Homing (An Ode to Taos)

Homing (An Ode to Taos)

Alexa Schirtzinger
Published: 07/29/2008

I’m guessing there are a good number of people out there who live in cities and yearn passionately for wild places. I’m one. I wasn’t always the New York City girl, ignoring the hundreds of strangers on the subway and rushing around in heels (sometimes) and searching for a glimmer of serenity in the not-so-wild knolls of Central Park. No, there was a quieter time, when I was a whitewater rafting guide with a good tan and a passion for the craggy, terrifying pitches of Taos Ski Valley’s hikers-only double blacks.

That version of me—gone now; I’m pale and get most of my exercise from running paths and tennis courts—is a version of home. When I go back, as I did this weekend, I fall into my old self, and I’m able to let the days pass slowly, content to stare at the sky and scan for peregrine falcons as I float down the river. The place is magical. Artists say there’s no light like Taos light, since the town occupies that special place between soaring purple-green mountains and vast, sagey brown desert, and the people are at once ruggedly individual and somehow softer and more open than city people. Taos is so good that its Pueblo inhabitants have been there for thousands of years, occupying the same buildings for centuries. Perversely, it’s so good that you can’t even drive through town anymore; the single road is choked with motorcycles and tourists and big-car families from suburban Texas who have flocked to its beauty.

On Sunday, I hiked up the ski valley with a close friend, scaring marmots (not intentionally!) as we stepped as delicately as we could through the steep, blocky piles of orange-gray rock. Everything was silent: The pines bore witness to summer’s secret growth, and the wind bent the aspens below us. “I believe that trees are sentient beings,” a friend had remarked offhandedly at the boathouse the day before—and Taos is the kind of place where you can say that, standing in your swim trunks and drinking a beer after a long day of rafting, and people will nod in tacit agreement. It’s a place where people peruse Peterson guides for entertainment and everyone knows what basalt and garnet and cholla cactus look like.

For me, Taos is a place that is still wild. It has teenage gangs and family feuds and tourist traps and low-riders and a ski hill, sure, but it’s also filled with people who know how to live with and of the earth. This, of course, is an idealized description in the grand tradition of Rousseau’s noble savage. I left Taos because I felt the need to do—and be—something more. (It’s my own fault.) But it’s good to remember why you fight and write and dig and whine: There’s something out there worth saving, and someday, I hope to return to it.