Slices of April 7th 2020

It was a beautiful warm day, the rare April day without high winds. I made an early morning trip to Las Cruces for groceries. Driving through the dramatic near-empty land, I listened to music by friends who live right in Truth or Consequences but whom I haven’t seen for weeks. Uplifting. A reminder of them and of hearing them play live.

Programmable roadside signs on I-25 South as I approached Las Cruces read: Shop alone. Stop the spread alternating with Limit travel. Stop the spread of Covid-19. An acknowledgement that people in small towns often have so few choices at home, they have to shop in Las Cruces, the only large city in the southern part of the state.

Natural Grocers was clean, orderly, and fully stocked. (Except for TP, of course.) All employees, and all shoppers but one, wore masks. I bet she felt out of place. Social distancing was observed well, with markers at the checkouts to keep the six-foot distance, and customers doing their own bagging, so one less person breathes on you or your food. An employee was sanitizing the handles of the freezer and refrigerator cases. The only thing that was normal was that I got a month’s worth of food and personal care products. For years, I’ve been shopping that way to save gas and time, and now that planning habit comes in handy. When the masked man at the checkout gave me my very long receipt, he said, “Now you won’t need toilet paper.” I had to tell him I was smiling behind my mask.

On the drive home, puffy white clouds were shedding trails of virga, white virga like the wispy beards of ancient sages. You usually see dark gray virga in June, when it’s so hot the sky can only try to rain, desperate would-be storm clouds doing their best and failing just short of moistening the ground. Today, it was raining so far from the earth, you had to be looking up to notice. April is so dry, it was remarkable it even rained way up there.

After I unpacked (and yes, sanitized) my groceries, my phone beeped an alarm. This is the second time the New Mexico Department of Health has sent these text messages to everyone in the state who has a cell phone. They feature a big red triangle with an exclamation mark in it. Extreme emergency. Stay home.  Did I violate that order? We are allowed to buy food. If I’d shopped in T or C, much as I love my town, I would have felt less safe. I’d have encountered the same number of people in a store with fewer healthful options, and some of those shoppers would be ignoring social distancing and not wearing masks, because there are no detected cases in Sierra County. I assume there are covid-positive people here, asymptomatic young people who haven’t exhaled on their elders yet.

The stay-at-home order allows outdoor exercise, alone. I ran down the street toward the desert. As I passed a house where a man was working on his roof, I heard his radio blaring news about the situation in New York. About the health care workers’ challenges and how many people died there today. It was close to the same number as total cases in New Mexico.

In spite of the state of the world, I experienced joy as I ran. The zigzagging random trails liberated me. Checkered whiptails scurried around. A mule deer leaped past. I’m more appreciative than ever of strength and health, when none of us on any day knows how long we’ll have it.

On my return, I spotted a friend on the hiking trial as I ran on the OHV trail. We talked from about ten feet way. She’s a massage therapist and personal trainer, self-employed, and of course totally out of work. She asked me about the yoga studio being closed, and I said we’d closed even before we were told to. But I’ll be okay not working. At sixty-five, I have a safety net. At forty-something, she doesn’t. I urged her to apply for unemployment. It’s available to people like her now, though the process is probably slow as the system tries to cope with the load.

A neighbor texted me shortly after sunset. Out the door and to the right. We both stepped out and stood, far apart, in shared awe. The supermoon was rising, huge and golden, behind the slope of Turtleback Mountain.

 

Exploring My New Normal

I’m grateful for so much open space and beauty around me. It means I can still get out and run while doing some extreme social distancing. One new trail I’ve tried is steeper and rockier than anything I’ve run in years. It reminds me of places I used to run decades ago. Since I’m decades older, I told myself I had to find a safer way up the hill, one that didn’t involve a narrow path of loose gravel on the edge of a cliff. The hospital doesn’t need some crazy old runner full of cactus thorns coming in with a broken leg. Nor do I need to be that person.
I never saw the better route until the day I determined I would find one. Then suddenly, it was in plain view. All I’d seen before was the marked trail, but this other one was always there. Still steep, but not on a cliff side, and not so unstable underfoot. Funny what we can perceive when we open our views to alternate options.

I’ve modified where I go once I climb the hill as well, deviating onto the trails used by off-highway vehicles—trails I also failed to perceive until I realized I needed them. I’ve never been a fan of OHVs, but for now, I’m grateful they made the tracks—softer and wider than the hiking trail, and utterly random. They don’t go from point A to point B like the marked trail. They zigzag, loop, meet in sharp Y intersections, or turn into dead ends, giving me the sense of being in a desert maze. I can run with no goal and no sense of time, on and off the OHV tracks and the hiking trail, avoiding the stretches that are potential ankle-sprainers. I found a kind of rough amphitheater where I think the OHV people may play in mud when it rains. For me it was liberating and unconfined, a place where I could sprint in circles.

With so many surprises and no familiarity with the terrain, I can’t get lost in thought. I can only be present to the act of running and the earth under my feet, dodging the little bonsai-like creosote bushes popping up in the track, daring to look up now and then at the view of Turtleback Mountain.

By the time I got home from my first no-destination run, everything seemed brighter and also quieter. I stretched in the courtyard of the apartment building and then sat on a bench, in awe of the sky, the cooing doves, and the wild mustard taking over the yard with its slender, swaying stalks and yellow flowers. It’s a weed. Doves are nuisance birds we try to chase away. But I was in a state of suspended judgment, aware and immersed, with no likes or dislikes, only life and light.

A Small Dent

Since New Mexico State Parks are closed, I’ve changed my running route. One trail I’ve used is so short it takes five laps to do my usual distance, but it’s right beside the Rio Grande, a great place for seeing blue herons and other birds.

As I passed by on my cooldown walk at the end of this route, a woman parked near a picnic shelter announced, “I locked my keys in my car.” No “excuse me” or “could you please help.” She was a middle-aged blonde in jeans and a purple shirt, accompanied by a tiny, dachshund-mix dog in a purple collar. I offered to call her roadside assistance club, ran to my car, and came back with my phone.

That was when she told me she had no Triple-A or Better World Club membership, and no money. She lived in the car. No wonder she didn’t say anything other than to declare her situation. That was her whole world, her whole reality. She was from Arkansas, stuck in Truth or Consequences while waiting for a check she hoped would soon arrive at general delivery. I didn’t ask how she ended up in that situation, and she didn’t offer to tell me, perhaps because I was on the phone so much as well as social distancing.

I spent forty-five minutes on the phone with my roadside assistance club, mostly on hold, trying to see if they’d cover rescuing a stranger through my membership. I’m grateful that I have my basic retirement income while I’m not teaching yoga and people can’t afford books, but I admit I was trying not to spend money on my tightened budget. The club representative never told me if helping a stranger was covered, spending time instead trying to locate this trail with no address. I wondered if she was working from home or with a reduced staff.  The inefficiency was unusual. Meanwhile, my phone battery was running low.

The stranded woman finally suggested the police could help. I told my roadside service rep to call me back rather than leave me on hold, and called the local police. No, the officer said, liability doesn’t allow them to help with lockouts anymore. He recommended a towing/wrecker service they use. I called, and they came. My roadside club rep then called to say she’d finally found a service for me. It would take ninety minutes more. She never confirmed if it would be covered for someone else’s car, and the towing service she’d found had a Northern New Mexico phone number. Not a good sign. What if I had to pay after they’d traveled all that distance? At least I’d negotiated a discount with the local company.

All in all, it took two hours. And it wasn’t a heartwarming experience. I made a small dent in the woman’s troubles, but no real change. Honestly, the smell when the wrecker service guy opened her car was distressing. No one should have to live like that. The only upside was that she was stranded in a beautiful place. While I was on hold, we admired a heron.

*****

I debated with myself over sharing this story. It’s not about me being a hero, because I certainly wasn’t. I decided to post it, though, because it’s the truth. I promise something more uplifting soon.

Social Distancing, Reading, and Writing

Seriously, I want to hug someone. Not touching is strange, and it makes me feel a bit disoriented, not quite myself. I socialize by taking walks with friends rather than going to coffee shops, restaurants, or the brewery. No blues dancing on crowded dance floors for now. A friend I hadn’t seen for two years came to Truth or Consequences for a few days of camping and bird-watching. We met—and parted—with elbow-bumps.

I’ve been teaching yoga without using touch for guidance, and now the studio is going to close for the rest of the month. Art events, music events, the life-blood of my town … I’m not going. It’s difficult, but I can see the wisdom in doing things this way. Prevention.

Fortunately, running in the desert is still an option. And since I have less of a schedule and less of a social life, I can do more reading. E-books don’t even involve going to a store. I can’t run out of them.

And of course, I’ll get more writing done. I’ll probably be writing scenes in which people hug.

*****

The Calling is free on all e-book retailers though April 23rd

Book Review: Bless Me, Ultima by RudolfoAnaya

The narrator, Antonio, is an intelligent, spiritually-inclined boy, the youngest of a large family in rural New Mexico. The villages and the land around them are drawn with depth and beauty. That’s the strongest aspect of this book: the spirit of the place. Trees, river, lake, sky, and soil are alive.

The tensions between farming and the restless life, between Christianity and earth-based spirituality, between compassion and cruelty, dark magic and healing magic, make up the drama of the book. Though the protagonist is a child, this is in no way a children’s book. Tony witnesses adults at their violent worst several times, as well as at their courageous best. The scenes of healing and of curses are extraordinary. Anaya’s portrait of the culture he grew up in is masterful.

Tony’s spiritual maturation is true to the ways of childhood, as he searches for answers to questions about the nature of God, of justice, and of mysterious things. The friendships of childhood, and the cruelties and sheer awfulness of some children, are real and vivid. A number of the characters are one-dimensional—Tony’s mother, his sisters, and most of the girls at school—but this is how they’re seen through the eyes of a young boy. Ultima, the curandera, is idealized, the essence of her kind of spirituality, and the tavern-owner Tenorio is the opposite, the dark force. In between is Tony’s friend Cico, who introduces him to a mystical divinity in nature. Cico is just another boy, but he’s one who knows a sacred secret.

The dream sequences are long though beautifully written. The children’s Christmas play runs on a bit, too, with no real contribution to the story—I think the author must have found it funnier than I did. All in all, though, the story is intense and compelling except for those sections, and made me feel even more deeply connected with this place I live, this place I love, New Mexico.

Wisdom on Wheels

A pair of large RVs came rolling down the hill on the back road between Truth or Consequences and Elephant Butte as I was driving up it. Across the front of the first vehicle, where the sleeping quarters rose above the truck cab, was written Solitude. On the second vehicle was the word Reflection.

Good advice. Thank you. I needed the reminder.

Water Appreciation Week

The puddle bewildered me. The weather was cloudy, but it hadn’t rained. I returned from a walk to find water in the yard of our apartment building. The direction of flow seemed to come from next door. I alerted my landlord to the puddle and climbed over the chain-link fence to the currently unoccupied neighboring rental property, snagging the seat of my oldest and most disreputable sweatpants in process. I’d wondered why I actually left my apartment dressed like that. I try not to go out looking too awful. Sometimes we just plan right by accident.

Anyway, my trespassing (which was oddly fun, by the way, after the stuck moment) led me to water that trickled through the yard as far as the cement slab of the side deck next door.  Was the source in the house? The water was warm-ish. I called the owner. He came all the way from Las Cruces, thinking his rental house’s water heater had leaked.

Nope. It was fine. He dug around in our yard and found the problem. It was bubbling up from deep underground, from a pipe that runs to the Airstream trailer in the yard, the trailer my former landlady once fantasized living in when she retired. When my current landlord took over the property, he was told all those pipes were no longer connected to the apartments. No longer connected at all. Wrong.

A tree root found a pipe. The tree had water. We whose pipe it was do not.

Despite two days of trying, my landlord and one of my neighbors in our building were unable to make the repair. A professional is coming Tuesday. That will give us a full week of water appreciation.

I marvel at the simplicity of life with running water. How easy it is to wash your hands and your dishes, how uncomplicated it is to brush your teeth. Everything takes longer when you’re juggling jugs. But the jugs make me measure what I use. Even a frugal human uses a lot of water.

Our landlord bought us a week’s worth of soaking and showering at a spa two blocks away. I relish the hot mineral spring soaks along with my showers. Water. It’s sacred and healing as well as necessary and cleansing. The sensation of sinking into a hot tub when you have no water at home is doubly miraculous.

Today it rained twice, a long, quiet rain in the morning and a wild thunderstorm in the evening with intervals of hail. As I write this, the third rainstorm of the day is approaching, thundering gently as it comes. It hasn’t rained for a month, so, like all desert rain, this is welcome. Tomorrow it may even snow, after a spell of sixty-to-seventy degree weather, complete with the winds and pollen of spring. The water washed the air and calmed it down. And nourished the tree that no longer can drink from our pipe.