Highway Of Miracles

It doesn’t take much for my equanimity to be disturbed, sad to say. During my return from a birding trip to New Mexico in late April, where I had been caught unawares when the thermometer climbed above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius), I was taken equally by surprise by a gathering bank of clouds that eventually spanned the entire firmament from Albuquerque to the state line, before it released squalls of rain and billowing clouds of fog. Associated gusts of wind and an unpropitious weather forecast for the coming night made me choose a motel in southern Colorado over a cold, wet night in the tent. Big mistake!

After a week of camping, I underestimated the horror of replacing a billowy tent with an enclosed room, a constant flow of fresh air with sealed windows, the nocturnal hooting of owls with the constant drone of trucks on the nearby interstate, my firm sleeping pad with an overly soft mattress. I tossed and turned during each expensive hour and could not wait to hit the road again by 6 AM.

I was still squabbling with myself for having overpaid for my uninviting accommodations, and berating myself for being a fair-weather camper, not quite sure how to get over myself. Leave it to southern Colorado’s Highway Of Legends to put me to shame, and pull me out of my foul, sleep-deprived mood by gently but insistently reminding me of nature’s beauty and grace, in a way that even my curmudgeonly self could not ignore.

Early into the 82 mile (132 kilometer) route between the towns of Trinidad and Walsenburg, one of the West’s most striking woodpeckers, a Lewis’s, which I had not seen in ages, clang to a utility pole right next to the road, but my brain registered its presence only after I had already passed it. A quick glance in the rearview mirror revealed no cars. I engaged the brakes, shifted into reverse, then pulled over to take a few photos, unable to prevent a smile.

Not long after my woodpecker surprise, complemented by additional animal appearances, I happened upon a herd of at least 100 elk crossing the highway. Seemingly without effort, they leapt across the fences that lined both sides of the road. Most of them threw me wary glances while they kept trotting, but one bull stopped to show himself in his regal stance. I alone witnessed their move from a wintry meadow to one clad in vernal apparel.

My rainy day in New Mexico had translated into a brief burst of winter in this part of Colorado, as I experienced mile after scenic mile on my way to Cuchara Pass at nearly 10,000 feet (3000 meters). By then, my real or imagined grievances were forgotten and I realized that the timing of the day’s encounters only worked out because of where and when I had started out that morning. I was entirely enchanted and utterly happy to be present right there and then, on my Highway of Miracles.

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I will take a break from blogging for at least three weeks as I will be traveling abroad. My apologies if I won’t get around to reading and liking your posts. Thank you for your understanding and Happy May to all of us!

Earth Still Spins

Some destinations exert a magnetic force, compelling us to return time and again. New Mexico’s Villanueva State Park is one such destination for me. Reachable only by a little-traveled county road, it is situated at the end of a fertile valley first frequented by Paleo-Indians and farmed in more recent centuries by Hispanic settlers, with water provided gratis by an early stretch of Pecos River, between its origin in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and its eventual destiny in Texas—the mighty Rio Grande.

During my most recent visit in late April, not only do I travel a distance of nearly 300 miles (480 kilometers) south, I also journey into a more advanced stage of spring, with budding or blossoming trees and shrubs, a few blooming wildflowers, and pleasing temperatures, conducive to sleeping in a tent. The park’s campground is hemmed in by towering walls of sandstone carved by the stream and clad with the juniper-pinyon community typical of vast expanses of the arid Southwest. Rocky trails lead to various overlooks with views that touch infinity. The rushing river, swelled by snowmelt in the highlands, provides constant background music, to which resident and early migratory birds add their joyful voices.

It is a place permeated by a sense of timelessness, even though I am swept up in its daily arc far more than at home: Up and down with the sun, active early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with decreased activity during the heat of the day, like many fellow critters. The more egregious and topsy-turvy the man-made world, the more I long to be reassured that the earth is still spinning around its axis, that flora and fauna still follow their age-old rhythms. We would do well to heed Mother Nature’s mostly patient and persistent, but recently more urgent, pointers that to ignore those rhythms is to do so at our peril and to our detriment.

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