Return to A Deliberate Year


Jemez Springs
New Mexico

You may have noticed that I spend a lot of time trying to get off by myself. Some have wondered why. Let me see if I can tell you.

Two years ago I retired from the Austin Fire Department. Chapter closed. What now? Just what the hell is all this travel for?

Well, I'm looking for someone. He's around here somewhere. Way back when, he used to write letters to the man he thought he would become. He asked for help. In the end he got precious little of it. Sometimes he thought there was a nudge or two, but for the most part there was just this formless buzzing silence in the night.

After a while he got involved in other stuff.

Then he disappeared.

I've got the letters. I'm trying to get in touch with him. But his is such a faint voice. It may be distance. It may be merely reticence. But he is easily overcome by the incessant "me, me, me" that clamors in my mind.

Add the bright babbling of others, and he fades out altogether. It is a bit like being haunted by children you never had. All those possibilities.

Think of it. One morning, deep in the sports pages, you hear a knock. You take the paper with you, still reading, your glasses sliding down unnoticed on your nose. Opening the door, you find a grown man standing there, someone you have never seen before. And yet he seems familiar. Very familiar. For a long moment neither of you speak. And then he grins, holds out his hand, and says "Hi, Dad."

A stormy meeting, surely, full of portents and silences. Silences. That's the key. Silence is not always inarticulate. It is entirely possible there will be nothing to say. But if there is nothing to say, I want to hear him say it.

First I have to find him. For me it is a matter of memory. For him it must be something stranger still.

And so it is that I always seek a modest solitude in my travels. Silences. Sometimes, like everyone, I hear voices on the wind. When that happens, I try to pay attention.

I've gotten pretty close. Once on a ferry halfway up the inside passage, I could feel him breathing right beside me. Oddly, it wasn't scary at all. It felt comfortable. It felt safe.

I have to keep trying. If I am not to be the fireman any longer, who am I to be? He once held all the possibilities within him. I want to ask him certain questions, much as he asked me. Maybe I'll have better luck.

What it is that I need to do? I think he knows.

Meanwhile, I've found a wonderful campsite here, next to the Jemez River. If you want voices in your dreams, a burbling river is right up there with the wind.

The water runs red with silt from the recent rains, and a cottonwood, shaggy with green and gold, droops over it. The tree is bent, and a little raggedy. One limb is a snag. But it is quite alive.

The leaning leaves stir slightly. Perhaps they mean to fall.

To the right is a small arroyo, and empty land beyond. To the left a site as yet unoccupied. It could be worse.

Wait. Did you hear that?


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