A Rambling Account

Took a little road trip this weekend. It’s been a rare summer in which I did not get out into the wilds much at all. A year or two ago, I’d have gone insane. But Grace had teachings for me in staying put.    It was a cool spring, so summer started late; by then I was sleeping outside in my van as often as I could, but even that was curtailed by fear of teething rodents or torrential rains, which make for restless nights under a metal roof and steamy windows.     

Eventually, though, the nervous system was clamoring in no uncertain terms; I was tolerating buildings, cell phones and computers, and even cars and some humans increasingly poorly. I knew it was time to reset.

I had little time and less gas money, so the soft, kind, inner voice nudged me up into the mountains between Los Alamos and Jemez. I surrendered. I knew what I needed—pine trees— and I gave over the details.  No plan is a good plan.

I was going to leave Friday, but as my preceding blog implies, the smokey ethers had imported a strange brew of psychic and particulate pollutants. And I was lucky to get home from Albq to Santa Fe that day.  I had a prayerful nap and staggered off on a dress rehearsal: a sunset hike up in the pines of Hyde Memorial State Park in the Santa Fe foothills. I throttled wearily up a steep trail until my crankies relented a smidge, and then I skipped more lightly and gratefully down to the bottom again, breathing more freely and ready for more.

I was in Los Alamos by 8am Saturday with no destination. I walked the Canyon Edge trail a couple of miles, until I tired on asphalt track. No matter, there is the Co-op; I’ve never been, and I know they have chocolate. Gently stoked, thus, I filled in some blanks at the Visitor Info office, and, map in hand, cruised on up the road, skirting Bandelier National Monument. (My 20 year old memories of it still serve me. )

I have a wonderful postcard illustration of a fellow walking off a roof on a tightrope that he is feeding his every next step with from his hand. This is the way of the heart, and perhaps of the future. The next step appears as the foot reaches for it.  And this was the way of the weekend, sweetly rewarded.

I stopped where I pleased. First at the Grande Valle Caldera, a vast grassy valley generated by a super volcano blowing its top a million or so years back, and then building some dome hills around and within it with a bubbling tide of magma. The magma is still there, only five miles below or so, which is why Jemez has hot springs.

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Here is a plain old picture of the valley, lush with grass; but you have to air brush in your own elk herd. They were in higher country entertaining the folks who entered the park and paid the fee. Even though the fee is about to jump to $20 when this park goes National this fall, I wasn’t bargain-hunting. I didn’t know what it was, but I had a different destination.

Made a few happily aimless stops, eventually pulling in for lunch at a ponderosa-scented picnic area. Rested a while, oriented with map and brochure, found what called to me, rolled on, and then found myself turning in where a sign said Valle Caldera gifts and visitor info. Didn’t need any, I thought—in fact there weren’t any gifts (confiscated for re-merchandizing); just some vestigial taxidermy and coloring books. But I had a little chat with the lady, learned about the impending National Park merger and a significant road detail I would need later. 

On I meandered, turning onto the road to Fenton Lake, but headed to Tent Rocks. The article had mentioned another turn at road 376. And I cruised happily along it, seeing all sorts of free campsites that would do just fine for nap-time or night time when they came. I heard myself say out loud: “This is great!” Then I saw a small sign for road 604 and remembered the seed planted at the gift shop. I wouldn’t have otherwise known to turn there. As I rounded one turn, I glimpsed some rock formations through the pines and half-wondered if that was Tent Rocks. But she’d said in passing that you had to take 604 onto the mesa to look down on them. So I kept going, enjoying the immediate shift from aspen dominance to pines. Ahhhh. I climbed up around a hair pin turn and had a wee hit to stop for the overlook, but I kept going. … and going … and began to feel…wrong. 

So I eventually turned around, was called to stop at a spacious flat camp area.  Naptime. Then maybe I’d venture on, or ask one of the manly trucks or four-wheelers that periodically rumbled by…. a couple of times through camp. 

After nap-time, I decided to check out what said the sign posted amid a path in the direction the ATVs had headed. Turned out it was a closed jet-ski/ATV trail. Didn’t stop anyone. They just drove around the obstruction and a few trees, brittle wood exploding underneath their tires, and were on their way.  But all was quiet now, and this was my own personal path, and, as it turned out, my own private valley, blanketed with clover and host to happy stands of mullein and hennaed grasses whose highlights caught the sun and warmed my heart and memory. In my bliss-bunny days, I’d taken so many “you had to be there” photos of that grass. Didn’t bother this time. But here is the general scene. Notice the blue sky.  We were above some of the smoke haze here. And notice the GREEN!

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I walked my gently hilly and curvy valley until blood sugar was threatening a less pleasant roller-coaster ride. I made the same meal I would eat the whole trip—grated veggies with vinegar and olive oil and a can of sardines cut into it. Perfect. 

Not far from camp on that trail was a pond of standing water…tiny bubbles. I noted that I might want to move camp to avoid mosquitos. For it might not have been an accident that I happened to hear a news bit within the past 24 hours about West Nile Virus: Tis the season, apparently.

Shortly after repast, the four-wheeler came back through, built like a Jeep but with an amusing front end—strange fender like pieces on the front that gave the impression of very bushy eyebrows or bow legs.  I came up to the road and the fellow said in a typical friendly hispanic inflection of mock concern, “What are you doing? “  

“Just hanging. Say is there an overlook for Tent Rocks near here?”

“For what?”

“For Tent Rocks,” replied his lady passenger, who I then noticed had a large, thick plastic cold-mug full of an iced drink I’ll guess was Bourbon and Cherry Coke, because I have nothing but the color to go on.  

“Oh yeah. Right down there. Really close…. Probably 10 minutes, walking,” he said.  

“There’s a guard-rail,” added the woman helpfully.

“At the hairpin turn?”

“Yeah.”

And when the conversation ended and they hummed off, I heard myself exclaim “Great. Awesome!” aloud again, even if I was a bit dubious about the distance.

Turned out it was 20 minutes, but well worth it. I strolled up to the edge of the cliff behind the rail and wham:

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Quite satisfied, I noted a campsite right across the road and decided I’d move the car there at sundown. Because I knew that this east-facing rock formation would pick up the reds of the rising sunlight in the morning and make for even grander snaps.

I walked “home” in a mild-mannered thunder shower. And just sat and thunk and sat and mostly sat, while the sun descended. At one point the clouds seemed to call for their close up, and I obliged, waiting until they had posed in front of the sun for optimum molten-platinum splendor, singing sufi songs to all spirits listening as I waited.

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I sat still at the end of my open van in the dusk and watched a Flicker gorging on a colony of termites nearer me than he seemed to be aware he was. He must have downed 50 of them! Urp. He’d disappeared around the front of my van just long enough to have slipped my mind, when I heard a clamor, across the path.

There on a pine bow appeared to be a showdown, a kickboxing match between two birds (matched for size)… until, wow, that’s quite a move, a drilling blow not to but INTO the jaws of the other.  Oh, that’s my gluttonous flicker feeding his hungry teenager.  It was quite something to witness. One bird leaping up and drilling into the other’s open beak, while the other couldn’t help but back up a few steps with each thrust, toward the end of the branch!  …The benevolent violence of nature…. If there had been enough light, I still wouldn’t have taken a picture; it was just somehow too intimate.  But I was glad to have witnessed it, and glad  for the realization that once again I’d been fed information I didn’t know I’d need to make sense of something later. If I hadn’t watched Dude suckin’ up the bugs, I’d have assumed, and likely subtly judged, these two squawking, scrapping birds to be just disturbing the peace with their territorial squabbling.

By the time dim enveloped the camp, I’d become quite fond of it, and hadn’t been accosted by a single mosquito. So, I just bedded down for the night there in the van, bathed in a silence I’d not experienced for nearly a year. 

Woke very early, and just lay in meditation, aware that there did not appear to be a lot of stars to gaze at.  Eventually I got up, hydrated, and sat for more formal meditation. And, by and by, I drove down to other sight. There was a threesome (visiting from Artesia, NM, I learned) also waiting to catch the sunrise.  Our greeting included acknowledgement that it would be a cloudy one. 

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The colors were subtle, unexceptional, so I busied myself walking to the other end of the crescent cliff rim above the main glorious cluster of jagged rocks. But the view was better from the original spot.  Even with the cagey sunlight, the blush of morning beams did illuminate the contours differently.  The view was explosive, still; like scores of sharks leaping up teeth exposed from sea of clay and trees below.  It was so alluring, even as something so very obvious in the head just had to say you wouldn’t want to fall down on that.

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I’d read that if one wanted to soak at Spence Hot Springs, one should get there early in the morning. So, I moseyed on from the rocks, and cruised contentedly back along yesterday’s roads, continuing on the main road toward Jemez.  Again, not far along, I passed an unsigned parking lot and had a twinge, but kept going, assuming Spence would be identified.  But I was almost to Jemez Springs when I knew I’d gone too far.  Should I just keep going? No. I looked at the map, confirmed where Spence was, turned around and climbed the hill, happy to see the sights from their better sides: Soda Dam, Battleship Rock, etc. 

Along the way I remembered that I might soak at Bodhi Mandala Zen Center, but something had said “turn around,” so I had.  Spence was not marked—to keep the crowds down, perhaps— but among the various general info signs, I spotted a Caution about amoebae in natural hot water.  So, I suited up in the cool morning air and hiked up the ruddy trail surrounded by lush jojoba and mullein and pines, turning on my inner furnace and cardiovascular machinery. I stopped and stood and watched the view throb in my eyes for a few moments, smiling a prayer of thanks for a vigorously working heart, and a sternum grateful for the massage. Turning back up the trail, I thought it odd there wasn’t steam coming from anywhere. I thought that though I didn’t remember it much, I must have visited this place, probably with Erika and Lara from massage school, nearly two decades ago.     At last I arrived at the pools. What a gorgeous site and a gorgeous setting, what a view, muted by haze though it was.  And I had it to myself. Although a fellow had pulled in shortly after me; he never arrived.

The water was not hot—slightly warmer than my external temperature—making me grateful I’d hiked up so quickly and heated up. My internal temperature was warmer than the water. So, I’m guessing it was 90-95 F.  I found where it was warmest near the outlet of a cave. And I hung out there. When I registered no one arriving. I kept myself in the pool longer by assuming yoga poses and chanting hindu and sufi mantras. I sat half-propped in Navasana (upward boat) through three repetitions of the Lakshmi Stotram, holding my big toes, with my sit-bones dug into the silty gravel. How we amuse ourselves. But it wasn’t so warm I cared to linger much longer, and I stood up, pulled off my bathing suit top and wrapped my torso in a sarong and an over-shirt. It wasn’t until I turned around to take in the view one more time out over the Jemez Hills that I saw the other young woman getting out of the lower pool, which—poor thing— was cooler than mine. I guess she got a bit of a show. First extended chanting from the spirit of the upper pool, and then, well, my reckless nudity. (Sakes Alive!) We exchanged demure greetings, and I descended, but she took a short cut and we arrived at the parking lot at the same time.

I decided to continue on to Jemez, now, cruising amused down the hill, with my purple swimsuit top hung and flapping from one side mirror and the bottoms flapping from the other. They were half dry when I arrived in Jemez Springs to visit Bodhi Mandala, which was closed for retreat. Since the silent voice had steered me otherwhere, I could not be surprised. So I visited at the bath-house. I’d never been. A friendly exchange with the ladies told me I was ready to wind my way home, but not really ready for idle social chatter.

So, rather than continue on a loop that would take me through the “How much more red can they be? None. None more Red” rocks for which Jemez is famous, and home via the interstate, I beatifically sat back in the saddle and retraced my recent journey, stopping to smell and pick the wildflowers and take a snap here and there, noting as I did that I could scarcely see all the mountains I knew were there and was headed down into thick air, through which, as I passed the turnoff to Los Alamos and continued on Hwy 4 to White Rock, you could look right at the sun. The air was about as white as the rock..I’m guessing, though I never saw the eponymous rock.

And I am back now in Eldorado, and, even without the smoke, the world would look different for having been away from and above it for a bit.  Give to your self, and you have so much more to give. And for that I give thanks.

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Armageddon Skies

Armageddon skiesmake good sunsets.

There is no name for the color of the sun this morning. We behold it in the rarest regaliaZeus in Fuchsiaclimbing through thick vapor, pulled like taffy through the gap–just its size- between a rising sea of cedars and a low ceiling of clouds.

He did not pause in his ascent, but he seemed to, held for lingering moments by our own minds savoring the perfection–of the fit, of the color, of the moment.

A perfect moment, free of meaning.

…While whole states west of us rage on fire, we, who find ourselves out of drought for the first time in years, wake dazed in a smoky peace, which yet vibrates with sub-sonic foreboding and the hysteric hiss of traffic hurtling, with a heightened hubris and urgency it seems, through the thicker air, the thicker swarm of unthunk thoughts:

Focus on the horizon, the future; stay oblivious to oblivion. Arm yourself against Armageddon with whatever you have!

with a poem.

and then, weary of the swirl of words, I turn over upon their stream, face the sky, float, following them down the drain, to liberation. 

And then wake again into the highway’s harsh and endless song, but resting in center now, the sun shining from within, amid the sonic smoke….

 

 

All the world loves M&M’s…

bill 2 1987 

On the eve of what would have been (if my math is correct) my father’s 79th birthday, I offer a little ditty my father sang to me once when I was a child. He only had to sing it once, and it was instantly memorized, even though, seeing my mother’s chagrinned face (not quite suppressing her own amusement) and hearing her declaim “Oh, Bill!” he followed it with the caveat that I must never repeat it at school. Right.

The farmer went out to milk the cow, parlez-vous

the farmer went out to milk the cow, parlez-vous

He missed the tit and pulled the tail and all the shit went into the pail.

Inkey-dinky parlez-vous

To this day, I cannot repeat it without laughing. Shamelessly.  My father, a serious PhD’d linguist, had an impish scatalogical streak, a funny bone that responded to the most dry and sophisticated humor and sometimes the just plain silly. It was unpredictable, and to the end, one of the most disarming rewards was making him laugh.

In the 1980’s my father wore a tee-shirt that read All the world loves M&M’s!  This was an inside joke, and a delightful puzzlement for those who knew him as a health nut, knowledgeable and stringent with matters of body ecology, and through whose lips chocolate did not pass;  who did not consume coffee…orally. However, for decades, after a rigorous alternative health regimen that had sent his cancer into remission, my father relied on enemas, for which“M&M’s” was a code word in mixed company, yes, and, most decidedly, a term of endearment.

To this day, a bowl of M&M’s, especially now that they come in electric blue, looks unnatural to me, like a strangely enticing basket of plastic fruit, but it also invokes a secret world. And every child loves to know a secret, especially if she can’t eat M&M’s, and she doesn’t consume coffee …orally.

Om Blue Om

Fifty years ago today, Bill Landon woke to his first birthday as a father. Today, on what would have been his 79th birthday, I offer two posts in honor of my Dad…A man who can never be summed up in a Blog. Nor can he be summed up in a color.    

But for me, his color will always be deep blue: the blue of depth, of truth, and of infinity.

                 A blue truer, deeper and more infinite than the blue he had his VW van custom painted in the ’70s–but close.

To the end, when he wore a blue shirt, his glacial blue eyes would gleam as if a piece of sunlight was hiding behind them.

Enjoy!

This summer I published my first volume of poetry, Blue Transparent Face.

Whereas the contents are poems dating from 1996 to 2015, the cover was an entirely new creation, representing the alchemical culmination of the time and experiences from which those poems are reportage.  I was as pleased with the cover as with the poetry within. Of course it evokes the satisfaction of a vision realized, but, since I could not have done it alone, it represents the love imbued in the endeavor by each of its contributors, who gave so generously of their time and talent.  So, while I am proud of this creation, it embodies for me a bigger beauty that defines and illuminates us all, celebrated not just in the book’s title but in its very existence.

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I post this today, because my father was one of those contributors, and today is his 79th birthday (although he stopped counting in 2011). He lives on in his photos, one of which is featured in the book’s cover. That photo has been altered from the original by my dear friend Steve Finkelstein, who painstakingly realized my vision. And then his image was set in the cover by my gracious publishing pal, Brian Alexander.  And none of these efforts would have happened without the inspiration of the evocative title phrase, which many may also recognize from a Neil Finn song, “Wherever You Are.”

The vision descended into my chamber of imagination nearly fully formed.  Reflection on the roster of potential titles collected over years yielded nothing that felt current or alive. So I simply went quiet, opened and asked…hardly expecting same-day service. But it really wasn’t long before that phrase, and all that it invokes for me, answered, accompanied by my father’s image, which loomed a bit like a new crescent moon hanging magnified on the horizon, somehow infused with the sublime face of the Divine, in diaphanous, luminous blue.

So I count Love itself among the contributors, as well as the benefactors; for Love begets Love, and Beauty begets Beauty. And we give and receive these always. It is what we are made of.

As Steve and I worked on this image, many alternates–equally and uniquely stirring–emerged. When I glimpsed them all together on my screen, I would feel a bath of…something transcendent; it’s hard to articulate, but I felt so…blessed.

Below I display some of those alternate images, as well as my father’s original. I also include another striking piece. Only days after the book was published, I read at a poetry reading. The first person to order the book was a gentleman, now a friend, who heard me read.  The cover image was strangely familiar to him. Once he beheld it, he sought out an item at home, which he says he’s had for years, which he guessed was now for me.

When he presented it to me, I was touched at first just by the gesture and the beauty of the piece itself. Then I realized the significance. Not only does the glaze pattern call up the cover image of the book, the corona of colors on it seem to also pick up the peacock feather theme featured deliberately on the back cover.  

And the Blue Transparent Face smiled, from every corner of the universe. 

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(These images may be used only by permission.)

Ghost in Glass

Ghost in Glass

She asked me to take his pictures from the frames,

Remove them,

Fold them over.

so they didn’t accost her all at once,

…could be handled without eye contact.

Four years along, the memories lurk and linger;

the sensations surge and smart.

I live in this house for her.

I can live here amid the vexing vapors

which are but air to me.

 

…while my ghosts live elsewhere, or within.

 

I did as she asked,

gently prying and peeling apart frames

made like they don’t anymore,

bonded to heavy paper or board,

tacked with tiny nails into precisely mitered wooden windows

with real –and really sharp and fragile– glass,

and sealed in with textured tape meant never to be removed.

These portraits and their frames combined to become events,

Memory-craft.

 

It was impossible not to damage the delicate photo-paper and the frames,

Like a suitcase, once unpacked, can never again

so compactly accommodate the same contents,

and the way the box containing my mother’s cremains was meant to be breached only once,

not for multiple dispersal events years apart.

 

I felt a removed tenderness for the photos, their subjects, and their absent custodian,

but almost grief for these carefully built windows on history meant to hang among the columns of some future antiquity.

 

I wrapped the photos, which would not survive folding,

In heavy, opaque grocery bag paper.

And only later, as I walked into the room, lit differently now in the afternoon sun,

was I “accosted” by a ghost.

A laughing cherub with cowboy hat and gun

loomed in glass daguerreotype before me,

amid a wreckage of “empty” frames:

Photographic residue of a face pressed so long and exuberantly against that window.

 

A child’s cascade of mirth echoed through the decades,

from a past familiar and mysterious,

percussing me like buckshot.

My heart welcomed the surprise, the eternal cheer of that face.

My mind lurched to protect the friend who must not see this.

 

This boy lost that smile, anon.

Once sparkling eyes, became piercing.

He became a good, but guarded man.

Knowing this, it gave me pause to be as another perpetrator,

And wipe away all trace of that gleeful face.

 

But knowing how that visage, its very happiness,

the trist incongruence of that happiness,

lashed the heart of my friend,

I blessed him, though not quite long enough, I feel now,

and I swept his face from existence,

with a soft cloth, Windex, and a bittersweet satisfaction.

 

It was too easy.

 

A memory so cloying,

A pain—provoked ironically and insistently by such sweetness—tangled like a creeper in another’s heart,

so effortlessly wiped away in three gentle strokes of my hand.

 

 

Michou Landon

9 August, 2015

Eldorado, NM