Thursday, February 16, 2012

Saying farewell by foot 2

On my last full day in Santa Fe, I decided to take one last walk around town. I was following a book of classic photographs of the city, and it was fun to compare what it looked like 50 years, 100 years ago. While it has since been architecturally gentrified, a few elements can be seen beneath the stucco and fake adobe, the most beautiful being a Corinthian column found beside the Plaza Cafe. And the town grows on, the sound of jackhammers accompanying me at one point.

To retrace a historical walk here is done best in winter, when the town is brown and dusty, recreating the very impression that disappointed so many who'd just arrived after long months spent on the Santa Fe Trail. But the sky, and my mind were clear, joy creeping in to the point that I found myself somewhat sad to leave it behind. Then I remembered that I am now a tourist again, doing what a tourist does. Being a resident here creates an entirely different mindset, one of constant anxiety of how to afford life in such an opulent place, one in which you are so busy committed to simple survival that you have little time to do such walks in the first place...

...and my final morning. I drive south, to walk the La Cienguella Petroglyph Site as the sun comes up. I follow the cloud of my breath, through the fence and up the canyon toward the rim. Befitting the name, there are literally hundreds of petroglyphs up and today I find...none.

I'd heard from more than a few people that Santa Fe is a place that either accepts you or spits you out. I always hated hearing that. It made me anxious and more than a little angry, as if the town itself was elitist. But our luck proved such rejection. Then something ironic happened. From the moment we chose to return to Japan, we lost our connection to the spirit of the place. The fires of summer kept us out of the hills that we love. Then we found ourselves somehow missing all the Native dances we'd hoped to attend. And I no longer saw petroglyphs. New Mexico seemed through with us.

And that felt so perfect somehow. So I simply stopped looking, and turned back to my car...

...Yet on my final walk before leaving the States, the land once again lifted her skirts and allowed me a glimpse of her secrets. I drove from my mom's house up to Albuquerque's Petroglyph National Park. Rabbits jumped through the dawn, grass twitching before their noses in the fog. Here and there were shapes and figures of various shapes and angles, many looking like bizarre sci-fi images. They were accompanied by graffiti of the people who followed, and you find yourself less offended by something scratched in 1910 than by something from 2010. Finding petroglyphs becomes a Buddhist exercise in awareness. If you stop a moment and truly look, the figures begin to pop pop pop out all over the hillside. Standing here I remembered a conversation Miki and I had at the Three Rivers Site, about whether these figures stood alone individually, or whether they were all connected as a greater narrative, the whole landscape like an old Chinese scroll painting. To miss one element was to miss the meaning of the whole thing. It was said that it was predetermined that they be drawn in such a way that they are visible only under certain conditions and only to certain people. To be privy to the whole narrative was a privilege.

And for whatever reason, I was allowed this blessing. As I continued to walk, I found that I instinctively knew exactly where the petroglyphs were. And at trails end, standing before the final wall of volcanic stones etched with figures, I suddenly got such a feeling a sadness at leaving this land that it nearly crushed me. I will return of course, this being where my family lives. But for a brief moment, I revisited all the places of beauty from the past two years, saw once again the faces of those with whom I smiled. I am blessed.

On the turntable: John Coltrane, "Coltrane"
On the turntable: William Least Heat Moon, "River Horse"

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