Truth to Power

Musings from a desert

It wasn’t a conscious decision to leave town during the fifth anniversary of 9/11, but it certainly seems a good idea now. Being on the road means limited access to, and reduced interest in sitting around reading the news and getting irate. When you’re standing in a dusty field at Ghost Ranch, staring up at the magnificent cliffs of reddish brown, framed against the bluest sky you’ve ever seen, thoughts of politics seem miles away.

“Musings from a d-X058”

We explored from White Rock at Los Alamos to the backroads of Taos, looked up at pine tree at the DH Lawrence Ranch that moved Georgia O’Keefe to creation, and wandered around the future TTP/LH compound- or should we name it the Ant Temple? It was a revitalizing adventure.

During the course of the week I read two books. The first, The Sorrows of Empire, examines the dreadful place that America finds itself, post 9/11. (See, can’t get too far from this stuff I guess…). Chalmers Johnson details the vast reach of the US military, its 700+ bases around the world, and the havoc our foreign policy causes. You read, repelled, the accounts of our meddling in the events of nearly every country (or at least those who are unfortunate enough to have something we want), the overthrowing of elected governments, and our various machinations that have earned us the scorn that only hypocrisy brings. Surrounded by first hand evidence of one of our earliest successes in the empire game- the near extermination of the American Indian from North America, you feel the unseen hand of domination that has become sadly a trademark of how our government treats those who are in their way. (In the case of the Indian, start with smallpox infected blankets, an early biological weapon- and don’t you know we probably have plans for the equivalent now?) In addition to selling bracelets alongside the highway, the Indians of Northern New Mexico seem to have struck a goldmine running casinos- good for them. Let them prosper- instead of suffer- from the actions of stupid white men for a change.

I moved along to The End of Faith from Sam Harris, one of the more challenging reads I’ve encountered in years, and it too resonated with the landscapes- both physical and emotional- that one encounters in the high desert. Harris makes the point that most of the worlds woes can be laid at the feet of religion- an observation not easy to miss, if only you scan the headlines each day. One only has to hear the words of our sad King George (sad as in pathetic, not sad as in the “boy, I’m one evil motherfucker” sense) during the last week, with his froth about a “clash of civilizations” and a “battle between good and evil” as if god is some divine referee counting points. It is madness on both sides, from the stuck in the 15th century willful stupidity, cruelty, and aggression of Islam to the “Do as we say, not as we are doing right in front of you” duplicity of the West. Faith permeates the American west, from the beautiful adobe churches to the names of most everything there being somehow religiously based- hell, Santa Fe means “Holy Faith”, to cite just one example.

But what struck me the most was the sheer gall and frankly, blindness that seems to be commonplace there. You are surrounded by the greatest monuments to whatever “higher power” you can conjure up, from the vast gorges cut thru by the Rio Grande to the panorama of silent grace that are mountains and canyons of Abiquiu- and then you travel a few miles to El Santuario de Chimayo- the “Lourdes of America” and are smothered in presentations of worship, from the wooden crosses wrapped into chain link fence to the elaborate handmade memorials to the departed, festooned with bright colored plastic flowers, cheesy candles, and lurid images of saints. And every 5 feet or so, a sign stating “Not Responsible for Theft”. You don’t know if you should laugh or cry at this proclamation, and in the end, you walk away silently, moved by the this temple of faith and its seemingly limited reach. In this case, perhaps no more than a few feet.

“Musings from a d-X059”

Every road in New Mexico contains at least one, if not dozens of descansos- the rose festooned memorials to someone killed at that spot (generally due to drunk driving) that seem to scream “see, we loved them”. Are we to suppose that the larger, gaudier ones indicate more love than a smaller one? It was difficult not to see them as attempts to atone for a life ignored- heartfelt, yes, but perhaps if as much attention was paid to a person while alive, who knows, perhaps they wouldn’t have driven off the road with the remnants of a case of Bud Lite rolling around the floorboards.

If you are able to stand amid Box Canyon, and stare off at Pedernal, and think that you can add anything at all to it, then you are suffering from hubris uncontrolled. You are no more and no less a part of the landscape of creation there than the smallest rock or anthill to the largest waterfall or mesa. This land needs no tributes, it makes them all seem weak, faded, puny. I believe in a higher form of consciousness, one that our senses only allow us a glimpse, so brief.

It is here.


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