New Mexico. It was just the place to go when we left Illinois. Perched between the mountains and the desert, a confluence of contrasts. Just like life out here now. With the coronavirus ravaging the nation and divisions of race, economics, and politics ravaging our spirits, the beauty I am fortunate to witness and to be a part of seems ever more poignant.
This time, the stop in New Mexico lasted just shy of two months. In some ways, I felt insulated from the happenings of the world. The case count in Taos County hovered below 20 until shortly after Memorial Day Weekend. The protests consisted of a few individuals standing on a corner in town, at the same location where people protested another cause a year and a half ago, when we were here last.
But, in other ways, I felt acutely a part of the events of the world, especially the virus, as the idea of community shifted to six-feet apart, no-contact friendships. And having to be the one to do the dance, shuffling left, right, and back when people approached maskless and without regard to social-distancing protocols. The virus didn’t seem quite real to people around there, it seems. Whether it was the (very lovely) campground owners, or the Harley riders that came for a cancelled rally, or the bazillion Texans who came through the campground. None of them took care to protect themselves or others, which made meeting difficult.
And then there were the few who got it. Like our dear neighbor. A person I feel lucky to have met on this journey, and even luckier to have been able to spend time with, in deep conversation. A connection that happened across the safe space but became no less important than had we been able to sit together over dinners or cups of tea or coffee while chatting for hours. There are people whose paths you cross who you understand have become part of the fabric of your universe. The pandemic doesn’t have to change that.
And maybe the next time our paths cross, we will actually get to hug hello and goodbye.
In the time I was in New Mexico, I felt the freedom of bursting out into the natural spaces. The pull for me this time was more to the alpine forests than the desert canyons. Sure, I was still awed by the expanse and rugged beauty of the Rio Grande Del Norte, but the stark landscape and heat made my spirit feel heavier this time around.
Instead, it was the steep climbs and tall pines that lifted me up with each step on a path leading upwards. Up to where the air was cooler and lighter. I again hiked the Columbine Trail, twice, though I didn’t get to go as far as I’d hoped because eventually a high river crossing, immediately followed by a gigantic tree fall, made me turn around earlier than I’d planned. But, my favorite hike this time around was the Middle Fork Trail.
This was a new one. Down past Red River, off of a dead-end road (through a valley where nearly every home belonged to a Texan…I swear, I saw more Texas plates than New Mexico plates in the whole of Taos County this year), the drive to get there was breathtaking itself. But the hike…was amazing. It, more or less, followed a rushing river until it landed on the banks of a mountain lake. Hardly a soul around, on the trail or at the lake. Just the rugged peaks rising above me on one side, keeping me company as I lost myself in the reflection of trees, snow, and sky in the lake. I sat there on the shore until fat raindrops plopped into the water, sending rings outwards from where the raindrops hit and me back down the mountain.
I thought I’d make it back to that place again, but it wasn’t to be this time. I did get a fun bike ride in, and we did manage a couple of beautiful drives. One took us to a prehistoric landscape, while another drive led us up a rugged dirt road through a gorgeous valley with a creek winding through it. The drive took us to a place where the air was clearer and cooler, the skies bluer, and the grass greener. It felt like a space apart from where we had been sitting for nearly two months, desert and mountains juxtaposed. This place felt wholly new, and wholly peaceful. No longer a space in between. And it felt like it was time to move on. The road began calling again.
So plans were made to finish out our time where we were, and then to point the rig north, to Montana. A new landscape to absorb. Mountains to meld into. And endless skies. Montana has been calling me for a while now. I’ve felt its tug, and I am finally listening to its pleas. It’s been a few years since I’ve ventured into the state where I was born, and I am looking forward to the new wonders that are awaiting me there.
In the meantime, I am enjoying the 16-day journey to get there. It’s a strange journey out here these days. I travel through a surreal dream that is part nightmare and part the stuff good dreams are made of. But I do know that the nightmare makes me appreciate the dreamy parts that much more. I also know that I wish the nightmare would go away, though I think the confluence of contrasts in the world right now is teaching me some valuable lessons about life, about this world, and about what matters most. I still have much to learn. I know. But that’s what this journey is for.