Retracings from the high valley above Taos


From the ski lodge there is a trail to William’s Lake in the valley beneath Wheeler Peak, the southernmost stand of the Sangre de Cristo range. Beyond the clear lake, under the peaks’ deep slopes, nestles a higher valley. On the near side as I approached, I came upon a pond, strangely perched, undergirt by stone. Our common weight led the drainage through a lower path to which the pond seemed unconnected, save perhaps by overflow through dry October grasses, fall of the year’s unveiling of our nature’s morbid state.

The starry messenger had lit these stones for 20 million years, as best I know, but the pond’s origin was more recent. Ice and rain, wind and roots purchased the shape from the upthrust rock not long ago, though perhaps longer than my life, or the life of any person who yet has been.

The pond, full of bright green algae and other water weeds, was our mother, framed by night’s ice. From that silt we came, though in another place, among the rocks or among the waters, or where they meet, to speak it right. 

The red peaks spoke, but the pond, with its own will, bloomed in this high nook, transforming what the rock had meant, and rightly so, for it had its freedom, which is ours as well. Wandering from that pond, we bear our debt: that the valley of death is, and shall be, the valley of life.


The next phase entails some confusion. The woman at the base had made us our morning coffee. She suggested we walk to Williams Lake. Her husband had proposed to her there. My friend having descended, though not yet wanting to part my thoughts from the mountain valley, I followed him down on my bike. She was still there when I got back and caught site of Andy, who was waiting. I sat down with him, and he reminded me. If I wanted coffee, I should order now, because she was closing.

She had closed, in fact, for it was 2 past 2, but she hadn’t cleaned the expresso machine, and made me a latte, gracefully. She asked about the falls. I saw no falls, or perhaps what I saw could be called a falls, but it was October, in a dry year. I bought cider as well, a Pellegrino for full measure, and also filled my water bottle, before heading again up the mountain.

The trail that had led to the lake turned aside there to climb the peak. But there was a common way to the higher valley where I had found the pond. I imagined that others who have seen it have written other words, of which I am unlearned, save for our common language that wells from us and wets the grasses.

The trees’ shapes recalled fish to mind. I swim a middle sea. I speak a middle tongue from a middle place, for this is where I am best at home. The starry messenger speaks now with the double voice of Linden trees that grow far away, yet the past, also, is in the middle place. To move beyond the middle is to return, for nature likes to move in cycles.


I seek a path onwards. We are individuals, and nature is not. Will we always swim the middle sea? Will we set foot on land, evolve, speak, quarrel, destroy ourselves? Have we not done so already? We cannot return.

Finitely we arose, and do not tread the same paths: the finite must diffuse. And yet life is something that overflows lips minds limbs. It is not the paths and not the falls or the mountains, or even, perhaps – no – it is the living however short their span. It is easy to wander.


The next phase will be to be more definite: we are not ruined, but we overflow. We are conditioned by extension, but we do not live of extension, or by extension, or for extension. The layers of light like quartz veins in ore that gleam in the heights tell us of the planet’s core. Yet carbon and water are the mantle’s grease, as it throws up islands – continents – that float on the lava’s ocean. We stand like spirits on the lava’s ocean, listening as the ocean tells us of ourselves.

Finiteness finds its ground in the ancient phases: earth for solid, water for liquid, air for gas, and fire for change and life. Each form is a phase, each phase is a form. There is no difference, but the one passes in the common report, the other passes only as imagined things pass.


Time has come down to hunger and companionship. They do not get along. But they have to travel together. We will quarrel and compete, will travel and be replete. Consume as we must, consume as we are, we gnaw at the ends of time, like the mouse who ate its way into Andy’s nuts. The magpie followed us up the trail. I advised Andy to be friendly to the magpies, but it wasn’t in his nature. Indeed, they can be annoying, I admit as much.

Time itself is annoying. I admit as much. All these things that change: we swim here like fish. Why be irascible? Time itself is an abstraction. But all things must change, though nothing changes in extension.


Let me retrace my steps. I write in the twentieth year of the millennium. I have packed my bike and driven to town and the pleasures of our civilization – expensive food served for rich tourists even during the plague.  Our nation is disunited. We sharpen the arrow that time points to nowhere. 

“In the people united” – what does it mean? Madison’s majestic royal we the people; it found its life in the understood expression. Our breadth was our brawn. Now we narrow, when we should overflow.

“These truths we hold to be self-evident?” These truths we hold. That should have been enough, or had a better phrase attached. Self-evidence is not the psalmist’s mighty fortress. It is a machine – it is that which must have an outside purpose. And has that purpose not misled, picturing might as righteousness? We are on the road to being a people, and always will be, until we are no more. All our roads must lead through the middle of America, even as we, also, swim in the middle sea. If someone asks us, who is that third person who walks beside you? Let it be that we shall answer “companionship” and not “hunger”.

One response to “Retracings from the high valley above Taos”

  1. Sharon Avatar

    I’m sorry we are not all on a bike trip. Take care, Shaun. No matter the privilege, life is hard. But the privilege makes it easier. I’m glad we’re not sick, destitute, or out of luck. For now.

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