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Chama River Wilderness, Santa Fe National Forest, NM

Sometimes I get tired of fighting the wind. Tired of keeping my head down and shoulders bunched. Yearning to see the blue above. To feel the sun trace its way across my skin and hold that feeling tight inside, never to let go.

Driving through Abiquiu, New Mexico the colors of the earth weave together like a Navajo blanket and skies stack in layers above the mountains. Some hard as rock candy, others soft as sand art. Distance blurs the horizon.

There are many low spots along the forest road and a storm is coming so we ride amid clouds and drizzle trying to get in what we can and I keep my fingers crossed we’ll find higher ground for tonight.

But I am in the red dirt, and that is one of my favorite places. Talus slopes bleed into speckled ground while Cottonwoods along the Chama slowly don an amber cloak - as if to protect themselves from this wet, ruddy earth and oncoming winter.

The river runs strong through the mountains and mesas, great and at times a terrible beauty. Bringing with it the power to cut and shape and hollow out the world. Of its own mind, it cannot be adapted to man. It cannot be held.

We follow the sound of burbling water past the twisted stump of a dead juniper, along rusty sandstone cliffs and through mounds of lilac and gold flowers. There I sit the horse, tipping my head upwards to catch a moment of sun and let the moisture collected fall from my hat before continuing on to the Monastery.

I crave this – the true life. To live not only in the mind, but in the body. Becoming one with the natural world around me and exercising the instinct within. I need this more than it needs me.

I rein the horse to the right, dodging muck and clay, and around the next bend terracotta walls rise to a bell tower where a single cross draws the eye upward. Behind, a sharp cliff stands with rounded cuts like doors into another world. Narnia maybe, or Middle Earth.

We cross a small arroyo and ride west through an open gate to a tall mesquite where I tie horse and dog and step down to enter the Abbey. There, all sense of desert bleeds away and as if it were the dead of night a silence descends, its weight unmistakable. It speaks to me from everywhere and nowhere at once.

On this horse I return to sanity, every stress washed clean by the dust of the earth. The wind in my hair. A reprieve from the incessant voice in my head. I ride until my longing is exhausted, and like moonlight on a clear night in this I find abundance. And somewhere along the way, without a sound, the sun returns.

An old cattle pen on the drive out provides containment, if not shelter. Avoiding the run-off and washouts from the earlier rain I park, pen the horse and set up camp. Brushstrokes of clouds roam the sky as the light settles bringing with it a moment of emptiness.

I love myself better here. In the desert asphalt and red dirt, the rivers and arroyos. The scattered swale of rock lying tousled along the ridgeline. Swaying side to side from five feet up letting my mind run unhindered in the wind.

And I say to my past, to the one I was before, “I don’t think your idea of life was the right way. THIS is the way.” Desert silhouettes against the sunset. Leftover snow on the peaks. The rust of the Chama wilderness and a river I cannot cross. Worshiping the creation of the creator and finding my words.

Some places are only accessed by surrender.


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