On The Road: New Mexico
places I've been
The changes that I've left
I look at myself to find
I've learned the hard way
every time. . .
A long time ago, in a land far away, a seventeen year old know-it-all whippersnapper had it all figured out. There had been raw upheaval in his life—physical, emotional, spiritual—but he would handle it. He'd simply suck it up to do what had to be done.
Influenced by the Disneyfied excitement of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, along with a healthy mixture of Bonanza and Gunsmoke, he had a trailblazer mindset and independent streak. Zane Grey had recently made tracks in his imagination--it was obvious that all things of the old west fascinated him. He was a reader and thinker who'd already perfected the trick of disappearing within himself.
In the winter and spring of 1973 he had a head full of big ideas, a heart inflamed with a passion to help others less fortunate, and an abiding aspiration to change at least one little corner of the world. An opportunity to join a Summer Service program came to him. He filled out an application and listed his top three preferred locations. He wrote a biographical testimony, provided profile pictures, and requested recommendations from adults in his circle.
After submitting the necessary paperwork to the sending agency, he waited with all the patience of a thoroughbred stallion pawing the ground in the starting gate. He haunted the big green mailbox at the end of his street, demonstrating a vigilance that bordered on obsession.
Then one day in mid-March he received a package of information, which along with preliminary orientation material, included where he was to be assigned. His first reaction was predictably knee-jerk and none too pleasant. He had put the Navajo Mission in Bloomfield, NM as his first choice, but that was not where he was going to be sent.
It was to Camp Brookhaven, a place in upstate New York that ministered to inner city children from the Bronx. The news rattled him because he'd been hoping, praying, believing, and fantasizing that he was on his way to New Mexico for an adventure reminiscent of cowboy heroes. In the language of the era he was bummed out bigtime. Not for the first or last instance, he was undergoing a meltdown in his relationship with God.
I knew that young man well, for he was me inside a daydreamer's skin. As I recall, I did a great deal of grumbling, which got squashed and put into perspective when I had a cup of tea with Grandma Major. She was a gentle soul who possessed scads of practical wisdom forged by a faith that was real and lived out in ways that impressed and impacted me.
We were sitting at her dining room table. Late afternoon twilight shadows were creeping through the quiet house. She steadily listened to my whining about where I really wanted to go—she even let me render great details about how badly I felt God had missed the mark, and then, in a tone that still rings in my ears, she lowered the boom.
"Kenny, tell me something," my grandmother said, peering over the top of her glasses with an expression that commanded my attention. "Where'd you ever get the idea that you could tell God what to do?"
That shut me up. It's a question that over the years has hit me upside the head more often than I care to admit in these pages. For the summer of 1973 the matter was settled.
Grandma Major was exactly right, and I had much to learn. For starters, I soon discovered that our Creator has an understanding that transcends our capacity to comprehend. I cannot imagine how incomparable and hollow life would've been had I gone to Navajo Mission in 1973—if that byway had been taken then I may never have been the benefactor of the Almighty's matchmaker services.
At Camp Brookhaven I met a strawberry-blonde college girl from the wilds of Pennsylvania, and as used to be said, we became a hot item—we were the couple of the year and received a blue ribbon award to commemorate that fact. After more miles than can be counted, more teardrops and laughter than can be measured, and more stories than can ever be told, Anita and I remain partners in all things—we dream the same dreams and reach for the same mountaintops.
- On The Road: Abilene & Beyond
Life naturally comes with some uneven terrain. Its landscape is seldom flat, easy, or without jagged outcroppings. There are always steep mountains to climb and low valleys to traverse. The trick, if that's an acceptable way of phrasing it. . .
38 Years Later
It was raining on Raton when we crossed the border into New Mexico. The windshield wipers were at high-speed, swishing back and forth with a mad intensity that caused me to take my foot off the gas pedal, and squint in an attempt to see better.
In a moment all was clear—we passed through the cloudburst. The sun was brilliant on the other side of the heavy downpour. A shimmering curtain of bright sunbeams greeted us.
A thrill that mere words cannot adequately convey chased through me. Excuse me if this sounds too religious or a little bit on the kooky side, but it was as though, after thirty-eight years of endeavoring to get here, God was welcoming me to the enchanted wonder of New Mexico.
Behind my dark sunglasses pools of salty moisture welled up in my eyes, and as I blinked, tiny droplets trickled ever so gently down my cheeks. Sometimes the sheer marvel of the goodness of God's provision is vivid and overwhelming—w hy he allows me, a coarse and crabby man steeped in a zillion contradictions, to be in fellowship with him and behold a demonstration of his grace as it breaks into my consciousness is way beyond my feeble reasoning powers.
We stayed in Raton that night, in the midst of a range that the Spanish named Sangre de Cristo because the red colors blending over the mountains at sunrise and sunset reminded them of the blood of Christ. Jubal Sackett, a fictional character, referred to them as the Shining Mountains. Whatever one calls them they are awesome.
The next day, not too many miles west of Raton we crossed the Canadian River. An unspoken wisecrack made me smirk: I'm just here manifesting my destiny. The main rivers of New Mexico are the Rio Grande, Pecos, Canadian, San Juan, and Gila.
We traveled to Bloomfield following Route 64 the whole way, which took us through sections of Carson National Forest. It honors the frontiersman Kit Carson, whose legendary exploits as a pathfinder were marred by his brutal treatment of the Navajo in the service of the U.S. Army. Taos was his home base. It became a town where artists settled, and nowadays it's an important stronghold that staunchly nurtures the presentation and preservation of Native American culture.
In antiquity the area of Carson National Forest was inhabited by the Anasazi people, who left ruins of adobe dwellings, artifacts, and near-mythic mysteries for archeologists and anthropologists to unravel. We drove slow, stopping to take pictures or just to have a closer look whenever the mood struck.
The diversity of the topography is definitely too much to take in and process all at once. Seeing photographs or watching a documentary doesn't prepare one for seeing the terrain up close. Around each bend in the road there was another surprise to grab us. Rocky crags jutting from the mountainside, and then just a few miles later a vast meadow plateau budding with wildflowers amongst patches of snow banked beneath stands of evergreens.
The animals, which all moved with undisturbed ease, were a bonus that I had not anticipated. We saw dozens of pronghorn antelopes grazing in scrubby grass beside the road.
A herd of buffalo were minding their own business munching on breakfast in a field not more than fifty feet from Route 64. By the time we parked on the shoulder and got in position to take snapshots, most had meandered down into a gully. One big bull remained, but it turned its backside to me as the pictures were taken—still not sure what message the beast was sending me.
In the village of Eagle's Nest, of all places, we saw a single bald eagle perched atop a telephone pole, appearing to be a lonesome sentinel on guard duty. A few miles further along, a pair of golden eagles held vigil on fence posts.
On the last day of our cross-country trek there were also lots of prairie dogs and an innumerable number of hawks. As the wildlife and scenery passed by the windows, the search for adjectives to chronicle the rugged beauty became constant—stunning, remarkable, majestic, towering, gorgeous, windswept, barren, magnificent, immense. The dictionary fails to offer a sufficient description. The vast artistry of the Creator is truly breath-taking. More than once I was moved to proclaim anew a phrase that shaped me by weaving its way into the fabric of my make-up: My God, how great thou art.
These musings are merely my first impressions, but I suspect reflect a fair assessment because for unbeknownst reasons, I was blessed with reliable instincts and discernment. We look forward to exploring our surroundings and soaking up customs and folklore, though realize we'll likely miss more than we see—the land and people are so rich in history that we will only ever scrape the surface. We come as sojourners and seekers to serve and grow.
Where'd you ever get the idea that you could tell God what to do?
Thirty-eight years after first asked, it still needs to be considered and evaluated. Not sure what can be said while gazing upon snow-capped mountains in the boundless distance or staring at a starlit sky that is a sparkling canvas stretching past forever above the desert.
The ancient words of the Psalmist spring to mind: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
It is humbling to be here. Whether we ever grasp it or not, life really is about what God desires to do in and with us—he invites us to be players in his story, to be threads laced into his tapestry. To answer the question Grandma Major poked at me long ago and far away is to remember my smallness in comparison to the One who from everlasting to everlasting is drawing all things together for his purposes and glory—an honest appraisal also produces awestruck recognition that despite my hardcore stubbornness God is at work in my life. That astounding phenomenon never fails to stir my soul to sing a joyous song. And so goes the journey.
- Wanted Man
Wanted Man a.k.a. Ken R. Abell, seeks to be a blessing to others. He's a rake, a rambler, and a teller of tales who understands that there is strength in a story well told and well lived. To learn more, inquire or schedule him, visit this web site.
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Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues is all about alienation, isolation, and paranoia, which in my observations is an ever-present tension in the church. As believers in Jesus Christ we are supposed to be instruments of peace and redemption. . .
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Xenia, Ohio has a long and rich history. This piece is a thumbnail sketch that goes back to its earliest beginnings. It also looks at the disastrous tornadoes of April, 1974.