Part Four: A Yankee Girl Visits the Southwest and Prepares to Return
In August, I ventured to New Mexico for the first time. When I left, I had every intention of planning my return. So in a few days, I will return to the land of enchantment to be charmed once again by the high desert, in the height of our Bostonian winter.
I went, only a few months ago, to whet my appetite for what John Muir called "soul hunger," and I go to do the same once more. A week was not at all enough in the varied altitudes of New Mexico, and the once capital of New Spain, the once space of the New Mexican American territory, the forever home of the Pueblo Indians.
When I left, I walked backwards on the pioneer trail, back to the sea from whence I came, to a New England world satisfied with itself, a tamed land that rebels only during winter, in protest of convenience. The skyscraper reigns in the eastern world I know, but it's the sky in the west that I want to be near again. So I'll go back, this time just to Santa Fe because that's all I have time for.
The photograph above is from Williams Lake, nestled in Taos Ski Valley. Wheeler Peak lies ahead. I would love to go back to Taos and the valley, but it will have to be another time. When I took this photograph, I had walked by foot, reaching 11,000 feet above sea level. The next day I crossed the tree line by horseback and felt as alive as I ever have. The western forests look and feel so different from the Appalachian woods I know so well, and it was invigorating to explore them in the Taos Ski Valley. Snow assuredly covers that valley now, and instead of hikers, it's filled with skiers. On the morning of my hike, I thought of D.H. Lawrence and how he wrote "I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had." Most of his world had already been given over to industry and commerce and matters of reputation by Lawrence's time. Nature had already become "the other" in a way. I felt the same sort of release he undoubtedly felt as I walked the trail to Williams Lake and as I rode a very stubborn horse the following day, although he probably wouldn't have minded an adventure in the city as a break from his own routine.
But I, I regularly feel dissatisfied with my own disconnect from the "outside world" and even calling it that seems somewhat sacrilegious. Northern New Mexico will once again temper that dissatisfaction for me and I can't wait to get back.
It's the mountains, the forests. The architecture which feels one with the earth because it is. Certainly, novelty impacted my experienced. Travelers are ever besotted with the new. And perhaps there's something to be said about genes. My father has loved northern New Mexico since he was a teenager, and my mother has always appreciated it since my father introduced it to her, so long ago. That we should all find some communion with the same space is not only a comforting coincidence, but it's intriguing to me, as if it belies some greater truth about how we connect to certain places, at a very primal level.
The generations of families who have lived at Taos Pueblo would probably be able to say something about that connection. I could understand why they would never want to leave. When I was visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site, I met an artist who had come to Harvard back in the 70s and left after two years because he missed New Mexico so much. I understood him. He missed his tribe, he missed the land, he missed the mountains. And he could do without the humidity of the east and our winters, as well. Now he has a life dedicated to his craft, where there is no distinction between worlds like there was for D.H. Lawrence and for wayward travelers like myself.
So it's time to go back, and let New Mexico rejuvenate me with it's enchantment once more.