Waking Up Wild
From the first time that I saw Stewart's Petrified Wood, I felt that it would be the perfect setting for a teen horror flick. A trading post and rock shop offering petrified wood along Route 66 in Arizona, I drove past and stopped at the place whenever traversing the country. Every so often, I used to drive from Florida to California or vice versa. Aside from enormous hand-constructed papier-mâché dinosaurs in garish greens, great teeth-filled mouths gaping, eyes bulging, I gander at female mannequins, some bleeding red paint, in the mouth of, and meant to appear wounded by one or more of the animate mechanized beasts. There is also an ostrich farm, though I only had eyes for the emus. I used to collect feathers. Then I learnt that the average American is not allowed to have certain types of feathers. Found blowing in the wind or not, possession of certain bird feathers is a punishable, fineable crime. Upon learning that, I burnt the collection, along with many other items. I did that as part of a severance ceremony before moving from the US to the UK.
I will not write a painting of my former feathers, creamy-peachy-pink, salmon, golden-brown, obsidian black, and more. The reader might guess my secrets, and the longing for those blessed living totems and talismans of spirit would grow too great. At the ostrich farm part of the roadside shop, I would see and pick up the uniquely double-plumed wispy, flexible, hairlike, soft yet prickly, blackish-brown silky emu feathers. The man who owned the Stewart's Petrified Wood is Charles Stewart, and, though he is said to be retired now, I recall meeting him. The shop had a weathered yet jaunty sign "Free Petrified Wood," though the beguiling offering was meant for little children. Despite my being an adult, Mr. Stewart always let me have a piece of petrified wood when I stopped by. My former rock collection is long-gone, like the feathers, and my life feels less vivid, real, and weighty for the loss. I have been a nomad for the last several years, and it is only now that the loss of things is becoming a thing. I love driving, miles before me, as many as I like, and, as Robert Frost wrote, "and miles to go before I sleep." A journey with no timetable and no exact destination in mind has a weightless quality that is heady, seductive and addictive. Traveling through the fallen forest of petrified wood, under skies that glitter silver-white-hot with shimmering stars like no other when night falls, sailing through the desert along the lesser-used roadways of America. On my many drifting journeys across the country, or winding my way from Southern California to New Mexico, via Arizona, I have, more than once, dallied at and been amazed by the confabulation of Stewart's Petrified Wood. Apparently, I am not the only one. Someone on Yelp wrote that "The thing that's so cool about Route 66 is the simple fact that places like Stewart's Petrified Wood Shop exist there. I can't think of any other major highway in the country where a combination ostrich farm, petrified wood and meteorite shop, and papier-mâché dinosaur emporium could exist, let alone thrive." Driving or walking in the beige-brown-cream-sand-peach-pink-lavender dusted desert is a recipe for stepping out of time and into a different world of color, light, sound, and sensation. I have had entrancing experiences at Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, where a wolf danced with me, as a keeper watched astounded and whispered, "he's never done that." I could not tell him that the wolf felt far more kin to me that they did, their soul in a human meat sack, far more likely to injure me than the wild kin wolf-creature dancing before me.
In nearby southwest New Mexico, I gaped at and was changed by visiting the Arizona Meteor Crater. Something that burnt the ground there left a residue, a song of mystery, and my soul lit up in recognition, a time-traveling telephone call from this orifice in planet Earth. Ring, ring, ring, sang the extraterrestrial matter, "Hello?" answered my silver-thread-soul, listening through the ears of my earth-bound body. The enormous crater was previously known as Canyon Diablo Crater and was formed some 50,000 years ago when woolly mammoths and giant sloths roamed that once-verdant part of planet Earth. There is that which is magical and mythic in the painted desert of the American Southwest. Breathing in the dust and glitter of the Arizona skies and road, and exhaling peace and joie de vivre, yet I had some misadventures there too. Then there were long, eerie moments, quite terrifying, driving through the shadow of night, in the pitch-black moments long past the midnight hour, in Arizona, specifically around the Superstition Mountains at night. But that tale is for another time. Despite the loss of my feathers and so much more, necessary severance of the past or not, I intend to continue waking up wild.
My Irishman Dáithí and I walk on land 4045.2 Nautical miles from Dublin, Ireland, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the casita on Sunset Road. It is December 2014. A susurration of fallen snow, crystalline flakes, luminescent in a brief shaft of remaining light, still beautiful when the December sun slips behind a cloud, fall-murmurs onto our heads. I am laughing into David's mouth, a sort of laugh kiss, as flakes like tiny ice pulsars rotate fast, pulsing from the sky, and drift onto his head. He is a man who resembles a choir boy—golden-red near flaxen hair and bright blue eyes and smile—despite being on the far side of fifty. His name is pronounced dhaw-hee in Irish Gaelic, which translates to David. Tall, gentle, this man inspires trust from strangers. Time passes. The heavens have shifted.
The sky is blue-black, liquid night molecules strewn with hot-white star-glitter. It is later. We are back outside the small house near-hypnotized by the natural luminous bodies visible in the dark heavens above. We recline on chairs under a star-strewn sky. The chairs rest on cement squares, which form a careless patio on the soil. When we are not looking up at the heavens, we look into the flames of or warm our hands at a crackling fire in a chimenea. This orange objet d'art is a Mexican-design open clay pot on a wrought iron stand. We burn wood purchased from a market and sit, feet by the hot, rippling fire, beautiful flames inside the pot-bellied outdoor fireplace made of clay. We recline in zero gravity chairs on the outdoor cement block courtyard, wrapped in blankets against the desert after sunset chill. We gaze up at the waters of the night sky and twinkling, glittering white-hot silvery stars overhead.
Adjacent is a piñon pine, New Mexico native, the Pinus edulis, Colorado pinyon pine, two-needle piñon, or merely piñon. I breathe in the breath-scent perfume of this Southwestern kin to Yggdrasil. Her short trunk, crowns rounded on the horizontal branches, a lovely tree, with twin-green needled finery, catches bluish-ivory hexagonal ice crystals as my gaze clasps the stars. David holds my hand and says, "mo cuisle." The way that he says the phrase sounds like "ma cushla," and in Irish Gaelic can loosely be interpreted as "my darling" or "my dear." The words directly translate to "my vein" or "my pulse," meaning the beat of my heart or my pulse.
My love and I track spacecraft that leave silver-white-hot glitter trails across the night sky. We no longer ask each other, "Did you see that?" Inside or out, we point, indicate with a shoulder, shudder, or exchange a glance or a knowing nod. Objects disappear sometimes, or worse things happen ever since I watched the Dine Skinwalkers documentary. They are beings not to be named, much less thought about or studied. Back then, I naïvely believed the demonic existed only in the realm of cruel men. The casita, cement floor brushed with brick-red paint, bereft of rugs, is oft cold. White snow falls dreamily, a cloud-cotton scattering of glistening purity. Snowfall in Santa Fe, silent, sibilant, soft, strangely makes me sleepy, like I'm in a field of poppies.
Papaver somniferum contains thebaine, an ingredient in OxyContin, which relieves pain. Oxycontin withdrawal symptoms include parasomnias, dilated pupils, agitation, nervousness, goosebumps, everything we experience while living in La Villa Real, the Royal Town. Later, wearing buff-rose slipper-socks, I stand in the casita kitchenette and look out the window. I hear an Irishly footstep and turn—a digit points. My gaze follows. Crystal clear tapwater, terrifying as pellucid poison, streams forth from the sink tap. Neither my man nor I turned on the tap: yet another anomaly, one of the myriad strange and uncanny events that occur regularly in this place and time. I twist the kitchen tap off. "I am never coming back to New Mexico," David whispers, setting his strong jaw. "Ever," he softly growls when I say nothing. Time slips away, and the hour grows later. When I ask, David tells me that he first saw snow when a toddler.
"We'd get snow in Jan or Feb but never that much. And I don't remember it being a joyous experience with snowball throwing or angels in the snow kind of thing, more like this snow doesn't stick, and when it does, it gets mixed in with the dirt, turns dark and mushy and makes the shoes, socks, and feet cold and soggy. Quite miserable and inconvenient being the general consensus opinion," he says. His Irish brogue is pleasing, warm honey that warms my soul and leads it to flower. I nod. His golden-red lashes drop as he thinks a moment. Vivid blue eyes half-closed, the iris of each of his eyes reminds me of a butterfly. For a moment, I see the translucent blue wings, with a hint of lilac tinge, of Ireland's Celastrina argiolus. The Gormán cuilinn. With its pale blue body and pale blue and black striped legs, the Holly blue butterfly is tiny, with a light silvery blue underbody. David is quiet for a long moment, then my man finally speaks again with a slight frown.
"First time I got a snowball thrown at me was outside school when a bully gathered crushed ice into his fist, swung it back, and told me to run. From two feet away, I stared him down and refused to turn my gaze away from his, his smug face and grin I can still see. I was shocked, totally shocked when he threw the hard rock of ice into my face, and I can still feel that pain. Although it hurt like fuck, what stung the most is the fact that he looked me right in the eye and still threw the thing in my face, as if he genuinely wanted to hurt. What the fuck is wrong with people? He laughed as he gathered another handful to chase his mates." Sensing my man has more to say, I do not move or speak. His mouth opens, and Irish word-music spills forth.
"I had a similar experience later with another bully with did exactly the same thing, except he actually used a rock," David finally adds, continuing to speak in spurts. "He didn't throw it but swung it in his fist across my temple." My heart pounds to think of reddish-blond haired David as a young boy, with a tender, caring soul, bright blue eyes, being beaten down by the vile nature of certain individual humanity. After a moment, he speaks again. He lifts his twinkling cerulean eyes, smiling into my own, ready to share a happier third in his triquetra of memory. He opens his pink-lipped man mouth again; words drift out as soft as flakes of snow.
"First time I saw real deal snow was Boston, where it was several feet deep. Glittering, powdery snowflakes filling the air just like in the movies, and people actually laughing, throwing snowballs for fun, not to hurt," he says and laughs, "and I actually joined in playing angels in the snow." The memory warms him; his person glows golden lit from within. He smiles and takes my hand. Warm with love and the touch of another human, we together gaze at the night sky. I never think to ask him when he first saw a flying saucer.
Eight weeks later, mo cuisle leaves for Dublin. In the early summer, breaking his word for me, David returns to New Mexico to pick me up. We drive to Southern California, a land of little snow. My love, now long lost, may never return to Santa Fe or New Mexico. Yet, I know that the dark and light dance of this spectacular land that I long for sings a siren song of myth and magic to my secret soul. The land calls to a part of me that lives myth. This part wonders about a cave and tunnel above Taos, a passageway between the worlds that I dreamt of, that David said I must not explore. This fluttering soft, insatiably curious part of me knows someday I will return to the Land of Enchantment.