3.27.2007,12:55 PM
The Spell of the Desert
"In indigenous, oral cultures, nature itself is articulate; it speaks."
- David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous. 1996

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Arriving as a fresh virgin canvas, I try to remain innocent of new places I travel to. First impressions are sometimes the richest and untainted by expectations. Like stepping into the unknown, you might be treated to all the multiple layers that comprise your surroundings; the sounds, colors, shapes, tastes. The fears, surprises, the thrills and all the unexpected. Like an astronaut flying into the unknown of space having a vague idea of what is there, but no real comprehension or grasp of the reality until you are there. In the midst of it all and an integral part of it.

Many people travel to places with preconceived notions and expectations that alter their reception and perception of what surrounds them. Sometimes blinding them to the subtleties and nuances, they see and experience only what they believe to see based on what they expected. And thus miss the true character and reality of what is genuinely there.

I discovered this myself last September when visiting Taos for the first time. Taos in my mind was forged over decades since I was very young, reading books and stories, gazing at pictures of a Taos that probably existed long ago or colored by others' perceptions. But we all know, despite that some people don't want to admit, places change. Just as we do and just like the seasons. People naturally don't want to let go of where they lived and their experiences during time points in their lives, read about in books, or have watched in the movies.

But Time waits for no one.

My first impression of Taos was disappointing because it was not what I had expected or imagined it to be. Taos, like many other places of natural wonder, had succumbed to the same progression of all other wonderful places with the growing impact of human habitation. As much as Steinbeck and Abbey deplored those changes, it is the inevitable course of human nature. And it will continue just as it has over eons of human encroachment over the surface of this planet. As Joni Mitchell sang "We paved Paradise and put up a parking lot."

Do we lament the passing of the idyllic, or is there a balance? Does some of the enchantment survive? Some of the original character still remain?

Of course it does. But you might have to take the time to dig under the superficial layers to those that reveal themselves to you. I did just that when I visited Taos on my return trip and discovered some of that upon which the legends of Taos were built.

Before visiting the Big Bend country, I purposely resisted reading books about the area. I did however peruse topographical maps to at least become familiar with some of the natural and physical landmarks. All of the stories and most of the photos related and shared by bike riders were mostly relegated to roads, roadsides, commercial entities and the outlying towns. They aren't intimate with the desert, nor do they reveal its true nature.

For the desert country itself, I was a naive canvas upon which its colors and smells were splashed on me. My immediate response was an awakening of the memories and experiences from visiting the Arizona deserts many decades ago. I recognized the smells, the air and some of the vegetation.

But the Big Empty is unique in many ways. And my time there was mostly intimate with only a portion of what it is.

It spoke to me. And I still hear it's voice.

There, Time waits for no one. Nor does the desert itself.

It is what it is.

But it wasn't enough. Like a child after her first taste of honey or maple syrup, I want more. I want it all.

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posted by Macrobe
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