It is finished after almost two years of work, with many changes—some of them drastic, others simply disappointing—along the way. And, as is always the case with a sustained dream, its unreal elements become prominent when it turns into reality. Then some transformation is required, to take the dream and modify it but hang on to its essential elements.
For me, the essential elements of Apache Mesa ranch, the 1300 hundred plus acres of high mesa, stones, grit, pinion and juniper, is the habitat it provides in this increasingly hostile world. Temporary ponds, the run-off from our well, and one large full time spring offer the only water for miles around to the birds, grey fox, rabbits, racoons, bears, snakes, mice, rats, and other species I haven’t yet seen, water that may make it possible for them to survive.
For this is extraordinarily rocky and barren land. Having grown up and spent a lot of my adult life in the thick green of the south and the North-East, I find the bones revealed in an arid landscape disconcertingly beautiful. Just as some ancient faces—I’m thinking of Donald Hall’s on the cover of his collection, Essays After Eighty, or Isak Dinesen’s at the end of her life, these life-ravaged faces tell us more home truths than the beautifully polished faces of the very young.
There are other benefits of staying in the little bedroom above the barn: the constantly swirling clouds, the change of light in the blue sky, the brief, rattling thunderstorms and sheet lightning—which usually produce no rain—have an end-of-the-world intensity that terrifies and illuminates.
But, for all that beauty, it is the neighbors that make the ranch possible for me. Diane, Rick, Denise and Gail—the core of a larger group—seem to hold the mesa in the palms of their hands, working on the land, tending to the gruesome road (which will be repaired, soon, I hope) noticing the wildlife that comes and goes around their houses, hidden from my place but comforting, none-the less—habitations for people who like me are fleeing for shorter or longer periods from the complications of modern life.
Oh yes, we do have cell phone reception, and I suppose it’s possible to rig up radio, TV and computers, none of which I plan to do. And there’s almost no furniture—these four handmade benches are the only things to sit on. But I don’t plan to add more.
As my biography of Doris Duke moves slowly toward publication next year and I complete the proposal for a book I’m calling Taken by Indians and add more pages to the first draft, the ranch offers me distance from my aspirations. And that, oddly enough, is a blessing.