rocks to find the cave I’d discovered. She felt comfortable talking a bit more once in here, but it was mostly contained to how she was reading the energy of the space. I said we should get going and we climbed our way back down and into our cars to resume the balmy drive out to our first stop: the eco Earthships constructed in the desert region outside of Taos. This was her choice for sites to see and it happened to be less than two miles from the site I wanted to see, The Gorge.
The Earthships were totally cool. A community of completely self-reliant, biotecturally constructed homes that utilized natural resources in a manner that eliminates every single utility cost that any other home would otherwise be forced to pay and consume. They filtered water, remediating it for a total of four times before passing it back into the cisterns for primary usage. Solar and wind harnessed the energy needed to power low wattage DC appliances. The materials used to construct, were of either natural or found objects like, tires, bottles and adobe. It's not to say these buildings are costless, as it requires building plans, maestros to construct, electrical and plumbing for the house as well as tin roofs, glass windows, doors and home decor, but the off-grid concept was one that they could spread across the globe and effectively recover your costs in the money saved by having 0 utility costs from then on.
We really enjoyed our informative time here and I could see the gears spinning inside her head as she truly desired this to be the style of a home she saw for herself. I’d seen quite a bit of these in Vilcabamba, but this one was constructed at a pretty high level of completeness for all its connected systems requiring zero grid input. Not to mention, it was surrounded by a community of at least a dozen or so other homes, all uniquely constructed in their various and amusing shapes and styles.
The joy of using natural construction methods like wattle and daub or earthbags, are the designs in which you get to use are organic, funky and creative. It makes the space so much homier and cozy, in my opinion. We stomped around the outside getting muddy to a point neither of us liked all that much, but we laughed at the reoccurrence of it after each attempt to clean off our boots. Before long, we were down the highway and walking up to The Gorge, a pedestrian and motorist bridge that spans the Rio Grande at a very scenic and towering point.
I made sure to bundle up as I figured the wind would be ripping out there and I knew I’d like to spend some time taking in the scenery. We laughed at the, “Mind your children” signage and crisscrossed from one side to the other determining which view we liked best. While standing there gazing at the sunnier vista, she spotted a herd of Barbary or possibly Big Horn sheep approaching the gorge’s cliff-lined edge. I made jokes about their poor route planning that left them standing at this seemingly uncrossable, impassable and never-ending impediment. They ended up sitting down right there at the cliff's edge, all seven or eight of them, while one remained standing behind to keep watch for any approaching predators. I don’t think a single person saw them there and we watched and wondered about their goings and comings, sometimes calling out to see if their heads would turn.
Carson Forests’ snow-capped mountains divided and split themselves upon either side of us and it was a marvelous sight to look down into the dizzying depths of the gorge and then back up towards the angular and chiseled formations of the great, mountainous peaks staring back at us.
However, due to the dizzying day I had had before, filled with the excitement of meeting someone so new and spectacular and visiting such a wild and vibrant energetic vortex of art and intrigue, that it caused me to start fading quite rapidly once we were done with The Gorge and on our way into Taos. I hadn’t a location selected and was just driving around looking for a nice, clear, green space to cook and take in the scenery. Taos turned out to be a bustling sprawl with lots of cars and an energy I could not match. We wound up finding a park and it was perfect to settle into. I reheated the night before’s Indian meal and heated up a kettle of coffee.
The little park was closing soon and the sun had already begun to glow distantly on the horizon behind us. We packed up the vehicles and decided to go up to Eagles Nest for the night. We left her car at the nearby Walmart and traveled together to our next destination. The road into the mountains took the anticipated rapid ascent and now dark, I grew a bit anxious seeing the levels of snow that had been pushed to the side of the roads by the plows. I’d seen this setting quite a few times by now and knew that the chances of getting into one of the marked campsites would be very low, but I remained optimistic that something would avail itself. The good news was, these mountain roads are pretty low traffic and certainly die off during the night. So making a pull-off on one was also a very plausible and workable solution. It does however, also become the norm that after investing hopes in one of the selected sites being open and come to find out that it is closed, that the GPS is no longer available as cell service has disappeared in these high altitude locations.
The path around these series of mountain peaks is called the Ring of Enchantment and it goes around in a near-perfect circle passing by sites like Eagles Nest, Angel Fire, Cimarron, Raton and back on around towards Red River. Our instincts lead us down towards Angel Fire and onto a short road that held only a church and a promising campsite. The campsite, despite being located on an offshoot from the paved road would not be accessible due to snow. But for some reason, something about this snowed-in drive made me think that if perhaps by slow, methodical, 4-wheel advancements, I could make my way into it, even without exposed ruts to drive in.
It had a slight uphill at the gated entrance and the truck immediately began to spin tires. I thought it needed maybe a little more juice to get up and over the initial hump and once seeing me back up and go at again she exclaims, “It's really deep!”
“Oh, I’ve gone through deeper,” I retorted, not seeing things through the same lens as her. Sure enough, I was stopped and stalled again. This time, though, I was unable to back up and all four wheels were spinning in their place. Even in 4-Low, I was unable to advance either forward or backward. I got out and inspected the situation and it was upon seeing the snow piled up to nearly the entire height of the front tires that I too could finally see what she had already observed.
“Well, we’re not going anywhere like this, but I’ve got a few ideas to try out,” I said as I started pulling things out from the backseat of the truck. I unfolded the shovel and started digging out the tires to perhaps allow them to make contact with the ground. I get back in and see if that made any difference, but still in 4L I was not going anywhere. I attempted to use the vehicle’s crawl control feature, an automated drive mode that regulates tire spin independently, slowly digging and dropping sediment to be below the tires, allowing it to then, “crawl” its way out. You neither use the gas or the brakes in this setting and simply allow the vehicle to use its traction sensors to make its own escape. I’ve seen it done in loose sand by the truck designers, and once done in snowy mud by an amateur, but none of which were the situation I was in. I was attempting to work myself out with nothing but soft, powdery snow that had the tires basically suspended in a cloud of air.
The second attempt failed, but I said I had one more trick up the sleeve before I would have to either fetch sticks and rocks to build a traction ramp or we would be forced to camp there and try to get out in the morning. I pulled from the truck a tire deflator and brought the pressure down to about 20 psi. I could go even further, but the lower you go, the higher the risk of breaking a tire bead. When tires are deflated, it creates more contact with the ground, giving it better traction while also softening that contact and allowing the tread to dig in deeper. I took my time, deflating and thinking things over in my head as she hung herself out the window and held the flashlight for me to see. I made a few extra digs at clearing a path for the tires to come back on and she planted some positive, “We’re gonna get out this time” energy into the situation.
I hop back in, tried to reverse in 4L and was met again by the same spinning outcome. So, I activated the crawl control and let it work its automated magic. I gave the wheel a few jerks from side to side and she shouts, “It’s working! It’s working!” I could feel the truck building up tiny amounts of traction and within half a minute, it had crawled itself back onto the pavement all on its own! I looked ahead at the ruts created and let out a laugh admitting at how deep it really was! We high-five and agreed camping out behind the church was the safest call we could make.
Its parking lot wrapped around to a lower portion that seemed like it would be unused. It was Saturday night, so I figured there was a pretty high chance of encountering some churchgoers in the morning, but hopefully our situation would be explainable enough that it would be taken lightly.
Sunday. February 16. 2020
In the morning I peered out and could see the upper parking lot beginning to fill with cars. It was now five to nine and a church service was definitely about to take place. Rather than becoming a part of the sermon, I quickly hopped out and began warming up the vehicle. I noticed a few persons come to the window to look down at us parked there. They would leave and come back with another person, and kept looking. I rolled down the window and gave the very confused gathering a wave, to which they did muster a wave back, but it too was as equally confused as their expressions were. We laughed and rolled out of Angel Fire and headed back towards Eagle’s Nest.
Once in Eagles Nest, I stopped off at a Shell station to re-inflate the tires, make use of the bathrooms and also get a refill on the coffee. I was unsure if the lake here in town was beyond the mountains visible or if the snow-covered plateau was the lake itself. Well, as we drove down the park’s entrance, we would find out it would in fact be the plateau. I said, “Look! There are people all over!” And sure enough, the lake had a scattering of huddled-over people out ice fishing.
The movement was occurring all over the lake as people drug sleds out to random locations to try their luck at different spots. I depth tested a few abandoned fishing holes with my coffee mug to see how far below the surface the ice went, but I could not detect an edge and wasn’t about to stick my whole arm in it to find out. I had seen all the fishermen using gas-powered augers, so I imagine deep enough to need that as well as solid enough to support the people and all of their loaded and heavy gear. Some had pop up shelters while others had snowmobiles and ATV’s out with them.
One man was by himself near the center of the wide section of the lake and we approached him, saying hello. He was warm to greet us and had just finished boring out his second fishing hole. He set up his bucket, dangled the bright little lure at the end of his short fishing rod into the water saying, “I hope you all bring a little luck! Had four get off on my last spot.”
We chatted with him asking about the process, how deep the ice was, what were they catching and then after finding out he’d been in New Mexico for over 40 years, began to chat about the various places we’d been as well as picking his brain for what all he knew. As it turns out, he was the mayor of a town in the northwestern part of New Mexico called, Aztec. He said if we were ever in the Four Corners region to stop by and give a hello. We shuffled on, shaking hands and saying goodbye to the ice fisherman. The landscape here was amazing. It was hard to believe it was a frozen-over lake and then by the summer it was an entirely different scene with boats zipping around on it. And then, in the fall, before it freezes again, its surrounded by forests of vibrant aspens with eagles soaring overhead.
We ventured back to the truck and began our route back down from the mountains. Before we got down, however, we had both spotted a Vietnam memorial off the side of the highway. We couldn’t figure out what it was doing up here, so we stopped to check it out. It had neat architecture, with swooping concrete lines that were built into the earth much as the Earthships had been. Below the ground there was actually a museum in addition to the memorial, but our curiosities had been answered well enough to resume our route off the mountain.
We continued to chat all the way back and all of a sudden the reality of being back in the Walmart signaled an end to our time together. We were both very happy and thankful for the opportunity and I parted with a nice geode that I found to put with her growing rock collection. She went to her car and dropped in my hand a buckeye from her land back in Illinois. She said she always put a few in her car as items of good fortune. I liked its smoothness and had never held one before. We said our goodbyes and went off in separate directions. I followed the Rio Grande back to Santa Fe and she took off through the rest of the Carson Forest to make her way west.
And like that my time in Santa Fe / New Mexico had come to an end. I cleaned the house to the best of my ability, watered all the plants and trees and gave the guest book three pages of eloquent and thorough descriptions of my time at the property.
It was time to say goodbye to the desert. I chatted with the neighbor briefly and she reiterated coming back next year and she’ll have some yard work I can help with. I was encouraged to know I’d made enough connections to have my time more worthwhile (in a monetary sense) when I return.
Santa Fe (NM) to Meredith Lake (TX);
Wednesday. February 19. 2020.
The mountains were quiet on my departure today. They were barely visible and blended in with the light gray sky. Even the patted-down snow was not comfortable with shining in all its usual, illuminated brightness. The ruggedness of these peaks was seemingly as calm as a gently receding wave. Hiding from sight as if to say they were not ready to say goodbye. The speed at which mountains come and go, it seemed silly for the mountains to think they would not still be here when I returned, but I questioned them as to why they were hiding so.
“But would you still remember me,” they asked sheepishly.
I responded, “That depends on how you painted your skin and combed your hair.”
They nodded somberly. “Well, try not to have any supermassive eruptions and I’ll do the same,” I added as I drove through the last mountainous gulch.
I try to anticipate the direction of the winds with each camp and point the nose into the ensuing weather, but many times I’ve been fooled by the direction and by midnight it has switched. I had guessed right this time, and even still, it violently shook the vehicle to a degree that caused me some concern. Without getting out, I went through my mind all the things attached to the roof rack and were they secure enough to outlast this melee. I figured it equaled the speed at which I drove down the highway, even encountering cross-winds. What I ventured further with in my mind was the location of where I’d parked. I decided the winds couldn’t unlatch boxes from the roof, but for some reason I was still wary of the winds pushing the truck off the lakeside cliff I had parked dangerously close to.
The truck swayed back and forth and wind roared as it swept through our encampment. It would come in surges and then ramp up even harder, sustaining itself for minutes at levels I’ve hardly experienced in tropical storms. I had planned out all these time-lapse shots of hiking over to an opposing finger ridge and catching the sunrise overtop of the vehicle, but by daybreak all I could see were the blankets of gray. The sting of the 22º left me racing to get things together and back into the vehicle. I managed one attempt at anchoring the camera between two rocks within the cliff to time-lapse the rippled waters, but it was absolutely horrible out.
TEARS OF JOY;
Thursday. February 20. 2020.
I am with tear-filled smiles for finally being able to let go. Cast from my body bad blood that had been plaguing me. I felt a shiver come over me as I burst into tear-filled laughter. Flowing free were these broken words of sadness. Born again in happiness, I made my way onto the path back home to love.
Happiness felt like the tickle on the chin of a frisky pooch. I felt with power like the kicking beat of a drum that was my heart saying to the world, Here I am. Show me everything, I am ready to listen. So many times it tried to say, so many times its words fell like the sands into the ocean. But by being alone in the dark, and quiet in the day, it could once again be heard when it chose to speak. And the pure magic of it all, was the reflection of my words back into that which was speaking to me, but also so clearly listening as well. And so went this song and dance between the eternal and I.
I’d peeled away so many layers of myself there in the desert. I thought because I’d done this work before that I would just know myself and continue to live on in exactly the same harmonious manner I’d discovered before. But the truth was, a hard scaling had once again encrusted my being. And a whole new series of fears and worthless expectations had crept over me. Before I knew it, I was locked in a room, imprisoned by these thoughts and unsure how I came to be this way or how to unravel those knots I had tied within myself. I was lost again, I had to fight my way back just to be myself again.
So from this figurative room, I ran at the door, kicked it open and went out into the night. I could feel the distant instincts calling from deep within, but it was a voice I wasn't used to hearing. And its as if I assumed passing through that doorway would solve all that was wrong. The only difference from one side of it to the other was I could feel everything more intensely. The hurt I’d stomached now welling in my throat erupting into a scream. The melancholy that simmered now choked. The desire to see myself as once again kind and my touch to be gentle was enough light to guide me through this darkness. The desert, I thought, would heal all and the mother road would carry me there. As uncertain, timid and nervous as I felt about it, I could tell my actions were moving me nearer towards those desires. It was an adventure. It was magic. It was the flooding waters of the universe taking me in to be born again. I shouted to the great universe, You heard! You heard it exactly as I had put it out there!
Deep down, in a place where my heart used to run
This place I’ve been, comes as familiar as the meeting of an old friend
The skies hold written all the words eternal
And in the waters, carried forth is the love maternal
Revealed upon the rocks, were the pages to my journal
Long-awaited, the wind beats against my hand
Once again prompting me to rewrite my words within the sand
Friday. February 21. 2020
Only two things come from Oklahoma.. moo moos and buckaroos - Bob/Fini
The most excitement I found within the nine hours of driving from AR to IL was coming within 1 mile of running out of gas. Maybe a few swampy patches of tree stumps, but beyond that, zero for any sort of thrill factor. Is this what I had to look forward to? Boil water orders and brown flooded rivers?
“You can’t possibly think your one, lone Mexican restaurant in rural midwest is going to offer anything authentic compared to what I just experienced in Hatch, Texas, Santa Fe... Heck, even in Tulsa it’s pretty darn good! But nothing hiding within the Mark Twain forest or floating down the Ohio river is going to sell me as authentic Mexican.” I hated being so dramatic, but I could hardly even look at my surroundings.
It was somewhere across the Ohio River that I’d lost control of my emotions. Coming off a monumental high, beset with the banality of endless corn and cotton fields, I watched myself become unraveled. I was afraid that if I saw another flooded field, grazing cow, prisoner work camp or cemetery I’d put in a request to cease all travel and simply become a part of it myself. Mercury’s retrograde had spun me into a state of disarray and I couldn’t find any escape from these feelings or flooded campsites either for that matter.
Of course the campsite that I had driven nine hours to see would be taken in by flooding waters. Of course the only way out here would be a ferry from a town called, “Cave in the Rock.” I was teetering on a cave-in of my own.
HEART OF THE HEARTLAND;
Finally, finding a way over the watery expanse, I realized who was utterly pleased with these conditions... The beavers! I watched as a fat ball of fur rolled off an embankment into the cool waters and paddled around without a shiver or care to the notion of conditions being “flooded.”
And then it happened. Like the unmistakable crack of lightning, I was hit with a sign that could not be mistaken. I stopped the truck, turned around and drove back to what had not only signaled once, but twice. A sign containing the name of a game character I use, modeled after the lead in the play, My Fair Lady.
“Higginson-Henry” could not have been laid out for anyone else but me in a time where I needed to feel the love of the universe once again. I had become so frustrated I was going to double down and drive another 8 hours to Asheville, but I was given a chance to settle down and instead enter through the gates of gratitude. I turned onto the dirt road that took me past a few properties. It pulled up to a hill that had a short loop at the end and was tucked away in the woods. It was alongside a tiny secluded lake that would be my final campsite for the two-month, 3600-mile journey to the American Southwest and back.
I couldn’t believe at how perfect it was and the saving grace filled me with such joy that I danced, played music, sang to the forests and felt the culmination of a life-shaping journey vibrate through my entire being. I was a pulsar in the night sky resonating its lights for a million miles. While this moment was truly celebratory, my integration back into life in the east was an ongoing struggle.
It had started to dawn on me when I had visited the Cosmic Campgrounds and there was a sign there notating the areas of dark skies in the US. If you segment the US by Interstate 35, which runs from Minneapolis south all the way Laredo, Texas, to the East is entirely covered with light pollution due to the density of the many urban metros. To the west, short of Phoenix and Denver there’s hardly a patch of light until you hit California and the west coast. This left the entire heartland, totally dark, but not to say without life or excitement.
It wasn’t until I had gotten even further south and away from the transplant vibes of Santa Fe that I had really begun to feel the true nature of the desert. It was magic and the people living in it, had been following their ancient cattle ranching practices just as their ancestors had done since the mid-1800’s and even longer if you followed in the footsteps of the natives. Yet, despite this lull in lights, it wasn’t dull whatsoever! It was vibrant, happening and everyone got along wonderfully. It was great! If the ocean ever decides to simmer its calling in my heart, I think I could live here quite contently.
The nerves and anxiousness I feel back home in the east, I can feel it rapidly pouring itself onto my newly established calmed and collected mind. Covering up the energy I had experienced and was hoping to bring back with me. Even with all its shops, highways and bustling activity, here is where I feel the actual dullness. In my mind, the influence of those lights registers immediately, and in my body the dullness settles into my heart for I care not what is happening outside my doors like I do when I was surrounded by the heart of the west.
I struggled to hold onto those moments of understanding and self-discovery I’d experienced in the desert. It was as if the further east I went, the more it began to erase this connection I had built. Thoreau says, “We go eastward to realize history, and study the works of art and literature, retracing the steps of the race; We go westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure.”
I’ve always felt that whenever I travel, in either small or large distances. The process of retaining what all I’d learned and escaping this rapid sense of amnesia I was undergoing was daunting, but it revealed to me that its in the application of these truths I’ve learned, where I can progress the furthest. It's always the re-integration period that strikes me as the biggest challenge. I’ve all the lessons, I’m awash with newfound energy, but can I translate it to a world that it was not discovered in? Is this person I am here, the same as I was alone in the desert with nothing but the beauty of nature to occupy the mind? I struggled to let go of the desert.
A FAMILIAR LOVE;
Saturday. February 22. 2020
Same as the journey began, so too would it finish with a visit to my grandmother in Asheville. She is so sharp and I had my mother put in a call to her to let her know I would be coming to visit. She was excited to see me and didn’t want to waste time playing cards. We played one game and in the middle of it she says, “Let’s go back to the room after this game so you can tell me all about your trip.”
I paint for her the entire route, post-leaving her retirement center the first time and telling her what it was like traveling and living out of a truck. How I stayed warm, what I ate, how I cooked, what all I climbed, the animals I saw and the heart-warming feelings I received while becoming immersed in it.
Seeing her caused so much love to come pouring out and I couldn’t stop myself from hugging and kissing her. I shot a brief interview with her where she gave me a lot of befuddled, “I don’t know,” answers, but we laughed and had a good time. She asked if I was going to sleep in the parking lot again and I said I would and that I would be back in the morning to see her before I took off.
Sunday. February 23. 2020
I slept like a rock outside. Even in Asheville, at 2800 feet, it pales in comparison to the high desert for cold. In fact, there wasn’t a spot in New Mexico that I drove through that went below 3000 feet. Even in the low valleys, it's elevated due to the natural rise of the continental plate. I sat with her in the morning as she ate her breakfast from the styrofoam tray. She balanced the eggs on her fork all the way to her mouth and seemed disinterested in much else that was there to eat.
After they took her tray away, she looked over at a notepad and pulled it towards her and set it back down. She asked me what the name of my dog was, followed by what was my college major. When she glanced again at the notepad, asking me what my favorite food was I realized she was now interviewing me! I laughed and asked if she wrote down questions to ask me last night. With a demure little head nod, she smiled and asked, “What's your favorite color?”
I answered all of her questions, writing them down on the notepad for her. As the RA’s came in to help get her dressed for the day, I made my exit by giving her a big hug and wished her well on her upcoming birthday. She’ll have reached 94 years of age in a week's time.
One of the questions I had asked her was where in the world she would go that she has not already been. She thought for a moment and then said definitively: Alaska. “Alaska?” I repeated. She nodded and said she would like that. I jokingly asked if she would go by herself and she said, NO! I would not go by myself like you would. I asked would you like to go together? And she said, Yes.
Thank you all for coming along with me on this journey! I apologize for the laps and delays in this content. It became increasingly difficult to manage all of the content while on the road, but I had a lot of fun making this last one. Cheers!
NEW MEXICO PART 4 (FINALE): White Sands to North Carolina (VIDEO)