Saturday, May 05, 2012

This Land Does Not Give Easily

"Where are the ghosts? 

The people of Northern New Mexico call Ghost Ranch Rancho de los Brujos, meaning Ranch of the Witches. There are stories of six-foot tall 'earth babies' covered with red hair howling in the night, and a ghost cow with wings. . . " (guide brochure)

I spent much of today at Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu -  Georgia O'Keeffe country. It's not difficult to see why she chose to live and paint here; the New Mexico mountains are as remote and as yielding as sleeping bodies. They seem part animal, part human and part something altogether 'other'; tough-skinned, hard-nosed, they glow and glower, heave and dream and breathe.

Amongst the clustered buildings at Abiquiu, I was surprised to come across a dim, blessedly cool adobe library. Four small rooms were lined from floor-to-ceiling with books; two fell into my hands from a shelf in what I imagine might be the least-frequented, Eastern corner of the room. Books find us. I opened Desert Notes - Reflections in the Eye of A Raven and began reading. . .
    "The land does not give easily. The desert is like a boulder: you expect to wait. You expect night to come. Morning. Winter to set in. But you expect sometime it will loosen into pieces to be examined. 
    When it doesn't you weary. You are no longer afraid of its secrets, cowed by its silence. You break away, angry, a little chagrined. You will tell anyone the story: so much time spent for nothing. In the retelling you sense another way inside; you return immediately to the desert. The opening evaporates, like a vision through a picket railing. 
    You can't get at it this way. You must come with no intentions of discovery, You must overhear things as though you've come into a small and desolate town and paused by an open window. . . "*

". . . When I first came into the desert I was arrested by the space, especially what hung in a layer just above the dust of the desert floor. The longer I regarded it, the clearer it became that its proportion had limits, that it had an identity, like the air around a stone. I suspected that everything I'd come here to find out was hidden inside that sheet of space. 
     I developed methods of inquiry, although I appeared to be doing nothing at all. I appeared to be completely detached. I appeared to be smelling my hands cupped full of rocks. I appeared to be asleep. But I was not. Even inspecting an abandoned building at some distance from the desert I would glance over in that direction, alert. I was almost successful. 
      Towards the end of my inquiry I moved with exquisite ease. But I could not disguise the waiting. 
    One morning as I stood watching the sun rise, washing out the blue black, watching the white crystalline stars fade, my bare legs quivering in the air, I noticed my hands had begun to crack and turn to dust. . . "** 

Before leaving, I walked this labyrinth ---


  1. Claire, these lines sang out to me today and when I came across your fertile post I wanted to share them:

    We sat, expecting nothing and anything, and the ghosts spoke/because we cannot live unless they whisper, unless they shout,/
    and echo on the stone squares, and bang into our hearts.

    by Agnes Walsh from the poem 'For Anita'

  2. Hi Mariana - what power and truth in these lines. Thank you ++, and for the introduction to Agnes Walsh and her work.

    For anyone else who'd like to read more, follow this link --

  3. "I suspected that everything I'd come here to find out was hidden inside that sheet of space." The desert as earthly verification of dark matter, dark energy. "You must overhear things..." The way Mariana has woven Agnes Walsh's speaking ghosts into the larger tale is a perfect match. I needed a good dose of otherness today. Sometimes ordinary is such a poor fit. Thank you both. xo

  4. Dear Marylinn - 'sometimes ordinary is such a poor fit', I agree, and yet (may I posit?) I wonder if when we penetrate or enter the 'sheet of space', we discover the extraordinary resides within the very ordinary - and vice versa? Perhaps the hidden gift is in coming to know that overhearing the language of the one, we are led to an an appreciation of the other. . . and it matters not in which order, so long as we keep turning up and keep our antennae tuned? xo

  5. Striking. It reminds me of Drumheller, Alberta which is such a special yet odd place because it's like you're traveling along the flat wide open prairie and then suddenly you drive down into a giant hole and you're in a desert.

  6. Hi dbs - 'special odd'. I like that. There's something 'other' about desert spaces; they're alive and expressive in an entirely different way to water-fed places and tell us things if we care to watch and wait?

  7. I love what you said about books finding us, and how just the perfect book fell into your hands during your time in the desert. How beautifully Barry Lopez writes - I mentioned before that I have his Arctic Dreams - time to re-read it perhaps?!

  8. I love the desert. It is full of ghosts and things the survive when you think they should fail. And the sky at night - wow - it's something you won't see anywhere else.
    I hope you had a wonderful trip (and are still tripping =) )