*See the short film about and pre-order the new book: TOO HIGH TO FAIL*
It took six years and one wilderness horseback trip with an Apache guide (that for a magazine assignment: what would I do without flukes delicately placed alongside flukes?) for me to realize it, but I can actually see (and in fact during hundreds of hours of meditation have directly stared at) the Continental Divide ridgeline sketched into the Cambrian cliffs across from the Butte on my morning hike.
It’s a white horizontal line, the Divide. It couldn’t be any more clearly marked in an Earth Science textbook diagram called, “Layers of the Earth’s Crust.” (Not incidentally, my leading theory on why folks have lived in my valley pretty much since folks have lived in the New World and, to me even more startlingly, why more people lived here a Millennium ago than do now, is that we humans somehow recognize places where we’re meant to be. Maybe it has to do with living alongside rock that’s been here since before the first organic cell division. And you thought the Ents had seen it all before.)
Once that most tangible of veils was lifted (that of the immovable Exhibit A of geologic evidence), other related (that is to say, “feeling age-old”) realizations flowed (despite the deafening if inviting 24-hour cicada line dance lately). They (the realizations) flowed like the Monsoon rains I pray soon will in these arroyos I explore daily by way of a workout. (Other than the fact that I hardly have a morning run without a rush hour cicada smacking into my shoulder or chest at high speed, then pausing for a moment to say “Pardon and good day” before pushing off in a great hurry, insect symphony is rarely distracting, rather subtly enhancing like the languid subconscious soundtrack of the didgeridoo. An underneath sound. Too intense to be called ambient. But definitely Of This Place. It makes these canyons vibrate just slightly irregularly, like an LP version reinstating the blessed air and scratches. Now, I know that more neutrinos hit the Earth every second than there are cicadas in New Mexico, but still there are a lot of them. Like most neutrinos I’ve met, the road enraged cicadas do no physical damage either, by the way, provided I’m wearing the triple digit temperature version of a suit of armor. That is, pants and a hat.)
One example of a tributary realization currently on its way to the mental river’s main fork: I can now examine individual approaching afternoon frontal systems — usually monster marshmallow gobs for the Michelin Man’s Jell-o salad, or cauliflower ready to be garam masala’d for a Maharajah’s creation myth benefit lunch. And in examining them from the Funky Butte Luxury Box, I can and do actually root like a vested fan for a particular wind direction: it matters a lot to me, I’m trying to say (beyond even the innertubing ramifications), on which side of that billion-year-old granite ridge line the Monsoon rains land. if they land at all this year. “Used to be like clockwork every afternoon starting in July,” the old-timers say semi-annually with squinting upturned faces in August these days with increasing trepidation. The worried monologues, often accompanied by ball-cap removal and brow wiping, is in fact becoming more regular than the Monsoon itself.
As the frontal horses near the finish line each day, what I’m shouting in the stretch, clutching my betting slips, are invocations like, “Drench my 200,000-acre backyard wildfire (which I know is good for the ecosystem but still, it’s only 20% contained with a month before rainy season used to come), first, if you please, and then bring the moisture slowly, daily, in bursts of electricity to the streams on my side of the Divide (or both’d be even better), and to the Funky Butte Ranch itself, and in such a gentle way that it doesn’t wash out my long and winding black diamond driveway.
I find it hard to deny that the current Era of Extreme Climate Chaos is confusing our internal systems. All ecology-based biorhythmic bets are off. I feel safe here speaking not just for myself, but for most organic life in the ecosystem. Even the lizards, normally a model for the “chill” outlook toward life that I believe might be the “up” button on the elevator to enlightenment, are confused: they, along with their jaggedly oval toad cousins and some kind of usually-nocturnal ring-tailed cat, are flocking to the Funky Butte Ranch for duck pond and child pool water, and for extended licks off of the drip irrigation system. They’re all wearing looks that seem to say, “The farmer’s almanac said this is supposed to be a relatively mild time for us to breed and fatten up before the blessed rains come.”
“Almost makes a fellow wonder if there might be something in this ‘Climate Change’ theory,” I reply with finger quotes. “Or if it’s perhaps some kind of sunscreen/industrial complex scheme.” (Curious if anyone who gets this deep into one of these Dispatches finds it odd that I both speak out loud to and believe I understand the conscious language of local members of other species — my most simpatico neighbors.)
One interesting thing I keep calling to mind in my Monsoon prayer moments this year is what Joe, my recent wilderness guide, pointed out by way of questioning the conventional anthropological assumption that Anasazi people left our area due to extreme drought: “Still a pretty wonderful place to live, seems to me.”
He was pointing to a nearby stream when he said this, and the walnuts were just forming on the leaves above our lunch spot across from an almost napping herd of elk. Hooray local living. Drought? Sure. Still bountifully-giving land? You bet. And to be sure, by now the lizards, toads and I should have gotten the memo: it gets hot in the high desert by late spring. Too hot for organic life to operate in full sunlight. Vitamin D is not an issue in the Funky Butte Ranch ecosystem (water efficiency and wheelbarrow durability? Maybe).
But whenever I get to this point, to the brink of inveighing for cosmological specifics and running for the hammock, I pretty much launch into the involuntary second stage of the prayer — one in a more appreciative mode: in exchange for always slow dancing with dehydration, we have been given a concurrent Divine gift, one that ranks up there, for the desert dwelling neo-Rugged Individualist, with manna: it’s called the Siesta. And I’d like to state the important fact right at the start of this cultural hagiography that Siesta cultures have the highest workplace productivity of any known modern economic model. I mention this in case a reader is wittingly or otherwise still tangled in a 20th Century corporate model filled with antiquated concepts like personal meetings and commutes and thus in danger of wandering toward the wholly wrong “lazy Mediterranean mindset” place.
Really, the operative takeaway for me is the often recognized but (like obvious resource management conclusions on a small planet) rarely prioritized (when, say, it comes to actual policy or individual purchases of farmed salmon) realization that humans are astounding adapters. It’s one of our most admirable traits, I believe.
Think of all the shit to which we get accustomed! One particularly absurd one I notice has recently gained acceptance in my life is the minor architectural redevelopment project I have to undertake with arms full of alfalfa hay each morning to order to open the poorly-installed gate to the new Funky Butte chicken yard. This enraged me for a week. Yesterday I caught myself dealing with it, while whistling, as just another part of morning chores. More of life’s perpetual Zen Ninja training.
Another way of stating this is to note that to Roseanne Roseannadanna’s famous adage that “it’s always something,” I add, “Sure, but let’s have fun dealing.” Worst case, under Venusian temperatures, I can wait a few hours and stargaze, or, if it’s still 132 degrees after sunset, jump in the hammock and plug in the solar-powered Netflix (laptop cradled in juniper crook): something with Steve Martin in the 1980s will be available on Instant.
Plus, I’m not generally a “worry about what time of day it is when I start the hike” kind of guy. You’ve got your two seasons every day most of the year in southern New Mexico (Saharan summer and Antarctic winter) and you’re going to hit both of them.
Still, triple digit mercury before 10 a.m. and after 7 p.m. every day for the past week is making for what even to me feel like some very long Siestas. Closer to hibernation. Or more practically, as my Sweetheart observed with a breakfast brow mop the other day, recent conditions “don’t really encourage midday garden weeding.”
It was while basting in this thick campfire atmosphere (which, once I recognize parking outside of shade is not an option until Thanksgiving, I hardly notice because I so enjoy the season’s encouragement to sleep outside so as to avoid cone nosed beetles and scorpions), that I bumped home from a long town day yesterday (comprised largely of vegetable oil mechanic estimates, organic feed pick-up, two tons of hay unloading, and a hotsprings soak, it was the usual tough day Away From the Ranch, for which I was rewarded with a gorgeous, streaked and ashy sunset the color of an oxidizing town hall copper cupola). Entering exhausted and loaded with organic produce from the farmers market, my oldest son greeted me with, “Guess where the toad is now?”
“Um. On my laptop?”
“Close. On the porch. Perched on top of River (the dog)’s water. I think it likes it here.”
“I think one more visit and we can name it. Whew. The whole saga is making me want a glass of ice water of my own.”
This was quickly arranged, following a soar-heated shower.
First, though, I allowed my youngest son to lead the way back outside, where I checked out the toad. The chunky amphibian Buddhist was, as far as a quick Internet search could tell, a red-spotted toad, plump as a ripe plum like at all the animals are this spring.
I can’t figure out why this is, given the scorched earth dryness (could the Funky Butte Ranch itself be feeding the entire desert ecosystem?). But what became clear as we had this fairly long multi-species staring contest with the toad (which conference came to enthusiastically include River the dog, who had sauntered over from coyote lookout duty to see if the hubbub might be scrap-related, but also found the toad very interesting, particularly from an olfactory perspective) is that all is decidedly well in the high desert around the Funky Butte Ranch.
I palpably recall, parched as I was at the moment (but unwilling to leave the scene until both sons had told me everything they had on their minds on the subject of the amphibian life cycle), the heavy fog of worry slipping away, with confidence filling the vacuum. We talked about some of the differences among mammals, amphibians and reptiles, and then I thanked my kids for the multi-generational and multi-directional homeschooling. If you haven’t guessed already, the role of teacher rotates organically in our scene. My Sweetheart and I as yet do most of the spelling and math instruction. My four-year-old teaches philosophy. My two-year-old is the yoga (formerly “gym”) instructor. The toads teach biology.
Among senior staff, I’m the leading lobbyist for at least the pretense of a regular instructional routine in the Funky Butte Preschool. I think the reason for this is I imagine that it falls under the Zen Ninja training component of the school’s educational philosophy. That is to say, OK, every hike is a geology lesson, every goat milking is Nutrition and True Home Economics, and every egg-gathering math. But even the Ingalls of Little House fame had a fixed time for “morning lessons.”
Mine is the voice asking, “Doesn’t a certain mental discipline result from imposing a little order on the Ranch School day; from prescribing occasional regularity? If the reader notices the reference to television’s 1980s euphemism for constipation, it’s intentional: when I let things flow, the educational lessons are invariably the most profound. And in truth, at this rate, I fear little for my progeny’s standardized test scores. Still, we’ve ordered homeschool workbooks and old-fashioned wooden desks for the ostensible students.
Scheduling methodology aside, as an educator and an evolving humanoid, a question lingers: when is a lesson learned? What entails “sunk in”? If it’s situational with a positive cosmic result 90% of the time, is that a passing grade?
Take, in my Digital Age Goat-herding life, the important lesson that in the desert, even without a radically changing climate challenging the very life-giving rain cycles, yes it gets inside-a-teapot-warm after dawn for eight months, but (and this is the important part that seemingly only meteorologists grok) the weather is going to do what it does.
As my Alaskan friend Ariana told me when I asked what kind of tide and wind we’d like to phone in to the Weather Service request line for easiest kayaking to that day’s glacier, “Dude, if you’re going to worry about the weather you’re never going to go anywhere.”
OK. It’s hot here in the Land of Enchantment High Desert. But it’s beautiful. What’s more, I have ample supplies of hammocks and rooibos tea. Oh, the many seasons I experience each day in June on the Funky Butte Ranch. At 8 a.m., I find myself tucking an iced water bottle into my running belt holster like a secret flask. Strapping on my just-re-glued “trail” running shoes, I’m grateful for this final shiver of the day. Winter is about to go away for 19 hours. It’s about to get toasty in italics for three quarters of a day. Like a PH experiment moving from base to acid numbers mid-chemistry class, all my in-play adjectives migrate quickly each day before breakfast from the realm of “brisk” to that of “melting.” And then, in a meteorological phenomenon that seems to be promising-yet-understudied in the realm of sustainable energy harvesting, all the heat dissipates into the atmosphere by about 10 p.m. Then it’s down comforters and wool socks again. Every single day.
And under such conditions was the Siesta Invented. I can imagine its rapid acceptance: soon after some very successful field testing (productivity up in all areas, from the aforementioned economic to the personal outlook and mood) it was installed as a sacred institution in nearly every culture between 20 degrees N. and 20 degrees S. Latitude, probably while we humanoids were still the hunter/gatherers we’re supposed to be. Continue Reading »