It was my first time in New Mexico.
I was in an AmeriCorps program in Texas. I was offered the opportunity to go to New Mexico on Memorial Day weekend to work on a trail building project in the Gila National Forest. I was excited to go, to visit a new state, to get out of the Texas heat.
Our caravan made it as far as Las Cruces on the first day of our trip. I grew up in the flatlands of the Deep South, so this trip to New Mexico was one of my first experiences with mountains. Oh how I loved them! I’d barely been able to take my eyes off them since they’d come into view.
The plan was to spend the night at a state park outside Las Cruces. We arrived in the late evening, not very long before sunset. We began the business of settting up our tents.
At 29, I was the oldest person in my AmeriCorps program. (How impossibly young 29 seems now!) I was even older than the AmeriCorps boss on the trip, who was only 23. The other AmeriCorps folks on the trip ranged in age from 16(!) to early 20s. Also, I really only knew two other people in the group, two guys who, like me, worked in the building program. The other people in our AmeriCorps group did trail building and maintence, and I hadn’t mingled much with any of them.
During my struggle with my tent, I glanced over at the mountains. They were purple, really purple, just like in the song! They were part of one of the most beautiful landscapes I’d ever seen.
I started jumping up and down. I was literally jumping up and down and shouting, The purple mountains majesty! The purple mountains majesty!
I’d been hearing and singing “America the Beautiful” for 20+ years, and I’ll be damned if I had any idea what “purple mountain majesties” was all about. How could mountains be purple? Here was my answer! Now I understood. These were the purple mountains majesties.
I looked over. It seemed as if all the young people had stopped assembling their tents and were staring at me. Who is this old woman, I imagined them thinking, jumping up and down and yelling about purple mountains?
I stopped jumping and shouting and went back to pitching my tent. I was a little embarrassed at my outburst, but mostly I felt grateful to have seen those purple mountains.
I first tell in love with New Mexico that evening, and I’ve been in love with the state ever since.