I’ve been watching the television series Longmire recently which was filmed in Northern New Mexico. It brings back such strong memories of the remarkable qualities of this state. I lived in Western New Mexico for two years, just a stone’s throw from the Arizona border. My home was literally next door to the Gila National Wilderness. I’d walk out my door and over to the fence line, climb through the fence and enter the wilderness.
Remembering my days in New Mexico, what strikes me most strongly about is the bigness of it. Not like Texas is big, where it takes three days to cross it. But big in other ways.
The world of wildlife is big. There are always coyotes or black bears or elk or fat black pigs called javalina trotting by. I had the experience of a huge elk dashing right in front of the truck I was in as we sped down the highway. He was so close I could count the hairs on his rump. Somehow, we got around him and we all lived.
The effects are big. I remember staring awestruck at a herd of hundreds of elk stampeding across an emerald meadow. I also remember the looks male elk would give me after they had been bugling (making mating calls) in the cold forest. They’d see me and give me the most disdainful stare.
The people have to be strong, to hold out against the bigness of Nature. There’s always a snowstorm, wildfire, windstorm or monsoon coming along. Fortunately, the volcanic eruptions and Apache raids have pretty much died out.
The clear turquoise sky is vast.
The clouds of dust are huge. If you drive your truck down a dirt road and come to a stop, you need to wait a while until the dust settles before you exit or you’ll be wearing that cloud.
Nature comes at you hard in this state and the consequences can be severe. A friend who runs a ranch up at 8,000 feet tells stories of tourists getting stuck in snow or mud near his ranch. They’re not ready for what Nature hands out in New Mexico and in this neck of the woods, that can be a fatal mistake. One after another, they come trudging up to his ranch to ask for help getting unstuck.
It’s a land of trucks, boots, guns and rugged people. There’s plenty of room to make your own mistakes and hopefully, they’re mistakes you survive and learn from. If there’s a fire, you better put it out yourself. If you’re going to build a house, you better be smart about it and build one that’s safe.
Horses and cows get loose and wander off and if you’re not capable of retrieving them, they’re gone. People get lost too, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes not.
I loved to be alone in those woods, poking around old Native American village sites as I climbed the hills. I was usually escorted by three or four ranch dogs who would eventually peel off after something tasty. One time, one of those dogs came back to my house and vomited up an entire rabbit.
I’ve been living in the city for a couple of decades now and I sure miss the rawness of New Mexico. Snow, lightning, monsoon, dryness, juniper, mesquite, pink powdery dust and that endless turquoise sky, sometimes decorated with puffy cumulus clouds. And the space. It rolls on almost to infinity. It might be possible to consider that you’ve never truly experienced space until you’ve been in the New Mexico wilderness.
It’s an intensely spiritual place, where you can catch ancestors guarding the mesa or hilltop next door, if you tune your antenna just right.
It’s magical, tough, dusty, dry, windy and big in so many ways. It’s one of those places that steals a piece of your soul forever, if you’re very, very lucky.