There’s something about doing lap after lap — and the 25-yard length achieves this effect more than does a 50-yard pool — that brings the swimmer into something like a meditative trance.
Between breathing and the repetitive and — if done right — well-timed flip turns, every 11 strokes give or take, the body falls into a rhythm where the rhythm becomes one’s sole focus. Almost all but that rhythm is tuned out.
Breathe, stroke stroke stroke, breathe, stroke stroke stroke, breathe, stroke stroke stroke, breathe, stroke stroke; turn. SLAP! You feel your ankles and lower calves hit the water with a satisfying completion of one length.
Repeat for 100 yards, rest; then 200 yards, rest; then 400 yards, rest…
The lifeguards, rotating every 15 minutes, wear red one-pieces or shorts and have skin made golden by hours under the Texas sun. They are only kids — probably college students at the oldest. The manager is in his late 20s or early 30s. They watch me because they have to, but maybe they watch me extra closely thinking, “I wonder when this old guy is going to push himself too hard and I have to drag him out. I wonder how much he weighs.”
That thought vanishes as I concentrate on my breathing.
I’m out of shape. Or maybe I’m merely pushing myself to a place I’m out of shape for. I start to consider stopping short of the next yardage I’m trying to reach. But I relax and tell myself, “I love swimming; I love to see the water rush by my mouth as I turn my head to breath; I love to feel the water move beneath my body and watch my arms extend out in front of me.”
It’s an activity — swimming — that’s not mimicked anywhere else in my life. Walking, running, lifting weights, even push-ups and sit-ups, are all found elsewhere in some form. When in the water, one either treads water (also not mimicked anywhere), floats, sinks, or swims. Water and swimming are, at some point, necessary partners.
When finished with my desired laps, I get out of the pool and feel both the hot sun and also the promised fatigue in my arms and chest and back.
I dry off and walk toward the locker room, hoping my upper body leads the way while also self-consciously shielding my stomach with a towel. It is that part of me and everything attached to it that would justify a lifeguard’s earnings, and then some.
There’s a building–pictured above–that has been somewhat of a dream of mine.
Like most dreams–whether of people, places or things–it is unlikely to come to fruition. Not only because I lack the skill set to make it happen (“skill” including the capital) but also I don’t have the immediate motivation to create it as I do to dream aloud of it.
But unlike many other kinds of dreams, my pondering it, ruminating over it, letting my eyes caress the details of it, this dream seems to be a socially acceptable thing, and so I’ll write about it.
The lot is up for sale, at least it was until recently. When I passed by last week, I didn’t see the Brinkman Commercial sign on it. If it’s sold, my dream still holds.
Here are its features:
A corrugated metal structure, which I’d keep, though I could see it getting hotter-n-hell with the material heating up in the summer. There must have been a decent cooling system there before, so I’d leave that to the engineers and architects to figure out. All I know is that the corduroy effect is a pleasant one to my eye, and it’s not the ubiquitous limestone or sandstone.
Even the new Broadway Bank building on Main and Sidney Baker, though its smooth exterior emits a nice modern effect, has a homogenous beige façade that reflects the primary demographic of its account holders.
The east side, on the corner, has a ~20 x 10 foot slanted roof “shack” that appears snapped onto the larger building almost like a LEGO piece. Lacking much light, that would need to be remedied if it were to serve as the retail place I would hope it to be. More windows of course, but maybe even a large skylight, since the harsher afternoon light might be partly shielded by the main building, or could be designed to be.
The two sets of huge sliding doors on Hays must stay. They are fabulous.
There’s a dirt and scrub lot to the south–the left of the photo where the trees are.
What would this whole building and lot be used for?
It would be a coffee house/artists’ maker space/retail shop.
It’s a block away from the newly renovated H-E-B. It’s two blocks up and one over from Pint and Plow. Therefore, it’s within walking distance of other frequently visited locations.
I may be unfair in my distinction here, but describing locations as how many “blocks” away from each other they are is a pedestrian measurement system. Drivers measure distances in time: 1 minute, 5 minutes, “about a half hour” away. Time in a car means nothing to a pedestrian, who walks about 3.5 to 4 miles an hour (if brisk). I knew exactly how long it would take me to walk twenty blocks in New York City, and there was never any “traffic” to speak of. Even meandering clots of tourists didn’t require me to slow down or be fined for speeding in a Work Zone.
Granted, places like Fredericksburg have most of their walkable area on the main drag. But it seems that the city of Kerrville will be stymied for economic growth–not only by not having additional businesses here but also the accompanying population growth of younger families that bring vitality and tax dollars–until we string together more areas to which people can walk and walk between. Again, Fredericksburg has proven that people will walk around in Texas in the summer. Consumerism, after all, makes us do crazy shit.
The inside of my building there on Schreiner and Hays would feel open and airy on the inside. It would keep the trusses exposed and perhaps have large fans pulling the hot air up and out. Convection? I’m purely speculating here and throwing around multi-syllabic terms to sound more informed.
You enter off Hays, through those sliding doors, which are open most of the year and create additional air flow. Much like Pint and Plow, there is a bit of outdoor dining in front (along Hays), and then most dining and drinking happens inside. Maybe some happens in the lot, which is cleared out, with those cool-looking light bulbs hanging from trees strung across the area. Picnic benches allow us to enjoy the climate most of the year (like Pint and Plow or Hays City Store).
As you walk through the main inside area, off to the right (the west side of the building), there is an artists’ “maker space.” Here, artists of various kinds can paint, do metal work, sculpt, etc. Maybe there’s a plexiglass divider to cut down on noise. Or maybe there are times that quieter creation (painting, jewelry design) can be done during dining hours, and other art (metal work with welding, carpentry with table saws) that’s done after hours. That space is rented out.
The neighborhood is mostly commercial, but there are some residences, so to keep the nighttime noise level to a minimum its license for live music would be limited to acoustic.
The retail space on the corner would sell merchandise like Pint and Plow has, branded around the space. It would also sell some of the local art made on site. And, of course, it would sell what seems to most people as a square peg in a round hole but, for me, is an essential: snap shirts.
Seems a bit random.
But without the snap shirts, the whole project just doesn’t come together for me.
I’ve decided to bring myself down to earth in this post, given my quasi-… no, my very real — if well-meaning — recent soapbox post, which always puts me in a position of standing too high up, wobbling as it were on a crate that was meant for carrying items rather than one man’s opinion.
I will tease myself.
Long ago, one of my relatives was playing Trivial Pursuit and the question came to him, “What man-made structure is 13,000 miles long, 30 feet wide and 20 feet tall?” The relative, probably distracted with something else like getting more beer and pretzels, but needing to give an answer said, “The business building at Harvard.”
This was not the correct answer.
The answer, I might have conjectured if I were in the room back then, is “The wall separating the U.S. and Mexico in 2020.”
This, too, is incorrect.
What’s worse is that I am usually pretty savvy about maps, topography, and having a sense of direction. I am my own best GPS. But with our trip back from Ruidoso to Kerrville, one of my reasons for taking the route we did was ostensibly to see part of “the wall.” This was not only unfulfilled but also was innocently — nawwww, c’mon: naïvely — conceived.
As I mentioned last time, we had three routes we could have taken, and I lobbied successfully for the longest of the three.
Why, you ask?
Well, along this route, there appeared to be on Google Maps an unusual landmark/structure — not sure even what to call it — and it was this entity that was in part causing my intrigue.
When I zoomed in on Google Maps, I saw the following land mass:
Well, you say, it’s obviously a mountain range, you north-easterner, you Yankee.
It didn’t seem so obvious to me at the time I decided to lobby for the longer route. I did the two-finger zoom-in on my phone and became convinced of my belief:
The thick black line ran concurrent to the U.S.-Mexican border.
The thick black line had a distinct start and finish.
The thick black line appeared to have a sharp incline from north to south. Surely this was an indication of something vertical — like a wall! — that Google had to make slanted in order to show it at all.
I swear I could make out on the southeast end a small guard tower and at least two armed border patrol agents eating lunch.
In short, it sure as hell looked like a man-made structure — like a wall!
Like the Great Wall of China, which is incorrectly said to be visible from space, so the U.S.-Mexico wall is no more visible from that height than is Cinderella’s Magic Kingdom Castle, or the Empire State Building, or even Cowboys Stadium. (Well, maybe that’s visible from space or, at least, that’s what folks say with conviction.)
Here is what I saw on Google Maps as we passed by what I thought would be two border patrol agents eating lunch in a guard tower:
The fake wall notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride along the border, and even the section of I-10 that followed. I thought that last part, which ran more than 450 miles along the Interstate, would be boring.
It was not, as there were plenty of aging and abandoned houses and old buildings, all of which would have made great photos were I allowed to stop. But I was not.
There was even the gas station where we filled up, took rest breaks, and where there was no employee to be found — it, too, seemed abandoned — so I took a soda and Snickers bar, waited for quite some time at the counter, even said, “Hellooooo!” a couple times, then left some cash on the counter and got back on I-10.
On Monday we drove the nine hours from Ruidoso, New Mexico, back to Kerrville.
The most direct route was of course how we’d driven there the previous Monday and was actually 8 hours and 22 minutes on paper (see here what I mean by “on paper” in a digital world), but I wanted to see another part of Texas, which would lead us down through the Mescalero Reservation, then skirt El Paso’s northeastern edge, and run along the U.S.-Mexico border for what appeared to be 20-30 miles before landing us back onto I-10 — one of the main arteries of American driving.
(I thought I-10 would be boring; I was wrong. But that’s for another post.)
So that’s what I wanted to do, and I proposed the alternate route to the family. But since the proposed drive was forty minutes longer than the most direct route — ten minutes longer than what I thought was an acceptable delta — I lied. I said that my detour — the reasons for which I explained as important to me, so at least I was candid when it came to my self-interest — would be only about “a half hour” difference.
Monday night at 9pm as we reached Junction, Texas, (we’d left Ruidoso about 10:30am and lost an hour crossing from Mountain to Central Time) about 70 minutes from home, my middle son complained that I had to stop for one final bathroom break. After I chided him for making a fuss over a half hour difference in routes (well, forty minutes…actually 38 minutes according to Google!), I also reminded him that he didn’t have the prostate of a 57-year-old man.
I was speaking into a gale.
My further intent with this route was to be able to perhaps snap off a few photos along the way. Lately I’ve become enamored of the sagging and even dead architecture and industrial matter one sees along roadsides and in decaying towns. Perhaps it makes one feel more alive: to see dead things.
Other than a pale rouge building in Ozona, Texas, with its windows busted out and some cream colored curtains blowing through them toward the street, like soft sobs over departed tenants — a building that didn’t take a good picture — other than that, I was locked to the steering wheel, and after about Hour 5 was often reminded of my detour. There even came a point when the three-member crew came near mutiny and claimed that I hadn’t asked their permission. This was patently false: when I lied about the longer route — because even writing here I call it a “detour” when in fact I like to think I was exposing everyone to an “additional exploration” on our return trip — taking 30 minutes longer (as apposed to 38-40) and asked them if I might take this route out of my own fascination — to wit, “to please consider indulging me” — each family member in his or her turn consented. There was a bit of grumbling, a bit of neutrality, even apathy, but consent they gave. I held them to that.
I’ll admit to being a bit of an ass about it, but since I’d arranged the whole trip and did most of the driving to and from and most of the cooking while there, I figured that my indulgent request was less a matter of gaining consensus than of exercising divine right. Operative word: “ass.”
The Mescalero Apache Territory, just south of Ruidoso, sits at 6,611 feet. I mention that because it felt like we were driving uphill for a while from Sudderth Boulevard and Route 70 in Ruidoso, where the altitude was 6,900. A couple of us admitted our ears were popping.
But this census-designated place — that’s a thing: “CDP” for short, meaning it’s a “place” only for the purposes of counting heads, of which there are about 1,400 — had gained some notoriety in the descriptions of it by my oldest son, who claimed that when white people ventured uninvited into that territory, there were reports of said whites being scalped.
I struck back, “Surely you’re kidding.”
“Seriously!” he said seriously.
“Where did you see a report about this?”
“Well…I’ve heard people talk about it.”
Ah. Well. That settles that.
It had sounded a bit too on the nose: like the next detail he’d describe would be how they’d whoop and dance in a circle around a bonfire, or perhaps around a King Ranch edition Ford truck, with what was left of the family of four from Highland Park who simply were looking for some turquoise earrings and hand-woven rugs but took a wrong turn after their ears popped and they became disoriented.
What was undeniable, however, was the seeming isolation and even poverty as we came over the ridge and passed Apache High School. Perhaps much of the housing on either side of the highway was set back — in fact, a number of dwellings were; I say “dwellings” because I could see only steep gravel driveways leading from Route 70 West up into the pine tree woods but no buildings; I have no idea of detail beyond “dwelling” — but what was visible from the road was sparse and generally disheveled. Tools and equipment lied haphazardly in yards. Run-down siding protected the interior of buildings from the winter snow. Vehicles like faded ornaments dotted the space between road and trailers.
I tend to give Native American peoples a pass when it comes to not more aggressively or obviously bettering their station in life. That statement alone has so much white-person baggage and bias that in many circles it’s worthy of scalping.
Perhaps I “infantilize” them, as today’s phrase bandied about by white conservatives is applied to black Americans who are part of the Black Lives Matter movement. But much like black Americans brought to this continent against their will and treated inhumanely for centuries, so indigenous peoples already here were unwitting hosts who saw their across-the-pond relatives — for we are relatives, that is undeniable — arrive and offer not gifts to be received and enjoyed without strings, but make deals with them that were outside the realm of their cultures and therefore entered into naïvely. Not even naïvely, but blindly. For these same white Europeans who duped them would be the first to cry “foul” if Martians came — or, shall we find a different and distant planet to draw aliens from, since Mars is kind of a done deal now and waiting for its first Musk-Virgin-Braniff Hotel — and made an exchange in the Martians’ favor that was completely beyond our cultural experience and wisdom to understand. The only reason we whites justify what we’ve done is because it hasn’t happened to us. Yet.
Perhaps my difference in thinking about indigenous Americans and blacks brought from Africa is because I have seen a black man become president, another become a Supreme Court Justice, another successfully lead a Fortune 50 company, and one of my closest black friends become a doctor and then retire at age 50 — 45 even. Now a black woman has been put forward as vice presidential candidate because it’s one party’s sense that this is the best or even only way to win: to put forward a black person as that party’s champion. It’s not affirmative action — giving a leg up to someone who needs it — it’s action that says, “We need you. Please give us a leg up.”
Perhaps the news leaves out more than I can imagine. But when was the last time I heard anything at all significant about native peoples? When have I heard any descendants of the Lenape Tribe demand reparations for, or simply inalienable squatting rights on, the island that was craftily manipulated away from them by the Dutch and then maintained at a healthy distance from them by the English? Certainly, some Lenape great-great+-granddaughter has an opinion on what has become of her ancestors’ beloved Mannahatta? They didn’t even want to “possess” the land, since the land never gave her permission to be possessed by any people, let alone by an uninvited people who offered the equivalent of $24 for it.
So it was over this unexpectedly ear-popping ridge we drove, through the Lincoln National Forest until we reached US-54 south at Tularosa.
We left behind us the set-back homes of the Mescalero Apache and the “sacred land” of Geronimo, whom the Mescalero website describes as:
…highly sought by Apache chiefs for his wisdom. He is said to have had supernatural powers. Geronimo could see the future and walk without creating footprints. He could keep the dawn from rising to protect his people.
We white Europeans do create footprints, footprints that tend to be indelible.
And yet, for Europeans like me, who have lamented and confessed yet done nothing to redeem the past, those footprints may be washed away by the waves lapping against the shore, but they also are remembered by the ocean.
It’s not typical bedtime reading, I agree, but perhaps you’ll give me some grace about that since, after all, I was drinking chamomile tea and lounging on the couch in the bedroom while Karen did her reading. (Lounging back and drinking hot tea is not advised, by the way.)
This story, having been written by the same prose writer and poet who animated the bird that has so obsessed me these past few days, was one of the only stories I read in secondary school that I recall with any accuracy. Most of what I learned at Trinity is blurred, as if Math and English and Social Studies and History were thrown into a blender and came out as a smoothie that was as tasty as when in 8th grade Mike Turnbull offered me his mother’s carrot juice. (I.e. not tasty.) Combine that not-tasty smoothie with the protein add-ons of social cliques, puberty, a wrestling coach with a penchant for groping teenage boys, and a lack of desire for any future not involving surfing and girls — in that order — and “The Black Cat” stands out as a high point in my early years.
Odd high point. Like standing on a mountain under which coal miners toil night and day, some of whom see the canary first as it’s lying on its side.
But high point it was.
And the lines that I read, which stuck with me, which actually made me cry in 8th grade — Cry! Imagine an adolescent boy crying at literature; the picture still startles me — were these:
One day, in cold blood, I tied a strong rope around the cat’s neck, and taking it down into the cellar under the house I hung it from one of the wood beams above my head. I hung it there until it was dead. I hung it there with tears in my eyes. I hung it because I knew it had loved me, because I felt it had given me no reason to hurt it, because I knew that my doing so was a wrong so great, a sin so deadly that it would place my soul forever outside the reach of the love of God!
The specific line that has always stuck with me, the one that I never had to re-read as I did last night and other nights and days, was “I hung it because I knew it had loved me…”
What a tragic and desperate act. And yet what a true account of what someone like Poe’s narrator, like all of us who drink beyond our control — who have warped views of God that make us drink beyond our control — would do in order to gain some foothold in a world where we often feel we cannot access the Divine, which makes us want to run away from or kill that Divinity, which we know is impossible. So instead we kill what we can; we kill what we know loves us and is within arm’s reach. That, we can do. That is in our control.
Please, you say, I actually haven’t had a half cup of coffee yet. I saw your link on Facebook and decided to navigate over here and read this?!
As someone who’s killed his fair share of cats, proverbially speaking — and aren’t you glad I didn’t say “dogs”? No one likes someone who kills dogs. Cats kind of have it coming, do they not? But dogs?! Never. — I can relate to this killer because of his acute desire for God and his accompanying inability to fully access that intercourse. There is an obstacle there that one feels utterly helpless in the face of. One knows that Love is poured onto us yet can never be fully reciprocated.
To get around that obstacle, the only thing in our power to do is to kill the thing we think is the obstacle. As Poe’s narrator knew, what he wanted in truth but could not feel he had was the love of God. The obstacle he felt was the one-sidedness of that love. So “in cold blood,” out of rage over that imbalance, that injustice of the one-sided nature of Love, he kills a creature where there had been a two-sided love. He killed because he had the power to kill that creature. That, he could do. We kill not only what we love but also what loves us. For it is what loves us, that which we find we cannot fully love back, that scares us to death and can drive us mad and, if it does, it is what we must kill. What loves us today during our Earthly course points us to the love of God, a love so powerful that we can only acknowledge it yet never return it in kind. It is this maddening imbalance that causes some of us — some of us who drink and drug and fuck and gamble to the point of believing we’ve lost our souls — to do what for most people is unthinkable: we kill what loves us. And we do it so that we place ourselves outside that Eternal Love. It is not only a consequence; it is also our aim.
That’s the shocking tragedy.
There is always hope, and this hope cannot be manufactured. It exists eternally.
In the Hebrew scriptures, there is a song called Psalm 88. It ends with this line: “… darkness is my closest friend.” But it begins with this one: “O LORD, God of my salvation, / I cry out day and night before you…”
And in that ending and in that beginning is the answer to the unexplainable crime of killing what loves us.
And in that ending and beginning is hope.
And in that song as a whole — with that ending following that beginning — is where the killer may finally find peace.
The birds are the first ones to make an impression on me each day — they are the first creatures I encounter since I’m often the first in our family to wake and rise — and so these near countless varieties of friends make morning what it is to me.
There was the eagle I saw at Lake Champion as I sat on a dock with coffee; again, before anyone was up. Just after sunrise. This bird — “bird”? …that word seems too simple for such a majestic creature — swooped from its nest across the water, about 100 yards away. With one near-effortless beat of its considerable wings — wings alone that are almost frightening, not to mention the talons below them or the eyes that lead them — it glided across to my side, about 75 feet to my right, and then circled back, dropping to the water’s surface, and cleanly fished an unwitting prey from its morning swim. Causing barely a ripple and with maybe another three or four (at most) beats, it returned home with breakfast for all. It took me more effort in New York City to go to the corner bodega for toasted bagels.
New York City… from our terrace on 84th Street, especially during summer mornings with coffee under the umbrella, I’d hear catbirds, towhees, blue jays, sparrows and robins of course, the occasional red-tailed hawk, the annoying chicken next door during our final two years there, and — perhaps a couple times — the elusive raven.
It was not a crow — for Poe did not get a tapping from a crow, because he could have easily ignored that; no, it was a raven about which he wrote on that very street 150 years prior to my sitting on the terrace. The rapping and tapping came to him during a cold December and was made known to the world on January 29, 1845. Likely the raven wanted to be somewhere warm, at least somewhere warmer than perched on a window ledge between Riverside and Broadway. It was a “visitor,” the poet surmised. But the raven wanted more than warmth; it had wisdom, and it perched on Poe’s bust of the goddess. The two of them — bird and Pallas — offered only silence about the demise of the beloved Lenore.
Only silence. It was on a bright morning at Point O’Woods, a gated, exclusive beach community that I summered in from age 3 to 40, when my mother taught me to hear the bird that sang, “Drink your TEA!” We stood on the front step of that small white house — probably the most affordable in the community — stood there before the tennis players clad in white bicycled past for their early court times and listened. When the towhee called, Mom would look down at me and chirp, “Drink your TEEEEA!” Then she’d crinkle her nose conspiratorially, and I’m sure I smiled back. Who wouldn’t?
Here in Ruidoso it is the ravens that greet me each morning.
It’s said that they have wisdom to impart. Was it wisdom that Poe’s Raven — “that prophet…that bird or devil!” — was offering, or was it prompting in Poe an unanswerable question. “Where is Lenore? Do the angels speak her name? I must know!”
The question I have for the stately ravens here in Ruidoso is, “What is it you have to say? Is there any message for me? Are you even aware that I am here? Yes, I had a ‘Lenore’ whose fate was a mystery to me for 56 years, and now I know. That’s been answered. The angels have not begun speaking her name, but they will before long. Surely you’re not here for that. So why do you appear each morning here and throughout the day? I’m beginning to feel both trapped and unwelcome by your presence.”
As I write, I hear more of the bird’s gargled and cryptic wisdom. Unlike the towhee, whose song was a greeting; unlike the eagle, who merely let me admire her, not considering me at all; the raven calls me yet holds me at a distance. He offers me knowledge of my future in a language I can never know. He asks me to consider and decide on a path without telling me all the facts. Indeed, without giving me a single one. He poses only new questions.
Unlike the others of his breed, his presence — as Poe sadly knew — brings no blessing.
Over the past two days I’ve been curious — ok: more like obsessed — with determining (1) if ravens are in the area, (2) if I have seen one or more, and (3) what their significance is to me.
First, there is a much closer relationship here between nature and man than I feel in Texas. Certainly more than in New York City, even though Central Park is an oasis. Perhaps that’s why there’s not that close connection in the City: many have to take a subway to that oasis. Mayor Bloomberg’s “One Million Trees” initiative at least underscored the desirability if not essential quality of trees to improve not only air quality but also pedestrian life. The most desperate streets and neighborhoods are almost entirely devoid of trees. The word “bleak” fits them. It’s hard to see a few trees somewhere and not see life teeming within and among them. With trees, the wind takes on shape and sound. Without trees, the wind is unseen but still cold in winter and, like a Saharan samoon, blistering in summer.
Here in Ruidoso, the houses and even the main drag, Sudderth Drive, are practically retro-fitted into nature. The name, Sudderth, most likely was derived from “sud-earth” or “sod-earth,” meaning “wet land” or “pasture land.”
Across from the house we’re renting, and looking south-southwest, is a ridge line of red-roofed houses. Karen said yesterday that it looked like a train making its way through the trees. Planned and organized, assertive in its context, roofs that inexplicably are not colored into their surroundings, this serpentine group of maybe twenty dwellings is perhaps one of the few human marks on the area, which to the eye remains fairly unadulterated.
That’s an interesting word to use: unadulterated.
According to Google NGram, which monitors word usage in books since the early 1800s — not sure about online; you’d think that’d be their wheelhouse, but then again, maybe “Google” would appear too often and make them look self-serving — “unadulterated” has dropped in usage slightly over time but has risen more recently. That last trend, of course, would make sense, as more and more tree-line train-like serpentine wrong-colored-roof home tracts appear and disrupt an otherwise unadulterated view of the ridge south-southwest.
It’s like those “trees” one sees along highways or parkways that actually are antennae, dressed up and pumped with Viagra, hoping to go unnoticed to motorists out for a Sunday drive.
Strangely enough, the opposite — adulteration — worked in New York City’s favor over the past 200 years.
In 1811, when the City Commissioners decided to monetize Manhattan Island, not only did they raze the hills for which the island was originally named by the Lenape (Mannahatta, “The Land of Many Hills”), but also they were originally planning for the whole of the island, from Houston Street up to about 155th, to be one unadulterated grid. A vast real estate gold mine that, through rising value over time, would be sustainable. So much so that just prior to his death John Jacob Astor, who’d made his fortune trading fur as well as real estate, was reported to have said that were he to do it over, he would have put all his money into the latter. Beaver mothers everywhere would have thanked him.
But then came Central Park, the feature most “adulterated” after the Commissioners’ plan. Were it not for the Park, Manhattan real estate values would be a fraction of what they are today. Moreover, the city might not even be on the tourist bucket list, Central Park being one of the man-made wonders of the modern world — I exaggerate — and one of the most photographed and identifiable. (I do not exaggerate.) Ironically, the Park, completed a little more than ten years after his death, would exponentially increase the value of Astor’s real estate holdings.
But in New York City in the 1850s we are not.
Ruidoso is not monetized. Yes, it relies on tourist dollars, especially during ski season, and also during the Ruidoso Downs season of Memorial to Labor Day weekends. And yes, it has the concomitant service industry.
But it doesn’t seem to have made nature play second fiddle or the Supporting Actor.
Here, Nature is the Leading Lady. She chooses not to have a tummy tuck or boob job or a face lift as she gets older.
The two hummingbirds got within two feet of me as I sat at the porch table looking northwest, about 45 minutes after sunrise.
For the last little while, these two have been buzzing about two feeders filled with sugar water that the owners took care of before they left on Sunday. And which I will want to fill if these marvelous little creatures indeed drink up to three times their body weight as claimed. I doubt the accuracy of measuring this — how does the ornithologist capture one from its life long enough to weigh it? — but given that they beat their wings at an average of fifty beats per second, I don’t doubt their need to eat almost constantly.
The lesson for me being: if I want those three slices of key lime pie today, I must do about ten thousand jumping backs before Noon.
Today is our second full day in Ruidoso. It’s glorious. It’s a tourist town with a year-round 8,000-person population, swelling of course during ski season. Surely there must also be a swell during late July and August, because the cool evenings and mornings (61 degrees today) sandwiching the high-altitude-hot days (mid-80s) offer the near-perfect getaway from the south central Texas summer heat, which peaks at 100 for days on end and cools overnight just enough to keep your coffee warm for the next morning.
As I write, I can feel my t-shirt heating up against my skin. My shirt is grey, certainly no magnet for sun rays, yet the sun’s penetration is almost distracting. I grab my left side with the palm of my right hand, and it feels like I’m standing too close to a bonfire. To be sure, though our galaxy’s star is 94 million miles away, it emits so much heat that — I once heard but cannot now verify — if it were the size of a pinhead and we were standing within 65 miles, we’d be evaporated in heat.
Glorious in its own right.
The sun now hits the thin string holding up the hummingbird feeder with the red base. I see what look to be tiny shimmering droplets moving up and down the length of the string. Glistening. Mysteriously moving past each other. Tiny droplets. Not stopping; all at a uniform speed, gravity seeming to have no effect whatever.
I stand and move to the edge of the porch to get a closer look at the feeder. Below their steady marching up and down on the string, a column of black ants appears to swim up and down inside the semi-opaque liquid, until you realize that they are actually on the outside of the clear plastic well.
For a minute, you gave them credit for having an ability you were unaware of.
The saleslady at World Car Hyundai in San Antonio gave herself the nickname of a fairly famous female chef.
She said it was to distinguish herself from another saleslady with the same first name.
Narrative faithfulness would prompt me to quote her telling you her own story. Except that I’m about to criticize her, and I’ve already identified her too much.
There was a nail in the 2019 Santa Fe that we bought on Friday that was causing the passenger rear tire to appear low on the dash alerts — 25 PSI instead of the 37-40 these tires should be.
“Naw,” she started, her head tilted to the side while she looked back at the tire from the front passenger window, my wife seated there, “Looks good to me.”
Three hundred fifty miles later, in Plains, Texas, en route to Ruidoso, our tire said differently.
This tire said, “I have a nail in me, and I’ve been trying to tell you since we left the Alamo City. You appear to be deaf, so let me whisper sweet somethings in your ear.”
And whisper it did, as I leaned in close with my left ear practically touching the rubber, still hot from miles of US-87 and US-380 West. It was saying, “Psssssss(t).” Though it didn’t whisper a “T” at the end to indicate it was stopping anytime soon. It continued. “Pssssss.”
A little more than twenty dollars and twenty minutes later — a small sacrifice of money and time — and the tire was patched. I stood in a trapezoid of shade just inside one of the two garage bays, looking like I could have fixed the patch myself had I the proper tools and were I not wearing my best jeans and new-ish Adidas sneakers.
The drive from Kerrville to Ruidoso is long but not not grueling. “On paper,” as we used to say, it’s 8 hours and 20 minutes and 544 miles, though that’s using “modern technology.” With an old road map there was no way to determine a long trip with that kind of specificity, especially one that hadn’t made before. Traffic? Construction? Who knew…
“Well,” we might say to our host before leaving, stretching to its full length the cord from the wall as we looked out onto the backyard through the kitchen window, “we’ll be there by dinner.” And we’d do our best to make good time, stopping at Rest Areas and re-checking our map against the one behind the plastic frame in between the men’s and women’s bathrooms, proverbially wetting our forefinger and sticking it up in the air along the way. Google Maps makes trips more predictable — segments and turns and traffic and (+) Comment functionality along the way (“Speed trap” “Slow down”) — but it also makes driving expedient when what we want is adventure. And surprise. Even a slow leak on a tire. Google can’t predict that.
From Plains, it’s 13 miles west on US-380 until you leave the Lone Star State and enter the Land of Enchantment.
True “enchantment” for us, though, was scheduled to begin 162 miles and 2 hours 42 minute later in Ruidoso. (See how Google Maps can rob the trip of poetry?)
Between the Texas border and Enchantment, one passes through a mercifully brief roadside parade of little green men. With COVID shutting down Roswell’s Museum and leaving open only the gift shop, what remains is a hat for $25 with that ubiquitous green face — like an upside-down raindrop — two black eyes staring back. As if we’ve decided that any other alien face just won’t do. Selling anything remotely frightening, certainly nothing with teeth, is unmarketable on a bikini bottom or onesie. After all, our placement of the alien motif on anything we sell, in Roswell or elsewhere, means we’ve conquered it. Like a mountain peak on a Patagonia pullover.
A few miles past Atlas Missile Silo 579-10, beginning in earnest in Picacho, you start to feel the enchantment.
The Sierra Blanca mountain range appears, with its 12,000-foot queen.
It’s not long before you are nestled beneath her wings. Pine trees looming over you like nursemaids.
At night the Milky Way, spanning your view of above, and which until now you didn’t realize you couldn’t see in Texas.