Out here in the desert, land crunches beneath my feet. I hear it amplified in the vast space on every side. Once, not long ago, that hollow sound of walking on dry stone and sand would haunt me, remind me I am far away from my Midwestern home, a mess, a stranger to red earth, tumbleweed, and the silent music that is stillness being.
While living in the cornfields, I would ache to go west, as if rocky mountains and fields of stone were the place I would cease to be me-afraid, me-insecure, me-saddled with doubt and a vapor of sadness in knowing I am not enough (whatever that means), the place where I would feel emotionally free and at ease in my skin, fully present.* The illusion always died with my panic as soon as we'd land in a settling spot west of Texas. A host of nameless, faceless, fictitious stories would whisper in my heart and tell me how things could go wrong in such an unfamiliar land and also back home (as if my presence kept things just right).
My mom visited us in New Mexico in 2004. It was, of all the places we lived, her favorite. When we eventually moved back to Illinois, though she was thoroughly delighted to have her family less than a mile away, she lamented over not having a good reason to visit New Mexico again. That was four years ago.
This summer my mom passed away (if only that could be the first line of a work of fiction). While caring for her affairs and helping my dad get settled into his new reality, my husband suggested that once I could take a needed break from tending weighty responsibilities, we spend the winter in Arizona. It sounded so far away, but it felt right.
We're here now, out in the country where the sun sets around us and on every side in giant red, orange and pink chalk-smudges. This afternoon I rode my bike around, just looking at the sky and trees, listening to the crunch of land beneath my tires and sing-song talk of birds passing overhead and everywhere. I realized then, I am home. I may feel differently when the summer wildlife and high temperatures settle in as part of daily life in these parts, but right now, today, I am perfectly content almost 2,000 miles from home base.
In the mornings I sip coffee in a canvas chair outside our camper, facing a field, a mountain, several palm trees and a few kind and distant neighbors in pretty pink adobes. I listen to the birds whistle and the hawk call. In the afternoon I walk or ride my bike to nowhere and back home. The boys and I played ping-pong for most of an hour a few nights ago, striking hit-that-elusive-ball poses that kept us all laughing. Last night, at ten o'clock, we gathered with others and prayed, just to pray together, then ate cookies and visited.
A bit ago I sat down to write. Eyes closed, R Carlos Nakai playing sweetness, I prayed for guidance that I might find words. I was gifted appreciation for being able to be here in the desert, and also an image. With the fleeting thought that I wish my mother could be with us as we travel, I saw her as an invisible form whose “body” moves with mine with each foot step forward on the dusty road and each rotation of the wheels as the petals propel me forward beneath the afternoon sun.
Is she here, gathering and dispelling the fear and panic I am prone to when too far from “home,” leaving me with merely a trace of the familiar uneasiness and adding a welcome joy and contentment? I am sure that is only a minute part of all she is doing, for me, my family and so many friends who have shared stories of her dream-visits since she was released from the constraints of time and space.
*While still in Illinois this fall, I began to experience this presence, emotional freedom/levelness and joyful lightness I had always unconsciously assumed to be tied to place. Since it began shortly after my first visit to my mom's graveside alone, I accept the whole of it as a gift of love.