New Mexico · USA
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Earlier during the first of two mini family reunions in New Mexico, one of Ashley's aunts who’s well-acquainted with our love of the natural world suggested we check out the short trail at Tent Rocks, a notion we sort of secretly (and ashamedly) shrugged off as a local’s pat recommendation for a couple of casual visitors. Instead we’d already planned a significantly longer second hike for ourselves, ambition trumping open-mindedness and burgeoning with prospects of taking a soak in some natural hot springs. As it turned out, catching up on sleep ended up trumping everything else on that day, and we found ourselves lazily rousing from our slumbers with noon fast upon us before we could wipe the grogginess from our eyes. So we nixed the longer hike and resigned ourselves to Tent Rocks--the New Mexican equivalent of Multnomah Falls and a serious hiker’s consolation prize at best, we figured. We couldn’t have been happier to be wrong.
After a beautiful drive through the expansive high desert beneath azure skies festooned with cirrostratus and -cumulus clouds, we found ourselves at the threshold of a completely alien landscape: Beige striated cliffs topped with massive boulders perched on ridiculously narrow cones of pumice and tuff rose up defiantly from an arid landscape pockmarked with shrub oak, yellow-flowered chamisa, and high-desert standbys of banana yucca, cholla, and prickly pear.
The laziness of our slow awakening seemed to carry over into our hike and synergize with a mile-high sense of breathlessness, and I found myself having to expend far more energy than usual just to spur my legs to some semblance of coordinated forward movement. Noting my apparent weariness and ever ready to state things that are painfully obvious to everyone but me, Ashley reminded me that I hadn’t really eaten anything yet that day, and indeed the vitality seemed to rebuild brick by brick with each delicious bite of my protein bar. With one basic need addressed, we set our sights on the slot canyon trail in the hopes of slaking another...
The slot canyon traverse itself couldn’t have been more than a few tenths of mile, but it seemed to ensnare us in a suspended state utterly devoid of distance and time. There was only a sense of dissolution into space and just the most primordial perception of form, light, and texture. Only the whipping winds and flying grains of sand striking our exposed skin at high velocity reminded us of our corporeal existence. Pastel volcanic rock strata of varying thicknesses undulated this way and that, by turns serendipitous and even chaotic at a strophic level, but unequivocally poetic in its summation.
What struck me most, though, was the expansiveness of being that came over me--a completely counterintuitive notion standing there surrounded on all sides by sheer rock walls. Despite the limited real estate, however, there was never any real sense of feeling pinched or squeezed even as the actual situation would have testified to that physical reality. Where confinement and claustrophobia should have prevailed there was instead liberating freedom and spaciousness, vast in its expanse...a paradox far more amenable to appreciation through experience rather than explanation. A deep calmness swept over me, and I came to further understand on some elementary level the deep spiritual and organic connectedness the native peoples felt and still feel today with this otherworldly land. If you ever get the chance to go, go.
As it is, we are both now back in our respective homes, back working in our respective hospitals, back doing our jobs to make ends meet and, hopefully, effect some positive difference in the lives of those in need. But despite all this, I know also that we are still there, back in that slot canyon, marveling at the wonder of its history and geology, thoroughly lost in one sense and fundamentally found in another. In a very true way, we didn't so much enter the canyon as the canyon took us in, subsuming and deconstructing us before finally, somewhere in the midst of that indefinable space, regenerating us from sinew to soul.
And so I’d be terribly remiss not to extend my sincerest apologies to Aunt Veronica: Please forgive us our completely unintended slight, and let our naïveté neither diminish nor obscure our deep respect and heartfelt gratitude...to you and to your amazing land known as New Mexico.
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The above is excerpted from my full blog entry journaling our trip to New Mexico.