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.

 

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Slowness

In honor of the Turtle, the local deity of Truth or Consequences who rests atop Turtleback Mountain, I contemplate the virtues of going slowly.

A friend who came in next-to-last in a marathon told me with pride that it took a special kind of endurance to keep on going for such a long time at her slow pace, especially mental endurance. It was a good insight. After all, she had no illusion she could win. Her motivation was personal and internal. She wasn’t competing, just completing.

I’m a slow writer. I write daily and have no shortage of inspirations. What takes time is depth.  I have to know what every character is thinking and feeling, discover the subterranean aspects of my lead characters’ minds, the emotions they themselves might not be touch with, and become aware of potential interactions at that level as well as in the mystery plot.

The style of yoga I study and teach is slow, not flow. The psychological state of flow occurs, but the asanas are explored in depth rather than in a fast-flowing sequence. I’m taking a twelve-week workshop with the teacher who first trained me to teach. In each weekly session, we study two or three asanas that have similar patterns in the body, attending to the subtle organization, the inner details. Seventy-five minutes on just utkatasana, warrior one, and warrior three was fascinating.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy anything fast. I love dancing to fast-paced music and reading fast-paced novels. Sometimes, in my personal yoga practice, I do a vigorous vinyasa. Speed is energizing. To achieve it with skill, though, the writer, dancer, or yogi first has to master slowness.

I look at the mountain and realize there’s more. The Turtle has mastered stillness.

*****

Turtleback image by Donna Catterick, whose photography graces the covers of Death Omen and Small Awakenings.

Ten Things I Love about Truth or Consequences

Conversations. I’ve never been in a situation where anyone was at a loss for words. The line in Bullock’s grocery store, Art Hop, the pool, a drum circle by the Rio Grande at night … it doesn’t matter. People will talk to you anywhere. I met all my friends here through random conversations with strangers.

Passion Pie Café. The place has art on the walls, art on the tables, great tea and coffee, vegan date bars, a free book shelf, and plenty of the above-mentioned conversation.

Hot springs. Of course. That used to be the town’s name. A soak can restore mind and body and spirit.

A history of healing. Magnolia Elis was an important part of the town’s life as a healing destination in the middle of the twentieth century. Her capacities as a healer were reputed to be extraordinary. Her building is a historic landmark now, with her name glowing on the roof in blue neon at night.

Critters. Bats come out at dusk to hunt insects near the Rio Grande, swooping and dancing over the river and the wetlands. If I go to the right spot at the right time, they surround me. Sometimes I’ve seen them crossing the stars as I lay in a hot spring at night. If there’s been rain late in the day, tarantulas emerge from their burrow to seek mates. Lizards seem to be everywhere—scurrying from one patch of shade to the next by day, occasionally sticking to walls and windows in the evening. They look bland at first, but on closer inspection I’ve found that some are pearlescent gray with a subtle peachy glow and others have a delicate brown-and-white checkered pattern with hints of orange. There are hummingbirds, butterflies, and also few of the most impressively vile bugs I’ve ever met, such as big black ants that can bite through your socks and a few summers ago we had a bizarre inundation of skunk beetles. I don’t want them to visit again, but they were interesting.

Stars. Okay, everyone in the desert gets excited about stars. Anyone who has ever come from the humid East to the dry West has had the same dazzling discovery: there are a lot stars up there, and they are really bright.

Rain. It’s so special when it rains in the desert. A big black cloud is not threatening but promising.

Turtleback Mountain. The serene turtle draped gracefully on its crest really looks like a turtle. (I can’t see the elephant in Elephant Butte, can’t even tell which of those gray buttes is supposed to be the elephant)  The turtle is always relaxed, as if he has just done yoga and is now in an amphibian’s version of savasana. With the recent rain he’s looking a little like a chia pet as the red-brown rock fuzzes up with patches of green.

Color. Much I love adobe-brown-pink-beige Santa Fe, I like the way T or C mingles that esthetic with wilder décor (and a lot of trailers). There is a candy-cane striped law office on Main Street. Homes range from adobe-normal to pink, purple, yellow, turquoise, and covered with murals. A shop on Broadway has Lakota-style ledger art on its stucco walls. The next one is bright green with orange and blue turtles parading over the door. An old van drives around town wearing the word “whatever” on its collage-covered side.

This isn’t a rich town; in fact quite the opposite—it’s always struggling. And yet it never collapses in on itself. It’s vibrant, full of art and originality.

 Do you know and love T or C? What’s one of your favorite things about it?

Coyote on Broadway

Broadway, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, that is. I saw the little canine trotting past the Bank of the Southwest after Art Hop on Saturday night.  He seemed in a hurry to get out of town, crossing our main drag and hustling down a side street toward the river. I hear his relatives across the river in the desert sometimes. The other night they were singing on Turtleback Mountain. They’re so musical, especially compared to the dogs who try to answer.  A few years ago I used to hear a donkey who tried to sing back—not very melodious either. Wildness has a sweeter voice.

One thing I love about my town is its closeness to the wild, though I’d rather not join the ranks of people who’ve found rattlesnakes in their yards. I can walk to the Rio Grande in a few blocks, the same route the coyote took, and watch the bats come out over the wetlands at sunset, or go into the desert and look for tarantulas coming out of their burrows after a monsoon rain. I only found one once—a velvety multi-legged shadow half-way out of her hole. When I run in the desert at Elephant Butte I encounter quails and lizards and jackrabbits on the trail, and very seldom any of my own species. I once surprised a mule deer that was sleeping under a juniper. With its size and the speed of its explosive take-off, it gave me an equal start, but probably a lot more pleasure than I gave it.

Santa Fe has a little wildlife, too. Gunnison’s prairie dogs are inclined to live there. The city has a relocation program, catching and releasing them into select wilderness areas, but there’s still a little dog town above the almost waterless Santa Fe River on Paseo.  I like walking past them. They’re smart, and have a complex language. I’ve heard that they recognize people and talk about us. Standing upright at the edge of their holes, paws folded on their little bellies, they stare back at me a long time before they scamper and squeak. Maybe to them I’m the wildlife that’s wandered into their city.