The Expat Files
The truth is out there, right here in the Land of Enchantment.
When somebody can't see the greater picture due to the their point of view being blocked by the objects right in front of them, we say that they "can't see the forest for the trees." As far as Lightcap's Book of Practical Idioms goes, this one is far more sensible than most. (For example, if I have my cake, I'm damned well going to eat it, too.) It was precisely this phrase that came to mind while I was unwinding with a tumbler of single malt and an online blog I like to read from an expatriated New Mexican I know who now lives in Dante's first circle of Hell — or, as it's more commonly known, California.
I consider myself a genuine Son of the Sage, a sun-blasted critter of the desert who revels in all the subtle enchantments these lands have to offer. I have been sunburned, frostbitten, sand blasted, saturated and mesmerized by New Mexico, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I grew up on a small farm raising pigs, chickens and cattle, with a garden that needed nonstop weeding. I am drawn to the shade of a cottonwood tree in summer like a moth to flame, and the warmth of a south-facing adobe wall in winter. Roasting green chile, driving around in decrepit pickup trucks, tipping longnecks in dimly lit saloons, and cooking food outdoors is all part and parcel of the New Mexico experience, and I've been doing it so long, it's become second nature.
My friend grew up in New Mexico, but her path has led her over the horizon. She frequently blogs about the challenge of employing a rural sensibility in an urban environment. She is bamboozled by a place where people walk fast and look down at the sidewalks, and where bell curves and video conferences are all the rage. As an alternative to what would surely be rampant alcoholism, she instead purges her angst on her blog, and pines mightily for the simplicities of the land right outside my window. I can't say I blame her one tiny bit.
Fond recollections of "carpe mañana" are a common theme among the New Mexican refugees I stay in touch with. Every month, I see a new form of melancholia on Facebook from these sad souls: fondness for the cloud-dappled mesas and granite mountain formations, the crackling perfume of a desert thunderstorm, the tawny glow of luminarias in a December night, the spicy comfort of a bowl of posole on a winter's afternoon. The wide-open spaces and unique cultures that formed this state, and the rich tradition of non-conformity and downright social subversion that seems to apply to every aspect of life here is, for better or worse, unmatched anywhere else.
So it's important to reflect on the things that are easy for us here to take for granted. Sometimes, I am surprised to find myself sitting on my back porch, watching the clouds being gilded by the flaring sun as it sets and the birds circling overhead, cartwheeling after errant insects. The smells of dust and fields and inexplicable wood smoke eddy about, and somewhere off in the distance, faint strains of mariachi brass might waver around, lending a timeless soundtrack to a thousand starry desert nights and hidden Mexican diners. I'm certain my friends in Chicago and San Francisco don't get to roll the windows down and smell irrigated alfalfa fields on their way home from work like I do, or can say they might have a beer with their neighbor this weekend, sitting on a tailgate and talking about all the stuff we haven't done yet.
To honor my expatriated friends, the ones who are no longer in our area code and yet still exhibit the complexion of those kissed by the desert sun, with sand in their craw that undoubtedly came from a dry arroyo, I promise to appreciate all that you left behind. I promise to keep my pace slow and deliberate, and to use my turn signal only in case of dire emergency. I promise to eat chile as long as I have teeth and an esophagus lined in cast iron. I swear to keep a cowboy hat handy for shade, never for fashion. I will eschew the outdoors only during the dust storms of spring, and I will observe Dia de los Muertos to remember those who have gone before. I will fill lunch sacks with dirt and candles each Christmas Eve. I will shake hands with everybody who offers theirs, and I will help out where I can.
But most of all, I intend to live and die right here, in the godforsaken wastelands of New Mexico. It's the least I can do for my friends.
Henry Lightcap is staying right where he is, in Las Cruces.