A couple weeks ago my three children and I went on a road trip. I knew I was in for a bit of an adventure when I couldn’t even find the correct highway to get out of town; my sense of direction has always been a bit like a bat ripped of its radar. When finally we were on the correct road, however, we had a grand and lovely time, with, I must boast, only one major meltdown at the visitor center of a national park. It was quite a meltdown, though, and after my son started screaming for all to hear that I ¨was hurting¨ him I was sure our outing would be cut short by an unfriendly visit from social services. Thankfully it turned out he sounded more irritating to other visitors than abused, so we continued on.
Our first stop was the Sand Dunes in southern Colorado, an incomparably gorgeous and unique treasure at the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
As we arrived we could see huge blackened clouds lingering over mountain peaks, pouring grey-white streaks of rain while where we stood, in the still sands, the sun gleamed with an almost hallucinatory intensity.
The sand dunes are filled with trickery: upon first being there, it seems as though space itself has opened and become clear, and that one might see forever, see to infinity. Then, suddenly, the vista morphs into something else entirely, and one realizes that the climb on to one sandy crest leads only to yet more, higher peaks, and that what appeared a manageable leisurely walk is actually a long arduous hike, with the ground shifting constantly under one’s feet between soft, sinking luxuriously beach-like sand and hardened rock and brush. The result is disorienting. It is impossible to know what is near, what is far, what is somewhere in between, and this disorientation of space and light adds immeasurably to the place’s strange beauty.
I discovered the oddity of distance immediately upon arrival. After walking but a few moments with my three children, I said something to my son, and realized he had run ahead of me. Far ahead. And suddenly he was gone. It first appeared he was playing on the peak of a dune, but he had simply climbed it, and gone down the other side. Disappeared. In any other context, this would be the stuff of a mother’s nightmare, but here it was just a wonderful curiosity, the landscape playing a constant game of hide-and-seek with one’s vision. After a while I found him, digging for ¨treasure¨ in the soft flesh colored sand. He told me he had found gold, which actually apparently does exist beneath the piles. He presented to me several rocks. In our new world, I believed him.
Before climbing the shifting peaks it is necessary, especially in springtime when the snow melt runs swiftly down the mountain’s face, to cross the warm-widened Medano Creek. The water is freezing, as you would expect it to be, and clear as the most perfect diamond. It runs fast and shallow, and my daughter, whose name means dolphin in Spanish, was as delighted as a sea creature returned to her natural habitat. She didn’t spend much time in the sand, instead preferring to watch her feet turn an unnatural red from the thawed stream. Her body was the purest joy, as only a child’s body can be.
Later she dug in the sand, covering her wet and cold feet with the grains made hot from the afternoon sun.
On the way back to the car, with the baby fussing and overwhelmed, my two older children waded once again into the stream, this time finding it more interesting to immerse their entire bodies into the impossibly cold water. How is it children are so inured to extreme temperatures? The water made them friends, companions against the elements, and their usual bickering faded away under the mountain sky.
Just as we got to the car the wind blew in, bringing with it the strong storm we had watched earlier over the mountains. Rain pummeled our car, and wet and happy we listened to the insistent drumming above us. Of course I got lost again, but eventually we made our way to Alamosa, where we spent a late and eventful night in a cheap hotel listening to a man next to us engage in questionable, loud behavior. Though I suspected what he was up to, the children just thought he was ¨tacky,¨ and he became the subject of many jokes the rest of the trip.
The next day we made our way to Arroyo Seco, New Mexico, where we have spent much time. It is a peaceful, beautiful area, with not much to do but stare at Taos Mountain and hang out naked in the hot tub, which we did for so long I began to worry about their organs.
The backyard of this house is a field and a mountain, and light sometimes glows like a pearl. The air is perfection, and sounds carry from across meadows so that a barking dog a mile away seems as if she’s around the corner. It is the sort of place a child might remember forever, and might think of in old age, as some Arcadia, which, really, it is…
A mile from the house is the village of Arroyo Seco. There is a wonderful cafe there where beautiful and universally rude hippie girls will make you huge mochas and grumpily warm house-made cookies. It’s a great place to people watch, and see the variety of Texas skiers, with their gold rimmed sunglasses and matching outfits, intermingle with the off-the-grid locals who favor artfully arranged dreadlocks and HardTail palazzo pants. It’s a beautiful small circus, which my daughter has already learned to admire (and, in her own little way, join).
In Taos it was springtime. And it is the springtime of my children’s lives. How lucky I am to watch the blossoms.