The winter in northern New Mexico normally puts me in a state of hibernation until the arrival of renewed life. This year, though, I had a bit of cabin fever and felt more trapped than snuggled in until Spring. The routine of day-to-day life was feeling more like 144,000 seconds of herding cats, and my creativity and free spirit had joined forces in giving me an ultimatum to either let them out to play, or they would pack up their belongings and go live with another less restless and acutely responsible soul. My usual escapes in the national forest and Pecos had quite a bit of snow, something I wanted to avoid, and the solitude of the slot canyon at Kasha Katuwe did not offer the wide open space that I was craving. The unrelenting demands and temper tantrums of my inner beings led me to escape into my memories of the eerie red rock formations of Abiquiu, a place where my curiosity runs wild.
Days before the weekend I decided to jam all of my adult responsibilities into a single day and offer Saturday to the creative forces of the world. When the morning arrived, a battle began. My mind was so desperate to be out on the road that it tried to convince my body that the necessities of life, such as food, were completely unnecessary and only served to delay the unleashing of my freedom. I ignored the two warring factions and let them battle amongst themselves as I prepared sandwiches and packed up my gear. Within an hour, the truck was filled with gas, and I headed north out of Santa Fe with Led Zeppelin announcing to the world that I was exiting stage left.
I don't exactly remember the details of the 45-minute drive -- my first concrete sense of reality is stopping at the general store in Abiquiu and having a brief chat with a guy who was preparing to venture off into the rain on his motorcycle. I returned to the truck, centered myself and gave Cassie a little kiss, feeling like the bell for recess had just been activated. Like a child running out onto the playground at top speed with no sense of direction or real intent, I headed into the landscape.
Low clouds encased me in a private experience with my own little Disneyland of nature. The winter temperatures were fending off the crowds, and there was no other soul in sight. The drizzle worked to awaken rich colors of chocolate brown soil, mustard yellow vegetation and rich, deep red rock. Dense black pavement stretched for miles converging with bright yellow and white lines at the point of a distant curve. Throwing aside my past over-concern with disrespecting traffic laws, I surrendered to my creativity and pulled over every time my inner child shrilled with delight at seeing the combination of winter storm clouds wrapped around erratic spires painted with vivid southwest colors. The beauty of being a photographer is that passers-by realize that I'm not completely incapable of driving more than a hundred feet -- I'm just intoxicated with a passion for capturing every moment created by the natural forces of the southwest.
Eventually, the grumbling in my stomach took control and led me to the Visitor's Center at Abiquiu Lake. I parked the truck and walked down to the fence along the cliff. The typically brown water was covered in an unexpected soft blue hue of ice. Once again, the creative decided to delay the nourishment of food, and feast on the experience instead. After dabbling with wide angle shots, I changed out my lens to scan the landscape with a telephoto. At maximum zoom, I followed the jagged cracks in the ice until I reached the red rocks along the shore. I followed the shoreline until an awkward shape caught my attention -- a tree stripped of all signs of life, somehow snared in the grip of winter.
I locked in my camera and my thoughts turned inward. I considered the experience that led to this moment. Life once thrived in bright sunshine, able to extract nutrients from the constant presence of water. Unusually low temperatures, though, transformed the life-giving liquid into a death grip, and existence became divided by a crossroads that leads to eternal death or celebratory reanimation.
I began to see myself in that stranded tree. This trip was, in fact, an escape from my own purgatory. My spirit suffocating under the weight of routine responsibilities, unable to journey into the beauty of nature and all that she offers to my soul. I allowed myself to be enveloped by the moment, instead of by deadlines, meetings, crises and seemingly endless expectations and responsibilities. The elements became a catalyst to the emergence of a pure, uncomplicated, unfettered reality. My thoughts went silent and I listened to the breeze dancing in long, dry grasses. The aroma of moist soil grounded me, and I let go of every arbitrary aspect of my existence. Cool air filled my lungs, and a slow exhale evaporated the tension in every muscle and released my spirit to soar through canyon walls to gather vital energy to feed my soul. Warm rays of sunshine seeped through overcast skies, and clouds that appeared stationary to a distracted eye revealed subtle transitions softly reflected against the ice below that emitted sounds of crackling to ricochet against the surrounding cliffs.
As the day progressed, I found it more difficult to leave. Life beyond my winter playground felt overwhelming. Yet, I found solace in knowing that a small memory card held a digital imprint of the emotions that ignited my restlessness and sense of imprisonment. I knew that a bit of modern technology would create an image to serve as a reminder to always make time to immerse myself in the rejuvenating energy of nature. Exhausted, I drove home in a state of quiet reflection. I thought of the little tree that had given me such insight, and hoped that, with time and seasons, it, too, would be released to thrive once again.
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