Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Not Much to Blog About

Not much to blog about today. Last night the entire western sky from my perch above Taos was a blanket of smoke and haze. The sun never set. It disappeared in mid-afternoon somewhere behind the gray. Today, though, dawn light fairy-like crept across the crests of mountain peaks and bathed the valley below in gold, under a clear blue sky. What happened to the smoke? I don't know.

Smoke Rises Above Los Alamos
The Las Conchas fire continues to rage outside Los Alamos. The city is abandoned. Federal officials say the radioactive waste stored in steel drums at the laboratory is safe. Not everyone is so sure. Some fear heat from the fire could explode the drums sending radioactive waste and vapors skyward in the plume of smoke and distributing particles as far as Santa Fe.

My main job today is to get the house I am house sitting cleaned up and ready for the owner, who returns tonight. Then probably Friday morning I leave for Truth of Consequences. I'm finding it tough to travel without Bus Companion but am getting used to it. The RV blogger community helps. It's mostly the sharing of things that I'm missing. Morning coffee alone is not the same as morning coffee with a friend, watching a sunrise or a sunset and not being able to turn to someone and smile hurts.

We are all tall trees when
we let ourselves grow. 
But I am not feeling sorry for myself. More and more travel is a metaphor for life. We learn much even in loss. Compassion. The transitory nature of things. It is hurt and loss that sweeten and sharpen the senses. New experiences and discoveries rewaken them.

And then there is the daily miracle. When I turn the key and electricity flows to the starter, the engine springs to life, the bus rolls down the highway and wind from the open window blows my hair ... ah, bon!


Monday, June 27, 2011

Taos Day 17 — Drought, Fires and Drums

Yesterday I broke out of my isolation here in Taos and drove the beautiful, mountainous road to Santa Fe and church services at Santa Fe Unity. There I caught up with my old friend, Jude Byrne. Jude moved to Santa Fe a few years ago after a career in advertising, the latter part of it in Miami.

Jude Byrne
She is now exploring television and hosting a show on spirituality on, a fledgling Internet start-up. But Sunday was more than  traditional church services.

After the formal services, Jude led a drumming ceremony inside a large medicine wheel built a year ago behind the church -- to drum for rain. New Mexico, and especially the Santa Fe-Taos area, is in the grip of one of the worst droughts ever. No rain for three months.

Cisterns are running dry and wildlife is threatened. The semi-desert pine forests are tinder.

Fire seen above Los Alamos
A fire, the Las Conchas fire, threatens Los Alamos 35 miles away and is forcing evacuation of the National Laboratory there, northern New Mexico's largest employer.

A medicine wheel, sometimes called hoop, is a native American tradition dating back thousands of years. It consists of a circle of stones with the four cardinal points marked by larger stones or openings. There is usually a fire pit in the center. Ceremonies take place within the circle.

Prayers for rain
Yesterday, 18 drummers including Jude and I joined in the circle. We spread corn meal on the soil and then began drumming.  Cacophony at first but then the drummers settled into rhythms with each other. A few of the drummers danced.

It lasted about 10 minutes. Prayers and blessings were said for rain. Then the drummers filed out, stacked their drums and left.

Stacked drums at the circle
Jude and I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up.  We ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant. Jude spends her time between Santa Fe and New York, where the TV studio is located. She has been studying native America traditions here and working with the Ehama Instititute in nearby Abiquiu.

As we talked the wind picked up. It became so strong that it lifted large umbrellas from the tables. Large, dusty plumes of smoke rose in the sky from the Los Alamos fire, making my eyes sting. By evening the western skies were dark with smoke -- but still no trace of wished for rain clouds.

It was good to get out. To see people. To do things. Here is what the smoke in the distance looked like late yesterday afternoon just outside Santa Fe.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Taos Day 15 — Coyotes

Two coyotes caught my eye as they dashed by my window this morning -- sleek and brown and powerful, and most of all deadly quick.  They did not walk the way dogs walk, at an amble. They weren't out to smell the roses but to catch the rabbits.

Western Coyote -- stock photo
They circled the house not once but several times, maybe looking for the chickens, and then disappeared up a hill and into a pine forest as quickly as they came.

I had been wakened two nights before sleeping in my bus by a chorus of howls and yips, seemingly in all directions. I sat up and listened. And as I listened I saw it -- a bright last-quarter-moon rising over a mountain and transforming the world below to a playground of ghostly shapes and dim shadows where moments before there had been darkness.

I listened some more but  the coyotes were still. Perhaps wakened to the moonlight hunt they were now going about it with silent speed and deadly purpose.   JNR

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Taos Day 11 — Unremitting Beauty

Sparse scrub growth and dusty roads and trails
Days roll into one another like sequential motion picture frames. No two quite the same but the differences so slight it hardly matters. Distant mountains 60 miles away lie like purple shadows on the horizon. Rabbits scurry out from under sparse scrub. Soft dirt yields prints of tires, running shoes, boots, birds, coyotes, elk, dogs and deer, all stepping on each other's tracks.

Time is drawing to a close here, another five or six days, maybe, and the house sitting is over.  Yet I am thinking of staying in the area for a while, finding an RV park, a camp ground or renting a room. It's time to meet people, resume more normal life and put perspective on events of the past year. There are some really fine folks here, as there are everywhere, and being on the road too long can grow wearisome.

House sitting means cat sitting
If Taos/Santa Fe doesn't work I'll likely head south to Truth or Consequences. Albuquerque is too big, and most of the towns between too small. TorC with its hot springs, laid-back life and small town feel is closer to home. As they say in TorC:  "We're all here because we're not all there."

Another option -- further west to California, up the coast, visit friends and family, on to Oregon and Washington, maybe Canada and Alaska.  So much to do. So few years left in which to do it.   JNR

Friday, June 17, 2011

Taos Day 7 — The Electric Universe

Wednesday was hot. Inside the Taos public library two dozen members of the Taos Noetic Sciences Community gathered to nibble cookies, sip coffee and watch a 78-minute DVD - Thunderbolts of the Gods (the link gets you to part 1 of 7 on YouTube).

If all life is a journey, then the journey of the mind and spirit is the greatest of it all. Watch these videos and feel your mind stretched to conceive of an electric universe far different from the gravitational model espoused  by science today.
                                                  * * * * *
This morning I struck out along the dirt road that wends its way up the mountain behind me toward the Lama Foundation, a spiritual community established in 1967.  It is not Buddhist, or any single religion.  I walked about 45 minutes in hot, dry air, but not having water with me I turned back.

It is up this way that Kit Carson roamed early as a trapper, and returned time and again. He is buried here and there is a Kit Carson museum in Taos. The surrounding national forest is named for him, as is Carson City, Nevada, capital of that state.   JNR

Monday, June 13, 2011

Taos Day 3 — Off The Grid

Taos is proving a good place for me.  The days are warm, the sun hot, the nights  cool. Last night it was 46 degrees in Taos and probably cooler here some 14 miles further north and 1,500 feet higher where I am camped in a sparse area of cactus, scrub grass and pines just starting to make a comeback after a forest fire a few years ago. There there are elk, bear, rabbits, deer, foxes, raccoon and coyotes, although where they get their water is a mystery.  I have not seen elk even though their droppings are everywhere — like deer pellets but much bigger. There is also a Buddhist monastery a few miles up a trail I plan to visit soon.

Although I am house sitting, I am working and sleeping mostly in my bus. Last night I slept very well, waking only to add a blanket.

My host does not leave until Wednesday. She is kind and spiritual with great intellect and silent compassion.  It is another stroke of luck or fate that landed me here after the loss of bus companion.  The desert is a place for peace and healing.
I should mention the stars.  There is no ambient city light out here.  The desert air is clear and dry.  When the moon sets, the thousands of stars in the sky become millions, and through the center of it all the Milky Way runs like a faint and glowing distant highway of the gods.    JNR

Desert skeletal tree.
Casa Tolteca:  off the grid and under the sun.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Taos, New Mexico

The trip across Texas is a blur.  Three nights at truck stops, 100-degree heat in  the day. By Wednesday night I had made it to Clovis.   On Thursday, to Santa Fe.  In  the evening I began the drive to Taos, up some mightily steep hills, and not knowing where I would be sleeping that night.

The Pilar Campsite in the Orilla Verde Recreation Area at dawn
Then some great luck.  Fifteen miles from Taos I found the Orilla Verde Recreational Area, run by BLM, on the Rio Grande. There I stopped and stayed -- my first open air, under the stars, coolish night, great all around camping moment since leaving College Station.  And reasonable too:  $7 for a developed site with water ($5 for a primitive site, $15 for RV hook-ups).

The next morning I woke early and hiked the trails. Then after a hearty lunch and conversation with other van dwellers, I drove on into Taos,  and from Taos north to Kit Carson Forest, where as night falls and the sun sets behind whatever the heck those mountains are in the west, I am house-sitting for an old family friend, who is really off the grid.  All power her comes from solar panels.

The Rio Grande at Orilla Verde Recreation Area
All her water from rain collected off the roof.
Wild life, especially the coyote, abounds.  Yet it does not seem desolate, as though the earth around is friendly to the core, which no doubt it is.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Go West, Old Man, Go West

My thanks to everyone who commented on the previous posts, and to the many more who sent emails.  They all are deeply appreciated and they all help.  Thank you.

Morning Shadows

Now it is time to let Bus Companion rest and to strike out on new adventures.

I am heading west toward Taos, NM, where I will be house sitting in a remote area of Kit Carson forest for a week or so.  After that I will have to draw up new plans, but for now it will be good just to have some peace and quiet and time for reflection for everything that has happened.

It has been almost too hot to drive.  Driving an old air-cooled VW bus in extreme heat puts the engine, especially valve seats, at risk.  So I'm just driving a few hours in the mornings and evenings.

But that makes it easy to go slow and take in the long expanses of rolling Texas land and the small towns that are just names on the map but have their own special character when you drive through.    JNR

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Miranda Constance Smith

Miranda Constance Smith,  Bus Companion, passed away  last night, leaving a wealth of goodness and love  in her 67 years on this planet.

Model, actress, activist and an organizing force in Greenpeace, author of  a dozen books on gardening, pioneer in rooftop gardening, a leader in organic farming, scholar of Chinese healing, and so much more, she was a positive force in a sometimes cloudy world.  Wherever she went she was at home.  She loved travel and living in sunshine. Selfishly, she made me very happy.  I sorely miss her.

She leaves behind two amazing children, Simone Lepage and Tagore Smith, for whom she showed the way and to whom she was devoted.

The world is a better place for her being in at.  An extraordinary human being.

See also  Bus Companion -- A beautiful Life.

Her daughter, Simone LePage, has also written about her extraordinary parent. See lessons on life, love & loss from my mother.

Badlands 2010.

Casting a lingering shadow still

Miranda Constance Smith — 6/19/1944 — 6/3/2011.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Bus Companion — A Beautiful Life

As I write this post a very beautiful life is drawing to a close -- my Bus Companion, aka Miranda Smith, who spent much of last year living and traveling with me.  She is and will always be a true free spirit, a child of the universe, who gave so much and did so much that any obituary listing her accomplishments would fill a quarter page of the New York Times.

 But it is not and was not her accomplishments but her ability to love -- to love people, places, things, the planet -- that made her so special and that will make her so missed by so many. For me, she made a small vehicle with curtains and a few pots and pans a home beyond dream and measure.

For her children -- Simone and Tagore -- she showed the way.  For hundreds of friends she was an inspiration and a joy.  Now she is going over a bridge that we cannot cross.

I will be on the road again shortly.  But without her.  I do not know what that will be like, but I will keep you posted.   JNR