01 October 2003

around midnight, mountain time, home

Too much happens in one day to capture any but flashes. Each sunset alone warrants epic description, moment to golden orange moment. Tonight after work I went hiking in the Manzanos and a line from DBQ was running through my head: "What impressionism takes us to is the belief that at every single second the world is change." I felt that intensely tonight, personally, as the sky changed color around every single curve. I imagined what it must be like to be an impressionist, to be dragging an easel and canvas and paints down into the canyon instead of just a nalgene bottle and journal. Coming up out of the canyon as the sun was setting, I kept stopping in the road to jot just one more line – just one more line – just one — and as I was standing under a golden oak, a group of mountain biking boys rode past me and stopped a few yards up the trail, laughing and punching one another and joking about who did or did not make it up certain parts of the trail, and I could hear them whisper about me and was suddenly conscious of who I was at that moment: the crazy girl scribbling in a book, leaning against a tree and looking up at the changing sky every few moments. So be it. I’m sure the farmers who came across Pissarro or Monet whispered and wondered as well, and no one who knew Turner thought he was normal when he tied himself to the prow of the ship in order to paint the storm.


The hike was a strange and beautiful blend of the familiar and the foreign. I was so happy to be surrounded by these rock faces like the bluffs along the Mississippi in southern Wisconsin, hung with orange and crimson ivy, and to follow a creek – to cross a creek on a natural bridge of boulders! – to smell the deep, sharp scents of fallen leaves and drying grasses.... I thought of all the times a crisp autumn afternoon would impel me to grab a loaf of french bread, some cheese, some apples perhaps, and go wandering through Horicon Marsh (in particular one long, lovely day in late September, maybe 1997, watching Canada geese with Ila, driving home in the lights of too many trucks, in her old gray station wagon) or trek out to Picnic Point, or down to my darling “Jenni & Kyle Guerkink” bench in the arboretum — thought of the autumn days at Wyalusing with the Catlins, and later with half of the sixth graders at Oregon Middle School, of days at Devil’s Lake, climbing until everything was fiery trees and sparkling lakeview....

And then driving home, winding around and around through the Cibola forest, through the Manzano Mountains, toward an ever changing sky spiked with sunbeams like the cover of an inspirational Hallmark card, or a child’s mountain sunset in crayon. The mountain profiles soft and indigo against an apricot dusk. I imagine you here with me, imagine taking your hand as we search for red leaves in the canyon, imagine you in the seat next to me as the truck pulls around another curve and the first star appears in the cup of sky between two peaks. You, all of you. I wish to be a camera at every moment, to share each slow breath and every swooping bird, want to show you what it is to stand atop a granite shelf overlooking a long canyon of dusty smooth stone and charred boughs as the salmon clouds define the delicate contours of cliff against sky.

I want to share this all with you, and I am struggling in the limitations of my language, straining against the boundaries of what I can name. My specificity is limited by all the words I do not know, all the words I do not have, and as I walk sometimes I spin through words in my mind and wonder where they fit in this valley: saguaro, sage, piƱon. In my mind, David Campbell is saying, “We don’t have the words to love this place,” and I am naming everything I can: oak leaf, prickly pear, southwestern paintbrush, juniper, aspen. Sunset. Mountain. Autumn.

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