Enchantment

noun

  1. a feeling of great pleasure; delight.
  2. the state of being under a spell; magic.

From the loins of the Continental Divide, near the southern foot of the Rockies, in the San Juan Mountains, the Rio Grande River bursts from the rocks, tumbling for untold ages, eons before a species began its upright stride to the stage it now calls humanity, southward through fierce stark canyons carved by the ancestors of this very stream on the same path to the Gulf of Mexico cutting New Mexico jaggedly in half, then slicing through Texas and Mexico, criss crossing, at times marking a slithery border, slipping back and forth between America and Mexico during its fluid passage to the gulf. Originally known as Rio Bravo del Norte, the Fierce River of the North, its vicious nature dissipating in sections of the Rio Grande after departing the mountainous ranges of southern Colorado in its downward trek to the oceans, revealing its hidden characters, timidity and calm, alter egos of its origin, with the sinuous length of its grand passage from mountain to gulf rather than its fierce temperament winning out, earning the name Rio Grande, a grand, meandering body of water … in the US; it’s simply Rio Bravo in Mexico, no longer the river of the North yet fierce once more.

As the Rio Grande flowed through the first plateau it encountered (6000 feet above sea level) in New Mexico, enchantment emerged from crystalline vapors in its waters: cultivating its own cottonwood forest spreading both east and west of the river, a riparian rarity the Spaniards christened Bosque (“woodlands” or “forest”); for centuries prior, it was a sociable gathering point for natives of the land and visiting tribes, a mystical oasis of healing, vision, love, community. It attracted early Europeans as well, this powerful magnet enticing them to paradise; these foreign travelers also perceived imagined safety in the mountainous citadel northeast of the floodplains, Santa Fe, a sanctuary upon which to fall back during uncertain times (not always successfully, most notably during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, where 400 Spaniards met their death with the remaining 2,000 swiftly dispersing to distant and friendlier locales). In addition to its long historical significance, as the capital of the state, it is now considered an enclave for the artist community, enticing tourists and shoppers with blocks of upscale shops capitalizing on the artistic environment. For those with remaining funds, flocking to the central plaza lets tourists rub elbows with locals and browse the handmade jewelry nearby native tribes bring to market. One small item takes a large bite of one’s wallet, but rest assured the natives accept plastic. Santa Fe, drenched in centuries of history, is indeed an attractive, boutique-like city, as state capitals go, but nowadays comes with a hefty price tag.

North of Santa Fe lies Taos, where D. H. Lawrence, author of the infamous, shocking, and once banned novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, created his own paradise in 1922, buying and establishing his ranch (now in the US National Register of Historic Places), while attracting others of similar mind and interests, including novelist (and endorser/pioneer of the psychedelic experience) Aldous Huxley and artist Georgia O’Keeffe, to gain inspiration from their own  immersion in the magical surroundings. A short drive out of Taos sends one deeper into nature with Red River, a year-round resort appealing to those seeking a respite, skiing, fishing, or relaxing in beauty, a regular and favorite nature haunt for Albuqerquians seeking trees and streams rather than autos and streets. While some may find it amusing that Albuquerque, population 600,000 or so, has residents who think it a massively large seething city from which they need an escape; it holds over a quarter of the state’s population, making it the largest city of the state, so from that perspective the city is big and crowded. On the other hand, first time visitors to Albuquerque are delighted by the small town friendly feel they find in Duke City (Albuquerque’s nickname, attributed to Viceroy Francisco Fernandez de la Cueva, the Duke of Alburquerque, where somehow the first “r” was lost). Perhaps every city fancies the idea of boasting royal lineage; Albuquerque proudly claims it, declaring itself the city founded by a duke.

West of the Bosque, beyond the north-south line of extinct volcanoes, begins the population of buttes, mesas, and plateaus, and somewhere, New Mexico blends into eastern Arizona, the landscape gradually morphing from desert to mountainous terrain, the Petrified Forest marking the turning point toward the deeper coloring and cooler weather of higher realms, away from the hazy pastel mystery west of the Rio Grande. Sixty miles westward of the Bosque, near the beginning of the towering flat-topped granite pillars and lost guardians, the small, poor, yet still proud Acoma Pueblo tribe once roamed 5 million acres (close to 8,000 square miles) scattered through three New Mexican counties. Today, 270 acres are alloted to the remaining tribe of less than 5,000 members, this last remnant protected as a National Historic Landmark. The pearl of their culture and seat of their history lies atop a mesa, where tribal members reside as they have for 2,000 years prior: no electricity, running water, plumbing, making stone dwellings their home. They eke out a living by the constant flow of tourists, who are ported to the top of a mesa by bus for the formal tour, buying their trinkets and art pieces afterwards; adventurous visitors, of which there are few, can take the rock trail down the front of the mesa, which would retain so much more of its beauty were it not for trash thrown about and turning corners to discover scribbled graffiti and chewing gum slapped on rock walls.

Beyond Acoma, there are few areas of interest in this wide expanse to attract insensitive and uncaring tourists, leaving miles unscathed by meddling or vandalizing human beings. Consequently, most buttes, mesa, and plateaus stand as unmolested testaments to the eons of weathering and erosion a stubborn caprock endures, an immeasurable accomplishment covering spans of eras witness to disasters, growth, uncounted deaths, and transformations in an unpopulated land. While seemingly empty and boundless, there is an energy, the natives may have called it gods, which walked, floated, swam across the atmosphere, inhabited, shared air, water, earth, the electricity of the skies. In the seeming death of the broad empty vista shivered life, invisibly present.

East of the Rio Grande and the Bosque stands Sandia Mountain Range, erect, protective, unbudging, a pink granite wall halting the eastward growth of Albuquerque, exclusive homes dotting the rolling, rocky base (whose outdoor pets disappear regularly, local feedstock for the coyote population). One of the most remarkable and captivating experiences the west facade of this ridge offers is the presentation, during any season of the year, of clouds arriving from the east, where they encounter the eastern face of Sandia, climbing one upon another, merging, expanding, a thick cottony whiteness edged with graying and blackened anger on the verge of bursting. From a western perspective, in Albuquerque, the view of these accumulating clouds reaching over the western rim and slowly spreading, crawling across the ridge, and in a hypnotically smooth slow motion dripping down the west side, altering the weather system of Albuquerque from a sunny disposition to a somber, meditative blanket of cloud steadily creeping closer, viewers holding their breaths through the unfolding, unveiling drama of a cloud bank spilled down from above, laden with rich electricity-charged waters, rolled across the earthen patch, at times pouring a portion of its liquid bounty onto the ever thirsty earth. Atop the Sandia on a clear day, the vista extends east to the Texas panhandle, westwards past Albuquerque where lie the Three Sisters, the chain of extinct volcanoes jutting out of the flat plateau, scarred and charred from fissure eruptions long drained dry, sitting in the center of the Rio Grande Rift Valley, stretching from southern Colorado to the southern end of New Mexico, petering out near El Paso, Texas, across the state border and sister city to Las Cruces, the second largest city in New Mexico. Looking directly below from the top of Sandia, peering as would an eagle, over Albuquerque, the clear outline of its seashore from an ocean long receded into the Pacific is etched into the dry, rocky landscape, inescapable evidence of the vastness of time and the miniscule impact the human species has on Earth’s existence since birth. (If the Earth from start to now were compressed into a 24-hour clock, the modern human species arrived literally right before the last tick to midnight: 1 second of existence in a 365-day lifetime of Earth. One step further: if human history were compressed into a 24 hour timeframe, Christ came on the scene merely 14 minutes before the clock struck midnight. It is rightful to say our role and influence upon this floating, spinning piece of dying star with an ember of its origin smoldering in its core responsible for generating creations without rest may not be significant.)    

East of Sandia betrays more mystery, wonder, discovery. Heading southward, Roswell is the modern mecca of alien apologists, capitalizing on its odd reputation, though maintaining a light, humorous tone to their main attraction. However, it is farther south from Roswell where a true alien world exists, making one wonder why humans should obsess about mysteries from the far reaches of outer space. Once within the belly of the Carlsbad Caverns, descending from outdoor summer temperatures breaking 100 degrees, plummeting 1,000 feet into the cold, dark, 50 degree climate chillingly adds to the eeriness of this underworld wonderland, stagnant ponds gleaming undiscovered gems, upthrusting stalagmites forming bizarre malformed statues carved from its blind imagination of the unknown world above, stalactites exuding random configurations from glossed ceilings, upper world creatures burrowing for treasures of the cavern, nearing breakthrough, ravenous for beauty within onyx blackness. This 70-plus mile underground metropolis with 100-plus entrances is not dead; it throbs with life within its mouths, its guts, its marrow. Come nightfall, the vomiting of as many as a million bats in search of evening meals prematurely blackens the darkening skies with the endless flocking mass, belching out from over a mile within the black rocky maze. Carlsbad Caverns, pockmarked by rents in this sizzling high desert, containing mysteries frozen in darkness, where dreams are without illumination, a reading of a foreign Braille on walls moistly grooved by centuries of icy tears, cold chapters of an eternal mystery, a cradle of sorcery.

Clambering back over the west side and following the Rio Grande southward beyond the Sandia Mountains lie more geologic creatures, the final mountains and ranges in the southern end of the Rocky Mountains peppered throughout the southern New Mexico region: the Jemez, Sangre de Cristo, Zuni, Black Range, Guadeloupe, Mongollon, Sacramento, and San Andres Mountains tossed like so much monumental dice rolled onto the plateau of New Mexico ages past. Beyond mountains, ranges, and ridges, more natural enchantments entice in another alien world, the White Sands, its treacherous 200 miles of shifting white dunes, a parched ocean whose tides are etched in its grains, unable to cease its ebb and flow. A supreme demonstration of death’s easy grip on life, its gypsum and calcium sulfate grains, blindingly white on a hot summer day and deceivingly deadly thanks to stifling heat coupled with shifting sands causing sightseers to lose their way, with dehydration an equally mortal threat, to which too many careless and inattentive tourists have succumbed, are mesmerizingly dazzling. Instead of the cold, dark, black of Carlsbad, a blazing hot, blinding bright, white world blasts its unsuspecting visitors. All near or in the Rio Grande Rift Valley, where thunderous volcanoes impressed the land with its magnificence; who can deny its electric trill does not still tremble and vibrate beneath the surface of this magical land. 

The weather in New Mexico further embellishes its mystery and wonder, an exclusive system, separate from neighboring Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico, aridity its foundation: depending upon the time of year, it can be hot, windy, cold, and rainy, with monsoon level downpours, the only time the arid air is briefly relieved by humidity. Winters are bitterly cold, the winds cutting through fabrics like icy razors biting and chewing skin already dehydrated to a texture of jerky, dry, crackling, splitting leather. Summers are meltingly hot, a dry lazy heat throbbing off streets and sidewalks, beaming back off buildings, windows, turning cars parked outdoors into veritable saunas bursting its dry heat out of any opening door or window; meanwhile, visiting outsiders enjoy their brief interlude from their own humid origins provided by the dry air atmosphere capable of desiccating human body and spirit. Spring and Fall are astonishingly brief; a month’s hiatus between hot and cold extremes. March offers its windy season where outdoor more smoking is accomplished by the rushing whipping winds, certainly taking two to three puffs for each one drag by the owner. Late July and August present their monsoon season where, in most years, flash flood warnings are broadcast during particularly drenching storms; this is also the only humid time of the year and while it is mild, for locals used to living like lizards in the desert, the slightest moisture torturous and exhausting.

The mysteries and wonders of this neglected high desert does not end with its geological glories and weather anomalies. The human species wandering this high desert in centuries past have left imprints explaining little beyond a people existed and lived there, beginning 100 centuries back when nomads left their remains as their only signature of having tasted the magic of this hallowed land, lush at that time. Yet even as recently as 700 years ago, the Anastazi, before disappearing over a 25 year period (1275 to 1300 AD), leaving no trace beyond the cliff dwellings they occupied those last 25 years, lived for the previous 1,000 years in an open, village-style environment. Theories abound as to why one generation sought shelter, protection, or privacy in abodes dug into cliffs before disappearing without a goodbye note, making for delicious fantastic fables never to be revealed as fact or fancy. 

Before the Anastazi evaporated back to enchantment, their offspring had spread, bringing the mystique of the Anastazi spirits, establishing tribes, sub-tribes, developing multiple languages, a culture of subcultures, a thronging family dispersing centuries and generations before their open domains became bordered into New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Mexico, yet there they still live, not in the States but upon their lands, resolute, proud, people of earth, air, waters: the Ute, Navajo, Zuni, Comanche, Jocome and Jano, Jicarilla Apache in the northeast, Mescalero Apache in the southeast, Chiricahua and Mimbreno Apache in the southwest, the 19 sovereign nations of the Pueblos: Acomas, Chochiti, Jemez, Isleta, Laguna, Nambe, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris, Pojoaque, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, Zuni. 

This is enchantment, this mythic province of electric skies, chilling caverns, ghostly sands, stalwart buttes and mesas, snow-crested lonely ranges, orphans of the Rockies; rains from the evaporated tears of the Rio Grande rise from its dusty guts, a misty desert dew descends upon sandy, rocky, volcanic territory, each droplet richer than diamonds in beauty and purity, miraculous mountain ashes float, scribbling mystic messages in the sky. This realm of high plains is graced with simple honest beauty, naked, unadorned: creatures traversing this terrain are sated with truth, quenched with beauty, developing open eyes, minds, and hearts.  

Himself

pronoun: himself

  1. used as the object of a verb or preposition to refer to a male person or animal previously mentioned as the subject of the clause.
  2. he or him personally (used to emphasize a particular male person or animal mentioned).

His eyes were a faded blue, lighter than the faded jeans he wore. “Everything is a gift,” he would say with a look which could be a slight smile or mild grimace, as he softly rubbed his hands together before stuffing them into his back pockets. His voice tended towards the quiet side, yet he would look one straight in the eye when speaking, shyness not being the cause of his soft tone. There was a deliberate pace to his uttered sentences, neither hurled nor drawled; the more one thought about it, if there were an ideal cadence to one’s chatter, neither fast nor slow, he would function in pure precise neutral. No added drama, flair, or excitement, but a intoned satisfaction purred at the end of each phrase or sentence, just like a smooth period that more rested than emphasized, paused rather than punctuated, his myriad threads of thoughts. His words floated, letters dangling from clothespins on an aural word line before gently settling, planting seeds, painting colors, in the ears of listeners. 

His hair, thick and gray, reminded one of clouds, entranced, that cumulus quality emanating from his seeming dream state; like a cloud, one could not quite put a finger on something beyond reach and ethereal. Not tidily groomed, neither did he strike one as unkempt; not a noticeable person in a crowd or walking down the street. Gray gradually morphed from the almost albino hair he sported well into his 50’s, which back then looked like white shocks of lightning randomly bolting every which way, similar to his own vibrant and imaginative thoughts and ideas bursting from his skull, creating a mien which implied an unfounded confidence tinged with an impulsive attention and hunger to absorb, learn, not to conquer but to know within one’s bones. His gray strands now relaxed, less intense than the blinding bright white which made him possible to spot in the thickest thronging crowds, hardly thinned, his white mane still identifiable but lacking that sharp bright reflection from earlier years piercing the eye like an inadvertent spike of sunlight.

His equally thick long beard was unusually smooth, almost downy. He had a habit of stroking it thoughtfully when reminiscing or philosophizing. He was a great thinker; he thought just as he spoke aloud: carefully, deliberately, without hurry or unnecessary emphasis on trivialities. He loved digressions, could segue down a path and veer off for half an hour, when one would be certain he lost his way. Suddenly, in one phrase or sentence, he returned to the original topic, making it crystal clear the thread he followed indeed wound its path back home after a diverting interrelated interlude richly detailed.

He stood medium height, was of medium build; neither overweight nor gaunt, he carried his frame easily, confidently, no trace of arrogance or pride. Neither modesty nor shyness was read in his gait or manner; instead a sturdiness and suppleness served him in most situations. His laughter was fulsome, deep, satisfying: launching his head back, eyes crinkled, teary, body quaking, he dove into his laughter, swam within it, surfacing with a dripping delight.

Age? To him, it didn’t matter. “Sooner or later, time doesn’t matter, and then there aren’t any more ‘sooners’ or ‘laters’ to fret over,” was his cryptic response when once asked the year of his birth, discouraging further interrogation on the topic. It made one wonder if he was wiser than most or somewhat cracked in a gentle and hopefully harmless fashion.

Occasionally, he would disappear for a few days, maybe a week. No one was close enough to him to be privy to these forays and when asked, upon return, where he had been, the answer was always “Out, away,” in a soft, even-toned voice which revealed nothing more than the words he spoke. Not even a lilt or smile, a sparkle in his eye; nothing. When speaking, he looked into the eyes of his interviewer, his mind staring deeper, encountering a being within. One sensed his journey was very far out, extremely remote, though perhaps not geographically distant.

It did not appear he had anything to hide, but neither did he feel a compulsion to explain himself, his choices, interests, motivations. I had never met anyone quite like him, approachable, honestly transparent and deeply introspective when asked questions (“I love a good question,” he once told me. “It is the bread of minds … and all questions are good.”); he seemed a person who knew things I would want to know and learn. So I asked and this is what I learned …