Tag Archives: New Mexico

Plans

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When I was traveling with Mr. Carolina, I’d sometimes ask him about his plans. Whenever I’d utter the word plans, he’d throw back his head and laugh uproariously. Mr. Carolina knew we can plan all day long, but the Universe does what it wants when it wants and our schemes mean nothing.

These were my plans for 2017:

Attend the RTR

Spend a few weeks in the Arizona desert

House and dog sit in MegaBabylon

Work on writing my second book

Spend a few more weeks in the Arizona desert

House and dog sit again for the same woman in MegaBabylon

Work some more on my second book

Get paid to score student responses to standardized tests

Head to California to spend my summer working as a camp host and a parking lot attendant

Those plans were supposed to get me through the middle of October 2017.

I made it to the RTR, but after that, the Universe had other ideas for me.

At the RTR I hit it off with a very nice man (who has a very nice dog companion). We up and decided to go to New Mexico together, where we both came down with terrible colds. I still managed to do two readings from my book, Confessions of a Work Camper. I sold ten copies of the book, as well as some jewelry and shiny rocks. Life was good, even though the man and I were sick.

I had a lovely birthday in New Mexico. The man and I soaked in hot mineral water, then joined two more friends in the park for ice cream and pie. It was a wonderful day.

The next day I was scheduled to leave New Mexico and head back to MegaBabylon for my house and dog sitting engagement. Saying good-bye to the man was bittersweet, but I’d decided to travel back to New Mexico to see him again between my two house sitting gigs. He’s a carpenter by trade and had offered to transform wasted space in my van into storage space. I was going to borrow power tools from my host family and work with the man on a van project. I was excited about the project and excited about seeing the man again.

When I got into the van that morning, there were no messages on my phone. I looked out of my side-view mirror and watched the man watch me as I drove away. I listened to Old Crow Medicine Show sing “Wagon Wheel” and tried not to feel sad. I’d known this day would come. I’d known all aspects of life are fleeting. I’d known all we have is the present moment, and I’d done my best to enjoy each moment I’d had with him to the fullest. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t already miss him.

Before I got on the interstate, I had to stop at Wal-Mart. I was still sick, and the sickness had settled in my lungs as a cough. The coughing had kept me up the night before, so I really wanted to be able to take a big swig of cough syrup when I arrived at the free camping area I’d decided on as my stopover. I thought my best move was to get some cough syrup before I left town.

When I stopped the van, I checked my phone, as is my habit. The screen showed a notification saying I had three messages. Three messages? What was up with that?

I went to my messages and saw they were all from the woman I was supposed to house and dog sit for starting the next day. She said she’d hurt her back and was just leaving the hospital. She’d had to cancel her trip. She didn’t need me until April.

I was reeling. What to do? Head back to MegaBabylon anyway? Stay and spend more time with the man? Something else I hadn’t even yet imagined?

It took me a couple of days and a couple of long conversations with the man to figure things out, but I made some decisions. I could tell you my plans, but what’s the point? The Universe is going to send me wherever it wants me to be.

 

 

Reconnoitering in the Desert

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Last week my friend and I walked around the desert, looking for a place to make a good camp on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land. While we were walking around, I took photos of some of the things I saw.

This photo shows the old car we found in the wash. It’s very rusty.

The most unusual thing we saw was the rusted remains of an old automobile. Believe me, the car was not in a place it could have easily been driven to. In fact, it was in a place that seemed impossible to drive to. It was high up in a wash, in a place I think no motorized vehicle could go.

How do you think that car got here? I asked my friend.

I dunno, he drawled.

I think it was washed here in a flood! I said. How else could it have gotten here?

The car seemed old, not just because it was rusty. The design of the car seemed old. I think the car had been sitting there for years, decades even. I don’t think anyone is going to drag the car out of the wash. I think the car is going to sit there until it becomes one with the earth.

This is the front of the car we found in the wash. It looks really old to me.

Wow! Look at that bug! I said when I saw a beetle sunning itself on a small rock. I like to see creatures hanging out in nature.

We poked at the beetle a little, just to see it move, then we felt bad about disturbing it. It tried to hide in the shadow of the surrounding rocks. I tried to move it back to the sun where I’d first found it.

Later, I almost stepped on it as I skidded down from a higher level where I’d climbed.

Watch out for our little friend, my friend said to me, but I thought he was talking about the dog. Luckily, I didn’t step on the beetle, although I was pretty out of control at the moment, waving my arms and trying to get down the steep, rocky incline without falling.

Here’s the rock formation I’d climbed up to look at more closely:

I stood at the base of it and looked at the openings in the rock. I think it was full of packrat nests. I saw what I thought was feces, and got away from it fast. I don’t need any New Mexico plague, thank you very much.

I think the formation was made of sandstone. It felt gritty to the touch, and seemed as if it could easily disintegrate or wash away. Although at first I thought camping up against it might make for a good campsite, we ended up deciding it was too unstable to trust with our lives.

After a couple of hours of walking around, we found a spot my friend liked. It was mostly flat and mostly secluded. He set up his tent and hauled his things over while I reorganized the van.

As I left in the late afternoon, I saw the sunset in my sideview mirror.

It was a lovely end to a lovely day in the desert.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Coyote at the Bridge

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I’d been away from the Bridge for a while. When I left in late October, I planned to be back in time for Spring Break, but plans change. By December, I’d decided I wanted to spend the summer working as a camp host. By January I’d applied for several camp host positions. By April, I was on my way to California.

I decided to head back to New Mexico when my work season ended. If nothing else, I needed to say good-bye to friends who thought I would only be gone a few months when I left. Of course, once I was back, I couldn’t resist the siren’s song of making a few bucks at the Bridge. Soon I was unfolding my tables and setting out my wares.

Many aspects of life at the Bridge were unchanged. A dozen or more vendors vied for the tourist dollars. Vendors still fought among themselves but showed each other kindness as well. I continued to arrive early to get a good spot where I could attract the attentions of shoppers. Of course, the scenery was still beautiful; the rugged high desert landscape surrounded by snow-peaked mountains always makes me stop and take notice.

There were differences too. Although still officially fall when I arrived, days were cold. I soon wore a comical number of colorful layers in an attempt to stay warm. Days were shorter too. While in the summer we had until seven o’clock or later to catch the sunset visitors, in October and November, daylight was gone by 5pm. Also, the number of visitors must have been less than half of what we saw in the summer.

This photo shows the wild coyote in the vending area at the Bridge.

My favorite addition to the Bridge community was the coyote.

During the many nights and early mornings I’d spent at the Bridge, first while sleeping in a picnic pavilion and later in my van, I’d heard plenty of coyotes. Sometimes there’d be simple, predictable howling, but often I heard the yipping and yapping I anthropomorphized as “partying”–as in the coyotes are really partying tonight. While I knew the coyotes were relatively close because I could hear them, I never saw one. For all the noise they make, coyotes know how to be visibly discreet, so I was surprised to see one skulking around in the sage on the highway side of the fence, pretty close to where the vendors set up.

I was excited to see the coyote, but other vendors were blasé . They knew this coyote; it had been coming around for a while.

Some of the vendors left food our for it. Early in the morning, when there weren’t many people around and food was available, the coyote would come right into the vending area. That’s when I realized the coyote walked with a limp, which is probably why it hung around close to humans who were willing to leave it food.

By talking to other vendors, I pieced together the coyote’s story.

Sometime after I had left the previous fall, the coyote’s foot had been injured. I don’t remember anyone saying what exactly had happened, but whether by trap or by gun (or some other way entirely), the coyote’s foot had been seriously hurt, and it could barely walk, much less run. The vendors saw it limping around and one of them (a great friend to animals although often causing strife for humans) started leaving meat out for the coyote. Her offerings probably got it through the winter when it couldn’t hunt.

The vendor who told me the coyote’s story repeatedly referred to it as “she.” I wasn’t sure if he could tell the animal’s sex by its size or markings or if he’d been close enough to check out its genitals. While I certainly never saw testicles or a penis, I can’t say I got a definitive look. Maybe because of the months the coyote had been around, the vendor felt confident in what he had and hadn’t seen.

While the coyote certainly wasn’t fat, it was by no means skeletal. I’d expect a coyote that was only living on human handouts to be bony and weak. This coyote was lean, but seemed healthy. I think the coyote was hunting again and only supplementing its diet with what the vendors shared.

Although the coyote obviously limped, it moved around well. It was still quick. It wasn’t difficult to imagine it hunting, especially if it used cunning to get the job done.

I had mixed feeling about the coyote hanging out so close to the vendors. I typically think wild animals should stay wild and humans should stay uninvolved in the lives of wild animals. I worried about how close to the

I worried about the coyote crossing the road, as it is doing in this photo.

road the coyote came when it skulked around the vending area looking for food. I got really nervous when I saw it actually cross the highway. I worried about what might happen to the coyote if it did a perfectly normal coyote thing like snatch a little dog for a snack. Now that the coyote could take care of itself, it was better off leaving humans behind.

On the other hand, I was glad the vendor had fed it when it was injured and couldn’t hunt. I’m glad she saved the coyote’s life. I was grateful for the opportunity to see the animal up close too. Not everyone gets to see the beautiful independence of wild creatures. Even though the coyote was eating scraps left by humans, it wasn’t begging. One look at the coyote and I knew it belonged only to itself.

I haven’t been to the Bridge in over a year, so I don’t know if the coyote still visits with the vendors early in the mornings, but I think of it whenever I hear a coyote howl.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

Book Review: Don Coyote

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Don Coyote: The Good Times and the Bad Times of a Much Maligned America
I’d never seen or heard a coyote until I lived until New Mexico. Until I was in my 4os, my sole experience with coyotes was Wile E. Coyote from The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show. But when I spent three summers and parts of two winters in Northern New Mexico, and heard coyotes and sometimes even saw them.

During my first winter in Northern New Mexico, I found a copy of Don Coyote: The Good Times and the Bad Times of a Much Maligned American Original by Dayton Hyde in a free box. I read the book and learned more about coyotes than I ever thought I’d know

One night, while reading , Don Coyote I had the pleasure of hearing real live coyotes yip, yap, and howl in the distance. I thought this book and that far off canine conversation might be as close as I ever got to a coyote.

Dayton Hyde has been up close and personal with coyotes. Don Coyote is the story of how he befriends a wild coyote, then has friends in the East send a captive mating pair to his Oregon cattle ranch. Hyde ignores the necessary coyote permits and finds himself in possession of eight coyotes when the female gives birth to a litter. Since his plan is to tame the pups “to the point where [he] could release them on the ranch and observe their everyday life without their being concerned about [his] presence” he snatches two of them from the parents before their eyes open. Days later, when the pups’ eyes are opened, he steals two more from their family and brings them into his human world where they stay until each decides to move on into the wild. (Strangely, from that point, he never again mentions the parental coyotes, and the reader is left to wonder what happened to them.)

By the end of the book, Hyde is a rancher and naturalist, but he was not always both. This book chronicles not only his fascination and love of coyotes (the ones he tamed to varying degrees as well as wild ones), but also how that love and fascination caused his transformation from a person who tried to mold nature according to his human whims into someone who observes nature and notices that often the natural way is the best way. As he stopped fighting nature, he began to feel more of a responsibility toward the earth and all nonhuman creatures.

Hyde writes, “What made me so different from my neighbors was that they figured we humans had dominion over the land while I felt we had a responsibility for it—for the soil; for every plant, bird, and animal that shared this planet with us; for the rivers, and for the air.”

Hyde’s writing style is accessible, although his vocabulary is sometimes of an age prior to the book’s 1986 copyright date. He’s a thinker and not just a doer, and his prose is lovely and evocative.

This book came to me via a free box, and I’m glad to have read it. It is a must read for every environmentalist and for anyone who thinks killing predators is a good idea.

Monticello Christmas Eve

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My friend Belle gave me a wonderful Christmas last year. On Christmas morning she cooked a fantastic English breakfast for me and pulled presents from under her tree with my name on them. Before Christmas day, however, she gave me a wonderful Christmas Eve.

She drove us out to Monticello, New Mexico where friends of hers host a fabulous Christmas Eve potluck every year. Before the nice people and the delicious food, we went to a service at the tiny town’s Catholic Church.

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Sunset over San Ignacio Catholic Church in Monticello, NM

I’m what’s called a lapsed Catholic. I grew up Catholic, but haven’t practiced the religion since I was a teenager. I think prior to last year, my previous attendance at a mass was near the end of the 20th century. But on Christmas Eve 2015, I found myself attending mass in San Ignacio Catholic Church, a historic adobe built in 1867.

The place was packed. Everyone in the community seemed to be there.

When the priest took the pulpit for the sermon, he said he was going to read a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. WHAT? I can tell you, I never experienced a Catholic priest of my youth get up in front of a congregation and read the work of any bohemian poet. The poem the priest in Monticello read is called “Christ Climbed Down.”

CHRIST CLIMBED DOWN

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck crèches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
Pennsylvania
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
with German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carolers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

The poem blew me away! What would Jesus do, indeed.

I wasn’t touched by the Lord or the Holy Spirit that night. I didn’t have a religious reawakening. I didn’t embrace my Catholic upbringing and run back into the arms of the church. I was touched by Ferlinghetti’s poem, was glad to hear it read in a church by a man of the cloth. I was also touched by the love and comradery exhibited by the people in the church when it came time to offer each other a sign of peace.

After mass we went to the potluck, where I was touched by the love and comradery of food. After stuffing ourselves with deliciousness, we rode off into a cold New Mexico night topped by a sky sprinkled with a million stars.

 

 

Death Don’t Have No Mercy

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Alejandro was a good guy who drank himself to death before he turned 40. He died last week, one more to go in 2016.

His dad is an alcoholic too. He started his son down the path by giving Alejandro beer while he was still in elementary school. From then on, Alejandro was his dad’s drinking buddy, even when the alcohol was adversely affecting the younger man’s health.

Confronting Alejandro’s drinking would have required confronting his own alcohol abuse, so his father insisted there was no problem. There were problems, all right. In the last couple of years, Alejandro often shit blood for weeks on end. And there was the time a drunken Alejandro pulled a gun on a guy who’d pissed him off. Anyone who could admit the truth knew alcohol was going to kill Alejandro one way or another.

In the last months of his life, as his health declined, his father and extended family refused to commit him to rehab. They’re a close knit clan, ready to fight each other as well as outsiders.I suppose they thought they could take care of their own.

Alejandro was a talented lapidarist who shaped and polished stones to sell to tourists and other vendors alike. His work was good, and jewelry makers valued the cabochons he produced.

When selling at the Bridge, Alejandro kept his rough stones in a pan of water so potential customers could see how they’d look after they were polished. He cracked me up one hot summer day, when, in response to a man asking why the rocks were in water, he said, absolutely serious, it keeps them wetter. He was a smartass, but he was good at telling jokes, knew how to keep a straight face, knew the proper rhythm to use to make the punchline pop.

He had two preteen daughters who loved him fiercely. He loved them too, even when he wasn’t getting along with their mother. The girls did their childish best to look after him. I can only imagine how those girls are going to miss him as they grow, the pain they’ll feel when he’s not around for the milestones in their lives.

Alejandro’s death is such a waste. He didn’t have to die. I know it’s more complicated than just stop drinking, but people manage to do it. I think Alejandro could have done it too. I think he could have gotten sober, under different circumstances. I think he could have lived to a ripe old age, seen his little girls grow up, shaped and polished a lot of stones, told a lot more jokes. It wasn’t too late until it was.

I wasn’t close to Alejandro, but he was part of my community. I cared about him. I worried about him. I was a friend to his young daughters and their mother too. I hated what was happening to him. I was sad when I found out he was gone from this world.

I hope for Alejandro–as I hope for everyone who dies–that he no longer knows pain, physical or mental. I hope he is at peace.

He will be missed.

 

Knock in the Night

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I’ve been living and traveling alone in my van since the Fall of 2012. I’ve been through at least ten states and have stayed in cities and on public land. On only two occasions has anyone bothered me while I was sleeping. Once it was a cop harassing me (read about that experience here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/09/07/cop-knock/), and the other time–well, I’m still not entirely sure what that was all about.

I was staying at a free National Forest campground in Northern New Mexico. I’d stayed there before. It was basically primitive camping, but there were a couple of pit toilets there. I liked the place, mostly because there was no charge to stay, but also because it was next to a river, lots of tall trees grew there, and the temperature was cool.

I arrived late in the afternoon of the night in question. I’d been selling jewelry and shiny rocks all day. I was tired. I wanted to eat dinner, then crawl into my bed with a book, probably go to sleep early. I was scheduled to sell jewelry and shiny rocks the next day, so I planned to get moving early.

When I’d pulled into the campground, I’d found the most desirable spots close to the pit toilets had been claimed. I looked around until I found a spot to park the van farther out. There was a tent pitched in the general area, but I gave it plenty of space.

I went about my business of cooking and eating dinner. While I was outside, I saw at least one large dog and several young men around the other tent. A small pickup truck arrived, then left. I kept to myself, didn’t try to make conversation, but I noticed it wasn’t a family camping over there. I saw no children, no mother figure, just guys.

When the sky darkened, I got in the van, locked the doors, and closed the curtains. I read my book, then turned out my light. The night was going according to plan.

Suddenly I was jolted awake by knocking on the van’s exterior. It took me a moment to figure out where I was and what was happening. I’m in my van, I remembered. I’m parked next to the river.

The knocking came again.

Who is it? I yelled. Even to my own ears, my voice sounded grumpy and gruff.

The side windows were open to let in the cool night air, so apparently my voice was audible. I didn’t even move a curtain to peek outside, much less open the door.

A male voice outside the van identified itself as one of the neighbor campers. If their vehicle needed a jump start in the morning, would I help them out?

What the fuck? I was thinking. Who knocks on a stranger’s dark van in the middle of the night to ask for a jump start if the situation is not a full-blown emergency? Apparently this guy.

Sure, I told the guy, if you need a jump in the morning, I’ll help you out if I’m around.

I knew good and well that I planned to be out of there early. I’d likely be gone before the sun was up.

The guy seemed to wander away (I wasn’t trying to peep out the windows), but now I was wide awake. (If you’ve ever felt the burst of adrenaline that comes with waking from a deep sleep to the tune of someone knocking on your van, you know it’s not easy to drift off after.) I started wondering what was really going on. Why had the guy really knocked? He must have suspected I was asleep since it was the middle of the night (around 2am when I switched on my light to look at my watch), and there hadn’t been a single light on in the van.

As I lay there wondering if I were safe, wondering if the man would come back, I tried to remember the vehicle situation at the nearby camp. I didn’t remember seeing a vehicle parked near the tent when I arrived. I did remember the small pickup  pulling in, but I was mostly sure it had left. I hadn’t heard another vehicle arrive after dark, but I could have conceivably slept through a car or small truck’s arrival. Could I have slept through the noise of someone discovering a dead battery, discussing the situation with others? Maybe. But I was almost certain the man had asked for my help if the battery were dead. Did he not even know the status of the battery when he asked for my help?

I finally slept again for a few hours more. I woke early, but didn’t get out of the van. When I looked out of the windows, no one seemed to be moving on the other campsite. As I maneuvered my van out of my spot, the van’s engine noise awakened the large dog who barked and barked and barked. I felt satisfaction that perhaps the dogs’ barking would awaken the guy who’d disturbed my slumber.

As I left the camping area, I looked around for a vehicle that belonged to the nearby campsite. I didn’t see any vehicles–not a car, not a truck, not a motorcycle or even a bike. Did a vehicle start and leave sometime after the man knocked on my van? Maybe. But I doubt I would have slept through any noise after the knocking interrupted my sleep and shot adrenaline through my body.

I’ve often wondered what was really going on that night. I don’t think those guys had a vehicle at all, much less one that maybe had a dead battery. As I said before, barring a complete emergency, good manners and common sense dictate that one does not knock on a stranger’s dark van in the middle of the night.

I think the man just wanted to know what I would do if he knocked on my van in the wee hours. Maybe he’d acted alone. Maybe the other man had dared him to knock. Maybe they were drunk. Maybe he was hoping I’d open the door or step of the van so he could what? Rob me? Rape me? Did he just want to know if I’d agree to help? Did the men not want a camping neighbor and were hoping to scare me off?

I suppose I’ll never know what the intentions were that night, but I’m glad there was nothing scarier that night than a knock in the dark.

I took this photo. It is not the river I slept next to the night of this incident, but you get the idea.

I took this photo. It is not the river I slept next to the night of this incident, but you get the idea.