I just got back from New Mexico. Spent a week there in a cabin near Las Vegas (not Sin City), an oasis in the sense that it was free from all technology except electricity. Some thirty cabins inhabited a stretch of gravel road in a canyon 7,600 feet above sea level, but many of those lodgings were modern. Mostly owned by Texans, these vacation “escapes” for people were anything but rural. Just about all of them had running water, indoor plumbing, dish network television, and other modern-day conveniences. Really all these people did was transport their city life into the wilderness, but labeled it “rustic,” and so it was to them. We can convince ourselves of anything as long as we tailor the language just right. But the cabin I stayed at with two friends from college was not like that.
It had none of those things. Built decades ago, it was just four walls and a roof. It had electricity, but that wasn’t even originally part of the picture and was added a couple of decades ago, I think. Ours was an actual escape, a wandering into the beautiful landscape of the canyons of New Mexico. No cell phone reception was to be had. I purposefully left my computer at home, and I didn’t listen to my iPod.
In places like these you can actually disappear if you want. Obviously I was with friends and people from back home knew where I had gone, but it would have been easy to go here, not tell anyone you were headed there, and then no one would be able to find you. That’s a tempting option.
I went to see my friends, but I also went to withdraw. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I’m some sort of Thoreau or Emerson because I’m not, but even so my reasons for going were also aesthetic and spiritual. Separation from noise, calendars, inboxes, and the like are needed more and more each day, I believe, what with the conglomeration of technological advances hammering us constantly. I’m not interested in recapturing my entire week-long stay here. Those memories are for me, for my friends. But there were a few things I either observed or learned that stand out.
- There is no concept of Time out there. I had my phone off, the only clock in the cabin was broken, and I made sure to never ask my friend to check his wristwatch for me. Quite simply, I neither wanted to know what the Time was, nor did I feel like I needed to know. The sun came up, and the sun went down. We matched our day to its tempo. I feel like this is a more natural, organic way to go about your day. If we are of the earth and the earth derives its energy from the sun, so we also draw a sort of life source from that. To replace it with anything else will not do. At some point, letting neon and fluorescence act as a substitute to keep us up at irregular hours will wreak its heavy havoc, and only the sun can rectify such wrongs. I feel like my Circadian rhythms have been realigned, something I would not have been able to do on my own.
- I also formed the theory that our stomachs are largely tied to the idea of a clock. In the city we become hungry not because we are hungry, but because we see it is twelve o’clock. Many mornings I would wake up and, because I did not know what time it was, realize I had no appetite. So I did not eat. Why force it? If I became hungry, I ate.
- This sun-led life had another restful advantage: Rather than feeling like the day had twenty-four brackets, it felt like one unit. And quite honestly, the entire week felt like one encapsulated whole rather than sliced into seven pieces. Sometimes people say, “Time flows,” and I’d always looked at them quizzically because I thought they were idiots for saying that. Now I know what they meant.
- This lack of an awareness of Time allows you to further enjoy small moments, too. Or were they small? Had I had a watch by my side I might be able to tell you I sat on the porch staring at hummingbirds for fifteen minutes that one morning. But I have a suspicion it may very well have been for over an hour. Or more. Or less. Who knows? Who cares? This freedom from the bondage of Time also allowed conversations to go as long as they needed to. No one had to go anywhere. No one had to go do anything. Nor did conversations necessarily have to “go” anywhere. They could ramble on. They could end and there just be silence. Silence is, after all, a rare commodity.
- And out there it was very silent. You never truly know how powerful a hummingbird is until you have the privilege of hearing him in all his power. His wings beat out a heavy drum roll—thunderous, really. And he knows it, too. He’s showing off for that cute lady hummingbird (who is mighty fine, you see) in the tree next to the porch. He’s puffing out his ruby red breast with the greatest aplomb. He is invincible. He is amazing. You can’t convince him otherwise because, goodness, just listen to how powerful his wings are. Oh you hadn’t heard them before? Well then, welcome to the forest where you can actually hear things the way you were meant to hear them. What’s that? Yes, you will have to quiet down to hear it. That’s right, nature is not interested in hearing what you have to say. Only you’re interested in your own opinions. So shut up now and watch me show off for that girl in the tree. And then he flies off.
- In the stillness of nature you can hear God speak with much more clarity. Perhaps this is because you are not so many degrees of separation from the Maker. He and his Spirit are harder to hear in the concrete and smog because they’ve gone through too many hands and been processed too many times and been sifted into God-only-knows what kind of unrecognizable state. And so the still, small whisper becomes virtually nonexistent. But out there it’s something different.
- There is a chorus in the forest, a row of trees primed to sing. Only the Maker can bring it forth, and the conductor that is he comes with the direction of the Spirit. And that wind issues forth and fills the trees with songs, each knowing the part for which they were made. And the blue spruce hums its hollow roar while the aspen flits about with its tenor sharp. The oak slaps back the throaty alto line, and the grasses whisper the sweet soprano melody. Each part distinct to the nearby ear, and all of them in awe and wonder of the Maker’s idea and the Spirit’s improvisational whim. And every one of them claps their hands.
- But for the listener who is made in that conductor’s image, nature provides probably the choicest of options that no other creature can relish quite the same way we can, and that is this: to be still and know.
- I got a lot of writing done while I was out there. I think being near the created realm helps you also create. A shared stimulus, if you will, since everything around is direct from some invisible force, just like the ink put down on paper is direct from the visible pen resting in your fingers.
- Writing on paper with pen is an exercise everyone should take up, young and old. Penmanship is an art dying faster than anything I know, and it’s not that it’s something you even necessarily practice, but rather, it just unconsciously occurs and grows and manifests itself in maturity because you’ve written a lot of things by hand over time. Gone are the men who have flowing handwriting like my grandfather. I’ve worked with enough youth groups to observe over and over that our children growing up in technological society are fashioning for themselves (or having fashioned for them) basically illiterate hands that make illegible writing. I find this a grievous thing. To hear the granular scratch of the tip of a pen running across the smooth surface of paper is another poetry you won’t hear in the city and not because of the noise this time, but because we don’t even try anymore.
There are more observations, but that’s all I want to write. Some things you just need to keep for yourself. Visit New Mexico. Its beauty is alarmingly brilliant. If people ever say to me otherwise, I will very quickly have nothing to say to them.