Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Spell of New Mexico, Chapter I: Tony Hillerman

Tularosa Basin and Valley of Fires view from Highway 380, New Mexico

Awhile back, Josh, a thoughtful reader, recommended The Spell of New Mexico to me. Edited by Tony Hillerman, and published in 1976, it is a collection of essays by famous creatives who lived in or visited New Mexico.

My local library had the book, but it was missing until now. 

From Mr. Hillerman's introduction in Chapter 1: 
[Oliver] La Farge treasured New Mexico because it offered - probably more than any place in America - a rich variety of human cultures, religions, and value systems, and because it attracted and held an interesting variety of immigrants. ...

'The breadth and height of the land, its huge self and its huge sky, strike you like a blow,' [poet Winfield Townley] Scott wrote ...

To the above, I say check and check.

Angel Peak, New Mexico

Mr Hillerman described one of his special places in New Mexico:

...Those places that stir me have features in common. All are empty and lonely. They invoke a sense of both space and strangeness, and all have about them a sort of fierce inhospitality.
One such place is east of U.S. 54 near the old Three Rivers service station north of Tularosa. The road jolts across the Southern Pacific tracks toward the foothills of the Sierra Blanca and passes a high, grassy ridge. On a July afternoon, the view from there suggests a hostile planet. The ragged stone ridgeline of the Sierra Oscura rises fifty miles to the west, and the Tularaso Basin below is lost in a haze of heat. If you climb high enough and the light is right, you can see to the southwest the glittering line formed by the gypsum dunes of White Sands and below the Oscuras the Black smudge of the lava-bed badlands. 

For me, this is one of many of New Mexico's magic places. 

This place Mr. Hillerman describes is within a Bureau of Land Management site, the Three Rivers Petroglyphs. The old service station is an art gallery, gift and coffee shop.

I have stood exactly where Mr. Hillerman describes, and looked out toward that "glittering line" that is White Sands. This place that Mr. Hillerman found magical is less than an hour from where I live in Alamogordo.

Every time I see that line of White Sands - or the distinctive Organ Mountains between Alamogordo and Las Cruces - I imagine people of centuries ago returning from a long trip, and when they see that glittering line, think, "we're almost home."

Bisti Wilderness, New Mexico

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