I had never been to the Southwest. I had lived in big cities most of my life; New York, Milan, LA, so the idea of being in the remote landscape of dirt and dust was not appealing to me. My brother had bought a ranch property in Colorado, and I had promised to visit, so for one weekend, I was trading in my designers for denim.
My first night I stayed in Santa Fe. It was the night of the Blood Moon. The sky had never looked so vast to me. Maybe it was because I had stopped looking up. It was the first time since childhood that I recognized the constellations; Orion, the Dippers, I saw them all. Unlike the LA skies, in the heavens of New Mexico, there was a celestial overture, a symphony of speckles lighting up the galaxy. It made me wonder if there was so much more than what I perceived.
In the morning, I began my journey to Colorado. On the way, I passed hundreds of people walking along the side of the highway, some all the way from Albuquerque. It was Holy Week, and they were making a pilgrimage to Chimayo; a sanctuary where many claimed to have been healed by the sacred dirt housed in this Catholic shrine. I envied their devotion, I wished so badly I possessed such conviction. I stopped at this shrine, hoping to rediscover my faith as I saw the crutches and the photos of the living miracles adorning the walls. I let the holy dirt sift through my hands, I spread some over my heart and forehead, but I felt nothing.
When I reached Colorado, my brother took me for a ride in his truck, and we drove along the muddy back roads to his ranch. A herd of elk and wild turkeys passed before us. Even though my brother owned the land, it was obvious it would always belong to the wildlife. In the distance were the Spanish Peaks; their caps dusted with a sprinkling of springtime snow.
“The Ute Indians believed them to be the breasts of the earth, from where all of life originated,” my brother explained.
I was looking at the bosom of Mother Nature herself.
We continued on up a remote mountain pass until we reached a wolf sanctuary. We toured the facility and were told the tragic tale of how man had nearly rendered these exquisite animals extinct. It amazed me that such a powerful creature could be so afraid of humans, but then, we were their most potent enemy, and they instinctually knew it.
The owner of the sanctuary offered to have us come into a pen to meet the wolves. We were told to sit still on a log and let them approach us.
“No noises, no eye contact, let the wolves direct the encounter,” he instructed. “If they don’t want to meet you, so be it. If they do, show them your teeth and let them lick them.”
I wanted to leave. Not only was I appalled by a wild dog licking my mouth, I had once heard that wolves could see deep into your soul. I was worried about a living being having such intimate knowledge of me. Would it be able to see the darkness, the doubts, the transgressions of my past?
I anxiously waited as the door to the pen opened. I stared straight ahead, sensing the shadows of these mysterious animals pass by me. Then, one was in front of me, looking profoundly into my eyes. All my fears and hesitation turned into a deep reverence for this animal before me. I stretched my lips and showed her my teeth, and she explored them with her graceful tongue.
My tears fell onto her coat as I placed my hand deep into the fur on her neck. The moment felt so natural, so right, it was the closest to nature, to existence, that I’ve ever been. I returned the gaze and saw something much greater than myself in the reflection, and that was when I knew. It was in those eyes that I found what I had been searching for.