January 18-19, 2015
Mountains ... and the Light on Them
It’s hard to look away from mountains. Moment by moment the sun’s movement transforms them, imperceptibly but constantly changing their color and shading and the amount of detail visible to the human eye. When we are in the car, driving, with our own movement added to that of the sun, the changes come faster, and the mountains seem to move and shift position, coming at us first from one direction and then from another, as David always says of the Manitou Islands back home in Leelanau County, Michigan, and as young Marcel noted of the steeple of the church in Combray as the train bringing his family from Paris approached his grandparents’ village by its circuitous route, and as my friend Helen said of the little town of Jerome, Arizona, as we approached or drew more distant from it on the highway.
|Los Dos Cabezas|
|From another direction -- una cabeza!|
Yet, despite constant changes, mountains are such an ever-present reality they seem to partake of the eternal. Even at night, under a dark sky lit only by stars, one is aware that the mountains are nearby, and one trusts that they will remain at an appropriate distance and not suddenly take it in mind to fall upon the house. In the first pale light of morning, there they are, dark and massive and unmoving; however, we know that eternal though they seem, we know they were not always as they are now. Millions of years ago, some were active volcanoes, while others are old earth crust, higher than the valleys and playas owing to an age-old tearing-apart of the cooling land.
At least, I think that’s right, but we need to learn the geology of this foreign land – that is, this land where we are the aliens – as well as its plant and bird life. Outside Las Cruces, New Mexico, with Sarah on her morning promenade, I could not give a name to a single plant I saw. A couple of doves were a great relief: something familiar! Was that only two days ago?
This morning, Monday, January 19, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I was up with the first pale light, impatient for day. Two cups of coffee and a little reading at the kitchen table. Then at 7:30 a.m. the sun broke over the top of a dip in the mountains to the southeast. To the north and northwest, the sky at the horizon and in the dip where Venus appeared in the evening was banded in rose, lavender, and deep blue, but in less than ten minutes, the whole cloudless sky in every direction is bright daylight. Morning light comes on fast, as does darkness at the end of the day. The sky is nearly always cloudless. What will rain be like when it comes, water rushing down the wash?
Doves are calling, and across the road and down a way, a rooster crows.
On another desert walk with Sarah on Sunday, I saw a dead scorpion. Going back with a dustpan – it would be an interesting subject for a drawing – I failed to find it again (and yes, I’m sure it was dead) but did find something utterly unexpected which I’ll call “desert glass.” You know what we call “beach glass” in Michigan? Those pieces that have been tumbled by waves on the sand for so long that they have been worn smooth and cloudy and look like translucent quartz? Here in the desert, without wave action 24 hours a day, rain only rarely rushing through the washes and draws, clearly it will take much longer to smooth and roughen these bits of colored glass I found, but the process has begun, and once I started picking up bits it was hard to stop.
At night we continue with our audio “reading” of A Cook’s Tour, and after we listen our way through a few more countries (a bit disorienting the way Bourdain hops from one to another, in no particular order, and very little in the way of segue between one and the next), I turn on my bedside lamp and go on with Gene Stratton-Porter’s Girl of the Limberlost. Strange reading that, too – fields and woods and swamps! Very far from the landscape presently outside our doors!
Writing, Drawing, Painting
None yet, except for lists, letters, and this blog post I’ll get online Tuesday, when the library re-opens after the holiday. It will take time for us to settle into a routine. We need to get to the post office, the library, the laundromat. We are hoping and praying the refrigerator and freezer come up to speed. But already I am happy with our winter base in the high desert. I like the quiet of it, the harsh simplicity, the relentless sun, and the peaceful absence of so much of the modern world’s chatter.