It’s one of my best favorite seasons come round again, Hawkwatch season. The one where once upon a time, I dropped off the grid by elected circumstance rather than philosophical disposition, cutting my teeth as an educator and falling irreversibly in love with New Mexico. I imagine some of you know what I mean.
That late summer and early fall season was one where I passed my days with bird counters and hawk trappers, interpreting that work and showing off the catches to varied groups of visitors. Other days, we simply sat and watched the skies from morning ‘til dusk. Evenings were a time of practicing my most communal group living to date; round a campfire, cooking on a gas stove, keeping food locked up from bears, sleeping in my own tent with more and more layers as the evenings sank towards freezing.
The star strewn nights held easy silences and boisterous conversations, in turns. Instruments were brought out to play, dogs watched the night. Occasional drunken minstrel plays were enacted as we skipped down trails and ended up resting in eagle catchin’ pits like it was just that easy to imagine how it used to be way back before. Pure magic, more or less.
Some mornings, we would wake up above the cloud line and walk a tightrope sensation out to our viewing station. Most days, from the Observation point we trained our eyes north and wide, but mine did drift along the horizon, forward to the twin peaks and west, the distant Rio Grande. We were waiting on birds, practicing Spanish, wondering if we’d have visitors of any species, talking gentle trash. I was twenty three years old and wondering if this was grown up life, for real.
On my day off, I would hike down into the valleys to be with wildflowers near creeks or up in to the higher elevations to touch aspen bark, stand under golden strewn boughs. ‘Course one such day was the same one that 200 odd Swainson’s Hawks passed by or, in other words, something noteworthy happened and I was dancing alone on another peak.
This was my home when September 11th of the year 2001 came upon us. We only happened to hear about it that same day, we did not have that constant web of contact like we do today. But, someone had called home from our shared cell phone and then, of course, we all knew. I climbed up to the fire watch tower of Capilla Peak, our lone cell signal spot to call home, New York, and so did others with a similar geographical connection. Gratefully, our people were fine.
That evening, as we made our way back to camp and the sky took on the colors of sunset, we were arrested by the sound and then the sight of hundreds of songbirds swirling up a vortex within and above a fold in the canyon. We watched them in silence and prayed that this was indeed a sign of hope and of healing for all that had been shattered that day. It had to be or how to walk on?
Later, after dinner and around the fire, we sat. Taking turns holding the hand-cranked radio, listening to NPR. We did not say much that night and the silence between newscasters, between us felt full of portent. I remember likening, aloud, the pause between words as that moment when the bong is passed and folks have moved beyond words. Levity, I turn to you in times of stress.
Well meaning people drove up to visit and brought to us copies of the New York Times. I would avert my eyes, but always too late. To be at such a remove and then to see so much…too much.
It speaks to the rhythm of my days and months that I have lived here in Santa Fe for going on three years and have not yet made the journey back, not yet walked that land again and shown it’s wonders to my boys, to my man, nor heard the wind roar up and over the mountains like ocean waves in the night, smelled the warm pine needles basking in the sun, a smell I have carried with me since those days.
Next weekend, I aim to form myself into an arrow of intention, dodging any curve balls and head there, carrying my first born along for the ride. We will ride the thermals of these mountain ranges until we get to the top and then we will sit, eyes to the skies, por supuesto.