“My first memory is of light — the brightness of light — light all around.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe
It struck me the minute I stepped off the plane. That light! After spending hours in airless airports, I thought I landed in a foreign country. At first glance, the Albuquerque landscape seemed barren, thirsty dry and dramatically not green, like my east coast home, that had finally begun to recover from the depths of winter.
Unlike Georgia O’Keefe who came to the desert of New Mexico on a vacation and felt an immediate affinity, I landed in the desert for a conference. Inspired by O’Keefe’s enthusiasm for brightly colored paintings of the earth, sky and mountains, before dawn each day of my NM trip, I grabbed the down jacket I hoped to retire for a few days, and stepped out onto the balcony to watch the sunrise over jagged mountains. It was easy to imagine O’Keefe’s desert abstractions as the day crept in. The sunrise was dramatic, but nuanced, as it revealed colors in contrast to the dusty groundcover. Moments before sunrise, coyotes, dogs and rustling creatures I could only hope were elusive roadrunners, sounded a wake-up call in unison.
I knew it would be dry, but was it supposed to be bone-dry?
As drought bakes California, we tend to forget climate change is also ravaging other areas of the west. Changes in New Mexico’s climate are taking a toll.
“In this parched state, the question is no longer how much worse it can get but whether it will ever get better — and, ominously, whether collapsing ecosystems can recover even if it does. The statistics are sobering: All of New Mexico is officially in a drought, and three-quarters of it is categorized as severe or exceptional.” ~ LA Times
After the last conference session, I decided to see what was beyond the Santa Ana Pueblo. I wanted to catch a glimpse of a roadrunner and was told by a conference attendee who lived in the area, the highly adaptive bird can survive on very little water. But it’s been unusually dry, even for NM, even for roadrunners, which is why they have been spotted along the path leading to the Rio Grande River behind the pueblo.
I hiked the path down to the river slowly because the heaviness of the high altitude was beginning to take hold. Dry heat is deceptive. While I didn’t spy a roadrunner, I did stop to catch my breath and marvel at the Rio Grande in all its muddy spring glory.
Unlike other places I visit for work, New Mexico is a wistful dream I can’t seem to get out of my head…and I don’t really want to.