Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Out and About

Yesterday I decided to drive to Taos.  It was closer than I remembered, less than two hours by the longest route.  I, of course, planned to stop all along the way, but that was the point.  And so I took the high road through the Carson National Forest.  I had last been that way in the 1990s, but I remembered the beauty of the drive clearly. 

My first stop was simply a dirt road that let me take a photograph of a ramshackle barn set against a wooded hill.  I shot it with all of my cameras all the while waiting for someone to come out of the house above to ask me what the hell I was doing.  That is a common occurrence when I am taking a picture of something that seems nonsensical to anyone else.  Wash, spin, repeat.  I stopped all along the way.  The one place I did not stop, however, was at a small ravine where a couple cars had pulled to the side of the road.  Several men were standing at the edge and looking down.  I saw what they were looking at, the bottom of a car, four wheels up, the top of the car severely flattened.  Had it only just happened, I wondered?  Surely not.  As I slowed, wondering, I saw a pickup truck behind me pull over, too.  O.K.  There were plenty of people there now to handle it, I thought, but surely it was just an old wreck.  Ten minutes down the road, a police car came flying by toward the wreckage, lights flashing, siren blaring, traveling at least twice the speed limit.  A few minutes later, another, then an ambulance.  And so, I thought, there was somebody trapped inside that terrible wreck on that lonely, winding mountain road.  I could have done nothing if I had stopped, I thought, feeling a twinge of guilt.  It would have been an awful thing to see, and though feeling guilt, I also was feeling relief.  It was a terrible thing, a lonely place.  Who could it be?  What could have gone wrong?  The car had been an old one like you see often in the west, a rebuilt car from the 60s, perhaps, maybe older.  Some kids out for a joyride drunk or high flying through the late spring air?  I would never know. 

As I drove and stopped, drove and stopped, I remembered the old thrill of seeing new things, of making it all your own, the excitement of being formed by the experiences you had along the way.  I was ravenous for it, perhaps an endowment from my father.  I had wanted to chew up the land, to walk the entire earth and make it my own.  There was a mania in it.  Now, having done that, having been to most of the beautiful places I had heard of and had envied, there was something else, not mania but a calm resolution knowing that the bigger part of that was behind me now and that it had surely made me who I am.  The music played.  The road went on.

Taos.  The road in, littered with everything all towns are now littered with, practical stores at practical prices for real people and not romantic travelers, big stores that sold everything, many of them with names that are now familiar wherever you are.  Through the big disappointment and into the town center where the real estate is far too expensive for anything like that, into the town where it is impossible to make a living, where it is truly BYOM(oney).  So said Sophia, a pretty woman who worked at a gallery where I stopped.  She knew my own home town and said she wanted to live there which was quite surprising to me.  Her father had a house in one of the expensive beach communities about two hours from my own.  He owned a store in Santa Fe, she said, and she wanted to open one in my town as well.  It was impossible to make a living in Santa Fe, and she worked three jobs.  She never got out, really, to enjoy the mountains or the desert.  I thought it would be a nightmare to be stuck at a job with all of this around, but the same was true of everyone I talked to.  And they did talk.  People have stories and want to tell them.  I am a good listener, I guess, for I love to steal their tales.  She was a heartbreaker, though, that Sophia, beautiful and perhaps desirous, too, who knows?  I'd like to think so, anyway.  Another tale un-lived, untold. 

Later, I drove out of town, up into the mountains through very winding roads along a river, up into the trees, through small towns, then into the real money, then turning around, I headed back to the plains and the blistering high desert.  Then, out of the blue, I came to a lone structure, a small brewery, where they were on the third day of a three day music festival.  I pulled into the dirt parking lot and grabbed my cameras.  When I tried to get in, however, there was a table full of people wanting to get $45 from me.  I tried to charm them into letting me go in for ten minutes to take some pictures, but bikers are not always so easily charmed, so I was relegated to looking over a fence and listening to some very good music on a sunny Sunday afternoon. 

The band that was playing was a good one, but they were playing the last song of their set, so I drifted back to my car and drove back onto the highway.  I wanted to see the Rio Grande Gorge once more. It is always a shock driving through that flat land looking at nothing but long, tabletop of sand and scrub and to suddenly come upon it (see the first picture in post).  Being Sunday, there were a few tourists gathered and the usual stands to sell visitors authentic native crafts and snow cones and hot dogs.  I walked out onto the bridge to make my obligatory photograph, and while standing there looking out over the magnificent gorge, a young girl with bright red braces walked up and asked me about my Leica.  She was in college in the northeast, she said, studying photography. 

"How old are you?" I asked with incredulity. 

"Seventeen," she said. 

She looked it.  She asked about my Canon 5D as well and we chatted a bit.  Then her little sister came over and I photographed them together.  I was nervous, though, for their parents must be around somewhere watching, and when I walked away, I realized that I had taken shitty pictures and had not posed them at all, had not put the magnificent gorge behind them.  C'est la vie.  It will take more practice, but I know it will come, the confidence and mastery, I mean. 

Heading back to the car, one of the merchants, an old, disheveled man in baggy pants and a wrinkled shirt, started pointing behind me saying, "Sheep.  Look at the sheep."  I turned around to see three Big Horned Sheep on the other side of the road.  Oh!  I had always heard that they were elusive and thought I would never see one in the wild, but here they were.  I went over to take some pictures and watched them for awhile, but my Marlin Perkins moment soon wore off.  They were magnificent to see, but they were doing nothing to keep me entertained, so like any tourist, I was soon back on the highway. 

Yesterday I said there was nothing more lonesome than a late Saturday afternoon, but I was premature in my claim.  Sunday evening in a strange town--that is when you feel the void.  There is nothing like that.  I walked to the town square but it was like showing up after the party is over.  I walked a bit and then decided that I would eat.  I entered a Spanish tapas place I had seen earlier and sat at a table alone.  Dinner, wine, and a bunch of money later, I drove back to the edge of town.  I was tired though it was barely eight o'clock.  I dropped my stuff onto the second bed and pulled out my iPad to read Sally Mann's new autobiography, "Hold Still."  When I woke up, I brushed my teeth, took my vitamins, got out of my clothes, got back into bed, and turned out the lights.  I was bushed.

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