Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Little Hot Air

or A Study in Contrasts

There is a stretch of highway between Vaughn and Roswell, New Mexico, where you do not see a human habitation for about 75 miles.  The dirt-road entrance to a ranch or two, sure; some water tanks with a herd of Black Angus and maybe a longhorn or so grazing nearby; and at the little outpost of Mesa, a defunct gas station; but nothing else.  (The outpost of Mesa consists entirely of the defunct gas station and a sign that says, "Mesa.")  The land is flat and treeless, with mile after mile of needlegrass and cholla and prickly poppies.  Larks linger at the side of the road and flutter up like dust as you drive past.  You can see the curvature of the earth in all directions; the sky is a stronger feature of the landscape than the actual landscape.  It is an empty land, one that people usually drive through as fast as possible.  I love it.  It is a place where I feel like I can breathe, where the relief of not being closed in by buildings or walls or trees is absolute.  (I begin to suspect that I am mildly claustrophobic.)

Between enclosure and confinement lies a very fine line. The line moves unexpectedly sometimes, but fortunately, my garden usually sits on the right side of it.  Surrounded by walls, the garden offers privacy but also (if you look through the right place between buildings) a view of the Sandia Mountains, downtown Albuquerque (through a different notch between buildings), and of course, that gorgeous New Mexico sky (straight up, all you could possibly want).    It is a safe and pleasant place, a nested place, where beautiful rituals of home are enacted:  morning coffee on the patio, the New York Times crossword puzzle, the daily tending of the container plants, the leisurely amble around the path just to look at things, the leisurely amble in the other direction just to look at things a different way.

With the International Balloon Fiesta fast approaching, the walls of privacy are for the moment broken down.  Albuquerque is one of the world's best places for hot air ballooning, so we see balloonists off and on all year; in the days leading up to the Fiesta that begins this weekend, however, they all come out to play at once.  The most popular flying route is along the Rio Grande, and my home is just close enough to the river that some of the strays who want a more urban ballooning experience (?) go overhead.  (And for some reason nothing makes you aware that you're still in your bathrobe like having a balloon crew sail past within shouting distance.)

The garden rituals take on a different tone; an awareness of the outside world punctuates the sense of small and familiar things.  I wander around the path (in one direction or another) inspecting a leaf here and there (the tips of the sand cherries turning red), a late blossom (feverfew leaning to reach the sunshine), an empty pot (the spider web still stretched inside it, a leaf suspended in mid-air), new growth (ipheion, already putting out leaves for spring), a loss (the Mt. Atlas daisies gone).  And in the midst of all this beautiful downward glancing (shattering a seedhead in passing), the puff of fire above, the exhale of propane burners holding a hot-air balloon aloft (a mildly asthmatic dragon come to call), a boat with a jester's-motley sail, an entire silent carnival floating past, hinting of adventure and discovery and birds-eye views and going yonder, yonder, yonder.

Despite the previous sentence I wouldn't exactly say that I go dreamy-eyed about balloons—not enough to hanker after any of the stained glass or painted silk or dried gourd replicas of them that fill the shops in Old Town this time of year (and that make an odd counterpoint to the Pueblo pottery, silver, and turquoise in the shop windows beside them).  But seeing them from the garden makes my heart leap; the contrast between groundedness and flight, between nestedness and adventure, is so striking.  There is a bittersweetness to the contrast that is beautiful in itself, and that reminds me somehow of that morning coffee—intense and strong and invigorating on a cool September morning of primary colors, of pure, shining tones, when sunshine feels good again and the wind is fresh, and home and adventure, space and enclosure, both beckon with equal pleasure.

But oh, the yonder sounds like fun.


  1. I'll pass on the coffee, but today we had pear and lemon juice, for your bittersweet. Went to a 'place' called Union's End up in the corner between South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Nothing there, but a board with the story!

  2. Stopping by thank you for visiting Happy Snappy, Those hot air balloons are gorgeous! Autumn greetings from Finland and Scotland!

  3. EE—pear and lemon juice! That sounds intriguing—I'm going to have to try it. The board with a story sounds anti-climactic, to say the least. Not a rewarding destination!

    Greetings to you as well, Jaana and Kia! I always enjoy your similar-yet-different perspectives on a theme.

    Thanks, klbrowser!