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The Muddy Rio Chama

If I had a secret code, it would be one of eagles and roosters. Of stars nesting among threads of blackness. The simmer of an arced flame and the slow drift of chords through a screen door.


It would be one of time spent with earth between toes.


And I would send a message that the eagle has flown, the rooster finally crowed, and a single star fell – one lonely flash of light across velvet.


But the music, that music never stops and it rekindles the flame. It quiets the rooster. It sets the eagle aflight once again. And those toes… well those toes will never be clean. And nor should they.




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. 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 now, and that is one of my favorite places.

The river runs strong through these mountains and mesas bringing with it the power to cut and shape and hollow out the world. We track to the sound of burbling water, past the twisted stump of a dead juniper, and alongside rusty sandstone cliffs. Through mounds of lilac and gold flowers. And there I sit the horse, tipping my head upwards to catch a moment of sun and let the moisture collected fall from my brim.




I rein the horse to the right dodging muck and clay and boot him forward, and around the next bend a cliff stands with inlaid arches like doors into another world. Narnia maybe, or Middle Earth. We cross a small arroyo and ride west through the veins of this land and there all sense of desert bleeds away, hidden in the colors of this earth.


I run in the direction of my heart and away from my head - which so often deceives me - and search for that gentle touch. A safe touch. The brushing of a leaf, the curl of warm fur at my feet, the gentle holding of a hand. Such a rare thing it seems. But the land that calls all to it also calls to me, so I ride with horse and dog through the badlands and backroads sharing a language with the hawk, the cactus, and the rock, until finally there is synchronicity and we are one.


Now a storm is moving in and we must find containment, if not shelter, and we do in an old cattle pen on the drive out. Mud slides downhill and underfoot, washing away what clean there was as the ground beneath us turns to waterfall, but it is short lived and soon the clouds are roaming again between pockets of blue and the light settles gently to the west.


I love myself better here. In the desert asphalt and red dirt, the rivers and arroyos, swaying side to side from five feet up. This is my world and yet and I know, there is no “mine.” Not the eagle, the rooster, or the flame. Not the earth between my toes. They are only the things I stumble upon and nurture.


Well, okay – maybe the dirty toes are mine.



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