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Monday, September 21, 2009

homesick for the desert

Okay, I'm homesick for New Mexico today. It is damp and gray here and the sky seems to be sitting on my head. The trees are leaning over and soaking up all the air. Sometimes I need the huge, wide sky and the distances of the southwest. Just imagine lying flat on your back and looking up into that sky. I've done it. Seems like you are going to fall straight up. It certainly makes you realize your puny human place in the eternal scheme of things.

These are photos of the mountains around the ghostown of Riley, NM. Kerra knows the names of all of them.... I just call them 'mountains.' I have to admire the early settlers, both Spanish and anglo, who ventured into this land not knowing anythng about it. The spaces alone would have been intimidating to someone on horseback or a covered wagon. Even more mind boggling is the thought that native people lived here very securely until the white man came. I believe this area was mostly Pueblo and Apache. Navajos were further west. But with only a little preparation they could travel confidently and hunt the area as well as grow crops. Later the Pueblo and Navajo took up sheep herding to supplement their livelihood... I don't think the Apaches were ever big sheep people. I don't know.

The ghost town of Riley is two plus hours across dirt roads to the river curve where it had been located. Most of the houses were mud adobe with plank door frames and windows. The church had been built of laid up gathered stone chipped into shape with a hammer. Originally it must have been mortared and plastered with mud, but within recent times it had been re-pointed and re-faced with cement. The church seems to have been maintained much longer than the houses. Not too far away there is a cement block stuccoed church building surrounded by an adobe wall. It is well maintained but didn't appear to be used very often. Notah said he thought it was a pilgrimage site that is only used at Easter or other special observances. There was also a shrine with three female figures on top of the hill a little ways off.
I don't know, there were maybe 20 houses in Riley, maybe more originally, but now they are all 'melted' back into the ground. There are planks and window frames leaning precariously against the misshapen walls. This is just one of the buildings. It is fairly typical. Some were in worse shape and a couple still appeared to have four walls, but none had much of a roof to notice. I did see an ocassional leaning wall and roof piecs of that corugated sheet metal that was rusted through in places. Even more than the distances the brevity of the work of men's hands lets us know how of how little consequence we really are in the stream of time.
Just look at the distances involved here. Much of this land is just plain empty of people. We traveled all afternoon across this area and did not see a single vehicle or person. The road was there and had been partly maintained by NM standards. I doubt if any tourist would have considered driving his vehicle across them. there were cows and from time to time there were other ranch road turn-offs--maybe two or three. But the people must have fallen off the face of the earth.
Riley was a mining town built in the curve of a river, but no Ohioian I know would ever have called it a river. The water was only about six or seven inches deep, if that, and spread across a ten or twelve foot river bed. We started to cross it and there was a good sized rock sticking up in the middle of the road ford. Notah sent Seth to go move it so it wouldn't scrape on the bottom of the truck. Seth just hopped out and walked through the water and flipped the stone a couple times until it was out of the road way. Then he got back in the truck. I don't even think he got his pant legs wet.

These are the peaks going back toward home. Want to take a horse and wagon to those mountains? Right now I'd give a lot to sit in the sun and smell the hot sand in the wind.

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