Wildfires and Wildflowers

Walking from Laguna to Santa Fe, over 100 miles, I trudged on through a haze of smoke. Sometimes it was just a hint on the horizon, but other times it was thick pea soup, eating up whole mountains and turning the sun into a crimson ball.

As I approached the tiny town of San Fidel, it was so thick I could barely make out cows in the back pastures, non-the-less the hills or mountains that normally backdrop this idyllic ranch land.  I called my host to come get me early, not because I was tired or even because of breathing that smoke, but because I felt scared and alone in this eerily quite landscape.  This is the only time I’ve felt scared on this trip, my animal radar saying ‘flee now, find shelter’. Although I knew it was smoke, it looked like tornado weather to me, a wrong colored sky.

I spent 6 days crossing Albuquerque. I stayed 2 nights with my friend Chris and then 3 with the Buckleys (the family of a close friend from Tucson).  I moved slowly, less than 15 miles each day, calling it quits early, taking extra long naps and then watching the evening news as they announced each night, “Limit outdoor activities”.  I was so glad that my hosts graciously accommodated my slow pace and let me stay extra nights.  I am indebted to them. My lungs thank them.

It wasn’t until I passed Santa Fe that I got to see New Mexico’s famous clear blue skies.

This has been an historic year for fires and draught in Arizona and New Mexico. As my friend Andrew said, “The whole state of Arizona is on fire.”  True in sentiment, if not in fact.  I stayed with an organic farmer in San Jose, a small community east of Santa Fe, and my host Bea told me that she irrigates every other night and yet her tomatoes are pint sized compared to this time last year.  “All the growers are suffering”, she shook her head and nodded to the parched garden.

But I soldiered on, up and down the hilly Frontage road, gazing with rapt awe at the rolling hills of golden dry grass, dotted with junipers against the deep green pine covered mountains.  To my constant amazement, I find wildflowers everywhere: white, lavender, purple, yellow, pink. How can this be? Where do they find the resources to bloom? What water did the scrounge up to look so lush and happy?

This is not the crowning bloom of a desert cactus.  These are the delicate bright blooms of high desert mountain weeds, lovely in their nest of bone dry grass.

I have always loved “weeds”, their ability to survive whatever cruelties we do to their environment.  Poking up in the cracks of New York cement, swallowing up abandoned houses along southern interstates, and somehow finding ways to bloom in the worst draught in years…  I honor their spirit of survival.

They will certainly be the first to claim the newly scorched earth, popping up in vibrant bloom in the black, crusty landscape that we now mourn.

Thank god for “weeds”.


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