I had just moved to Albuquerque, and I was exhausted and sore from carrying boxes and furniture all day. I decided to treat myself to a massage. I plopped down my 70 bucks, a huge indulgence for me, and a soft-spoken, ethereal woman beckoned me to follow her as she drifted into an amber-lit room. Here, the massage commenced.
There was the scent of lavender and eucalyptus. There was the light, plinking sound of New Age music, the occasional Zen gong. There was a warm, sage-scented breeze wafting through the window, touching my skin as it drifted through the room. And there was a fly.
The last thing you want in the room with you when you’re getting a massage is a fly. My particular fly was a late-summer fly, a fat, lazy fly whose buzz was thicker and slower than most. It bumbled around and knocked into the window with a thud.
Buzz, thud. Buzz, thud. Buzz, buzz, buzz, thud. This became the mantra of my relaxing massage.
In any other setting, that buzz would have slipped right under my skin and vibrated like my last nerve thrashing for attention. But, at the risk of sounding like a loon, as if perhaps that NewAge music had aromatherapied itself into my exhausted brain, the buzz of that fly was beautiful to me. I’m not saying I was overcome by its splendor, or that I wanted to write symphonies based on the sound. But, on that day, the hum of the fly soothed me. It was the sound of a hot summer day when everything and everyone slows down and even the breeze caresses your skin in slow motion. On those days, there is nothing to do but sit, and savor, and listen—not to the parts of life you love best, but to the whole of life, the buzz, the thud, the whisper, and everything in between, everything intertwined.
The calm I felt had everything to do with living in a place as culturally diverse as New Mexico. Though it seems paradoxical, the potential for tension between cultures makes for a uniquely honest and earned sense of harmony here. New Mexico is not a place that pretends to overlook the differences between people. It is a place that validates differences, embraces them, and celebrates them for their beauty. This creates a foundational peace, and that peace works its way into even the smallest elements of your life: a massage, a fly, a day you remember 20 years later and call back to when you need to remind yourself that, yes, this is possible.
I haven't shared my fly epiphany with many people. But it's two decades later, and I still remember the quality of calm I felt in that moment. At first I thought it was a fluke, that the feeling I had that day was the product of exhaustion; it could have taken place anywhere. But as my life in Albuquerque continued, I came to believe that this exact moment could have happened only in New Mexico. Or, at the very least, that this kind of moment is far more common in New Mexico than in most states. It is, to me, what makes New Mexico New Mexico.
True, this state is a peculiar place. When I first crossed the state line during my move to Albuquerque, I was greeted by a trampoline hanging from telephone wires across the highway. It was one of those large, circular tramps with a net around it, and there it was, balanced on a wire that didn’t seem to sag any more than it would have if a pair of shoes had been tossed over it, dangling for all to see. In other odd New Mexico news, I’ve seen people walking llamas into town like many people walk their dogs. I even saw an alpaca riding in a hot-air balloon above the Sandías once, its long, fluffy neck craned downward toward the ground in wonderment.
I’ve also had some magical, even sacred moments in New Mexico. I sat in a hot tub at Ten Thousand Waves, looked up at a glassy black night sky, and listened to snowflakes sizzle as the delicate crystals landed on the steaming water. During the celebration of San Geronimo Days, I’ve feasted with the family of a good friend of mine who is a Taos runner, a sacred position among the Taos people. Taos Pueblo is the oldest continuously inhabited community in the United States, and, together, my friend and I broke bread in one of the oldest adobe homes in the Pueblo.
That could only have happened in New Mexico. But the state has taught me about the smaller things, the moments that, in any other place, might otherwise be overlooked.
Shortly after that massage with the fly, I purchased a pair of work boots and landed a job as a landscaper. I spent my days outdoors on mesas, or in the Sandías working the land, laying sod, xeriscaping, building coyote fences. One evening, after an eight-hour day of labor, I was watering a tree I’d recently planted. I stood there, again exhausted, and I looked out toward the spent volcanoes on the Albuquerque horizon. A thunderstorm was moving across the land, toward me. I was in my twenties, and a thunderstorm, of course, was not a new occurrence for me. But this one was.
Directly above where I stood, the sky was achingly blue, the kind of turquoise that hurts your eyes for its brightness, with the kind of clouds that make you believe everything you know about clouds is a lie. These clouds were not not mere moisture. These clouds you could walk in, your feet sinking into their pillowy surface, springing up from them with every step, your whole body tumbling and falling through them, always finding a soft place to land.
But the bright blue sky and the white clouds ended abruptly, and a precise line of silver-gray intersected the blue. It was as if the roundness of the earth were a stage, and a gray curtain had been dropped, splitting the sphere in two. The world was an amphitheater, and I had a front-row seat. The rain—miles away from me—came down in translucent layers. Behind that transparent blade of silver was—again—blue sky. But that sky was different from the bright sky directly above my head. It had just been soaked with torrents of rain, and so a rainbow arched across it, the full spectrum of color: red, purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, stretched across the horizon above those volcanoes that had spewed their ash and then sunk into themselves eons ago.
I felt like those volcanoes: not an ounce of rage or blaze left in me. Just an internal quiet that—true enough—had experienced rage in the past, but had given it up for something better: an evening on a mesa watching a rainstorm. A pair of boots. A steady job. My life.
Just when I thought the world could not get any more beautiful, the quintessential New Mexico event occurred. The sun lowered itself above the curve of the earth, and a spectacular sunset washed across the sky. On any other landscape, this convergence of weather and twilight would have been too much to fathom, a messy abstract painting created by an aspiring deity who had not been around long. But this sunset was composed by a master. The sun dipped low, and the fire that had long been silent in those volcanoes was touched back to life, not with rage or violence, but with a quiet passion that embraced a quick change of weather, a slower passage of time.
New Mexico embraces weather and time. It is as old as the bones of the earth, as bright as my brilliant youth, as rugged as the boots I bought that day in order to work the land that sits quietly under an open sky etched with fire and rain. Sacred feasts, humorous absurdities: they’re a sure part of New Mexico. But the steady thrum that holds this land together is a vibrant and irrepressible calm, everything held in the palms of a simple moment that, in other states, might very well slip away.
BK Loren is the author of the award-winning books Theft: A Novel and Animal, Mineral, Radical, a nonfiction collection. She will be teaching the novel master class at Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, July 13–17 (taosconf.unm.edu).