Listening silences my inner noise. Running on a winter afternoon, I hear my feet. The sound- textures change from hard slapping on dried-mud clay to near-inaudible thudding on soft dust and sand to crunching on gravel and pebbles. A crow caws in flight. A flock of doves rises from the desert brush with alarm calls as fluttery as the rush of their wings. Hikers converse in amiable tones, too distant for me to make out their words. Rather, I receive their voices as part of the music, harmonizing with the cheep of a solitary bird, the hum of something mechanical at the New Mexico Veterans’ Home on the hill above the trails, and the crow of a rooster somewhere across the Rio Grande.
Listening seems to sharpen my vision, enhancing my inner stillness and conscious presence. The light behind cacti brings out gold in the thorns on tall green prickly pears and red in the thorns on little purple pancake cacti. Their flat purple pads soak up the light. A female desert cardinal is little more than silhouette in a mesquite tree. Each pebble stands out like a sculpture. Each crevice in the now-dry rain-cut earth is wrinkled with deep shadows.
Thoughts slip in, but I let them go and come back to listening and light.
Trying new running routes, I have to be mindful, a rock watcher, even on a broad, sandy trail. I dare look up only for seconds at a time to admire the view—a cliff in the distance, blue water even further off—under the bluebird-blue sky. Little flying silhouettes might be bluebirds, but the light is so strong behind them, they have no color at all. The same slant of light does wonders for the view at my feet, though. The late afternoon sun makes them stand out in the sand and dirt, dull gray tricksters I might otherwise trip over. Strange formations like a giant’s petrified bubble-bath bulge from the sides of hills, scrubby junipers perched among them like the giant’s bonsai. (I know, that’s a clunky juxtaposition, bath and bonsai, but I did it anyway.) The bubble rocks may be lithophysae—meaning there could be geodes inside. But I’m not going to bring tools and attack them to find out. The mystery is part of their magic.
Thanks to observing the ground as I ran, I found a fine little metal toy truck of the kind I used to love a child, the kind that could whizz along the floor of the playroom with satisfying smoothness. The truck is weathered, its white paint marbled by sand-scrubbing so the black metal underneath shows. Its wheels are gone. Its windshield has turned dark. But it’s still an excellent little truck. It has a story. Somehow, it got half-buried in a road so seldom used, so totally abandoned, that a lizard I startled ducked into a large, well-established hole in smack the middle of it. Another reason for rock watching.