20 September 2003

Round midnight, Home

Happy Birthday, Laura Wineland!

Thanks to everyone for all the mailbox love lately: Carrie Robbins (for the beautiful hand-made card), Jon Jeffryes (for the paper doll from Madison), Cynthia Rogalin (for the letter and adverts from Bristol), Ila Gates-Thomas (for the lovely letter), John Aerni (for the note from ALASKA!), Dave Waskowski (for the pre-poem & sketches), Mom (for the Onions!), and of course Dad (for 500 postcards from all over the world but strangely all postmarked Madison...). I feel so loved! Too bad poor Danielle’s developing a complex....

***

Though I didn’t have to work today, it was still a busy day. Had a lot of lame errands to run – like opening an account at the New Mexico Educators Credit Union, picking up a date book, writing and sending an article to the Tijeras PAC newsletter about the Bully Proofing program at Roosevelt Middle School – but also managed to squeeze in some good quality time. Spent a few hours writing at Irysh Mac’s, a cute little coffee shop across from campus, and toward sunset went hiking in the foothills with Danielle and Zeke.

We managed to time our hike perfectly. We reached the top of a steep crest just as the sun was beginning to fall behind the western mountains, and we rested on some rocks and watered the dog as the lights came on in the city below. Albuquerque at night is beautiful from above. I’m not wild about the city-ness of it when I’m in the middle of it, but I love to look down on it from the Sandias or from the West Mesa.

The hike itself was a bit difficult – though I was walking as much as ten miles a night this summer in Grinnell, the low hills of the 11th ave-T38-Hwy 6 loop did nothing to prepare me for hiking in the mountains. Of course, it’s not even the climbing that’s so hard – it’s the breathing. Stupid asthma. I told Danielle that sometimes I think I’d rather be deaf than have asthma. Zeke’s eager insistence makes climbing much easier, though. His old-man act fooled Danielle, and she was talking about walking him down to the golf course near campus with her flash cards, so she could study and walk at the same time... and then she actually took his leash, and realized how wrong she’d been about him as she got dragged up the street behind him. When I caught up to them, I laughed, “I warned you he was a beast!” I took his leash for the second half of our upward journey, and found him to be a great help as the terrain grew steadily more vertical. I joked that he was my “anti-gravity belt,” but he also made the climb easier by showing me where to put my feet.

Danielle and I decided that it would be safer for all of us to let Zeke off the leash and let him find his own way down. Down was a lot more treacherous than up, and though Zeke seemed to have no problem trotting down the rocky mountainside, Danielle and I slid and yelped our way down much of it. Maybe Zeke truly is a Desert Dog. He matched the landscape beautifully, with his dark brown against the lighter reds and browns of the rocks and the greens and yellows of the cacti and desert flowers. He’s still having trouble with cacti spines, though – Danielle and I ended up pulling about 15 of them out of his face and legs before we got back into the truck.

I kept asking Danielle for the names of things (thinking of Robert Hass: “I have believed so long / in the magic of names and poems. / I hadn’t thought them bodiless / at all. Tall Buttercup. Wild Vetch...”). Gesturing across the openness between our high perch and the southern horizon, “Do you know the name of that range?” No. The mountains past the West Mesa, lit blue before the light of the sinking sun? No. The cactus that looks like a spiny aloe vera plant? No. This ropy branch, from what tree? No. Finally I said, “Where’s the New Mexico native roommate who’s supposed to be introducing me to this land?” She laughed. “I used to know names, but they’ve been expunged and replaced with venereal diseases and facts about the pancreas.” In her defense, she did tell me about a virus or something I could catch from touching rat poop.

Still, I need to know the names of things. Tomorrow I think I will go hunting the used book stores for an old desert field guide.

***

Yesterday at work, we were sitting in the conference room waiting for a staff meeting to begin when Jennie (my boss) grabbed my hand and pulled it toward her in order to study the lines on my palm. After a few intent moments, she told me that I had been sick a lot as a child (which is true); that though I’m very particular about who I choose to love, I love them deeply; that I’m still very connected to home; and – and then she seemed really perplexed, and traced the long line that curves from my index finger down around the base of my thumb. “This line should be much deeper, Molly.” I got nervous, and looked at the line in question. She traced it again. “It should be much deeper. You have a lot of potential that’s just lying fallow, Molly. Either you’ve chosen to walk away from it, or there’s something standing in your way – something’s blocking it.” I got this creepy, shivery feeling up my spine and through my shoulder blades. Jennie shook her head, and said, “You’re very intuitive, but you don’t let your art come from your intuition. It’s mostly driven by your head. You should let more of your heart into your work.”

The shivery feeling along my spine was only getting stronger, but I stayed skeptical. “Maybe the lines on my hand are so light because I’m young.” Jennie shook her head and grabbed the hand of a girl younger than me. “Look at her hand – her lines are deep. It’s not age. The lines of your hand change throughout your life.” At that moment, Daniel (the executive director of Talking Talons) came up to Jennie and started talking to her. I tried to shake the creepy feeling off like Zeke shakes off water, but it stayed with me all morning. I had a hard time focusing through the meeting, and the beautiful Swainson’s hawk that was perched in the middle of the conference room didn’t help my concentration. She kept ruffling her feathers and opening and closing her mouth, and once in a while she’d make a peeping noise. I wanted to be like her, to puff out my feathers and then nudge them all back into place.

After work, I drove south on Highway 14 through Tijeras and into the Manzano Mountains. Ten or fifteen miles south of Tijeras, I pulled off the road into a Cibola Nat’l Park trailhead. I parked the truck and set off with my journal and a bottle of water down a narrow dusty trail worn into the side of a mountain. Rounding the first curve, I was shocked to come across a green, grassy meadow! I looked for a river, wondering where all this green had come from. Grass! And flowers! A whole meadow full of green!

There was no river, but the trail followed a dry riverbed, sometimes crossing right through it. I imagined that the bed must fill up with water during these brief evening rainstorms, and it’s probably even a proper river in the snowmelty spring. Each turn in the path offered a new gift: a stone cliff like the bluffs of western Wisconsin, a prickly pear cactus full of ripe red fruit, a sea of bobbing yellow cutleaf coneflowers, the trunk of a juniper twisting its way through a cracked boulder, the perfect bloom of a southwestern paintbrush. And then I came across a bright purple soda can still full of grape soda, wedged in the little niche between two halves of a split tree trunk. At first I was surprised, because I hadn’t seen a single person the whole time I was hiking, and then I was irritated. I almost plucked it from its nest to carry it out of the park, but then I thought, it’s like a talisman, a sign, the way travelers of old used to pile stones, to point the way to future travelers, to show they’ve been there. And so I walked on.

A minute or two later, I thought, why do humans need to leave evidence that we’ve been somewhere? Isn’t this well worn path, imprinted with the tread of hundreds of hiking boots, sufficient proof? Isn’t the path alone testament enough to the presence of humans in this juniper wood?

On my way back along the same trail, I grabbed the can and carried it out with me.

Deep in the heart of the river-cut valley, too far from the highway to hear anything but birdsong, I found a perfect stone chair set in the side of a hill, and wrote for a while. I thought about the few people in my life who have been quiet enough with me to share a moment like this; thought about the few who have walked through an autumn afternoon with me with open eyes and ears, open hearts, taking in all the beauty and offering nothing but the soft crunch of brush underfoot and the warm glow of contentment.

Sitting there in the afternoon sunlight, all yellow and orange before it meandered on along its own path behind the mountain, I remembered a day out at Rock Creek with Ali....

(from my plan 28 September 2000)
and we need to escape so we drive out to rock creek. the path takes us along a field of autumn grasses, all golden and beautiful oranges and browns, and then the path
takes a sharp drop and we see a quiet doe below us, in a grove of trees next to a little stream, and to our left is a pond among all the goldenrod grasses and the orange and red leaves and the sun is that perfect almost sunset color and the doe is so delicate like a unicorn and we are totally silent just watching her. after about five minutes she goes bounding into the woods so we keep walking, past the stream and take turns and forks until we come back to the lake, but far away from where we started. later we walk back and there are bright orange berries against fallen brown trees and golden grasses and red leaves and it is beautiful.



Speaking of plans, last night when I checked them, I was happy to see Mark [Baechtel]’s response to my Baechtellian Retrospective plan. “If you didn’t already exist, it would be necessary for me to create you.” Ah, the perils of being friends with writers....

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