Tuesday, January 6: Leaving Taos
Long before dawn I am awake with the ghosts. I can feel the chill in the adobe walls and in my bones. I can hear the dry voices, rehearsing. They can tell from the packing crates and disarray that we are moving. You’ve picked the perfect day, the old dry voice calls from the darkness. As usual! The movers were supposed to be here this morning, but I called yesterday and canceled, figuring to save seven or eight hundred bucks by doing it myself. I was sucked in by a U-Haul commercial touting “Adventures in Moving.”
I draw the blanket over my head and count the reasons never to move again. I mean from this bed. I can hear my wife’s light breathing and the rustling of the Airedales as they sense it is about to begin. The U-Haul truck that I rented last night is stuck halfway up the icy, rutty slope that masquerades as a driveway here on the Llano Quemado.
I haven’t had a cold in two years, but I’m catching one now. A monstrous one. Without looking, I know it’s snowing again. We may not find the truck until spring. I know, too, that the last piece of firewood is now cold ash. The utilities will be shut off in a few hours, if they don’t go off by themselves, which they frequently do during a snowstorm. Moving is nothing more than a test of character, but I don’t know if I have any character left. The ghosts know. In the past 25 years we’ve moved no less than a dozen times, the ghosts and I. I don’t sleep as well as I used to, and the ghosts don’t sleep at all. I listen to Phyllis’s steady breathing and wonder what will become of us.
I told people that I moved here to work on a book, to get a fresh perspective, but that’s only part of it. Living in Taos is an old dream, dating back ten years to a time when I first saw the place. It was October after an interminably long and blistering Texas summer, and Taos came over me like a narcotic. The maples were scarlet and the aspens shimmering gold. Fields of yellow and rust-colored chamisa rolled over the valley, and the sweet scent of piñon curled from adobe chimneys. I knew then that I had to come back, not just to visit but to stay.
I don’t mean stay in the sense that a stump stays in a field until it rots. I’ve seen people do that, and I tell you frankly I’d rather be a heroin addict. I’m more afraid of withering than dying. That feeling, that phobia, probably explains better than anything why I moved to Taos. I’m sure everyone feels it from time to time, that stagnation of being in one place too long. Someone described Austin as “a fur-lined trap.” A friend who left Austin nine years ago used the word “flee.” She didn’t just leave, she fled. That’s the way I felt. I was sitting around a bar one night with some old friends when it came over me. We’d ordered one more round and I was telling or listening to one more story. Remember the time that…Same drink, same friends, same faces, same memories. I began to feel myself fading into the walls. In another five years I’d look like a section of Sheetrock. In another ten years I’d be covered with favorite recipes and cartoons clipped out of the New Yorker.
I’d lost my ability to feel. I would drive across the Capitol grounds at night and look up at the massive walls of pink granite and try to recall what it all meant. I’d walk along Barton Creek and see nothing except the streams of sweat that poured down my forehead and streaked my glasses. I began to wonder if mockingbirds would make good chili. Friends called, but I seldom answered. I would sit for hours in dark rooms, listening to the wisdom of the air conditioning motor, and fall asleep staring at photographs of Norwegian fishermen in National Geographic. When Phyllis and I made the decision to move to Taos, everyone predicted we’d be back. Maybe. Maybe not. It was a subject I wasn’t prepared to consider just then. My only job was to get over the wall.
By midmorning I’ve made two extra trips across town to the U-Haul station, first to replace the truck’s muffler, then to seek assistance in attaching the two bar by which I intend to tow my Bronco to Texas. Nothing in Taos ever gets done the first time; it’s like Mexico, except most people speak English and you can drink the water. A thousand miles to go and I’ve already used half of the thirty-gallon tank of gas.
The truck still won’t make it up the icy driveway. I remove a section of a neighbor’s fence and bring the truck in from the back, carefully avoiding goats and stacks of firewood. It is snowing harder. I can barely see the tracks from this morning.
I stand under the portal, drying my hair with a blanket, looking out over the pastoral valley of Ranchos de Taos, thinking of the months of good times and the hard work, missing it already. From the llano, I can see the orchards, the village, the old church. The frozen white faces of the mountains stare through me. There is not a sound.
About noon, I spot Noel and Wendy McDonald climbing the hill, bringing sandwiches and beer. Their Mercedes won’t make it up the drive. Noel is an artist from Marfa, and he will be moving in as we move out. He has no idea how long he’ll stay. We came for the summer, eighteen months ago. The magic doesn’t wear off, but neither does the feeling that you’re an outsider. Only