A writer continues his New Mexico road trip, back to the landscape and sacred sites that inspire him — and he discovers the book he is writing has a powerful impact on friends at a 12-step meeting.
As my road trip to New Mexico continued, I reflected and relaxed. I needed to absorb the creative explosion that had just happened. I had sat down at the library in Farmington, and in about two hours, written out a five-page synopsis of the next book I would write. It emerged as a fully realized vision. I wanted time to let all of that sink in.
The next day I got up and drove out to Shiprock, the monolith to the west of Farmington. It was a real energy source and an anchor for me in some way I couldn’t really define. I had grown up being able to see that huge spire off to the west every day. It was a volcanic plug 1,700 feet high, rising out of the flat desert floor, and one of the sacred mountains for the Navajo tribe. There was almost a mystical energy around that spire.
When I went to Farmington, it had become a ritual to drive out and look at Shiprock for a long time. I drove until I got as close as I could to the monolith, which was inaccessible from the highway. I pulled off the road and got out of my car. I stood there and absorbed the power of the massive rock, not thinking much, hearing the silence of the wide open spaces only occasionally broken by the passage of a car. I drew spiritual strength from being so close to such a sacred space.
Afterward, in another ritual, I drove north toward Durango to the Ute Mountain Casino and played blackjack on that same-day journey. It had been a hugely successful trip, and I could now just relax and sight see. I played cards for several hours – I broke even. Then the noise and visual overload of the casino grew tiring, and I drove back to the motel in Farmington.
For the next couple of days I explored Farmington. As I drove around town, everywhere I looked brought up memories. The empty field where we used to play army when I was a child was now a new subdivision, covered with houses. The lonely canyon we explored was surrounded by houses and didn’t feel like the hidden fortress any more. In a small town tradition, there was a large “F” on a distant bluff that overlooked the football stadium – in the ‘60s the sophomores whitewashed it before homecoming. There was now a small park at its base. Everywhere I drove there were changes; signs of my childhood world disappearing.
I drove out to Brookside Park at 20th and N. Dustin. I grew up swimming there during the summer. It had been completely remodeled, and there was a skate park next to it. The airport was on top of a bluff. When I was about 10 my parents used to pile the family in the car and drive up to the airport. There were no fences, so we parked near the edge of the runway, and watched as airplanes took off and landed. It was fenced off and inaccessible now.
I drove down Main Street and saw the Allen and Totah theaters. In the ‘50s, that was a hub of our world. Moms would drop us off to watch Saturday westerns with Looney Tunes cartoons. It saddened me to see the theaters both closed and abandoned, eclipsed by the multiplex at the mall. On Saturday nights, the high school kids once dragged Main Street from the A & W Root Beer stand on the east to the Dairy Queen on the west end. Now those kids too were out at the mall.
I drove far up into the hills and parked on top of a bluff. In the near distance to the the west I saw a formation called the Hogback – a geological upthrust hundreds of feet high that ran like a spine for miles; beyond was the volcanic peak of Shiprock. I looked south across the sprawling town. Houses and subdivisions lined hills and flat spaces in a jumbled and random pattern. A broad band of trees defined the line of the river – actually three rivers which intersected. Tall bluffs walled the far side of the valley. Beyond those bluffs lay endless miles of desert, along with the bizarre rock formations of the Bisti Wilderness and the extensive ruins of Chaco Canyon.
To the southeast I could see the lonely spire of Angel Peak, and just below the horizon would be Huerfano Mesa, a sacred spot in the Navajo Indian mythology. I knew that to the east were the great kivas of the pueblo ruins in the town of Aztec. I faced north and saw miles of desert, with scattered pinon trees. Sixty miles away, I could see the LaPlata Mountains, including Hesperus Peak, one of the sacred mountains of the Navajos. To the northwest the famous cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde were tucked up in the mountains.
The number of powerful locations surrounding Farmington was breathtaking. I’d never stopped to think about it before, but I drew strength from all of it. I looked out across the enormous wide open vistas. In a similar way, my writing horizons had expanded in a larger and more positive direction. I felt different – but I couldn’t put words on what had changed. So I just relaxed.
There was a forecast of snow for Friday morning in Farmington, so I decided to leave early and avoid possibly getting trapped by a heavy snowfall. I got up Thursday morning, and found five inches of snow on my car. Fortunately, the temperature was hovering around 34, so driving was not a problem. I got on the road and drove through to clear roads about an hour southeast of Farmington. I spent the extra day exploring some of my old haunts in Albuquerque.
Saturday morning I got up and drove over to the 12 step meeting. As I walked into the room, Deborah, the woman who had heard about my book, came up to me and began raving about it. William had given it to her, and she thought she had to finish it this week so he could give it back to me, and she had read the whole thing.
She was really excited. “Dan, your book has really opened my eyes – I’m just astonished at how much of your own journey you shared! You took me places that I knew I needed to go, but I didn’t know how to get there. I feel like now I know!” She shared in the meeting about the book she had just read that had expanded her thinking so thoroughly. Hearing the impact my manuscript had on her was pretty powerful, and I just tried to absorb her words.
After the meeting, William tried to give me back the book, and I laughed and told him that was his copy. He was blown away and said, “It’s like you’ve given me a road map for how to get past the abuse.” Another friend, Cecil, asked when he could read it. I motioned to him to ask William, who gave him the book. I could feel the impact the book had on people. We went to lunch again, and had a very nice visit. People were focused on what I was doing and how my creativity had exploded.
I felt I had received a lot of affirmation for my direction, and some powerful feedback about the manuscript of Freedom’s Just Another Word. It was a good trip, and I was now ready to go home. I had dinner with a friend that night, but went back to the motel early. I was so overloaded by experiences and sensations that I needed to be quiet for bit. The next day I drove back to Fort Worth, tired, but filled up spiritually, refreshed, renewed. I was empowered in some new way I couldn’t yet verbalize.
William referred to parts of the book over the next six months as he went through his journey. It was almost as if he had the book memorized, and I took that as a signal that Freedom had impacted him deeply. The whole trip felt like a huge positive, and I was tremendously energized. Now it was time to face the part that had tripped me up before – publication.
“Shiprock HDR” haglundc @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
“Farmington, New Mexico” JuliaRobertsForums.com
“Clouds Over LaPlata” AlphaTangoBravo / Adam Baker @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.