Rocks, Dirt, Weeds, Tree Branches, Hollywood
by Tom "Rocks, Dirt, Weeds, Tree Branches, Hollywood" Dark
ABIQUIU, NEW MEXICO 12:28:16 P.M. How remote is where we live, you ask? So far this month four census takers have pulled timidly into our driveway hoping for directions. We're not on their census lists. They can't tell if we're real, as we haven't got a mailing address.
If we want mail, which I often don't, I'll drive a dozen miles north to a postage-stamp-size Post Office to fetch it. It's right across from the busiest concession for at least 35 miles around, Bode's General Store.
It's rumored that the great Southwestern artist Georgia O'Keefe once hung out at Bode's. The rumor must be true, as it has been the only place to hang out in these parts since before the Model "T" was a gleam in Henry Ford's eye. Lately there's a new Ice Cream Stand open at the other end of Bode's parking lot. It is also the size of a postage stamp, made of concrete blocks, festooned with handmade signs indicating whether or not they in fact have ice cream.
But that isn't the entirety of Abiquiu, New Mexico, no. A walk up the only habitable hill among these buttes, mesas, cliffs, bluffs, dirt, rock, trees and juniper clumps will bring you to a ramshackle flat of wattled mud and brick haciendas, some burned out, some still standing or leaning, still occupied, a suspiciously affluent-looking Catholic church and rectory, and around the corner from that, a large sun-baked adobe church where Ute Indians were first bunga-bunga'd in Latin beneath a big cross at the promontory overlooking their own incredibly gorgeous land. By 1730, the land was called "Abiquiu" (easier to figure out how to pronounce than "Al Quaeda"); Abiquiu is a Ute word for "Lumber Stop Here."
Why did the lumber stop here?? Because it had floated down from Colorado forests on what was once a bigger river than now, where people sawed it up and wagoned it off to build more forts out from which to foray and kill more Indians who hadn't converted properly to big crosses on big promontories throughout the Southwest.
By the late 19th Century, the Conquistadors and their priestly wizards had been overrun by American cattle barons and their colorful gangs of cowboy thugs, such as Billy the Kid, who left a bullet hole that's a tourist attraction 20 leagues southeast from where I type these words today. By the 20th Century the cattle barons and their thugs had been overrun by writers and artists like D.H. Lawrence and Georgia O'Keefe and their colorful gangs of pretenders; these were finally overrun by colorful gangs of hippies who built yurts, named roads after Hindu celebrities and sold jewelry handmade in China. Today, these ghostly desert mountains are scattered with people who have been overrun, refugees from big cities, and tourists.
There is a yurt about a mile from here, but it's obscured from my window view by genuine native juniper bushes -- as is the little Buddha worship station, a few hundred yards into the field, under a juniper. No one knows who put it there or when. Perhaps it was the now-extinct idolatrous Lamanites, whom the Mormons swear preceded everybody else.
We live on the site of an Indian massacre. For a change, it wasn't Conquistadors or Custer or cowboys doing the massacring, but two warring native tribes. I haven't the heart to dig around for bones. I don't think the old local ghosts want me to anyhow. This Valley of the Dead is happier left to itself.
Little remnants of the overrun occupy this sparse territory. Drunken shirtless caballeros, descendants of Conquistadors and Cowboys and Indians all, do shoot up the place now and then, and smug-looking priests do occasionally strut out of that fancy rectory. Grumpy old hippies, white beards down to their chests, eat burritos at Bode's.
I don't seem to belong to any of these remnants. I'm not even a Muslim, and so don't habit the largest mosque in the U.S., which is around the corner somewhere. The old ghosts must recognize what degree of stranger has parked his boots and horses in this topography. And so, peculiar things happen to me in Abiquiu, New Mexico.
Such as this afternoon. Tired of waiting for a hermit neighbor to drop by with one of her big dead dogs for me to help bury, I drove up to fetch the mail. In the Post Office parking lot sat a big trailer containing a helicopter with blades folded up. I wondered. Having got the mail (nothing but a credit-card come-on), I walked across the street to ice cream stand to order a chocolate malted milkshake.
Chocolate malted milkshakes are precious around here. A little while ago the Ice Cream Stand had run out of both chocolate and vanilla, so no shake. Then they were out of malt, so no shake. Then they were out of ice cream entirely, so no shake. Today? The young man looked at me with eyes bright and said "Chocolate Malt?" "You bet," I replied. He stepped into the postage stamp sized building to mix it up, while I sat outside and watched a pretty Ute Indian girl proudly marking on the chalk board that they had Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, even Rocky Road ice cream! Today Only!
I walked my Tasty Chocolate Malted Prize over to the rustic bench by the door of Bode's -- you know, the creaky old rough-hewn wooden bench that Georgia O'keefe daydreamed on, back when -- and sat down to savor it the way only a rough-hewn stranger in a remote nowhere could enjoy it. Almost as good as a hot bath and Saturday Night Hoedown. Fella comes out of the store with a plate of nachos and sits down next to me.
Weather? Yeah, good. More weather? Hope so. Funny weather in Albuquerque, he says. You not from around here? I ask. Nope, he says. Oh, you're with the park service? He proudly pulls at his t-shirt to show me the emblem. It says "New Mexico Film Commission." Filming one more thing about the local raw natural beauty, I suppose, but I ask anyway. I'm not sure those little documentary companies could afford the big helicopter parked across the street.
"It's called 'Cowboys and Aliens," he says.
Funny title, I say. I try to remember the name of the last Hollywood film shot around here. He names a couple others, those aren't them. "What's this one going to be about?" He's not sure. Well, by the ironic sound of the title, I conjecture, it must be some kind of comedy. He doesn't know. So? Who's in it? "Harrison Ford," he says.
Here in Abiquiu, New Mexico, the name "Harrison Ford" doesn't ring a bell. Must be some actor, I guess. It wasn't until after I got home, and after I helped my hermit neighbor bury her dog, that I realized "Harrison Ford" is one of my favorite actors. Come to think of it, Harrison Ford has been huge in Hollywood for decades. The ghosts around here must not care about that; I must be listening to them too often.
We both make more conjectures what this movie will be about, then I ask him what he's doing in this project. He gives me a funny smile, shrugging his shoulders. That moment his boss comes out of the store. "Ask him," he says. Our bench is surrounded. His boss is surrounded by some workers and a fellow who looks... familiar. He's got a droopy mustache and looks all the world like Sam Elliot. seems to think I look familiar. Is he looking at my mustache? ( http://www.michaelmirasol.com/flipcritic/2010/05/ebertfest-day-3.html ) He's wearing one too.
"Rocks, dirt, weeds, tree branches," his boss says. I ask again, as I didn't hear him the first time while looking these other fellows over. "Rocks, dirt, weeds, tree branches," the boss repeats. I joke "Well, hell, I've got lots. Just drop by my place!" All smirk except Sam Elliot, who's standing there studying my mustache intently. And me without a bottle o' whiskey to offer or a six-gun on my hip.
A few more quips exchanged and I realize, this being at least half cowboy movie, they might need more horses,. A cowboy movie was filmed around my old place a year or so back, but I wound up glad they didn't use our horses. The film stank. I say, "Well, if you need horses, I've got 6 thoroughbreds (actually 5 and a Quarterhorse). You got cowboys who can ride race horses?"
"Oh yeah," says the man who doesn't know what the movie's about or what his job is exactly. "We've got great riders." "That's good," I say, "ours could use a workout." We exchange names. He can spell mine, but I can't spell his. "Barrio Te'echerra" is as close as I can come.
They pile into cars and trucks and the caravan drives off... including a big truck loaded with rocks, dirt, weeds and tree branches. We locals should take insult that our local rocks, dirt, weeds and tree branches aren't good enough for a Big Hollywood Movie. Ours are the best quality rocks, dirt, weeds and tree branches to be found since Mark Twain sifted the dirt where Adam was scooped out.
So, whether our adorable horses are going to be movie stars or not, there's a film being shot here called "Cowboys and Aliens," and if Sam Elliot isn't in a movie with a name like that, I'd be pretty surprised. I should've asked him to talk. That low moo is unmistakable.
I don't even care to check www.imdb to see if that was Sam Elliot. You guys can.
Watch for Sierra Pedernales in the movie. It's right out my library window. http://twitpic.com/265us2
I helped the lady bury her old dog and then came in and wrote this. She'd been waiting. I left her alone with her tears, as she preferred. I'd always rather do my crying alone too.