Another piece from the intimidating whole, this one is an old one, a strange one, I wrote some years ago about the first few days on the CDT that spirals into some difficult times preceding the trip.
The ruins of Old Hachita appear like gravestones out of the haze. The air is full of dust and obscures the horizon where it meets the low darkly featured clouds that crawl above it, threatening but not yet delivering rain. My handkerchief is over my face, tied behind my head. I clench it in my teeth to help filter the sharp walls of sand kicked up by the wind. I weave through the creosote and sagebrush. The pillars and crumbling walls of the ruins begin to take on more three-dimensional forms as I gain on them. Behind the ruins the volcanic ridges of the Coyote Hills rise, their granite spurs protruding and hovering over their shallow passes.
Ancient rusty cans, cookware, and pieces of rotting steel begin to appear in my path. Most of the structures have been reduced to piles of rubble on their foundations. Some have walls, partial and deteriorating. A few of the old wooden mining structures still stand sturdily, having somehow endured a century of erosion with grace. The remnants of the old copper mine and surrounding town appear solemn and lifeless. An old mine shaft descends into the ground. Beside it the wooden skeleton of something once purposeful hovers over piles of debris . Walking among the ruins I witness the wrathfulness of the lonely Hachita Mountains (a name derived from Sierra de la Huachita or Mountains of the Orphan Girl) .
Imagining this place filled with people living out the hardships of remote desert life is like seeing an old gnawed elk bone sun bleached in the dirt and knowing it once belonged within some majestic grazing animal. The harshness of the lives lived in this place jumps out from the wreckage: a confined life of mining, loading ore onto trains day after day, living in dirt, raising kids in dirt, not knowing exactly how one ended up in these hills.
The structures that were once homes, a bar, a dance hall, are almost entirely disintegrated into the landscape. In them great personal dramas once unfolded. Merry and intoxicated nights were stomped on dirt floors to the sounds of dull violins, weathered letters from New England or the Virginia coast were read by candlelight with a sense of incredible distance, dreams of different lives were had, dreams of having made different choices, smoke rose through chimneys and disappeared.
Venturing into a little roofless mud-brick structure with all four walls still standing I take shelter from the winds. Sitting down with my back against the wall opposite the doorway I see all the vegetation of the desert thrashing about wildly. The upper boundary of the doorway before me has long since fallen and it seamlessly meets the open trapezoid of sky where the ceiling once was. Exhausted I sit there staring out and listen to the sound of dust and sand being whipped against the walls.
It happens so quickly. One moment I’m getting rushed to an airport in the middle of the night, long terrible goodbyes, and the next I’m hopping barbed wire fences in enormous unpeopled expanses. It is a shock to mind more so than the body. It is disorienting to the point where for brief moments I wonder if my timeline has been skewed, or if I’m experiencing some conscious glitch. Everything takes on the qualities of a dream.
It is only day two of this journey and my mind is still acclimating to these sudden changes. I have achieved isolation, but the faint hum of contentedness that comes with this victory is still weak and easily overthrown. Somehow I am still a sad, confused entity, overwhelmed by all the crippling trivialities that accompany being human. The wounds of having abruptly torn myself from my life back home are still fresh, painful, and difficult to manage.
My thoughts still clings to Massachusetts, to the social mess, the faces, relationships, and routines. The elation I initially felt in my stupor is subsiding. I get on my feet and through what is quickly becoming a daunting storm I navigate northeast towards a distant jeep track that will lead me to much needed water.
The ruins are soon behind me and thrill of exploring them is brief and I can’t prevent myself from drifting into the anxieties and feelings of longing that seem to reach from some internal void in an attempt to drag me back home. Do I have enough money to complete the hike? Will there be water in tomorrow’s cache? I’ll surely come home to nothing again this time. Where will I live? This is the time I won’t make it. I’ll probably quit when I get to the snow. I won’t be able to make it through, not alone. Is this really what I want to be doing? Everyone back home is beginning to think I’ve lost it, they think I have a problem; I like people, I enjoy being around people, I am undeniably social, I want relationships, and I want a bed, a comfortable place to call home.
I stare at my feet as I walk and wait for the wave to pass. In an attempt to retaliate against the negative mental trend I recollect the circumstances I so desperately wanted to distance myself from; how often I was miserable! Unending compromises were made in order to save a few thousand dollars. Everyday was a machine burning up my blood. Clocking in eight or more hours a day, washing dishes, carrying things around, living in filth with strange friends in the small room of an old warehouse, squirreling money away by avoiding real living situations and eating terrible cheap food, the drama, all of the putrid emotion, my psychosis, their psychosis, unnecessary talk, endless talk, the days feeling more like walking against sandpaper than they do here in southern New Mexico.
The social chaos sucks me in like an undertow. My unusual living places slowly become crackling ice. The landlords are quiet if they get the rent. The toilet is broken, the heater is broken, will the repair man keep his damned mouth shut? Anything to get away from the madness I’ve surrounded myself with. On crowded buses and trains closing my eyes and humming loudly I picture some dramamine sunset in a futile attempt to drown out the deafening cries of the masturbating Americans that are everywhere, fucking everything, and chanting for the pennies saved. Late at night I meander the streets observing the girls as they walk by glitter-boned with crystal lips. I mull over all the TV shows, music videos, magazines, and peers that conditioned me to desire such belligerent and obnoxious beings. I watch them as they apply glossy creams to their faces and blend their features together as they stand half naked and half drunk waiting in the cold to be let into some shit college bar. They purse their lips and stare at their reflections. I cringe at the sound of their giggling and shouting. But God damn, look at those incredible asses! Show me a mind with depth accompanied by an ass like that. It won’t be found in a February mini skirt screaming about pickletinis, or maybe it will, I do not know.
I move along block by block and It can be seen like embers burning in the city night. The slithering whispers of intoxicated schoolgirls kick up silt in the stagnant pools of the frustrated male pedestrians that pace up and down Commonwealth, Harvard, and Brighton avenues. Everyone is at their wits end, looking to release something, prove something, gain something. Is it Friday night again? In the eyes of these men and women I see the vague empty fever of the American dream; a never ending scramble up some slippery mound of shit. Everyone’s American dream is to be obliterated and I’m no different from them in this way.
I need to get away from this too so I head off the main drag and down the quiet road that parallels the freight line and the highway; quiet dark brick buildings and dilapidated garages lay in between the road and the tracks. When I feel the painful sting of the cold slush as it seeps through my shoes I receive flashbacks to the most frustrating and hopeless days of navigating snow in the Sierra Nevadas; an endless white, a man broken, stabbing the frozen ground with an ice ax, screaming “fuck snow! fuck snow!” I want to be broken like him, slashed down, a brave adventurer one minute, a broken man the next; I want to be broken, but not by this cyclotron of a city.
I quicken my pace. I hate cold feet and so it’s time to warm up. Maybe no one will be around and I’ll get to close my eyes. Turning here and there, dodging puddles and black crusted snow piles, I find my way to the old warehouse. Climbing up cement steps, angular graffiti tags scribbling shoulder level along the walls, cacophonous noise bellowing from behind door after door. People shouting and doors slamming echo through the cement hallways. The room is not empty. In a crowd I sit and watch faces yap away, but my mind begins drifting away from the madness, touching on some distant places I’ve been; a range under an endless blanket of snow, some cold and black valley guarded by steep silent walls and threatening peaks. These faces, the filthy hallways, bloody murder raves that boom through the walls, and all of it is paving the road back to where I’d much rather be.