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Reading old journals reminds me how full of twists and turns a recovery road can be. Along the way, I have encountered strong presences that restore a sense of balance – when I have let them. For years, though, I could not let them work within me for more than a few moments. I’ve edited a few journal entries that show the struggle. I was partly aware of the possibility of change, partly convinced I could not break the cycle I was in.
Stress has a lot to do with depression, we’re told, and time has a lot to do with stress. And it’s true, my life is timed, and time runs out before I’ve done enough. Enough to prove my value, enough to quell the sharp-edged voice talking me toward nothingness, enough to win a race I mindlessly run. That’s all the stuff of stress. But I see another side to it. Staying within time is a protection as well. The sequence carries me from place to place, job to job and builds a structure to guide and shelter me, stressful and exhausting though it is. “Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back wherein he keeps alms for oblivion.” It can be a prison, time, but its walls shut out thought and feeling that carry me in dangerous directions. So there is tension and stress inside those walls, but fear of something worse on the outside. Can that change? Can I step outside this beating time without becoming lost?
I drive south on the Interstate from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, shooting up one long ascent to a view of the nearby mountain ranges. Suddenly vision shifts and slows my car speed to a different scale of motion. Now it’s not mph on a highway, it’s a measure of motion passing one distant peak after another. I streak by cars in the next lanes but crawl slowly away from the vast masses of the Sangre de Christo toward the looming giant turtle shape of the Sandias. I have to turn from that distraction, as time reminds me what’s ahead. The next hour is like a few moments of urgent flight as I speed toward an appointment in Albuquerque where I’m giving a talk to Indian Pueblo leaders about negotiation and water rights. I am all purpose and business, running over what I’m trying to communicate, worrying about being late, wondering about the moods and preoccupations of the Pueblo governors, program directors and attorneys I’ll probably see there. All the while, though, part of me remains awed as I slowly pass the southern edge of the Jemez just across the Rio Grande Valley, stare some 50 miles off at sprawling Mount Taylor, catch the glinting snow across the broad back of the approaching Sandias. Those giants move in a scale of time and space that makes little of the human clashes about “managing” this grandeur. Yet it is the fights over human management of the forests, waters and wild places that pull me from valley to valley across the Southwest. Those fights arrive with deadlines, urgencies, a force of unnatural change. I move to their timing.
There is an older route between these cities I’ve also taken, though now it stops dead in many places or turns to dirt. That route heads out of Albuquerque’s old downtown north to one traditional village after another. First, it takes you through quiet farming villages, settled under Spanish land grants, then through Indian Pueblos, though these communities try to keep the tourist traffic confined to certain routes. There is a different pace that’s part of these cultures, one timed more to seasonal changes, the flows of streams, the care of crops, the demands of ceremonial life and religious belief. Yet those are not my worlds, and they offer no permanent stopping place for someone bulleting from crisis to crisis.
And the meeting in Albuquerque has a similar result. The Pueblo leaders listen to the assembled technicians of management, but in the end have a simple answer. We have our certainties. The rest of you just come and go. They have no time that includes us.
Months later, another timed trip – but this one takes me farther away from cities and freeways. I’m visiting an Indian reservation in northern Montana, stopping by a rural school to talk to the principal. The big country and sky all around me disappear as I step inside the wide building and sit with this tribal member in his one-window office. He keeps gazing out that window as he tells us what the school needs. This is all about money, proposals, deadlines, and I have a lot of questions about how things work there, budgeting, transportation, planning – scheduling. Soon he gets up and walks me through the classroom corridor out a side door and across the unplanted grounds. He picks a spot and stands quietly for a moment. He points out a mountain I had seen when driving in, but I hadn’t paid it much attention except to note that the school was directly facing it. As the principal stares , I can see how close and immediate this huge rounded form appears. It’s probably twenty miles away but seems to hover right in front of us, and somehow draws me in, as soon as I can stop thinking about other things and let it work on me.
He tells us a brief story: One day, I was sitting in my office and got to looking at that mountain. And pretty soon I got up to go outside and get a better look. I walked to this spot about here and stood like this. Cal, the janitor, was working outside. He saw me and came on over, and he started looking too. Then a couple of teachers who were on a break came out, and we’re all just looking. Pretty soon, the kindergarten teacher comes out, along with her class of little kids, and they stand quietly too. None of those kids are saying a word. You can see that all those classroom windows look out this way, and it wasn’t long before, one by one, they all came outside. So we had the whole school watching the mountain. Nobody said anything. I don’t know how long that lasted, but after a while we gradually went back inside.
He keeps staring at the mountain as he tells me that story, and when he’s finished he keeps looking that way. And so do I. For some reason, I can’t take my eyes off this immense shadowed presence. I don’t know why. It just feels good, calming, overwhelmingly peaceful, and so close it looks like I can touch it.
It isn’t long, though, before I have to leave and drive as fast as I can to catch a plane in Great Falls.