Southwest musings on a day off

How do you define “A Day Off” when you are retired? Isn’t every day a sort of “day off”?

Be that as it may, we are taking a couple days off from our winter travels in the Southwest due to high winds and a snowstorm. I have become more confident towing the Scamp camping trailer on windy days, but when the weather advisory warns of constant 30 mile-per-hour wind with gusts up to 50 miles-per-hour, I decided that discretion is the better part of valor and declined to accept the challenge of driving in dangerous conditions to achieve the dubious reward of a campsite in another southeastern New Mexico state park.

After all, a desert is only a desert, but a good cigar is a smoke. I apologize for that Kiplingesque non sequitur, but I forgot to pack my box of cigars at the start of our odyssey and am now suffering from nicotine deprivation. Which may be responsible for today’s musings and rambling thoughts while we are confined in the Scamp while snow showers and winds eliminate our usual hikes and sightseeing excursions.

Musing 1:

State park campgrounds resemble retirement villages. True, the parks’ scenic vistas are usually more engaging and restful, and there is no community center where elderly residents play pinochle, nor have we witnessed daily deliveries of Meals-On-Wheels. But the clientele is invariably people of a certain age, Baby Boomers traveling (literally) through the last few miles of life’s marathon.

Admittedly there is some diversity. Campground nomads range from aging flower children living in decades-old Volkswagen camper buses decorated with images of unicorns and peace signs, to 50-year treadmill business executives forced into retirement who drive $200,000 motorhomes with stickers boasting they have experienced the marvels of Branson, Missouri, to widows towing pop-up campers who are free to do the traveling they always wanted to do now that their deadbeat anchor of a husband is finally dead.

Our commonality is that we are all white people in our 70s and 80s, a bit weary of all the madness of world and being forced to participate in that madness. Another thing we share: We need walking sticks if we venture off a paved roadway or trail. And almost all of us are traveling with dogs. The sweatshirt of a woman walking a pair of mixed-breed terriers on leash bore a message that summed it up: I prefer my dogs because… People!

Musing 2

We hiked the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site a few days ago, and as always in the presence of ancient ruins I experienced the humbling feeling of my insignificance upon this part of the Earth that has known the touch of humankind’s hand for 20,000 years or more.

Petroglyph means “rock carvings” but these prehistoric objets d’art are more like rock etchings. Near Tularosa, New Mexico, the Three Rivers site is somewhat remote, four miles off a state highway that is itself a route through desolate country. The site is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and is open to the public.

Of the site’s two hiking trails, the northern trail has the larger number of petroglyphs. It is also a more rugged walk, up and along a ridgeback that weaves among the hundreds of etchings. There are more than 21,000 of these petroglyphs in this valley between mountain ranges that was once the land of the people that archaeologists now call the Jornada Mogollon (pronounced muggy-own).

They did not call themselves Mogollon, of course; that was the name of a Spanish governor of New Spain that became the designation for this geographic region. The civilization that flourished here from about 200-1450 CE probably called themselves (in their long-lost language) “The People.” They built villages of semi-subterranean structures (pit houses with superstructures), cultivated corn, beans, and squash, hunted game, and made ceramic pottery.

The majority of the petroglyphs were probably made by the Jornada Mogollon, although some are thought to date back as far as 2,000 BCE. The images etched into the patina on the face of the boulders varied. Some clearly represent animals, others are geometric patterns, and many found predominantly in this valley are of a curious dot-and-circle design.

Anthropologists and archaeologists can only guess what these images mean or why they were made. My theory is that they are the paleolithic version of graffiti. Like the spray-painted artwork on train cars, bridges, trestles, tunnels, and other sure-to-be-noticed edifices, prehistoric popular-culture artists whose skills ranged from expert to amateurish etched their pictographs, some scratched shallowly into a rock’s face, others cut more deeply with a stone chisel and hammer. The answer to the “why” question is (for me) even more simple. All forms of art represent some aspect of the human experience. These stone age artists are making a statement set quite literally in stone:

I am human.

I am expressing my wonderment with my presence in this world with all its abundance.

I was here and have left this record of my time upon the Earth.”

Musing 3:

On this escapist journey, song lyrics are continually reverberating in my brain, escapees from some hidden fold of my temporal lobe, released from the neuro cells that hold them in stasis until a key word is spoken or memorable chord of music is played. The words set to music are often locked in a Repeat-Play cycle that can be maddening but frequently evokes bittersweet remembrance of a cherished time in my life.

This photo taken at the petroglyph site is not directly connected to Musing 3, but a 30 mile-per-hour wind gust at the ridge top of the trail keyed the John Denver tune “Windsong,” beginning the repeat/play cycle in my brain for a couple hours.

My deafness no longer allows me to hear music; it is all cacophonous noise. But I can “hear” a song that is imbedded in my memory as clearly as the first time that I truly heard it and was mesmerized by its music and lyrics. Since I have no musical ability of my own – I cannot follow a tune when I sing or play any musical instrument – it is strange that so many emotions and memories, both happy and sad, are evoked by these remembered songs.

It’s mostly music of 1960s and 70s, of course. Maybe because life was so much more intense and consequential then. Eclectic: that is how best to describe the ghost songs. Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beach Boys, Heart, Buffalo Springfield, Eva Cassidy Bruce Springsteen, Jefferson Airplane, Toto, Diana Ross, Judy Collins, The Beatles, John Denver, Alabama, Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Rivers, The Byrds, Joan Baez, The Stylistics, Linda Ronstadt, Van Morrison, Gordon Lightfoot, The Kinks, Roy Orbison, Jimmy Webb, Elton John, The Mamas and the Papas, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Jim Croce, Nanci Griffith, Bob Seger, Dire Straits, Leonard Cohen, and Bonnie Tyler to name a few. And of course “One Toke Over the Line,” by one-hit wonder Brewer & Shipley.

The lyrics of an old Jimmy Durante tune titled “It’s One of Those Songs” tell it best:

Later on you recall it in some other year.
You may start to smile. You may shed a tear.
You find that one part of your lifetime belongs
To one of those wonderful songs.

And that’s all I got to say about that.


About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
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4 Responses to Southwest musings on a day off

  1. Anonymous says:

    Glad to see you included Johnny Rivers, I was a ABIG FAN

  2. Ann Satre says:

    Love your musings and education. I get the”day off” thing…..sometimes I have so many days off I forget what work is.

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