Yesterday, the woman at the store had miscalculated the price. I admit, the three of us had been chatting and laughing a lot, Robbie and I had tried on a lot of things, commented, etc… As I paid, I did think the price seemed pretty high. But as often happens after spending time not worrying about time, we felt an urgency to get home immediately, there was this and that to do. When I did get home, I checked and yes, she had made quite a mistake.
I go back along out-of-the-way side roads, the ones, you know, where there are big potholes and long graveled stretches waiting to be resurfaced after winter and snow. Here, people live in isolation, in scattered houses, ranches. Not a good word to describe them: there is a modesty to these places that makes the word “ranch” discordant to our European ears. Midway, there will be a hamlet with a post office, its American flag planted next to it, and a general store that seems small to me but where you can find everything you may need.
This banality, this vast but unexceptional land, pleases me more and more. I believe that space amplifies and, like conscious breathing (as in the practices where one “works” one’s breathing), improves one’s mental and physical health… Here, space seems to enhance the land rather than simply alleviating its mediocrity. I love the contrast between the stunning natural beauty of certain sites such as Chaco Canyon, the mesas around Acoma, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Chelly Canyon and the modest landscapes of the farmlands or of the Indian barrens where I have often walked. One’s gaze stretches to infinity. There are no limits.
I like the space it creates between people (although we are often critical of how individualistic American are) and the solidarity that the vastness, the remoteness, and the self-reliance seem to engender. Every time I was parked along a trail or a small, isolated road, the few people who passed by all slowed down to check that I was ok.
Just once, a huge 4WD, which I was actually waving down to ask about the condition of the track further on, ignored me. Big guys dressed as tourists, glimpsed just before their speeding vehicle covered me in dust. If truth be told, I think locals are just as attentive in the lost corners of France. Here, I notice it more because I feel the danger created by the remoteness. Sometimes you are truly far from everything. How long would I have to walk to reach help?
On my way back from Ojo Caliente, I stop for a coffee and sandwich in a bar where people seem to know each other. Well, I’m the foreigner but I can’t help watching and listening. Jokes, kindness, exchange of news. There is the owner and some farmers it seems. A young couple comes in with their two children. They order lunch. One of the farmers, who had made them work by the day, asks them if they have found a job. And worries:
– “I hope you found a place because the weather forecast is predicting very bad weather in two or three days. You can’t stay in your tents.”
Vague response from the couple. The older man adds:
– “Anyway if you haven’t found anything, come and see me, we’ll work something out, You must absolutely not stay outside with the kids!”
The whole bar is listening now. A feeling of solidarity, of urgency, of generosity somehow inevitable is palpable. This kind of situation can happen here to any of those present, it seems.
Silence. A short time is passing. Since I have remained more than predictable, people see me.
Another man then addresses me:
– “And you what are you doing there, what brings you. Aren’t you in the waters over there?”
– “Yesterday I was in Ojo Caliente and I forgot something, so I took the opportunity to come back, by taking the small roads. I like the side roads, longer but another world shows. “
– “Ah! And where are you coming from?”
– “Oh, not very far, Taos. But I like being here in this café that feels almost family-like! There’s a warm atmosphere here.”
– “Yes, you could say that… well good luck with that. Always fun to run into an unfamiliar face here.”
I pay, walk out, take a picture of the bar. I didn’t ask to take one inside, as if that would have broken the very delicate thread, a brief tense moment between us.
To complete the trip with beauty, I take the road that runs alongside the Rio Grande to Pilar. Today, muffled tones under the even greyer sky of the approaching evening.
The last display recaps the day’s journey.