Vacation Mind

On a sunny, sixty-degree day, the kind that tourists from cold places come here to enjoy, I asked myself, how would I feel, think, and act if I was on vacation?

Truth or Consequences used to be my vacation destination. As a full-time resident, I do the same things I did as a summer visitor. I live in a smaller, simpler space than I did back in Virginia. I soak in hot springs, run in the desert at Elephant Butte Lake State Park, I write, I go to Albuquerque to study yoga, I hang out with friends … It’s the same life, only busier.

I have a schedule. Teaching yoga three days a week is not what anyone could call a full schedule, though it does limit my spontaneity. I’m more involved in the community. I know more people. But the biggest difference is my mindset. I don’t feel the looming return to the academic calendar reminding me to make the most of my freedom. So I don’t.

I let my head get cluttered. After I encountered a number of vacationers hiking the trail where I ran yesterday, I switched to vacation mind, appreciating the moment as if I might have to leave any day. Wow. Isn’t this amazing? It’s so warm. The sky is so bright. The lake is so still and blue. I noticed the light striking one of the bare, rocky hills on the shore making it look golden, though the land in Elephant Butte is basically gray, and how the dried blossoms atop a yucca stalk held their bell shapes months after their blooming ended.

While I stretched at the playground, a spider web glinting in the sun caught my attention, its near-invisible threads turning iridescent. The weaver, a tiny dirt-beige spider with red-striped legs and two rows of dots down its back, clung to a green metal ladder on the play structure.

Yellow stripey things—bees or wasps, I’m not sure which—nuzzled around my ankles and inspected me. I rolled my pants legs tight so the inspections wouldn’t go wrong. Their soft buzzing was the only sound.

Spaciousness. Present moment. Vacation mind

La Vieja Lets Go

A large cloth figure stuffed with shredded newspaper, adorned with long scraggly hair and pink-painted nails, she spent December in the women’s bathroom at the Truth or Consequences Brewery as the interactive art installation for the season. Women, local and visiting, could write notes to pin to La Vieja naming what they wished to release, and then take gift of a small stone or shell from a basket sharing the table with the Old One.

Today, La Vieja moved from the Brewery to a fire pit in Rotary Park on the Rio Grande, where a young woman who is a professional wildland firefighter arranged a safe set up for the ritual burn. A circle of women of all ages and a few men gathered. Poetry and stories were shared while the setting sun cast bright linear sunbows in the gray clouds on either side. Our firefighter lit La Vieja, and the blaze was warming and bright, the gentle sister of the fires she fights in the wilderness.

The Old One arched back with grace, and her legs moved into a posture reminiscent of an artist’s model reclining in the nude. As the words that clung to her burned, her heart seemed to open. Her arms fell back, her legs softened, and when she released her limbs one by one they seemed to let go with relief, until nothing was left but a heart-heap of smoldering ashes.

The ceremony was silent at times, social at others. I saw a friend who is moving to another part of the state. She’s letting go of T or C, feeling called to a new place without quite knowing why. Not in her head, anyway. Her heart knows.

Part Two: Not Quite Letting Go

 I found myself thinking of that famous Maine story in which a tourist asks a local for directions. The local muses and makes some attempts to find a route, but his final answer is, “Come to think of it, you can’t get there from here.” Travel from Truth or Consequences to Baton Rouge for the electric car I wanted was kind of like that. I have an eye condition that makes flying inadvisable, so my choices were either to drive my Fiesta, adding 1,000 miles to her odometer, and then trade her in for next to nothing, or take a train or a bus—the lowest carbon options.

Amtrak’s answer when I tried to plan the trip: no such route. I would have had to go a very long way out of my way and then take a bus from a place the train does go. Or I could have spent thirty-two hours on a bus one way, after getting to nearest Greyhound station in Las Cruces. I couldn’t just leave the Fiesta at the station and drive back in the new car, so I’d have to get a friend to drive me there. Or take the Mexican Bus.

I’ve never seen the Mexican Bus. It has no published schedule that I could find. You just have to know someone who knows. As in, “Ask Davey. He took it to Albuquerque once. I think it stops at the McDonald’s in T or C.” We’re not that far from the border. I can see why a Mexican bus line would come here, but it’s a strange state of mass transportation in rural New Mexico that your only option is a mystery bus from across the border.

I reached the cusp of having the electric car shipped to me, but some troubling errors in the paperwork the dealer sent and some red flags in the fine print made me cancel the purchase. (I hope I can use all this in a book. I think the objectionable sales contract has disaster potential for one of my characters who wouldn’t read the fine print.) My attachment to the Cajun Spice Red 2017 Chevy Bolt with only 10,000 miles was brief, not meant to last, but I didn’t pin “electric car” to La Vieja. I’ll drive one eventually. It may not be perfectly convenient—I’ll have to charge it at an RV park and buy a portable charging station to adapt to the plugs—but I still want to do it. Maybe, by the time I find another affordable dream car, much closer to home, T or C will have public charging for non-Tesla cars. I’ve proposed that the city or some entrepreneur convert at least one of our town’s abandoned trailer parks to EV charging stations. The infrastructure is partly there, and the lots are close to both downtown and the river. People could recharge their cars while they recharged their bodies and spirits with art, music, hiking, and hot springs. And there’s something so T or C about a recycled trailer park.

 

Cold Day Run

It was thirty-nine degrees today, with wind at fifteen miles per hour. In the spring, when it blows at twice that speed on a regular basis, I would call that a light wind. But it’s not cold in the spring. It’s normally not cold in the winter, either, for which I’m grateful. I have a low tolerance for low temperatures. Still, I had to get out and run. The weather had been even less inviting for the previous two days. A third day without prolonged outdoor time would have been far worse than wearing the winter running gear I’ve so seldom needed since moving to Truth or Consequences. My mind and body crave nature, light, and movement.

It would have been easier to stay indoors, but less rewarding. The sky was brilliant New Mexico blue, and no one else was out on the trail. No humans, that is. On my third loop, there were fresh deer tracks, signs they had been there just before me. By the end of my run, my face was cold, and my fingers and wrists deeply chilled through my gloves, but I’m glad I braved the weather. It was uncomfortable at times, but whenever I turned a curve that took me out of the wind, I cherished the reprieve and communed with the winter sun.

I have a list of unpleasant tasks I’ve been crossing off, one by one, but a few remain—and they’ve remained on that list a long time. I have to remind myself that the actual doing of the difficult thing is less stressful than thinking about doing it.

 

Caught in the Vortex

I’m a guest today on fellow New Mexico mystery writer Donnell Ann Bell’s blog. Talking about my discovery of T or C, and Mae Martin’s connection with the town as well.

“I could live here,” said a voice in my head. It was two in the morning. I’d walked into my room at The Charles Motel and Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico after driving across the country in two days to make the most of my spring break, and so far I’d seen nothing of the town.  Follow this link to read more.

 

The Full Circle Moon of Good Intentions

“Do you know anything about turtles?” the woman asked. She was a slim, big-eyed brunette in a sundress, carrying a large blue canvas bag. A silver-haired man carrying a plastic grocery bag stood nearby, poised to walk off, his shoulders turned away from her. She must have already asked him, and he obviously wanted to keep moving.

I was on my way to meet a friend for a sunset walk. The clouds promised great color effects. But when I discovered the woman was uncertain how to rescue a  turtle that was trying to cross the street, I had to stop. We were five blocks from the river. A long hike for a turtle, and a dangerous one. Hot pavement, traffic, and predators. Yes, predators. And not just cats. There was a gray fox trotting down the alley across from us. Unlike turtles, foxes come downtown quite often. (Plenty of bunnies, no competition from coyotes.)

I found a small flower pot lying on the street. The woman offered to sacrifice her towel—she was on her way to La Paloma for a hot spring soak—to wrap the turtle, and I cupped its sharp-beaked little head in the pot. First we just lifted the critter over the adobe wall into the yard of the nearest house. I knew the owners, and they wouldn’t mind. But the turtle took off running for the sidewalk. I never realized they could move that fast. It would be in the street again any minute.

I called my friend and explained that I was taking a turtle to the river, and he said he would meet us there. My new acquaintance and I headed toward the Rio Grande, with her cradling the turtle in a fluffy pink towel. She told me was in T or C on a long visit from Austin and was thinking about moving here. Since she was too young to retire, I asked what she would do here. “Thrive,” she replied.

We met my friend and his dog on the way and then released the turtle into a muddy spot on the riverbank, not too steep or bumpy, so it could have a safe slide into the water. It stared at the river and then hurried into the weeds.

Satisfied, we humans lingered to watch the full moon rise from behind Turtleback Mountain, and my new friend and my old friend told stories, getting acquainted. Bats dived after insects, swooping in close to us, and we gradually fell silent in the sacred space.

Later, at home, I looked up turtles. I’d never answered the question that started the evening’s adventure: Do you know anything about turtles? If I had, the answer would have been no.

I learned they lay eggs around this time of year and may walk up to a mile from the water to do so. Our rescue interrupted a turtle on a mission. I told myself we meant well, and that she came out the wrong side of the river. The other side is wild, but she was heading downtown. Even if she somehow found a spot to bury her eggs, the hatchlings would never make it home. Still, I have to wonder about the unintended consequences of our good intentions. Maybe she knew what she was doing. I hope she found a good, safe place to lay eggs, but after her heroic trek, we brought her right back to where she started.

 

Dropping In

When I was a teenager with divorced parents, one of the many things I loved about living with my father was the spontaneous sociability. People dropped in on him, often in the late mornings on weekends, and on summer evenings we would go for walks and drop in on friends. We were in a small town on the Maine coast where he was informally referred to as “the mayor,” though the town was in fact so small it didn’t have one. He was one of the few year-round residents.

Where I live now, spontaneous socializing happens on the streets, in coffee shops, and at the brewery, but I don’t drop in on friends unless they own shops—dropping in on shop-owners is a social custom here. Otherwise, I’ve developed the habit of calling if I want to make short-notice plans. Then my cell phone provider and I had to part ways, due to a series of annoying technical events. I couldn’t make calls. I was in the middle of I-will-not-tell-you-what kind of hassle trying to set up online with the new provider when I heard a knock on my door.

A friend had dropped by to tell me his phone didn’t work.

Needless to say, the timing was perfect. I invited him in. I’d been meaning to call him during my three days of phone problems and couldn’t. We vented about cell phone service, and he said he’s going to get a landline. “Why do I need a phone with me all the time?”

Good question.

I didn’t go quite so far back in tech time as he decided to, but I still don’t have a smart phone. Why do I need a computer with me all the time? I like talking. If friends want to get in touch, I like it if they call and talk, not text. If it’s after eleven a.m., they can even drop in.

Anniversary Sale

Two years ago today, June 2, I was half-way across the country, moving from Virginia to New Mexico. I’d lived in Santa Fe previously and left for a job in northeastern North Carolina, where I found the setting for The Calling. I always knew I’d be back, and when I discovered Truth or Consequences, I was instantly caught in the vortex. I knew I would live here someday.

In Shaman’s Blues, Mae Martin moves to T or C. Unlike me, she’s never seen it before. Never been to New Mexico. Doesn’t know a soul in town except her father. Join her on the adventure and celebrate my anniversary.

Click here for 99 cent sale

Spring Break

I’m grateful for the ultimate New Mexico April day. It looks nice out the window—warm and sunny, with new green figs on the fig tree. But the wind is blowing at thirty-six miles per hour, the pollen count is eleven point two on a twelve-point scale, and humidity is only nine percent. I think that means there’s more juniper pollen than moisture in the air, and it’s moving faster than a sneeze.  Ten minutes outdoors, and my head felt like it was being squeezed in a vise. Finally, on a day when I have no obligations or appointments, the April-ness of April is so bad I have to stay in.

Why am I grateful for that?

A new acquaintance, recently retired from the Coast Guard, mentioned that she sometimes wished she was working again so she could have vacation time. I understood. When I had an academic job, I had weekends and vacations. I even had snow days once in a great while. Those were intense writing times, and so were my evenings after work. I now live in the place where I used to take my summer and occasional spring and winter vacations. Supposedly, I’m writing full time, but I feel less productive. I used to teach yoga four times a week when I had a regular job. I teach yoga the same number of hours now, and I don’t even have to drive to the studio, but I’m busier than I was before I moved. So what’s taking up all my time?

I thought downsizing to a tiny apartment would save time, but it doesn’t. Everything I do, even cleaning and cooking, is like playing Tetris. I have to move something in order to do anything. There’s no dishwasher. Hand washing takes time. No curbside recycling. Driving it to the recycling center takes time. I don’t live right next to a park anymore, so I drive to one for running. Most medical appointments are in Las Cruces, an hour’s drive each away.

The big factor, though, is that life is so interesting here, far more than it was back east. I’m more engaged in the community, not only with meetings and volunteering, but with social and cultural activities. One thing I love about T or C is how friendly people are. When I was a summer visitor, I had two good friends here. Now I know so many people I feel guilty about not keeping up with them all, and I run into people I know wherever I go, meaning we stop and talk. It can take twenty minutes to get my mail if a neighbor is at his mailbox at the same time. The number of professional artists and musicians residing in such a small town, plus the ones who visit, means there are events I could attend several evenings a week. I’m trying to cut back, but how can I not go to a concert when I know the performers? How can I not support the arts in my community?

Except … I’m part of the arts in my community. A less visible part except in the local authors’ section of a couple of stores, but I’ll be even less visible if I don’t stay home. I know there are people wondering when the next book is coming out. So, blow, winds, blow. I’m in for the day and writing.

The Bats are Back!

On Sunday last week, my eighty-three-year-old neighbor said, “If I was a bat, I’d be thinking about heading north about now.” We walked down to the icehouse, the roofless building with the mural on the back, where the bats reside most of the year. We were a day early. I could tell our little friends arrived Monday. Not because I went to see them that evening, but because there were no gnats falling onto my keyboard or crawling over my laptop screen.

As of today, it’s been a week since the T or C bat colony came home from their winter trip to Mexico, and I’ve watched them three times already. Their delicate wings are translucent as they flutter out in groups of ten or twenty, emerging into the evening sky from the blue sky of the mural, and then dispersing toward Turtleback Mountain and the Rio Grande. The joy that surges in me with each flight of bats is pure and wordless. Transcendent. My neighbor feels the same way. When bats take off, he sounds like a kid in his delight. On a windy night, he was disappointed to see only a few. Tonight, I was thrilled to witness flight after flight, a seeming infinity of bats.

An out-of-state tourist staying at the Riverbend RV park, right behind the mural, saw me standing and staring at the wall, and I explained I was watching bats. He stopped and watched briefly and said it was good the owner of the icehouse let them live there, but I don’t think he shared the mind-clearing flash of happiness these creatures give me. Nor can I explain it. Perhaps their silent sounds are penetrating my consciousness, sonar bouncing off my inner landscape and attuning me to the present moment in which they, my honored relations, always live.

Retreat

As a professor, I welcomed the holidays as time off. After the busyness of the fall the semester, what I wanted and needed most was a chance to go inward. When people would ask me, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” I’d answer “As little as possible,” and then explain that I used the day as a retreat. I gave the same answer for Christmas. My family long ago stopped buying gifts and switched to supporting each other’s favorite charities. I love visiting them, but not in the winter. That’s not the time to go to Maine. Spring or summer visits are our tradition, not holidays.

My personal tradition of using the major holidays as retreat days carries on in retirement. I’m normally busy, outgoing, and social, not at all the stereotype of the introverted writer, so I still need such days. Aside from walking to the yoga studio to teach a class on Thursday evening (yes, a couple of people chose to come), I didn’t go out. I did my own yoga and meditation practices, and I finished the first draft of a book. Perfect.

The only hard part of this is explaining it to people who think it’s sad or weird, when I’m actually happy not “doing” the holidays. When I do explain, I find quite a few people who like the idea, but others still seem to think it’s a bit pathological. We have Scrooge and the Grinch, after all, among our seasonal archetypes. One Thanksgiving in Virginia, some well-meaning neighbors anonymously left a huge aluminum pan full of turkey and stuffing on my doorstep, not knowing me well enough to realize I’m a vegetarian. I guess they saw that I didn’t go out and felt sorry for me. I never knew which neighbors did it. I wish they had known my day of inwardness wasn’t lonely or depressing, but liberating. Soul-nourishing.

I have friends who do the big family gatherings, and that nourishes their souls. I heard the community pot luck at the brewery was packed, and I imagine it was fun for everyone who went and gave them what they needed from the day, also.

Black Friday passed, and I didn’t shop. However, I hope my friends in T or C who run stores had good sales, and that those who did shop supported small businesses and found meaningful gifts.

My neighbor across the street put up her Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. Though she intended to make herself wait, she couldn’t resist. She had creative fun, and the display is quite entertaining. (The pink flamingo is wearing a holiday bow.) I don’t own any ornaments and like it that way.

Today, I walked to the river, hoping to see water birds. The cormorants or coots—I still don’t know for sure what they are—have returned, and they were making their odd noises, peeping and croaking as they fished. On the opposite bank, where I’ve never seen any humans before, a man in a plaid shirt and denim shorts sat in a small, sunny clearing, perfectly still. Fishing or contemplating? I couldn’t tell. The sky was New Mexico Blue over Turtleback Mountain, and a blue heron perched on a for sale sign on a piece of land I hope no one ever buys, even though one of my yoga students is the realtor. The man on the bank moved just enough that I could see his fishing line catch the light as a fish stirred his meditation into new awareness, the present moment tugging on his hook.

His attire on a fifty-five degree day made me suspect he was a snowbird, one of the Mainers and Canadians who escape to T or C and think even our cool days are warm. If so, he has escaped to a town without a mall. What better place to spend the season? It was good bird day. Heron, cormorants (or coots), and snowbird.