Friday, October 31, 2008

The Silent Stars Go By...

Where even the most mundane things in San Francisco inevitably seem "hip," my home state has the tendency to dazzle you with her beauty. It is best to keep in mind Joel Weishaus's words that "New Mexico's emptiness tempts the imagination to overdose on scenery and clichés."

But clichés aren't all that easy to avoid.

As my plane swoops in, I look down at ancient volcanoes rising like areolae from the brown earth, which curves away toward the edges of horizon. The desert here is a fuller color than it was last summer. And the sky so blue, not as dark as the High Sierran lakes we'd flown over, but much more dramatic. There is so much space here that thoughts come out in fragments, with little to hold them together.

A day or two later, I get up early to help my mom clean her church. I sweep the courtyard, pushing the broom over land than had once been sacred to the native people now long pushed out by the Mexican farmers who've for centuries plowed the nearby fields. There are a few spaces carved like caves into the adobe walls, hiding a handful of this county's long forgotten war dead. As I sweep, I think how the zen monks in my adopted land pull their brooms toward them, where here at home I am pushing it away. A metaphor lies here somewhere, maybe in how zen is about moving inward toward one's true face, while the Catholics expand outward to meet God. As I amuse myself with these useless thoughts, I try to ignore the Right to Life posters on the wall. Apparently the parish priest himself isn't so extreme in his ideas, and in a brief conversation, I find him a delight. He literally howls when I tell him how Miki once mistook a confessional for a bathroom.

Afterward, I indulge myself in that other American past time, politics. From abroad, the election seems like a sporting event, but here at home it is more like a battle. It's depressing how easily the news networks throw around war metaphors. This is the first day of early voting and here in New Mexico, a swing state, it takes me almost a hour to do my civic duty. It's always fun to listen to the opinionated conversations of these small town folk around me. I happened to be here four years ago, and I'll never forget hearing one old guy saying, "Well that Bush just looks a whole lot tougher." That 2004 election had been really tight here, taking on a reddish hue by a mere 11 votes. How I'd prayed for a tie, which according to state law would've been decided by a hand of poker. I eventually get my pencil and darken the circles on my ballot, taking the multiple choice test that is democracy.

I spend long afternoons out in the back yard. The space here is not only in the physical landscape. It's all too easy to sink into the silence. The ring of the phone feels especially offensive. One afternoon, two Apache helicopters fly over, so low that I can see the door gunners, leaning into the space. I read and watch the birds feed. Two sparrows have built a nest over the front door, and the daylight hours are marked by the near constant tapping of their beaks on their own reflections in the mirrored glass just below. One night I step outside, accidentally scaring dozens of migratory birds from the trees out front where they'd chosen to pass the night. Another night, I surprise a coyote.

As usual, I watch films. The sub woofer of the home theatre setup more than once tricks me into thinking that we're having a quake.

My sister and her family fly over from North Carolina. I hike along Sandia Crest with my nephew. The wind is strong, my ears aching with the altitude. We climb onto the roof of the Kiwanis Cabin, (the place where I proposed to Miki last year), with its 270 degree views of the desert floor a mile down. On the road home, three elk run across the road and escape into the scrub, the white bulls-eyes of their asses moving toward the ridge above. The setting sun makes the sky a tapestry of yellow, throwing gold bars across the striated rocks of the valley's mesas.

Throughout it all, the sky keeps its constant blue, broken only by planes plowing vapor trails high above...

On the turntable: Bonnie Prince Billy, "Blue Lotus Feet"

On the nighttable: Ivan Morris, et al., "Madly Walking in the Mountains"

On the reel table: "Amongst White Clouds" (Burger, 2007)

No comments: