Longing; The Ride Home

It’s the kind of Sunday for lazing – maybe all Sundays are? – pouring a second, then a third cup of tea. Standing in the kitchen, cocked hip, savouring the way soy milk pours in thick swirls, wrapping myself in a long cardigan, pulling it round as if it will stave away shivers from the deep cold that has set in outside.

Never has a January felt like so much longing. I readily admit that I am a longer – one who longs – in general. I have that romantic, wanderlusty personality for which there always seems to be something just out of reach, something far away and unattainable. Last year was a year of learning presence and satisfaction in the neverending now, and releasing fears of what might never be.

But a little of that longing is good for the soul. It reminds me I am alive and that nothing is permanent. Emotional foreplay of things that have not yet come to pass – bread for a writer. The pandemic has taken so much away from us, stripped us all bare, making room for what is new and fresh and alive. There is hope in this longing.

When my mind strays, it goes to New Mexico – galloping across pink-red pastures and mountain passes so high the sun bleeds the colour away. Sandias glowing in the hue of melon flesh and an air blown dry and brittle in winter wind. My current existence being confined to a little London studio flat and the few terraced-house streets surrounding it, this is not difficult to understand.

This is a particular brand of melancholy adopted by a certain type of individual who chooses to make their permanent home far away from the land of their childhood. Sometimes you have to roam distances away from it to truly understand what home means to you, or who you are because of it. James Joyce, for example, hated Ireland and left it as soon as he could, living most of his adult life in Paris and later Trieste, Italy. And yet he remained obsessed with Ireland, writing about it in every work. He famously quizzed each visitor that came to see him on specific details: at what exact angle a sign hung skewed on a specific Dublin street, or the colour of the rain and the exact placement of a tree or which flowers grew under a statue in Merrion Square. Joyce had no desire to ever go back to Ireland – most of his books are scathing satire on just how terrible he thought the whole place was – yet he was deeply obsessed with the beauty in its details from far away.

Something of New Mexico lives in my soul and breathes out of me in every word I write, and in every cloud I see passing overhead, in whatever new and distant place I take myself. A mountain in the Lake District that, somehow, shades in the colour of the Sangre de Cristos. The sky over Tibet is the horizon on the high road to Taos. A sunset in Kerala the fire of a high desert evening. New Mexico is everywhere to me, everywhere in me.

We are all trying to find our place in the world. The people who came before us, our family lineage, those that lived in the rented house before us or centuries ago visited a place we visit and left their written record. I am trying to find my own self in this endless line of humanity. Who am I in this eddying galaxy of existence and what do I contribute? What is the fabric of my soul even made of? How will someone link with me long after I am gone?

I have recently been reconnecting with an old friend and lost love – one of a number of unexpected gifts proving 2020 was not entirely a shitshow. He seems to mirror back to me my longing for elsewhere by constantly reminding me that New Mexico is windy and dusty and hard to love when you’re stuck there. It’s raining and cold and gross here, I tell him. Rain makes things alive, he says.

My search for connections through time and place brought me to the poet John Curtis Underwood, heir to the Underwood Typewriter company, who owned and lived on my family’s land south of Santa Fe before it became my family’s in 1958. Can we say that land really ever belongs to anyone, though? I don’t believe that we can. We do not own land, we are guests on it; if we live openly, then we understand we are part of it.

I ordered Underwood’s book, Trail’s End, a poetry compilation he wrote in New Mexico and New York. It arrived in a strange A4 sized book, printed-on-demand from scanned typewriter (fittingly) pages complete with typos. The date and place in which each poem was written printed at the bottom like a strange, cryptic code.

Santa Fé 12 4 18
New York 10 29 19

I was in search of family history ordering this book. I hoped maybe to find something familiar – a corner of the old ranch house where he lived before my grandparents, or the fleeting light of a Lone Butte sunset – somewhere in his poetry. A connection that would bring me and this stranger together across space and time.

Most of the poems are about Santa Fe life; most seem to be written in the autumn/winter of 1918-19. Elsewhere, Armistice in Europe was bringing World War I to an end; Teddy Roosevelt passing away in his sleep; a Russian Civil War was setting the stage for a new era of history’s unfolding. Underwood lived out the Spanish Flu in my grandmother’s house, and a century later I’m living out another pandemic a world away across the sea, dreaming of my childhood through a stranger’s poems.

In the end, I’ve found little of my family home in Underwood’s writing, but deeper pieces of myself are all over it. He was prone to taking long horse rides across the dry, dusty pastures, looking at the stars on frigid desert nights, noticing the way the sky slanted through his studio windows; writing. Like me, Underwood saw the world through the romantic lens of poetry; he noticed shades of shadow on mountainsides and the colours of clay soil.

There are answers here, as there are in the search for darkness amid light. Existence is not a series of boxes to be chosen: live here or live there; prefer desert or rain; love then or love now. Everything is always moving, changing. Flowing water in a parched arroyo. We have to flow with it.

Everything is, all at once.

We do not, cannot, own land but land can form the fabric of a soul, and maybe this is what connects us all through space and time.

Through a corridor of mountains that opened on the stars
We rode without speaking a word and all the while we were drinking in
The silver flood of moonlight that made the night a miracle
And I wanted to go straight on and follow you
Riding forever through space to the rim of the range and beyond.
There in the air was our empire, and there we went riding,
Riding on the moonlight rim of a planet that galloped through the night.


-John Curtis Underwood, from ‘The Ride Home’, Trail’s End
Santa Fé, 11 18 18

turn, turn, turn

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almost every formidable musical memory i have involves being in the car. music was the fabric of my family – my parents both played music and met on the music scene in santa fe in the 1970s. music literally made me; without it they would not have met and i would not exist. one of the fonder memories i have of my mother is her story that she used to place her mandolin on her stomach and play it when she was pregnant with me, and i’ve always held that as the reason i so love the sound of the mandolin more than any other instrument. i believe, though, it was my dad’s savant-like mandolin playing that really shaped my ear for it.

the car was where life happened for us in rural new mexico in the 1980s. it was 20 miles ‘to town’ from our house, a little three-room adobe mud rectangle sat squat on the middle of 80 acres of land. the dirt driveway was a mile long and led out to another dirt road, which led to a small paved road, which led to highway 14, the main route into santa fe. sometimes we drove straight up cerrillos road – santa fe’s main drag – to school or my parents’ places of business. other times we veered onto I-25, up the on-ramp that took us past the odd sculpture of a brontosaurus family that some guy had erected there for totally inexplicable reasons. looking this up later, i find out the man’s name was larry wilson and he owned a foam installation business.

for years, the music we listened to came in two types, depending on which parent’s car we were in:

1) dad: a penchant for tom petty and all americana, oldies, the beatles, the kinks and other classic 60s stuff. i first heard the indigo girls in the backseat of my dad’s AMC eagle wagon. we sang at the top of our lungs to ‘won’t back down’ by tom petty and i felt like a real rebel shout-singing the word ‘hell’ out loud.

2) mom: singularly listened to contemporary christian music and fostered my love for amy grant by constantly playing her early ’80s albums straight ahead and unguarded. i’d handle the cassettes with care, gently tugging the sleeve out and unfolding it, making sure not to tear the perforated edges apart, pouring over the lyrics. when lead me on came out in 1988, it soundtracked my young life for years after, and we’d wait in line at tingley coliseum in albuquerque to see her concert. afterwards i went to the merch stand and bought a white t-shirt with the album cover on the front that i wore so much it got holes in it.

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at some point, my classmates pushed me into listening to country and western radio, which in the late 80s and early 90s was still tolerable to my dad and therefore he’d allow us to put it on, especially when we picked up friends who also lived out highway 14 and carpooled together. we’d sing at the top of our lungs the lyrics to the judds and george strait songs, alabama, kathy mattea and tanya tucker.

one morning on the way to school, my dad had tuned in to the oldies station and we were cruising up I-25 when the song changed and something happened. the iconic twanging first four bars of the byrds’ ‘turn, turn, turn’ resounded through the speakers and my dad turned the volume up full blast and sang along. we were stunned into silence. though he often drummed on the steering wheel (sometimes so hard we wondered if it might fall right off), he sang rarely, and it was special when this happened.

we listened, rapt. he sang the whole thing, then shoved the dial back down to a normal volume.

one thing you might know, if you’ve ever met my dad, is that john egenes can spin a good yarn. he knows the art of hooking you into a story and then drawing it out for as long as possible in great detail. after the song ended, he started in on a story about how the first time he heard those first four bars of turn, turn, turn, with their telltale rickenbacker jangle, it changed his life. he was hooked on the atmosphere of the song and how it was like nothing he’d ever heard before.

this sunk in. until that point, my life had been so saturated by enforced musical surroundings, i’d never contemplated the idea of music changing something in me, or of being overcome by a sound so new you remembered it your whole life.

on another morning drive, we were flipping through the radio channels and had one of those moments where you tune into a station just as your favourite song (i guess it’s called your jam now) is ending and we all shouted and moaned from the back seat that we’d missed it.

then my dad launched into story, and another thing you will know if you know my dad is that he’s a real sci-fi nut and more than a little bit prescient about technology.

you know, someday, you’re gonna be driving along in your car and you’ll be able to just press a BUTTON on your radio and, bam, you’ll buy any song you want and it’ll shoot straight into your radio from a satellite.

some years later, in the weeks after my parents split up, my dad got a new place up and across highway 14. it was temporary, and definitely weird when me and my sister first got dropped off there. i can only imagine how weird it was for my dad. he’d made a big stew in his crockpot and there were boxes all over the living room filled with vinyl records. i’d never seen any of them before – they’d always been secreted away in his little recording studio, a tiny concrete square that he’d built himself from the ground up (just far away from the main house to provide refuge) and spent most of his time in.

i’d never handled a vinyl record before – it was the end of the tape era and the start of the CD era, and i was aged 13 and lived and died by my walkman. seeing me idly scanning the boxes of records, he pulled a bunch out and showed me how they worked, popping open the scratched up plastic cover of his record player, lifting the needle and gently laying the big disc in.

the record was the 1966 stephen stills single ‘for what it’s worth’, by buffalo springfield. maybe i’d heard it before, but i’d never really heard it and the richness of those first four notes still warms me up from the inside out. bun. bing. bun. bing.

over the years, my mind has conflated the two memories, so that sometimes when i hear ‘turn, turn, turn’ by the byrds, i think of that first night as a divorce-kid, the smell of beef stew and the first feel of a dusty record sleeve in my hands.

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post script: there was one other moment in my life – this time in my 30s – that i heard music so different that it changed things forever for me, and that was the ethereal, spiritual sound of ‘lorelei’ by the cocteau twins, recommended to me by someone that cracked my heart wide open and let my soul out. liz fraser’s breathy, unintelligible vocals and robin guthrie’s sparkly guitars a form of jangle from the beyond, and i would not be the same after that.

the road to angel fire

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angel fire. that kind of albuquerque morning where the sky is ablaze. magenta, cerise, amaranth, crimson.

6am, sad news reaches me on a day already planned to be in the car for eight hours to colorado, my sister, eventually london. I-25 seems too businesslike for all the many things in my heart this day, and when i pull into santa fe just before 7am, i know i’ll go off-course.

i consider the high road to taos and after a brief consultation of google maps in the alberston’s parking lot on cerrillos road, i realise i actually don’t know what the high road to taos even is.

we always took the low road. the two-laner carving its way along the reticent rio grande through the gorge, past embudo, the rafting center, then pilar. NM highway 68.

the high road goes through truchas, an unincorporated village with an adobe church. it set the scene for the 1988 film the milagro beanfield war, which, if you haven’t seen it, is worth a watch, if for nothing else than to understand rural northern new mexico (which is in fairness a skill probably of use to few not actively raised here). state road 76, up past chimayo and the santuario with its holy well and the good red chile stands; all the cañadas and miles of hand-dug acequias.

it was cold last night, a hard frost, and the 8000-foot altitude of the high road could mean ice. i’m in the mood for exploration, but not for off-roading particularly, and so set out on the well-trodden low road. this feels fitting – a road i’ve driven many times in my life, both in the back seat as a child for weekends visiting taos pueblo or tagging along to gigs my dad was playing at the sagebrush inn with bill & bonnie hearne, and then behind the wheel as an adult driving to and from something i seem to be revisiting in more ways than one, this trip home, this year.

it’s early and i make an unsuccessful stop at walmart in española to buy a six-pack of local marble red beer for my sister and to bring back to london. everyone present in walmart española at 8am on the monday after thanksgiving is either driving a mobility scooter and perusing ugly christmas sweaters or gossiping in norteño spanish or both.

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at the embudo station restaurant, i want to pause but forget where the turn-off is, and being tailgated by an impatient electrician’s truck, i push on. we used to make trips just to eat at embudo station, crossing the rio grande via a small bridge and settling onto a table under cottonwood trees, always shaded by the canyon walls which begin to climb here and higher as you go northwards toward agua caliente.

maybe the last time i drove this road was 2004, could that be right? on the way to and from the kind of last-hurrah tryst that signals the real and final end to a love affair you will never forget. three quiet nights in taos savouring all that, a glass of wine, things you’d rather not say, hot tears as you pull away from it and back down the canyon, not knowing where life will take you.

IMG_7262.JPGin taos, i pause at a blake’s lotaburger for one more green chile breakfast burrito. it’s a typical 1950s-styled white stucco fast-food joint with hard plastic red-and-white umbrellas shading hard plastic picnic tables no one ever uses out the front, and big letters spelling LOTABURGER in flintstones-esque font across the front. inside, a lady in a hair net takes my order from behind a red vinyl countertop and when i ask for the burrito ‘green’ she queries: ‘chile or sauce?’ i baulk here: how can i have been out of new mexico for so long as to be confronted with a chile-ordering question i’ve never heard. well…chile then, if there’s a difference?

from here, i follow the little 585 bypass across southern taos shortcutting to US highway 64, falling back into old habits. adjusting the music selection and steering with my knee while i unpeel the aluminium foil from around the egg-hashbrown-chile-filled burrito. there are no spillages, and no accidents – i’m still a new mexican after all.

US highway 64 is tremendously long. it goes right the way from the new mexico-arizona border to the whalebone junction at cape hatteras in north carolina – literally, as far east as you can go to the atlantic. i am at the western end of it and, out here, it’s just a tiny two-lane mountain byway that doesn’t feel like it would go anywhere at all except up over remote palo flechado pass and into angel fire and eagle nest. and in reality, that is all this highway does out here.

these places were the stuff of dreams on the evening weather report when i was a child. first of all, they have magical names that seemed even more magical as a kid. second of all, they were always forecast to get snow in the winter and for that i was constantly wishing to go to them.

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the high alpine deserts of southern colorado and northern new mexico were home to the muache, a southern tribe of the ute people, who came here specifically to perform fall ancestral ceremonies to the great spirit. they were the first here, and the first to notice the evening alpenglow that seemed to pulsate in blazing colours around a peak that later came to be known in spanish as agua fria: cold water peak. they called this glow the fire of the gods, and later in the 1780s, franciscan friars altered the semantics, poetically giving us angel fire. indeed, it was because of this burning colour that the spanish called the entire mountain range sangre de cristo: the blood of christ.

though it’s now just a ski resort (and a blissfully hidden-away one at that), angel fire is the sort of place where you feel in a bit of a dream. weaving my way down a gently switchbacking road through pine forest that had climbed to nearly 9100 feet at palo flechado pass a few miles ago, here opens an expansive, treeless brown valley surrounded on all sides by lumbering, dark-green peaks. swathes of this pasturous flatland are still covered in a snow that fell over the weekend.

there is not a single car heading northeast with me, so i pull off, roll down the driver’s side window, and begin snapping pictures of ‎13,167ft wheeler peak, the state’s highest mountain. though i know it’s treacherous, from here, it looks tame and seems almost ordinary compared with the mountains of similar altitude i crossed in tibet a few months ago.

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eagle nest – a resort village of under 300 – is next, and its lake is already partially frozen despite the white november sun that has come out and is bleaching everything in my windshield into a washed-out instagram filter. effectively it’s a one-street town lined with mining-style clapboard buildings. nothing is open. i pause briefly at a pull-out with a bathroom just past the village limit and spend a few minutes gazing at the lake until my eyes can’t take the sun glare anymore. then back into the camry, belle & sebastian getting me through new mexico like they did tibet, too.

minutes pass like hours for the rest of the 35 miles to cimarron, turning from high heaven to hell, as the road winds into a landscape of charred pine trees and burnt earth. it sometimes takes years for an arid landscape to recover from a forest fire in the southwest, and i mentally scan my memory for a fire that might’ve caused this devastation when i was younger. later, i read the damage was far more recent: in june this year, the ute park wildfire devastated nearly 37,000 acres right here and i am driving through ground zero of the aftermath. homes gone, animals lost, memories vanished in seconds, minutes, long and tortorous singeing days. and a few short months later, cars so casually zipping through a place that was literally engulfed in flame.

how long i will have to wait to drive this road again to see things growing?

the land flattens off at cimarron – another place-name-of-dreams (it could mean ‘where the wild things are’) – an all-but-forgotten town that once was a centre of trade for wagon trains and coal miners – at this point, US 64 is now following the course of the santa fe trail. a few signs posted along the highway through town denote outlaws and miners and fur trappers that once made this place busy, now a dusty memory in roadside black-and-white.

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after this, you wave goodbye to the mountains for good. to the son of god peaks, the rockies, to the pine trees, to any trees at all. from a 10,000ft apex less than 50 miles west, here is the flat desert, occasionally dotted with far-off buttes and blue mesas, eventually to give way to the kansas prairie.

before that, i’ll reach I-25 and then turn north to colorado and a plane home.

but i’ll go with new mexico – with angel fire – in my chest.

independence day

it’s late afternoon in 1988 and we are in the car – my dad’s AMC eagle with faux wood panels down the sides. no air conditioning, and it’s hot in early july. a dry, still new mexico heat, the kind that makes your hair go all static-y and melts the plastic on the steering wheel if the car is parked too long in the sun. we pile out at santa fe downs – the racetrack my grandfather always took credit for building. as a girl, i imagined my larger-than-life ‘papa’ nailing up planks and dragging dirt, his face shaded by a huge stetson and his alligator-skin boots getting dusty driving a backhoe, though later i came to understand that his claim on the track was merely financial and, like a lot of my family history, complicated.

we pile out and walk for what feels like a year from the car to the entrance, where a giant concrete tunnel seems to pass underground and back up again, right out into the middle of the racetrack, over which looms a covered grandstand. for a horse-obsessed girl of almost eight, standing on the soft soil of an actual racetrack gave me the same feeling i’d later experience standing on the great wall of china and ascending the eiffel tower for the first time.

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my sister is four and being pushed in a stroller by my mother while my dad points out the details.

back behind there are where the horses live.

can we go see them?

not today. he indicates toward a semi truck parked across the grass infield. look, see out there – that’s where the fireworks are going to come from.

the sun drifts downwards west behind the slate blue ortiz mountains, lighting the sky to their north above us in a crayola box of shades. a blanket is produced from the basket on the back of the stroller – an upright, spartan sling on wheels made of plastic piping and synthetic polka-dotted material and with a small pull-out sunshade that had done me no good as a baby and was currently not shading much of my sister.

we sit all evening and get hungry and cranky so that by the time the fireworks start going off, i am in an inexplicable rage and my sister, who’d been gazing upwards at the purple and blue blasts, gets a piece of ash in her eye and has to be bustled off to an ambulance waiting somewhere nearby. (she was fine but we were all traumatised and i wonder now what this experience was like for my parents who, i presume even at that point in their marriage, didn’t really like each other very much).

there were other fourths of july. the hour-long drive to albuquerque, past small juniper trees at the turn off for la cienega and down la bajada hill, beyond the pueblos and then bernalillo, where a ribbon of the rio grande could be glimpsed between rows of cottonwoods in years when there was rain, to the airport. my dad said this was the best place to watch the fireworks, which were set off somewhere from adjacent kirtland air force base, and i suppose the 1980s were a time when knowing you could use the open-air top level of a parking lot for a free family fireworks outing (hopefully one where no one got ash in their eye) was the essence of cool.

july 4th is the only holiday i remember us celebrating as a foursome; hell, one of the only things i remember us doing as a foursome full stop.

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when you’re a kid, people ask you dumb questions like ‘what’s your favorite holiday’ and my answer always was the fourth of july. at fifteen, this was highly idealised: it’s not a commercial holiday. i wasn’t wrong, but then time goes on and your family turns out to be messy and then so does your country and you move away to another state and then another country, and start to wonder how you could possibly have loved such nationalistic nonsense.

it was the shitty hot dogs. being smushed onto a blanket covered in pet hair, fingers smelling of ketchup and potato-chip salt. the wonder of fireworks cracking off against an indigo sky. sucking the last juice droplets out of a deflated capri sun bag through a strangely sharp straw that might slice your tongue. making cut-offs out of your old jeans with a pair of scissors and hoping you might get your first kiss under the cover of all that magic. swirling sparklers into fairy shapes that lingered on the thick air for an extra moment.

i loved that the fourth of july made me feel like, for one night a year, perfect life was possible. maybe my parents could be happy together. maybe i would be a normal kid who would meet an amazing crushable boy who liked her just as she was. that i lived in a great state in a great country where things were safe and happy. realities, of course, are different: my parents were so much better off apart, and as a result so were my sister and i. being a normal kid is overrated and turns out to be boring, and yes there have been several boys and there will be others, and so much the richer life is when you allow people to pass in and out of it in their natural time. there is no such thing as a great state or a great country – these are imagined things, it turns out – but the people that collectively make them up can be great and so can their cultures.

the fourth of july represents the unbridled optimism of childhood and a memorialised version of america – my version. it is nostalgia. but then maybe nostalgia is merely a yearning for things you think you remember having but that never really existed.

it’s late afternoon in 2018 and i set a pitcher of sun tea out to brew in the unusually sunny warmth of this year’s british july and think of my grandmother, who taught me this skill. she loved me but openly hated my cousin and it turns out people are really incredibly complex, and we never see all of their sides, even the ones we believe to be soul mates, or family, parents or anyone else.

it’s hot. i stick on a fan and some ani difranco, and sit down to write.

the telemarker

it was your head.
cocked glasses, aquarian smile
bag dropped casual-like on a desk, too old for the skater look
you were affected but smart and god i loved it
the boy with the arab strap comes on now
and instantly i’m there
11pm, 2004, october something. we took apart
and rebuilt
an old VCR on the wood slat floor
of your house on…
, oh,
what was the name of the street
and how funny i can still smell you
feel your mouth on mine
in the pagosa springs
, but was it hazeldine road or linda vista?
where i left you, no you left me.
where you dressed as the crocodile hunter
jumped off your roof on tequila and who knows what.
where you let me sleep over and then bought breakfast
while your girlfriend was in denmark.

you are still a fire in my throat
but i can’t recognise your old house
on street view
anymore.

i wanted to fix you
with skiing and a steve earle soundtrack
we huddled close on a stranger’s couch in
a new-build adobe santa fe house.
a stroll around the plaza, the bull ring
i let you smoke
and the smell of red wine linger next to me
we went to bed separately that night
and i think now i was good at being confusing back then.

you needed space
and you went to taos and this was before smartphones
and texting and the constant on.
it was a three-hour drive.
i was thinking of your crow’s feet all the way up the rio grande gorge
past velarde, embudo station, the turn off to truchas.
we drank barley wine
on high bar stools at eske’s – conveniently
tiny enough for three pints of arm-brush butterflies –
and drunk-drove to the strokes,
windows down
rocky mountain nightwind
swirling us round for one last nite.

years later, an awkward dinner at chama river
you tell me about your new wife
new kid
and i smile and i am happy for you
and we drink beer again, not the same,
and pretend
we were not a thing
back then.

poem of highway 14

it bucketed
the day i gifted
the bishop’s passing.
a talisman of wishes,
sueños where i see badlands through ocean rain.
the soundtrack?
feast of wire: dulcet painting, desert noir
that we would lay down to,
find orion.
i put us in a pickup bed
somewhere south of socorro
dusty nostrils, crimson clouds
no…pink! no, azure.
then, squinting, the pleiades –
seven sisters all of a tremble.
we’d drive
the turquoise trail, to where it meets the gold mines in madrid
pastures full of cane cholla, buds about to be may fuchsia
dirt between tufts of galleta and tall feathergrass
brown like your skin
after a summer in wild basins.
this rainless landscape
was always so perfect to me.
but nothing is clear now until a downpour of you.

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driving side roads in northern new mexico

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Cottonwoods rim the two-lane, an alameda out of Española,
a forearm extended into the High Road villages.
Seven miles on, the hand opens to Chimayó,
one palmful of adobe farm homes and a sacred site.

“Martinez,” reads the mailbox on a garden wall.
Packed-earth, the painted wall beams blue.
The Oritz house naps behind a fence of roses, of flames on old vines,
and the Sanctuarario curio shop stands banked by a stone wall
painted Sangre de Cristo red.

Just before the turnoff to “The Lourdes of the West”,
where dirt, rather than water, is sacred when blessed,
a corrugated shed crumples in the weeds
between two fallen companions:
A bulb-headed truck that slumps in the gravel,
a peeling cottage growing gray thorns in the sun.

Across the rusted shed doors, a sign
brushed on in white-paint letters
leaves a forwarding address: Moved to Arroyo Seco.
Moved to Dry Ditch.

Deborah Kelly

santa fe, new mexico sunrise with windmill

rediscovering my home of enchantment (trip report, part 1)

santa fe, new mexico sunrise with windmill
sunrise at mom’s house

it’s been three years since i was back in new mexico. well, that is until three weeks ago, when i finally went home. bill was working out of his houston office, so i took the chance for a couple of days visiting my family and eating lots and lots of green chile.

if you aren’t familiar with new mexico, the first thing you should probably know about is our food. we have very special food. it is not quite mexican, it is not quite native american and it is not quite spanish, but it is definitely a mix of all three. and here’s one for your next pub quiz: new mexico is also the only state in the US to have an official state question, which is, “red or green?”. this refers to our incredible chile sauces, the green derived from unripened, roasted chile peppers and the red from ripened peppers of the same plant.

combination plate at la choza - red and green chile present.
combination plate at la choza – red and green chile present.

i stayed the first couple of days with my mom in my childhood home – a stately little adobe house that sits on a good few acres of lovely, scrubby high desert land with views of the mountains in every direction. we ate at a few of my favourite spots. the first morning was a breakfast of huevos rancheros (eggs with beans, cheese, corn tortilla and chile sauce) at san marcos cafe.

huevos rancheros at san marcos cafe, santa fe, new mexico
breakfast of jetlagged champs: green chile huevos at sue’s.

growing up, this was the only restaurant local to us, as our house is rurally 20 miles south of santa fe. we called it either sue’s (in reference to the owner/chef, susan macdonell), or ‘the feed store’, as there is an actual feed store connected to the back where local ranchers buy everything from hay to halters to live chicks in the spring.

while in santa fe, i also did some touristy stuff – not something most locals get up to. on santa fe’s plaza, most days local native americans from various tribes set up on blankets under the long portico outside the historic palace of the governors (now the museum of new mexico) and sell handmade jewellery, much of it turquoise. growing up in new mexico, wearing turquoise was always something for tourists, but now living away for so long, i really wanted a nice piece to remind me of home. i came away with lovely necklace stone and silver and turquoise bracelet made by a navajo craftswoman – so beautiful.

palace of the governors, santa fe plaza
palace of the governors, where native americans sell jewellery

time goes a lot slower in new mexico than it does in london. there is time to just sit and watch the sunrise. and the sunset. there is the space of the day when dusk falls over the house silently like a blanket of snow. there was time to enjoy that quiet, which i realised i miss a lot. even when london is quiet, the city still has a faraway rumble. and, not least, i got to play with my horsie, ren’ai, who lives at my mother’s house and is a complete dote. some readers here may not know about my past life as a horse trainer, which i did for many years before i became a world traveller and writer.

me and ren'ai chilling out
me and ren’ai chilling out

after not nearly enough time with mom, it was off to a packed day of breaking bad tourism in albuquerque, which is 60 miles south of santa fe, for a work article. my stepdad was the lucky candidate to drive me around the city, where we went from breaking bad location to location, seeing and photographing in the space of a few hours walter white’s house, the infamous “a-1 car wash” (actually the octopus car wash on menaul and eubank) and many others. all of that driving called for a hearty lunch, so we had to stop at my favourite restaurant on god’s green earth: duran’s.

green chile burrito at duran's station, albuquerque
green chile burrito at duran’s station

duran’s has two locations, though the original is literally a cafe in the back of a pharmacy in old town albuquerque where little old hispanic ladies in hair nets cook some of the meanest new mexican fare ever, including homemade tortillas. their second location – duran’s station – opened a few years ago and has become a rival to the original and one much easier to reach, though for atmosphere i still prefer the original. either way, the food is INCREDIBLE and we stuffed our faces.

that afternoon, i was scheduled for a press visit to routes rentals for a breaking bad-themed bike tour. perhaps a bit ill-advised after such a large lunch, but the prospect of beer at one of my favourite albuquerque breweries helped me press to the end. actually, heather and josh (partners and owners) gave one hell of a tour, showcasing the downtown filming locations (such as jesse’s house and tuco’s hideout) and bringing a laptop so we could watch the scenes at their filming locations. the tour ended with a sampler of marble’s heisenberg dark, which i will talk more about on brew travel.

by the end of the day, i was wrecked, but made two last stops: one into the candy lady, to buy samples of the prop ‘blue meth’ used on the show to bring back to colleagues in london, and two into a kelly’s liquor store to buy a nice bottle of wine to bring to my aunt’s house. my aunt just so happens to be a regular customer of saul goodman’s nail salon (breaking bad reference), so we stopped in for a quick pedicure and to chat with the owners about what it was like to have breaking bad filmed in their store.

the evening was topped off family-style, with all of my paternal aunts and uncles turning up for green chile-topped pizza and many bottles of wine on my aunt’s beautiful back patio, overlooking the sandia mountains. there is nothing better than sipping a nice cab in the crisp desert air with family and laughter (and some good old fashioned egenes arguing) all around.

this is part 1 of what will be a 3-part series.