redux: “The dream and light softly fading…”

Note: 5 years ago we were leaving New Mexico to fly to Edmonton for a few days. And this morning, we are preparing to leave home for a few days in Edmonton as well as a couple of days in Drumheller, in search of both dinosaurs and ancient Kishkans. I’m thinking that Ian Tyson would provide a good soundtrack…


Sometimes a song is all it takes. Sometimes it takes you there, to the moment when you drove down highway 518, through snow and deep forests, across the Mora Valley, through soft grasslands fringed with Ponderosa pines, piñons, those fragrant junipers, to the high desert where the unexpected was waiting: the beautiful plaza of Las Vegas. And it was all there, in Ian Tyson’s “Road to Las Cruces”:

On a high plateau out of Anton Chico

I see the dust of a herd coming through

The dream and the light softly fading

My horses will not stand

They wish to go with them

Riding for Alex Carone on the road to Las Vegas.

It’s a song I’ve loved for years though I never had a clue that it wasn’t Nevada he was singing about but that town a few hours from Albuquerque. And not too far from the Conchas-Pecos branch of the legendary Singleton Ranches where there is, indeed, an Alex Carone working as a manager.

In the second-hand stores near the plaza in Las Vegas, there were saddles, some of them broken-down and cracked, some of them in pretty good shape. I saw a bridle with silver conchas and many pairs of cowboy boots. There were paint ponies in a field on the way to Montezuma. You could smell history in the air, though maybe not everybody’s history. Not mine, I know, but that didn’t prevent the yearning.

Today I’m putting away my suitcase, the books I bought, and catching up with work at my desk. I took a moment to photograph the little Acoma rain pot that I bought from its maker, Emil Chino, at the Sky City Mesa. It stood out on the table he presided over — a few big ollas, some seed pots, and an assortment of the rain pots. I wish I could read the imagery a little more fluently but I remember Emil pointed out the rain, the clouds, some ears of corn. And for now, that will have to do.


two postcards

1. From Sky City Mesa  (Acoma Pueblo)

We drove west from Albuquerque and took the quiet road to the Acoma Pueblo, also called Sky City Mesa. It’s been occupied since the 2nd century. We saw the mesa from a distance:

approaching sky cityWe stopped at the marvelous cultural centre and arranged for a tour. Up onto the mesa, past little corrals and stone buildings collapsing into the landscape. And on the mesa itself, the beautiful pueblo, where about 15 families still live and where ceremonies still occur, the ladders to the kivas ready.

in the pueblo

ladder to the kiva

There are places on earth that speak so clearly and plainly of their history and you understand the long attachment of people to place. It’s them, or maybe I mean they’re natural extensions of everything I understand a place to be. We bought a little piece of Acoma pottery, crosshatched with lines of rain, the ears of corn there too.

2. Postcard from Boca Negro Canyon

We stopped at a canyon near Albuquerque to see the petrogylphs made by the ancestors of the native pueblo people. Some of these were created perhaps 400-700 years ago and some as long ago as 2000-3000 years. They were made by chipping away the surface desert varnish or patina from basalt rocks. No one knows exactly what they mean but they are deeply beautiful and evocative after all these years. I passed one young woman texting on the trail and I thought that in some ways these were a form of terse communication. A turtle:


Some squiggles which I think are snakes — while a sign on the trail warned to watch out for rattlesnakes. And of course spirals (this seemed inevitable to me, who spent the winter quilting them), an acknowledgement that we live in the cycles of life and death, summer and winter: