After three days back at home in the Adirondacks I’m ready to wrap up my Abiquiu series about my month apart in a remote New Mexico desert canyon. A month of writing, revising and listening. This post is a freestyle retrospective in images, sounds and words. A digital scrapbook of sorts. If you’re interested, here are the previous posts:
The video/slide show above was shot on my iPhone. Excuse the blurry images and the bumpy footage. The audio was not recorded among the Benedictines, though Gregorian chants were a part of my days at the abbey. All credit for this beautiful music goes to Medwyn Goodall, a musician and producer from Yorkshire, England.
Daily Scrape (listen to audio)
I’m shaving and all of the sudden a bearded fellow in black robes and hood is at my bathroom window. It’s Brother Hidalgo (name changed) from Monterey, Mexico. I’d met him on my second day at the abbey when he explained that he would pass by my hermitage a couple of times each week to pick up the garbage.
So I knock on the glass and wave. He recognizes me and waves back, then flushes crimson and turns away. He returns to the trash and recycling. I look into the mirror and continue shaving. I realize that – despite the towel around my waist – I must have looked naked to Brother Hidalgo. No wonder he was embarrassed.
Magpies (listen to audio)
When the weather is warm I sit outside and watch magpies, so many magpies gathering twigs and bits of fiber hanging in the sagebrush, gathering the ingredients for a cozy nest, I surmise, though I haven’t a clue if I’m right or wrong.
According to the 1961 edition of Roger Tory Peterson‘s A Field Guide to Western Birds, Magpies, Pica pica, are “the only large black and white land birds in N. America with long wedge-shaped tails. In flight, the iridescent greenish-black tail streams behind; large white patches flash in the wings.” Long iridescent tails that vibrate in the unfiltered sunlight that intoxicated Georgia O’Keefe once upon a time. The black billed magpies natural habitat includes this high desert canyon along the shores of the Chama River in Northern New Mexico, especially the foothills, Peterson says, and “ranches, sagebrush, river thickets,…”
Story Threads and Knots (listen to audio)
I’m in bed, almost asleep despite concerns on the first day when I arrived and saw the futon on a raised tatami mat floor.
That will be my bed for the month of March? Will my finicky back let me sleep on that? For almost four weeks?
But, like camping on an even thinner mat in the wilderness after a hike, I sleep restfully. Briefly, but restfully, though I usually awaken after four hours and think, How will I ever make it through the day with so little rest?
And then I do. Without yawning. Untangling then braiding my stories. Or twisting them into a rope. With knots. That I try to cut out when they become too tight to unknot. I discard the knots outside the hermitage door where they collect in a pile next to a cow patty the size of a Thanksgiving turkey which was still shiny, moist and brown-black on my first day but each day grows flatter, drier, paler and more wrinkled.
When I first arrived there were cattle wandering around the abbey grounds, especially between the Chama and the dirt road from the hermitage to the church. Sleepy eyed cows ruminating and nursing new calves among the sagebrush.
On the second or third day – when the winds were starting but before it snowed – a rancher on horseback passed through with a skinny black dog. I haven’t seen the cattle or the rancher since, but the dog comes back to visit every few days and I give him a piece of dried salmon jerky. He likes the jerky and he begs for more, but settles for a scratch behind the ears.
The pile of knots grows bigger each day. Twice buried in snow that melted within a few hours of sun-up, the knots that were too tight to unknot have been loosed by the wind, not all of them, not yet, but threads blow around the yard and hang in the sagebrush like desert tinsel. Sometimes I see one that I like, and I bring it back inside to braid or splice or just to wrap around my finger as a reminder.
Coyotes (listen to audio)
A lone coyote yips then wails then barks at the base of the canyon across the Chama, a river too lazy to reflect the moon which is full and high overhead. Soon others join in. The coyotes are all around the canyon, surrounding the hermitage, yipping and wailing outside my windows, perhaps hoping for salmon jerky handouts.
Coyote. Canis latrans mearnsi.
In Southwestern tribal legends the coyote is often portrayed as a clever trickster. According to a Native American twist on the Prometheus myth, coyote stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, a welcome gift that made winters more tolerable and raw food more enjoyable. Perhaps the coyotes outside my window are singing about fire. Or outwitting the gods. Or salmon jerky. Perhaps they’re untangling and braiding stories. I hope they can find something salvageable in my pile of knots or among the threads fluttering in the sagebrush.
At this liminal frontier of waking and sleeping my own story – naked, iridescent and wrinkled – emerges among the moonlit thickets. At last!