On Barren Places

For those of you not following my every move at www.wheresandrewkozmanow.com, my present whereabouts are Taos, New Mexico, a locale that chose me via the Taos Summer Writer’s Conference.  So I’m here for nine days, and I’m very glad to be here, but I think that the landscape confirms my past suspicions that I’m also glad that I don’t live here.

And by here, I don’t mean Taos.  Even I’m not one to make a judgment on living arrangements without at least the equivalent of a friendship first date (feel free to define what that means yourselves).

What I mean by “I’m also glad that I don’t live here” is that the desertscape doesn’t well suit me.  It just looks so… barren.  Whether it is or not (and I know, for the most part, it’s not) I look around and see emptiness.  The stretch of New Mexico from Albuquerque to Taos is not as filled with emptiness as West Texas is, I mean, there’s greenery (poking its way through the rocky earth) and levels (an abundance of earth’s wrinkles rather than a few of earth’s stellar cheekbones brooding at you from the horizon) and probably even animal life (I saw one dead raccoon and one dead skunk on the way in, in addition to animal crossing signs for sheep (mountain sheep?) and cows (mountain cows?).

I realize that what I like about trees is that they provide mystery.  I don’t know what’s in that forest, and that makes me feel like anything could be there.  I feel the same way about cities, where the downtown area blocks your view from every angle and you could easily get lost in the maze of possibility (even if the actuality is only another corner-laded CVS).

But though I declare my love for the forested, in fact, I must admit that the area surrounding Taos is perfect for adventure, and more perfect (to my particular tastes) than many a forest.  I tend to be a hiker who wants the outdoors, but not the dirt.  And, I’ll grant you, there’s no shortage of dirt in New Mexico, but it’s a dry dirt.

What do I love most about the land here?  How rocky it is.  I don’t mean wussy little pebbles or shy fist-sized stones.  I mean ROCKS.  Rocks so big they equal boulders, but so placed and surrounded by their fellows that you could easily jump from one to another on your way to the top of the mountain.  As a child, my family visited Turkey, and one day we were on a shore completely shored up by boulders, no beach or ground visible.  My brother and I jumped from rock to rock feeling so powerful in our sense of balance, our natural agility, the natural pleasure we got (or I did, at least, and still do) from jumping from one precarious perch to another, until, of course, one of us slipped and cut our arm open on the sharp edge of a rock.

I could reproduce that feeling here!  Complete with sliced-up arm!

Even with all the paeans I could (and would (and will?)) write to this landscape, I still feel like the city (and its natural analogue, the forest) holds the most for me in terms of inspiration.  At least I did before I saw this:

Rio Grande Gorge

This is the Rio Grande Gorge.  I first saw it coming round the mountain (here she comes) where it simply looked like a tear in the earth.  I couldn’t find a picture to do that view justice (though I found a number of paintings that did – the attraction being the hint at what’s there rather than the actual that the photos display?) and I’m not sure I can describe it effectively, except to say that the gorge looks like science fiction come to life.

Okay, I’ll try.  Imagine a wide valley.  You’re standing high on the mountains surrounding this valley (and by “valley”, I mean that you could fit Rhode Island inside it).  Now take this grand and spectacular landscape and tear it down the middle, then glue the pieces back down, but hundreds and hundreds of feet apart, the land dropping at the edge of the tear six hundred feet down.

But all of that is just a so-so collection of dry facts.  All I can say is that seeing the Rio Grande Gorge… at first I didn’t know what I was seeing.  My brain tripped over my eyes.  My eyes tripped over my tongue.  My tongue just wanted a sandwich.

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