Out West Part I : Crossing Over

Into the Desert

Into the Desert

If I had a blog, today I would write about the desert. My creative springs have been as dry as the grass here in Missouri. Its typical summer weather: Ungodly hot and droughty. I have trouble staying upbeat this time of the year, but one day, things will change and the rains will find their way home. In the meantime, I thought I would share my thoughts on life in the real desert, a barren, hot landscape that I love: The desert around Santa Fe.

If not for mystery writer Tony Hillerman, I might have missed seeing the desert. I have always been a lover of the North Woods: The cool, dark forests; the sparkling lakes and the chance to make medicine with the raven and the wolf had called me North every year. When Mom suggested we deviate from our usual vacation plans and go to the Southwest, I would have said, “No,” except for Mr. Hillerman. His mysteries that described the world of the Navajo enticed me to see that place, to see if that landscape has something to teach me, something the North did not know.

Cowboy Country

Cowboy Country

Mom and I headed west on June 20, 2007.  Late in the afternoon, we crossed from Oklahoma into Texas and I began to feel the spirit of the land reaching out to me. Before us stretched the great open spaces once known to cowboys and Indians. As a farmer and lover of cows, I have a soft spot in my heart for the cattlemen who drove the great herds across these plains. I plugged in my iPod and played the album, Cool Water, by The Sons of  the Pioneers. Mom and I sang along, “Empty saddles in the old corral, where do you ride tonight?” and “Come and sit by my side if you love me. Do not hasten to bid me adieu, but remember The Red River Valley and the cowboy that loved you so true.” I could almost see the dust raised by the cattle, hear the lowing of cows to their calves, interspersed with the banter of the cowboys as they rode the open range. This was a landscape with stories to tell; a place  of high-adventure and endless drudgery, a land of beginnings and endings, the stage that saw the rise of the American Dream and the last days of the Native American hope. I was full of emotion and we hadn’t even reached the desert. I began to suspect this was going to be more than just a vacation.

First Look at the Desert

First Look at the Desert

As the shadows lengthened, the landscape changed from flat, boundless prairie to gently rolling hills. We upped-and-downed for a number of miles, then, as we came to the top of a rather unremarkable rise, we were suddenly in the desert. Mesas appeared, glowing gold in the evening sun. The grass vanished, replaced by sage brush and cactus. The wind found us there, gusting to sixty miles an hour over the beautiful, barren land.

We stopped at a Wayside Rest near Tucumcari, New Mexico and were greeted by an intrepid raven who, in his search for tasty treats, had staked out the rest area as his own. He faced the rising gale, clinging to the picnic table next to us, croaking like a rusty hinge. I tossed him a couple of crackers with peanut butter and he downed them readily.  I wondered if he knew the ravens that greeted us when we arrived in Ely, Minnesota each fall. It was a comforting synchronicity and it made me think, maybe the desert wasn’t such a foreign place after all.

To Be Continued…

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