Sage wisdom, mother sage, endless sage as far as the eye can see. Our host in Taos mentioned coming upon a place in the desert after an intense storm where hailstones busted and bombarded the sage, releasing its essential oils into the air. It was a smudge without smoke - the land anointed holy in the newly washed air.
Vistas are abrupt. Light hits the desert like there’s nothing to slow it down. The air is sharp and empty. Colors are soft yet each object defines itself and casts its own shadow. Red pyramids of buttes emerge then disappear as we travel along I-25. Earthen forms rise and fall, rise and fall - the land breathes. To the east a bank of clouds peel off the Los Pinos Mountains leaving a dusting of snow in their wake.
In Taos at night the smell of pinon pine and creosote bush prevails. These smells are the consciousness of the desert. If you like it here you can stay, but it will change you. It will slow you down and give you an appetite for the siesta. It will make you hunger for green chilies, corn and tequila. Your eyesight will sharpen and your breath will deepen. It will make you care less about driving nice cars and wearing new clothes. It will cause you to look at strangers with kindness and offer them your water and offer to carry their burden for a time on the trail. It is a place where egos die.
Two nights ago on the way to Las Cruces we visited the town of Truth or Consequences and bathed in the mineral hot springs. Our stone pool was set into the banks above the Rio Grande. A half moon reflected in the ripples of the chalky water, and the sound of small waterfalls around us defined the silence of the night. Occasionally a wind would rise, stirring the cottonwoods and the tall grasses. Some distance across the river stood the outline of a mesa. Vague forms of sagebrush dotted its flank. Sue said the view reminded her of a third world country for the lack of man-made light.
In 1950, Ralph Edwards, the host of a popular NBC radio quiz show Truth or Consequences, announced that he would air the program from the first town that renamed itself after the show. Hot Springs, NM won the honor. And for the 10th Anniversary Truth or Consequences radio show, some 10,000 people descended upon this speck of a town to celebrate its new celebrity.
Now, T or C, as the locals call it, is faded and frayed. There simply are not enough jobs to sustain the luster of its glory days. The hot springs pull in just enough people to keep the town viable. Even in the daylight it does look a little bit like a third world country. Like a lot of these western towns that were built when times were good and the land was fat. Folks woke up one morning and found the party was over, and the money was gone. The pendulum swung back and the desert returned. Now there’s a kind of equilibrium, a truce between the desert and this western town: nothing more gets built and what’s there gets maintained as needed.
It seems to me that when folks tread lightly upon the earth, the earth treads lightly upon the people. Like I said, If you like it here you can stay, but it will change you.