Fifteen People per Square Mile

Gateway Drug to Revelation

We are a confounding, wretched, mesmerizing species, and there are a lot of us. I have always walked the other way.

Fourteen years ago my wife and I moved to northern New Mexico from the beautiful Eastern Shore of Maryland (Kent County)—very rural, or so you’d think, with seventy-three residents per square mile. Taos County has just fifteen! We’d drive into D.C. on walled expressways and I’d swear that just wasn’t my life. Not even the Shore. For me it all came down to living where Nature dominates man and not the other way around. Take away the crowds, and a cosmos opens up. Out here the spirits are in your face.

East flank of Taos Mountain to the left

There will never be power lines or roads or condos in this view. For that matter, I can’t even go there, because everything you see here is sacred Taos Pueblo land. To me, realms like these pulse with unimaginable power. I think that if we feel it, something lights up in our DNA and we instantly become more human. This is why we need the wilderness, to learn the secret of the terrible beauty embedded in our hearts. There’s “something” there, all right, impossibly alien and ancient, and it doesn’t need us

A few miles south of Taos on a dead-end road

I generally don’t like homes in sagebrush country—old-timers here say “only crazy white people live out in the sage”—but this spot is different. (We wanted to buy it, actually, but the place is too damn small.) Only one other house is visible some distance to the south, so the quiet is extraordinary. The road where I stood to take this picture has very little traffic. A landslide blocked it a number of years ago, and the powers that be decided God had spoken. What a great location for a writer or musician! The things you’d see out here would break your mind, especially at night. The stars don’t twinkle so much as strobe. The weather shows up half a day before it hits you.

Cutting wood at 8,000 feet with a volcano in the background

This is where my friend and “wood guy” cuts his piñon. He only takes standing dead or storm-felled trees. That wood deserves a story all its own, but know that this 500-year-old fuel is anything but “pine” and is the best that you can buy. San Antonio Mountain (in the background) is an extinct volcano, at 10,908 feet the tallest in the Taos Plateau Volcanic Field. The mountain where I‘m standing is a volcano, too. There are no houses in the vastness in between. If the road’s not muddy or covered with snow, my friend is out here several times a week. The elk are used to him and stand close by while he works. The wildness of this place is like a tonic; you can feel the joy of living Nature everywhere. To be here is like coming home.

And there are mysteries abounding. The day I took this shot, he told me, “I sometimes see these silver things that go across the sky. They look cylindrical, like cigars, moving really fast, always west to east, just a couple of seconds from horizon to horizon.” Amazed, I told him he’d just described a common class of UFOs. He wasn’t surprised, and later mentioned a bowl-shaped area by a nearby volcanic cone he’d always figured for an ancient spaceship landing site. We’ll ride his Rokon up there in the spring when all the snow is gone.

Rio Grande Gorge and beyond from Taos Valley Overlook

I took this telephoto shot from Taos Valley Overlook, where I go hiking four miles every other day and almost never see a soul. The Rio Grande runs 800 feet below. If you’re lucky, you may see bighorn sheep or eagles. I’ve seen those and also ravens, vultures, magpies, piñon jays, bluebirds, nighthawks, raptors, horned toads, snakes, tarantulas, and a collared lizard. Elsewhere, up and down the gorge, there are trails that take you to the bottom or follow along the rim.

Things can happen when you walk out here: opening of the heart, spiritual exploration, spontaneous prayer. Something knocked me down twice on the same stretch of trail. I’ve met people who are probably not “real.” You’ll just have to take my word for it (or not). The world is nothing like we tell ourselves in school or church or Twitter. Even science doesn’t have the final say, which its most gifted practitioners admit. I want to tell you: Please shut out the noise. Don’t be afraid to find your own solutions. The Universe is malleable and supportive.

As for me, at least I know my job now. Maybe someday I’ll be able to communicate the shock of recognition I feel looking in a fellow creature’s eyes.

Jackrabbit underneath the apricot tree? Go ahead and think that. Just don’t bet the farm.