Week Five of a Six Week Series
I need to say more about this feeling of protection or resentment. These terms feel flat—the sentiment is more alive than this, more rooted in resistance and action. So little has been mine in this life and I haven’t felt like I deserved much. But there is sheer magic in this place. I wanted to share it, but I worried about depleting it. New Mexico and the high desert called me out to it during a pivotal time in my life; I have not yet cleared the haze of this transition.
Ojo Caliente was sold out, the road to the monastery where I lit a mourning candle for a living man was washed out, and Taos was on an Alabama Shakes concert timer, about to expand to twice its normal population. But we were able to visit Echo Amphitheatre in Abiquiu, where Elizabeth tested her voice against the concave rock and then retreated into my lap. She went back out, a little louder, a little more brazen, then retreated again, burying her face in my shirt, giggling with the excitement of her own reverberating sound waves. We were also able to spend time with a dear and old friend who lives full time in Taos, works as a botanist, plays the harp, is going to school for software engineering, and helps run Burning Man Radio. Yes, that sort of special and dear friend, of whom I also found myself being protective.
Especially, I needed Elizabeth to know Taos Pueblo. I needed her to feel that place in her bones so that when she was told that civilization started here, in this country, in the 1400’s, she could recall the homes, the river, the dogs, the bread, and the people. She would know what ancient meant and that it existed here, too.
I am starting to believe that I have a right to protect my spaces, my thoughts/emotions, and places where I feel safe. This is a novel concept to me. Historically, anyone who asked was entitled to me and all that was mine.
We dropped Jessica off at the airport after two days in New Mexico. While I was sad to see her go, dropping off my mother and then her a few days later felt like shedding weighted layers of myself. As grateful as I had been to introduce the people I love to new places and experiences, I wanted to get back to the road, my thoughts, and my time with Elizabeth. My shoulders and back unclenched as we drove through the eastern New Mexico desert. As I settled back into my body, the brief moments of silence and calm energy brought my consciousness to a low whir.
We pulled into Tecumcara, NM just before dinner time. The line of historic Route 66 motels stretched down past three traffic lights. We checked into our own historic motel that reminded me of my grandparents and their 1950’s wanderlust with a Chrysler and a pop up camper. Maybe it is in the blood.
Elizabeth and I drove out at dusk to watch the motel signs light up. I pulled off to snap pictures every now and then. I felt like we were part of a lineage of travelers, of American road trippers looking for something they can only find on the interstates.
Back at the room, I pushed against the clock to write my essay, to make sense of the past week. This trip is introspection on crack. The rain came down in torrents as we sat in the mid-century throw back room; lights flickered, then the television went off. The dim glow of my fading laptop was the only light source in the room. I had lost my charger somewhere in the high desert and had less than 30% battery charge. With the power, went the internet. I was racing against a failing clock.
After a few moments, the television clicked back on and warmed up. Elizabeth searched, again, for the Disney channel. And then again. And again. After the fourth time the power went out, we opened the full-length drapes and sat in the teal leather chairs watching the lighting flash and feeling the vibration of heavy rain through our feet. I was anxious to recognize the meaningful leaps in my experiences as the fiber of experience wove its tight cord around me. A few neighbors opened their curtains to share in the spectacle of a desert thunderstorm.
INSERT BEAUTIFUL BAT PICTURE HERE
When we are not conscious of our preconceived notions, do they still inform our experiences? I had some thoughts about Texas. I didn’t remember that I had thoughts about Texas until I complained to my husband and he reminded me of my thoughts about Texas.
So when I sat on the sidewalk outside of a restaurant for 50 minutes waiting for a cab (that would be there in 15!), the thoughts I formed about Texas seemed organic. They were similar to the ones I had waiting for cab to the restaurant, in the intolerable heat, that never came. Thankfully we were able to flag another one down.
As we sat on the sidewalk after dinner, watching the light fade, we knew we were missing everything. Each minute pulled the sun down further. Time turned into a heartbeat, I felt the pulse of each one taking me further and further.
I didn’t tell you that for years I have been waiting to see the urban bat colony under the Congress Avenue Bridge come out at sunset for their nightly hunt.
INSERT ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL BAT PICTURE HERE, PREFERABLY ONE WITH THE PINKS AND PURPLES OF A PROPER SUNSET
I also didn’t tell you that I had researched and coordinated this part of the trip so that we would be in Austin when 1.5 million bats would be roosting under the bridge, with their babies, who were at the age when the nightly flight would be filled with mother and father bats giving flying lessons to their young.
INSERT PICTURE OF WOBBLY BABY BAT STRETCHING ITS WINGS IN MID-SWOOP
I had big plans to bring you these photos. Elizabeth shared in my outrage, constantly dialing up the drama until I began to feel ridiculous for being on the verge of tears over bats.
“You dreamed for years to see these bats, Mom, and this city stole that dream from you.” I was grateful that she took on the hyperbole for both of us. Me, Austin, the Yellow Cab Company, and the Austin Cab company have all failed one another and therefore failed you, dear reader and photo-gazer. I am sorry. And if the rest aren’t, I will make them sorry.
I woke up early, packed us, jammed everything, haphazardly into the car and hauled ass out of town, out of Texas, and away from the sting of my own disappointment. But Texas wouldn’t let go. We had already driven for days, we drove and drove and couldn’t get out of the state. I do not know what Texas represents to me—I think death penalty, I think Bush family, I think intolerance, I think opulence, I think cattle and slaughter. But these are all easy, what is it about this state that made me want to flee it? What is it about my own condition that I see reflected in this geographical spot? Hours later, as we approached Beaumont and I felt the air change, I began to see signs of brackish life. I knew Louisiana was close.
Like I said, introspection on crack.
As we crossed the border into Louisiana, I felt the familiar air and saw the same colors of a coastal sunset that I had grown up with. Cranes glided over the water and the cordgrass stood tall against the constant breeze off of the gulf.
There must be some significance to the fact that I felt nearer to home. It could be reduced to mere memory, but the feeling it elicited is one I would like to return to—because the feeling itself was like a returning. I am brackish. I am neither one thing entirely, nor another. I am a flood plain, a sponge, I am a protective barrier against the force of oceans. I have held its water in my lungs. I still hold the ocean of memory under my breath.