Christmas Eve on 285
Ten day ago I left before dawn. Heading west. Deadlines vanquished. Solitude beckoning. Hiway 71 out through the Hill Country. Connected with 87, across west Texas. Then Hiway 285 in New Mexico.
Jackrabbits quickly outnumber people across the Texas line.
White-spined blacktop as far as the eye can see.
Motels advertising “air conditioning”.
Boarded-up general stores with faded paint on the windows.
Vacant filling stations with 99-cent gas tell of brighter days.
Black cows and brown antelopes grazing.
Stringing railroad cars pass by.
285 cuts through Santa Fe — heads north. Sun gone. Snow blowing.
Finally. The old adobe ranch house. 3 miles up gravel road, through gate, three cattle guards, past Georgia O’Keeffe’s place. I was ready to settle in.
Christmas Eve. On 285 again. Yesterday’s snow clings to proud junipers and dusty sage. Icy rivers. Blue and shiny.
Walking along the side of the highway.
Blue Ford pickup, brand new back in the 70s, pulls up beside me. Rolls to a stop. Passenger side window slowly reveals a woman with a full face, broad forehead, brown eyes, and a glorious smile. Buggy-eyed Chihuahua on her lap. Gives me a steely stare.
Man behind the wheel leans over. Thin, brown weathered face. Stubble more white than black. Faded green cap with Salazar’s Propane on the front. Sweat stains around headband. Straight, straggly, hair. Sticking out above his large ears. Red plaid shirt. Though many washings.
“Are you all right?”
Held up my Nikon — “Just taking some pictures.”
“We saw you walking when we come by few minutes ago. Then we saw your car on the side of the road about a half a mile up. We turned around and come back. Just wanted to make sure you was ok.” The woman wrapped in indigo and brown woolen shawl. Still smiling. Chihuahua still staring. “Saw your camera. Thought maybe that was what you was doing.”
“I’m fine. Many thanks for stopping.”
Now I was smiling too — “Merry Christmas!”
He made a U-turn back on the highway. Rear window. Sheet of yellowing plastic. Stretched and taped over busted opening. A spare tire and firewood in the back. He hit the horn. Gave me a big wave.
On Hiway 285 searching wonders of nature I found the spirit of Christmas.
Footage of artist Georgia O’Keeffe when she was 92…