09 September 2003

4:55 pm, Mountain Time, Home

As I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert's The Last American Man this weekend, I kept thinking about how far I've been living from nature here, and the thought made me unhappy. New Mexico, to me, has always been the mountains first and foremost. The MOUNTAINS!

"I do not know the names of the trees rising on either side of us, do not know any words majestic enough to describe the glimpses of the Santa Fe valley we catch through the trees as we round the curves, cannot explain how perfectly happy I am just to drive in these mountains, and so I gesture toward the windshield and say, 'This! This! Amazing!'"

Of course it's the culture too, but what drew me to New Mexico, what arrested me in the first place, is the land. I am in love with this land. It's the quality of the air, it's the texture of these foothills, the patterns the shrubs make on the mountains, that green lace across these brown hills. It's the coyote I saw on the runway when my plane landed in 1995. It's the peace of the Taos River. The stillness of the woods high in the Sangre de Cristos last year, all swooping wings and birdsong. The stunningly blue skies with their majestic towers of white clouds. The indigo shadows of dawn and dusk across the rounded crests, the spines of the cacti, the brilliance of the sunlight....

So what am I doing in the city?? Though the Sandias define the eastern border of Albuquerque, and though I love to see how they change in every light, I live in the city, where there are no coyotes (though I saw one dead on the side of 1-40 today) and no stillness and the strange, almost luminescent clarity of air is compromised by the pollution. I've been here less than a month, but already I've found myself wondering how long I have to stay in the city before I can move to the mountains. I've been feeling a little like I did the summer in Boston, when I ended up begging Ali to drive until we could smell some dirt and some trees. Every night I fall asleep promising to take myself up to the mountains tomorrow, but too many days the chores and tasks of daily life interrupt my planned mountain time.

Today I went to the mountains -- drove east on I-40 until the peaks I can see from the corner of our block were surrounding me, until I was too close to hold the whole mountain in an unbroken gaze. An hour later, I was standing in a small, crowded courtyard, surrounded by shed-sized bird cages, each home to a different species of majestic bird. Some of the largest of the hawks and owls were literally breath-taking. I had a moment of absolute peace, surrounded by these beautiful birds. Over the rooftops rose the peaks of the mountains I love so well, not off in the distance, but across the street. I felt better -- healthier and more real -- than I have in weeks.

I spent the afternoon trying to come to terms with the sudden turn my life is taking, trying to digest the fact of this new job. Since I had no idea of what I was getting into until my interview with Jenny, I had no time to imagine myself in this position until after the fact, and so all afternoon have been explaining it -- to myself and to Ali, Cam, and Tiska -- in order to try to understand it.

This job is quite literally "beyond my wildest dreams," as I have never, ever imagined a position that combines so much of what I hold sacred: education, kids, violence-prevention & peace training, conservation, animals, social commitment, mountains, and stillness. It would all be far too good to be true if it weren't for the terrible pay -- it's a reassuringly low-paying job, in the grand tradition of almost all jobs that actually seek to make the world a better place. I'm going back tomorrow morning, and though I haven't officially made my decision, I think I knew what my answer would be from the first moment I saw the red-shouldered hawks blinking silently from their dark perches.

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