Dec. 23 – The morning my son turned nine, I went for a run along Tramway, the north-south road that skirts the foothills to the Sandias in Albuquerque. As I ran, I passed an older woman who was walking. She said: ‘Beautiful day!’ I agreed. ‘We are blessed’ she said. ‘Yes,’ I nodded as I continued along. Yes – we are blessed with this air, this sky, this space, these mountains, this brightness.
Dec. 26 – Riding the Rail Runner train from ABQ to Santa Fe to meet friends I’ve known longer than I’ve known myself.
The train snakes along the river, past horses in yellowed pastures, adobe houses with hornos, dry arroyos and rock-filled gulleys. Cottonwoods with dry leaves still on the branches. Ravens and blackbirds settle on barbed-wire fences. Boarded-up shacks and trailers on flat tires, makeshift stables, rusty pickups and houses with partially-built extensions, blue tarps flapping in the breeze, half-heartedly fastened over exposed walls and windows. Dusty dirt roads and electric wires running from wooden poles, kids waving at the train, mobile homes looking out of place on this land. Broken window panes in warehouses, rusted out water towers and falling down silos. Rubber tires hanging off dry grey wooden posts in the middle of a field. This is not an easy land. I look at the desolate hills, piles of rubble and gravel, abandoned trucks and dreams, graffiti on adobe, and still see immense beauty
We move through a landscape both deeply familiar and unlike any other I’ve ever seen. Partially frozen river, tangles of tumble weeds, yellowed sparse grass, the hump of the Sandias out the window, a purple blue shadow. In another direction, I see the Jemez rising above brown hills dotted with piñon and chamisa. And although I can’t see them from this angle, I know this train brings me closer to the Sangre de Cristos with every mile. These mountain ranges are the final punctuation marks in the long sentence that is the Rockies.
Dec. 31 – At the airport before leaving New Mexico to head back to the UK, we linger in the gift shop. I see an art book called Paintings of the Southwest, edited by Arnold Skolnick. As I flip through, I see artists’ renderings of the landscape I so desperately and deeply love. Some artists are familiar: Georgia O’Keefe, Wilson Hurley, Pablita Velarde. Others, I’ve not heard of: Andrew Dasburg, Paul Lantz, Ila Mcafee. They, too, have fallen under the enchantment of this land. There are quotations by writers, again both well-known and unknown to me, interspersed with the paintings – words from Willa Cather, D.H. Lawrence, Ross Calvin, Frank Waters.
One excerpt in particular catches my eye:
What is New Mexico, then? How sum it up? It is a vast, harsh, poverty-stricken, varied and beautiful land, a breeder of artists and warriors….It is primitive, undeveloped, overused, new, raw, rich with tradition, old and mellow. It is a land full of the essence of peace, although its history is one of invasions and conflicts. It is itself, an entity, at times infuriating, at times utterly delightful to its lovers, a land that draws and holds men and women with ties that cannot be explained or submitted to reason. – Oliver La Farge, New Mexico, 1952.
On an impulse informed by a lifetime of loving this land, I buy the book. Its pages will carry me until the next time I am home.