or The Top of the Pass
Just at the halfway point between my home in Albuquerque and my parents' in Denver, Raton Pass snakes its way over the edge of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The summit of the pass marks the state line, with New Mexico to the south, Colorado to the north. As with most mountain passes, while you climb it you can't see much except the pine trees around you and the road winding before you. You might catch a glimpse of a vista out to the sides now and then, but the road is your only guide to what lies ahead—the ascent is a little too steep for you to see anything else but mountainside.
Raton isn't one of the West's most attractive passes—in fact, as a child I disliked it because it was too "disorganized" (and I don't think I was a particularly well-organized child)—but since moving to New Mexico I've learned to love it. No matter how many times you've driven it, no matter how well you know what's coming up, the moment when you crest the hill and can see across into Colorado, with the Spanish Peaks towering before you, is one of delightful, breathtaking surprise. The summit marks such a clear divide—for a moment, in the rear view mirror you can see the high, grassy plains of northeastern New Mexico stretched out behind you, pale golden-green fading into blue at the horizon; in front of you rise the Colorado Rockies with all their buttresses and crenellations. Then gravity catches you again, and when it pulls you down the Colorado side of the pass, you're in another world.
For some reason, this past year I've become fascinated with cusps—tipping points, verges—those moments of balance, of poise, between one thing and another, when suddenly you reach the top of a pass and can see all around you, when for the space of a breath you feel as if you're free of the pull of gravity.
With the equinox just around the next bend, we'll soon have reached one of the year's most important cusps; we'll be crossing the Great Divide between sleep and wakening, cold and warmth, dark and light. But in the long, leisurely New Mexico turning of seasons, we have many smaller divides to cross as well, each with its moment of balance, its pause at the crest of the hill. The crocuses have already passed the summit; the tulips are still in the ascent. The sand cherries are right on the cusp, poised, taking that deep breath before momentum pulls them forward into a bright, new world.
In the rear view mirror, you can still see winter, fading into the horizon.