|Depot, Santa Fe|
The Desert Has Come to Define Me
I am writing this in what I consider New Mexico’s fifth season--wind. Not the easiest time (the winds have been clocked at more than 50 miles per hour!), but the period of each year in which we learn to cling to the ground--and the time to desire spring, which emerges, teasingly, through the density of air.
I was born in New York, and spent a couple of decades along the East Coast before moving to San Francisco in search of warmer weather and less slush, but also something I couldn’t have identified. I was excited by the possibilities there. In the end, though, I only stayed a few years.
In a typical getting-to-New Mexico story, we (me and my husband-to-be) drove the main (two-lane) street into Santa Fe, and decided to stay. We bought our house nine days later, the first and only house we’ve ever owned. For those interim days, we camped in the forest. It was summer, and we spent each afternoon entranced by thunderstorms. Rain poured down in a flash of light and sound. I was amazed that the ground ignored that moisture coming down, that it remained dry.
I learned a lot those first few years, acclimating to being in the basin of higher mountains, to being at 7,000 feet. I hadn’t expected snow – or cold weather. Or less than 7 inches of precipitation all year. The sun shone nearly constantly. When it finally set, temperatures dropped 40 degrees and a long chill fell across the quiet land.
That house purchase was 17 years ago, and we’re still in the same sweet home in a rural, farming village just outside of Santa Fe. I have watched flash floods and helped to build drainage ditches to accommodate. I have seen our arroyo run dry. I have climbed nearby mountains, thinking the edge was close, that the sky was tangled in tree branches just past the crest. Anywhere I journey around the state, the dignified blue sky is always in full focus. The land is never barren, but rarely showy. And every night, stars are planted in the rich dark sky. It is as if the universe is all visible then, a masterpiece of small lights.
Though I was once accustomed to urban sounds, I’ve developed a familiarity and a comfort with more personal noises: the doleful cries of mourning doves in first light, a family of quail bobbing in a straight line past the junipers, coyote howls serrating the air at dusk, the dry silence of rattlesnakes and jackrabbits. Living here is like living in a beautiful box of time that opens out hundreds of years, and exists, somehow simultaneously, in an enclosed moment around me.
The desert has come to define me - its long shadows, the heady fragrance left after rain, the wily stalks that grow without nutrients. Everything here is unmasked, on the surface, impossible, but even so, the terrain and culture continue to expand, to offer, to glow. I live with the principles of dirt intermixed with the sparks and whispers of history.
It is for these many mysteries that I remain. Somehow, in my poems, I think I can grab onto and contain these things, then find they blow away. Each time--stubborn and determined, or comfortably naïve--I am willing to chase after them again.
--Lauren Camp, Santa Fe, March 2012
Lauren Camp is the author of the poetry collection This Business of Wisdom (West End Press), and she is the host/producer of “Audio Saucepan,” a weekly music/poetry show on KSFR-FM. She is also a visual artist. Lauren blogs about poetry and its intersections with art and music at Which Silk Shirt. She lives in a rural farming village near Santa Fe. www.laurencamp.com