It has become clear that a significant part of our intellect is derived from pictures and stories of other people’s experiences. Our minds are programmed before we are able to speak, making us nothing more than products of an environment. Here in New Mexico, my programming undergoes a transformation.
With four months of traveling behind us, New Mexico becomes our thirteenth state to visit. It is March, and we cross into the Northeast corner of the state during a blinding snowstorm. Bars pulled across unplowed roads force us to pull off. From small windows within a gas station, we watch the blizzard evolve. It turns out that there is the convenience of an attached laundry-mat so our time is productive. As the show finally subsides, we get back in the car to look for a place to sleep. After being spoiled with warmth in Texas and Oklahoma, we once again hope that we don’t freeze in the night.
Despite periodic snows, the morning sun shines upon us as we head to Capulin Volcano. We ping-pong through the state: traveling from Aztec to Chaco, Bandelier to Gila, and everywhere in between. Almost every day is spent exploring ruins from 700-1000 years old. As I watch brilliant white sand dunes turn pink with the sunset, it is evident that only a small part of the land is anything like I had imagined. I am faced with the realization that I have had a completely skewed vision of the American landscape. In addition, history and geography have never interested me the way they do now. I crave to know the journey of those who walked the land beneath me and sculpted the ancient dwellings into the cliffs in which I climb.
I feel the past twenty-three years of my life were spent as an automaton, and only now am I becoming human. During this journey, I am being reprogrammed. Flesh wraps these metal limbs as I overlook an extinct civilization. I think of a time where individuals traveled without rubber and steel to separate them from the ground. At one time, living was actually about sustaining life. Bare feet embraced the earth, and naked hands clawed into the dirt. Every activity relied on the collaboration of a community in order for the tribe to survive. Our species did not control the land, the land controlled us.
A shadow crosses this mysterious world. I look up to see a crow flying overhead, and wonder if it is (as legends say) carrying away those souls that once occupied the earth. When the Anasazi disappeared, they left only their earthen construction behind. After generations of meticulous design, why would they leave? Was it insufficient resources that sent them searching? A Spanish invasion that made them flee? Foreign illness sweeping through their village? Or did they simply set out to seek a better life after evolving into the insatiable beings that we are today? As I stand on this cliff, I struggle to realize that I may never understand the people who built these extraordinary structures. However what becomes more unsettling is to think that within our modern society, we fail to relate to one another every day. Do we all spend our time building and gathering in vain?
It may be the self-awareness or the complimentary color scheme of bright blue skies blanketing orange adobe villages, I can’t be sure, but New Mexico quickly becomes my favorite state. The contrast of white snowy villages to white scorching sand dunes, spiritual kivas to alien museums, the first drawings of man to the sensitive work of Georgia O’Keefe…it is too much for my programming to process, so instead I’ll reboot. This is the automaton vs. the existentialist.