Thursday, December 15, 2011

Simple Twist of...

John Steinbeck's most famous line has the ring of Shakespeare, but was in fact penned by that Great Scot, Robert Burns. And it rings too in my world, in particular when I spend time with my friend Taylor. Most of our hiking plans tend to change while afoot, but it is in a car where things really "gang aft agley."

I'd long awaited the Matachines dances at Jemez Pueblo, but the weather forecast predicted snow. The day was in fact somewhat warm, so what did precipitate was a rain that aspired to a softer beauty. We drove south, through the more scenic La Cienega backroads, meeting the freeway briefly before leaving it again at Algodones. Not far off was the ruins of Kuaua, whose crumbling bricks lined the western banks of the Rio Grande, paralleling the high, winter-bare cottonwoods on the other side. We walked the ruins in the light drizzle, sadly denied the pleasure of entering the kiva whose walls were decorated with the colorful restorations of murals centuries old. I remembered them well from a visit 20 years before, on a day of similar weather. But we otherwise occupied ourselves with a few thrown snowballs and a stroll down to the river bank, dreaming of future picnics.

A short drive north brought us to the shadow of White Mesa, the name resonating by the minute due to the falling snow. We had our aforeplanned picnic in the car, the wiper blades occasionally returning the view to us. On the way to Jemez, we made a brief errand stop at the post office at San Ysidro, whose postmistress surprised us in being East Indian. She was a friendly and chatty woman, oft so caught up in the talk that she made three mistakes processing our post, quadrupling the time it would normally take. Ironically this delay conspired to cause us to miss the Jemez dances altogether, which were brought to an early conclusion due to the weather. Miki and I were astonished, as the identical thing had happened a month before at
Tesuque Pueblo. We had heard the drums on our approach, but by the time we entered the plaza itself, the dancers were moving away. Bizarrely, these were the two times that we had actually planned to attend a dance. The dances that we'd seen at Zuni and Hopi, had merely been random visits to the villages, but we'd been treated to a wonderful surprise.

Back in the car, Taylor and I talked of fate and those sequences of events that oft go awry. It occurred too in Jemez Springs, where a hot drink was nowhere to be found in a town closed early. A coffee may have brought some subconscious comfort on a day now gone to snow. We were traveling along Route 4, to examine the damage of the previous summer's fires. But snow blanketed all, clouds kept the adjacent hilltops just out of view. (I am pleased to see that LasConchas, one of my favorite places in New Mexico, seems to have survived, with the real damage on the other side of the road.)

Fate then decided to show a kinder face. A group of wild turkeys scurried through the drifts. And just above Los Alamos, we spied a herd of elk at least a hundred in number. Had we followed our planned itinerary, I doubt we'd have come across them. We stopped to watch a long while, the elk moving slowly and calmly through the snow, grazing, grazing. I stepped out of the car to pee, moving quietly into the trees. A bull with a massive rack of horns turned his great head, a few dozen meters away. Then a trumpet called from deeper in the forest, and the whole herd moved as one, a mass of gray shapes making for the hilltops. And I stood there paralyzed, as these animals, the smallest of which is at least twice my weight, hadn't made a sound. The whole scene had a magically quality to it, a serenity that I'm likely to revisit in future meditations.

Then as if in punishment for altering the fate of the elk, ours too took yet another turn. We hit Los Alamos proper at a hair past five o'clock, to join a long line of cars moving steadily toward a steep hill made perilous in the freezing rain. What would normally be a 45 minute drive was tripled. And as we inched along at 4 mph, we had ample time to weigh in on the fickleness of fate.

On the turntable: John Lennon, "Double Fantasy"
On the nighttable: Frank Waters, "The Man who Killed the Deer"

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