Rapidly changing weather towed by a turbulent Autumn has now settled into steady, laconic coldness, which leaves me with Winter whiplash. With the desire to keep the temperature changing around me, I’m reminded of a classic vacation haunt built into the rocky landscape of the Southwest that my Father used to frequent: Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. With a dry, temperate, and beautiful destination on the horizon, it’s all aboard life’s locomotive.
We left for Trenton train station while it was still dark out. As the doors close and brakes disengage, a gentle push of inertia leaves all pre-travel anxiety and burdensome thoughts behind at the station, and a freshly molted spirit trolling the steel tracks ahead. Whether following a nagging need to seek change or a profound change that has shown up unexpectedly, a change of scenery is an ancient prescription to cleanse the soul.
The stereotypical picture of New Jersey is one taken across from New York City and depicts an industrial urban sprawl under smoggy refineries. Of course, anyone who lives in Jersey certainly knows that the most densely populated state is also rich with a great variety of ecosystems in culture and nature. If you’re in a city, driving less than an hour can land you either in the middle of the mountains, flatland farms, or the Atlantic Ocean.
This is one of the first major changes that are noticeable as we launch across Pennsylvania towards the Midwest. We stopped in the windy city of Chicago to switch trains and continue our journey further west. Cities and civilization centers become fewer and farther between. Soon, instead of moving between different clusters of homes and streets, the view outside becomes one long reel of earth tones interrupted by an occasional structure.
Just as our sight is based on movement, our lives are based on change and flow. The more familiar things become, the less we see them, and eventually, it can become difficult to perceive our daily lives. In the same way, the mundane things of distant places stand out in surprising ways. Something as simple as an old truck sitting at the foothills of a lurching mountain can evoke sonder, visions of the complete lives of others lived through their own perspectives and experiences.
The dry plains that span New Mexico are a bastion of endurance and triumph over the ravages of time. A faded and yellowed landscape stretches ever onward, plants and sky spring forth from rolling, folding fabric made of arid earth. Abiquiu is situated safely toward the center of a tectonic plate. Combined with the dryness and altitude, Earth has taken the opportunity to display her wisdom and visual art across the dusty stone. Like vast tree trunk rings on the desert, a visual excavation told over millions of years is written into rock and soil.
In more habitable climates, life rushes in to claim any abandoned property, whether it’s people or animals doing the work. Not so in New Mexico, where settlements without sufficient purpose eventually fade away with life too scarce to care, and the desert slowly saturates on dry winds with the sense-memory of the ocean it once was millions of years in the past. This process has preserved these spectral ruins, for which Ghost Ranch gets its namesake, all across the American Southwest.
Thanks for reading,