On the edge of the Gila Wilderness

(I’m behind on email and replies, I know. Sorry about that!)

Why do some landscapes speak to us, while others don’t? It’s something I’m still puzzling out. Spent time in a few different landscapes while traveling to Sirens this year.

First, the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. We’d been here once before, on a trip to the Gila Cliff dwellings and on through Quemado beyond it, and had been wanting to go back. So we left for Sirens early, and took a side trip, to a different campground not quite in, but on the edge of, that same wilderness, at the end of 40 miles of gravel road. We were on a (reservoir-created) lake, and within sight of some stark fire damage, but surrounded by green trees.

We were also nearly alone, having the entire upper loop to ourselves, and with only one car on the lower loop. Which may be why, from the moment I stepped out of the car, I heard …

… silence. Glorious, deep silence. And I knew, right then, that I’d spent too much time surrounded by the noise of the world, and that it had been too long since I’d detoxed from same. We hiked a little, read and hung out a lot, ducking in and out of thunderstorms as needed. Overhead, many turkey vultures, a few ravens, and, over the lake, a single bald eagle. Also many bright red grasshoppers, clicking and getting out of our way as we walked.

Once, I woke up at 4 a.m., and outside, the sky was thick with spilled-over stars–except for black patches among them that here and there blotted them out. Clouds, I could just tell, but what they really reminded me of? The black thing, the echthroi, in Madeleine L’Engle’s books (I was rereading Wrinkle at the time), swallowing the light, only with more sense of that light than of the darkness blocking it.

One morning, there was mist, turning even the unburned trees to gray colorless shapes. That was one sort of magic, and when the sun pushed through the mist, and color–blue sky, green leaves, brown trunks–returned to the world, that was another.

The mist lingered longer over the lake, only gradually giving way to a sunpath leading across it.

But beneath it all there was silence, so deep we could hear the metal-through-air sound of beating turkey vulture wings from time to time. It’s too easy to forget how quiet the world can be.

We’ve camped in other parts of New Mexico as well, also green forests, similar vegetation and landscape. None have felt quite the same, and I’m still working out why.

Why do some landscapes speak to us, while others don’t? Sometimes I think we’re all just wired to respond to different places. Sometimes I think it’s about what’s going on inside of us when we visit a place. Sometimes I think the land itself chooses. It’s a fascinating thing, whatever’s happening there.

Meanwhile, though, I have a Gila Wilderness book I want to write one day, which ought to give me excuses to go back. 🙂

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