17 Oct The Dark Walk
If you pull up a satellite image of the United States taken at night and find New Mexico you might notice something. Except for the Albuquerque metro area right in the middle, and a few lines of lights branching out from it along the interstates, the state looks pretty dark. In fact, it is so dark that in Northern New Mexico, where I’m from, some national astronomical society has determined it is the part of the US with the least amount of light pollution, the light that comes from cities and towns that block out the stars. It’s dark. Really dark. I love it. You look up at the stars on clear nights without a moon, and it can be a truly humbling, magical experience. The sky is blanketed from end to end with tiny points of light. When the sky isn’t clear… it’s even darker.
When I was in high school I lived in Gladstone, New Mexico. You probably haven’t heard of it. I’m not surprised one bit. This is one of those communities in New Mexico that isn’t a town so much as a place. In fact, downtown Gladstone consists of three or four buildings, one of which used to be the post office. New Mexico doesn’t get much rain, but the two times you can almost guarantee to get some is prom and graduation.
After playing in the band for graduation at the end of my junior year I was driving home in the rain. The dirt roads were messy. About half a mile from my house, I slipped into the ditch and got myself nice and stuck. I decided since I was so close to home, it really wasn’t a big deal. I’d just walk home, walk back in the morning after it had dried out a little, and bring my car home.
I got out of my car and closed the door. It was dark. Real dark. A few years before, on a trip to Missouri, we took a tour of the cave that Jesse and Frank James used as a hideout. In one of the rooms they turned out the light to demonstrate what “cave-dark” was. Dark so dark you quite literally cannot see your hand in front of your face. This was that dark.
I had a choice. I could get back in my car and wait for my parents to come find me when they started to worry, or start walking. But I was only half a mile from home. No big deal. I started walking.
So there I was. Walking in the mud, in the dark, getting rained on, and I couldn’t see a thing. I could feel the slope of the road, so I could stay more or less in the center. I would feel the pitch of the road start to move down one side or the other, and I would move back to where I could feel I was on the top. It was slow going; one plodding step after another.
In cow country there is a device that keeps those cows from crossing from one section of pasture to another, yet still allows cars and trucks to drive without stopping for gates. The cattle guard. A cattle guard is a shallow pit in the middle of a fence line with pipes or metal rails laid across with spaces between. There were two of these between my car and home. I knew they were there, I just wasn’t sure where. I kept moving. Slow… Steady… One foot in front of the other. I came to the first cattle guard. I had to place one foot on a pipe, then reach and find another with my other foot, make sure I was solidly on it, then shift my weight and find the next pipe. It was more than a little scary.
The section of road before the next cattle guard was short, but it was curved. The first had been relatively straight. I went back to feeling my way along, staying in the center of the road by feel, trying to guess where the next cattle guard was.
After crossing the next cattle guard I could see the light from the front room windows of our house. I could finally see where I was going. My best guess is that it took be about an hour to walk that half mile of muddy country road.
Sometimes we get stuck in life. We can’t see, but we know what direction home is. We can get back in the car, and sit, and wait, and hope… or we can get out and start walking. Walking is scary, and it isn’t easy. We have to feel our way along, and hope that we’re still going in the right direction. We’ll come across cattle guards. Maybe we know they’re there, maybe we don’t. We will have to feel our way along. It will be slow. Sometimes it will feel like we’re never going to get there. But we still have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
But… If we do that, if we keep moving careful step after careful step… we’ll finally see some light. We’ll finally get to where we’re going. It will just take some time, and the will to keep walking.
I made it home. So will you.