I think of them as "rain in the desert" experiences, those moments of refreshment and ease that come to you out of the blue and green you up again. Some dear friends visited from Denver over the weekend, and suddenly I understood vines, sending up inches of bright new growth overnight after a rain. With the friends came another small refreshment: the thought of a job in Denver, with the best colleague possible. The details turned out not to be workable, but for a couple of days I was considering leaving Albuquerque for my home town.
|Elena Gallegos Open Space Park, Albuquerque|
Mixed in with the hopeful excitement of opportunity, though, was a level of regret that surprised me, a fierce ache at the thought of leaving this landscape. I had thought that I just loved it as I do the west in general, and that in my heart New Mexico was more or less interchangeable with Colorado, only with less snow. It isn't. It has its own place, and to leave it, no matter for what other gains, would also be a loss.
Colorado... I do still miss it sometimes. Compared to New Mexico, it has such an easy beauty, both more spectacular and more...traditional. The Rockies there are higher and craggier, not like the comparatively rag-tag (sorry, New Mexico!) mountains here at the tail end of the range. After high-desert aridity, the semi-aridity to the north seems lush and green. New Mexico, on the other hand, can be harsh and (even more) prickly, inhospitable and, outside the mountains, endlessly brown. Its spectacular places are more odd and twisted (though that's part of their fascination). The less spectacular places demand a lot of you. You have to work harder, look closer, engage further, to love them for what they are.
Which just makes the rewards all the sweeter when they come.
|Yucca glauca (I'm pretty sure)|
The day before my friends arrived, I had taken a vacation day to mosey around in one of my favorite places, Elena Gallegos Open Space Park, in the foothills at the eastern edge of town. I'd never been there before when the yucca was in bloom. Yucca grows all sorts of places, from Iowa to Texas to Alberta. It grows in Colorado; it's hardly unique to New Mexico. Somehow it comes across differently here, though, more as a burst of frivolity than as a sign that you've reached "here be dragons" country and are about to get stuck by sharp leaves. In New Mexico you already know you'll have dragons (or similar) to deal with, and may well have already been stuck by a prickly pear or cholla (or similar), so the beauty of yucca in bloom is pure bonus, a grace, an unexpected gift in a dry land, from the deep color of the unopened flowers:
to the way they pale as they open, and let the creamy inner petals show through:
to their unexpectedly delicate stippling.
Other things were blooming, too—white New Mexico evening primroses (except that it was morning), tiny daisies, spiky blue penstemons, all pleasant surprises as you round a bend in the path and find a new patch of bloom amid the dry grasses.
|Claret cup hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) (I think), one day too soon|
Musicologist Donald Tovey used to riff on the idea of purple prose by talking about "purple patches" in music: moments of lush harmony or texture or orchestration that interrupt a more straightforward context. They're the moments you remember after the concert, or that you rewind and replay over and over at home, the ones that melt you into your seat.
New Mexico is thrifty—stingy—with many things but generous with its purple patches. Sometimes you grow weary of dust and wind and sunshine so bright that it hurts and hard-scrabble poverty everywhere you turn, but if your eyes are open, somewhere around a bend in the path a moment of beauty will be waiting to take your breath away. I find those moments extra-moving here, in this harsh, prickly, inhospitable desert. They command intense loyalty, because they ease such deep thirst.
Small graces, like rain for the soul: the visit of friends, an inkling of change. A stand of yucca in bloom. A sprinkling of daisies.
A purple patch, brightening the way home.