In New Mexico, you can drive fifteen minutes in any direction and find yourself on a different planet, Earth to Mars to Tatooine to the dark side of the moon for a half-tank of gas. Pancake plains make way for rolling rock hills. Sandpits and sagebrush mix like palette watercolors against white sand and watermelon mountains, some otherworldly collage of the elements that look like creation set to Shuffle.
Do your laundry in a hurry and pull a crumpled ten-dollar bill out of the back pocket of your freshly washed jeans. Hold that against the patches of seemingly mile-high forest you'll swim through up through Jemez Springs, and it'll disappear against patchwork pine horizon and you'll want to rip those jeans off like tinfoil and dive headfirst into the hot springs and low rivers and go straight subterranean.
It almost feels like a real option, too: millennia have carved small caves and alcoves into the face of that scaled sediment. Take a picnic lunch and your tourist's perspective inevitably turns eternal. Eat your turkey sandwich and sip your juice box and think of how many lost souls smuggled their soaked skin into the dry cracks of mountainside you're now feasting within. Each twisting highway half-mile is its own ghost town, every now-petrified tree a tribute to those who found cover under its once-tall shadows.
Every inch of this place is lived-in. The ones who make their homes there, the ones who came before, the ones before them, all the way back to the indigenous people and even the creatures that crab-walked and sand-scuttled before anyone was really watching—they're everywhere here. Every conceivable combination of genes, every configuration of life and limb and spirit still hangs in the air like a heavy fog, monsoon season of past and future dripping with potential and possibility.
And that inescapable presence of capital-e Everything is what presents such a challenge. When every corner contains a different story and every tree shows its roots, it's a struggle to remember your own story.
It's so strange: it only takes you three Tom Petty songs to arrive in the middle of every type of terrain, and that's more than enough time for Who You Were When You Left to bear no resemblance to Who You Were When You Arrived.
Which, I think, is why I left. But after some hard-fought battles were won and the scar tissue healed over, I think I know the score now.
I think I can see the sun above the trees. I think I know the story.