This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
By David Pendery
Back then, in Albuquerque, I loved to walk or bicycle through the North Valley, along the irrigation ditches and through the crackling sere fields in the fall. Though I had known it before, those fields and ditches in the autumn were where I really learned to love solitude. When we were kids, those irrigation ditches (any one simply "the ditch," to us) stitched together the whole valley, and they were our shortcuts to anywhere. They all led to the Rio Grande and once, when I was a little older, I rode with my friend Jeff’s wife, Kim, from their trailer on Sandia View, along the ditches and through apple orchards and sparse corn fields, across Rio Grande Boulevard, and to the river. Later we rode back through the warm dusk, the sky purpling and sherbet-colored, and the Sandia Mountains before us on our eastward path. Jeff drove up in his jeep some time after we had arrived back home, and we drank cold beer and he told us about his adventures, his easy laughter punctuating his stories. Growing up in the southwestern United States had a profound impact on my outlook. I was possessed of a dreamy, introspective personality (“a weird and ridiculous boy…with brooding and uncommon ideas,” as Ray Bradbury wrote in his story, “One Timeless Spring”), and I loved the southwest’s many idiosyncrasies. I was fascinated by the deserts, with their intriguing quality of appearing like lifeless moonscapes, while pulsing with life and vitality beneath the surface. I admired the region’s jagged mountains that rose sharply from the
© David Pendery
landscape, their stony expanses lit blood-red at sunset. And I delighted in the parched but determined flora—yucca plants with gleaming butcher-knife leaves, twisted cacti, sweetly fragrant piñon trees, shabby cottonwood trees, and aspens in the fall with fluttering gold foliage. Wallace Stegner wrote in his Wolf Willow that if you position yourself correctly in such sweeping landscapes “…at sunrise or sunset you throw a shadow a hundred yards long.” I was lucky to feel that kind of stature when I was young, and in an abstract way it infused me with the confidence and perspective I needed as I developed in unconventional ways and faced emotional turbulence during my teens. Every child should have that kind of stature. People in New Mexico talk of the hurtling thunder storms, with death-black rain clouds, gully-washers that kill, dance troupes of lightning, and thunder that frightens you to your core. They talk of humility, humility like that found in a foxhole during an aerial bombardment. We crouched in those foxholes, dodged lightning bolts, and were knocked down by thunder's shockwaves when we were twelve, ten, and younger. With dazed and stupid grins we emerged from our tents and holes and hiding places when the storms had passed, and we knew we had learned self-sufficiency. My parents were weekend travelers, and by the time I was in my mid teens, we had visited the Sky City, Shiprock, Coronado Monument, Taos Pueblo, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Canyon de Chelly, and the Coronado Monument. In these places, I learned of the surreal juxtaposition of achievement and decay; grandeur and tragedy. I remember one pristine day after Christmas, we visited the Coronado Monument, a ruin of an ancient pueblo along the Rio Grande west of Albuquerque. That morning we walked through the deserted ruin, the eroded walls swathed in snow and ice. We saw the preserved Native American art, faded paintings on stone and adobe. There is a path that leads down to the Rio Grande through
© David Pendery
the grey, dead cottonwoods. We walked down, the air was brittle cold, the sun shone thin and yellow, and chunks of blue ice floated along the river. To the east, the Sandias—all iron, aqua, and ice—reared brutishly. There was no sound save for the quacking of a few ducks that skimmed along the river, and a black dog padding along behind us. All around us was peace and death. That impacts a child.
© David Pendery