Going to Pot
Mimbres author Doug Fine's new book is Too High to Fail

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Meet three of your neighbors prepping for apocalypse

Led to Slaughter
Horse slaughterhouses may soon be back in business

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Gila artist Bill Kaderly's fanciful folk-art creations

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The plains bison also roamed early New Mexico

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About the cover



Wisdom from Walden and Walkabouts

Communing with the lizards and the rattlesnakes.


Although I've never been to the land down under, Australia has a lot of things I find appealing. Large bouncing rats called kangaroos, beer cans the size of mop buckets and unbelievably cute koalas are all appealing to me, but not as much as the aboriginal tradition of the walkabout. Young aborigines wander the wild bush country, ostensibly seeking enlightenment and ancestral relevance, but more likely they're looking for shade. Nevertheless, I have long been enamored with the concept of the walkabout, and have partaken of my own truncated version each summer for the past seven years. Not only are my walkabouts like an enema for my overloaded brain, they have also allowed me an annual mental recalibration that can't be matched by any freaky-deaky "self-help" routine or self-absorbed counseling session.

One of my early literary influences was Edward Abbey, a self-taught outdoorsman of curmudgeonly demeanor. Among his other writings, Mr. Abbey frequently waxed poetic on his many years exploring the canyon lands of Utah, and trying to put words to the sublime beauty of stony carapaces and spindly shrubbery. He was an anarchist, a cantankerous man who railed loudly against most vestiges of contemporary civilization, a drinking man hot of blood and temper whom I would probably find argumentative and disagreeable in person. And yet, the words he wrote about the Southwest were more significant to me than anything I read in any religious text.

As a child of the Sonoran Desert, I first became fascinated with rocks and cacti at a young age, stomping around the deserts south of Phoenix with my dad and a BB gun. The family moved to New Mexico when I was 10, and I became enamored with the charms of the local creosote-speckled Chihuahuan Desert. I have scrabbled through many rhyolite crevasses and sandy washes ever since, communing with the lizards and the rattlesnakes. Abbey's writings spoke to me in a whisper, but it wasn't until I began exploring the red-rock canyons of Utah that his words became more emphatic.

The second year I went on walkabout in those lonely lands, I stuffed a dog-eared copy of Henry David Thoreau's Walden in my pack. I had eschewed the book in high school as only appealing to hippie chicks, but I had a hunch that the words would resonate better in my quasi-placid maturity. If you've availed yourself of it, you know it's a "dense" piece of writing, requiring the reader's unfettered attention and frequent rumination. Walkabout would afford me the opportunity to concentrate on the genius of Thoreau's words, and to realize that his rejection of materialism made a lot of sense to my short-term adoption of a minimalist lifestyle.

One morning, while all my fellow trekkers slept in their tents, I took my book and quietly hiked to a commanding knoll of rock. I watched the sunlight work its way into the canyons and across the pink expanse below me in a morning ritual repeated millions of times before. I read passages of Walden and heard nothing but birds and a muted desert breeze. "I have never found a companion as companionable as solitude," I read. Spot on, Henry.


Each year since, I take Thoreau with me, and read a few dozen more pages. I don't read Walden when I get home; I save it for the next walkabout. I think about every word, and appreciate the natural secrets that have been discovered countless times before I came along, by men with far more formidable vocabularies than I. This is a pattern I hope to continue as long as my wobbly legs can propel me into the wild: rinse, wash, repeat. Keep the brain clean.

As keen as Thoreau was, he was more of a philosopher, while Abbey was an unrepentant glutton of natural beauty, especially that of the dusty kind. Abbey described the beauty; Thoreau explained why it was important.

But Edward Abbey bequeathed us a magnificent benedicto before he shuffled off this mortal coil when he wrote: "May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls."

I don't know if there is an aboriginal equivalent to Abbey or Thoreau gallivanting through the Australian sand, but I am certain of this: An autonomous turn through nature free from the encumbrances of a material existence is like popcorn for the soul, and furnishes confirmation that we are indeed alive. As ol' Hank Thoreau said,

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Which is a flowery way to say, go on a walkabout.



Henry Lightcap comes home from walkabout to Las Cruces.


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