I drove out of Black Canyon campground in the early morning and turned right, my little Scamp following obediently behind. I was driving away from a warm safe friendly community of fun and interesting people, a real campground family, and I was going out into the cold cruel world, alone and unprotected. I had been banished, not for bad behavior but because I had lived there for the fourteen day limit. After driving up the road just a few feet I crossed the border, from the sunny Santa Fe National Forest into the foreign land of the Hyde Memorial State Park. Do they still speak English there? Everything seemed immediately darker and somehow sinister.
I continued up the steep mountain road for just three minutes and came to the entrance to Hyde Memorial campground. When I turned right and entered its dirt road, it really was darker, the tall trees were thicker, the air was almost chilly. I had my choice of campsites, there was nobody else anywhere. I chose a site and backed the Scamp in, the very first backing-up job that I’d ever done perfectly, zip zip zip, and damn! there was no one around to applaud. I was completely alone in the deep woods.
I got the Scamp leveled, my kitchen set up, everything in place, then made a cup of tea and looked around. I could see that geography is a major determinant of the ethos of a campground. In the friendly one I had just left the sites were all in a circle, each large enough to provide plenty of privacy, but because of the layout we could all see each other through the trees. The whole campground lay on the relatively flat floor of the canyon. In the new campground the road hugged the steep side of the mountain on a shelf which was just wide enough for the road plus the campsites along the way. The side of the shelf plunged down to a lively stream far below.
There were huge spaces between each site, no one could possibly see anyone else. I had checked it out the day before and it had seemed fairly jolly because it was the weekend of July 4th and every site was taken by people in fun-loving loud party mode. But the day I arrived everyone had gone home.
Because there were no human sounds I became acutely attuned to the birds and the brook and the soughing of the pines. By the time my tea was finished I had been completely seduced by the solitude. I sat for a long while melting into it all and soon felt that surely I had become a wood nymph.
But then came the moonless black darkness of night and oh my! I became merely human again, and a tiny frightened one at that. I saw the evil glittering eyes of all the wicked night creatures behind every tree, just waiting to pounce on me. Even were I to call for help no one would hear me. What to do what to do? I pulled myself up to full size, activated my Pilates core, and loudly sang bracing snatches of Beethoven melodies as I retreated into my little house. I pulled the curtains and got into bed, where I slept deeply until morning light. Little did Ludwig know that centuries later his music would provide a zone of protection for a woman all alone in the dark woods.
The next day held further extreme contrasts. I spent the morning basking in my woodland solitude, my mind sharper and more focussed than ever, sitting in cool shade, watching shafts of sunlight twinkling through the trees. It was wondrous to think I would have a whole week of this. By afternoon I was ready to drive down to the Santa Fe Starbuck’s to let family and friends know where I was. Starbuck’s had become my source for wi-fi and laptop charging during my two weeks at the other campground and now it would also become my source for human contact whenever I felt the need.
As I drove down the mountain the sky suddenly, and I do mean suddenly, became almost night-time black and huge sheets of water began slamming into my car. This wasn’t rain, it was a deluge. I managed to get to Starbuck’s, and luckily remembered that I had an umbrella tucked somewhere in the back seat. In the parking lot the water turned to huge white balls of hail bouncing on the asphalt, almost breaking through my umbrella. Stunning!
After a few hours the deluge was still in full force. I had emailed everyone I know, I had read every article in the NYTimes, I had even checked out my daughters’ and friends’ FaceBooks and looked up arcane questions on google. The weather report warned of flash floods all over central NM. I pictured the Scamp hurtling off the mountain, pushed by a huge avalanche of water. I ran out to my car and started back up the mountain. There were huge landslides along the way, the road covered by rocks and piles of earth. A snow-plow-like monster truck was clearing everything as fast as possible, and I had a number of waits along the way while it did its duty. I was the only car on the road, I was determined to get back “home.” When I did arrive back at my campsite, the stream down below me had turned into a roiling river but the Scamp stood strong. In my jangled state I could swear it was smiling at me.
Thank goodness the picnic table was in one of the campground shelters that had three walls, and a solid roof, and a dry cement floor,so I was able to cook my supper with the help of my solar lamp. Veggie bean chili never tasted so good.
During the night the water continued to pour from the sky. For a spell there was thunder directly above me, accompanied by immediate lightening. I remembered all the trees around me, and decided that if one fell on me it would not be a bad way for a life to end.
The rain continued for the rest of the week. The sun made surprise cameo appearances during each day, disappearing as suddenly as it had arrived. Santa Fe old-timers that I talked to, ones that came to Starbucks every day for the wi-fi and company, said they had never ever seen the likes of this rain in their fifty or so years of living here. I timed my visit well.
And now I face another big change. Tomorrow I head for Taos and a week of total no-holds-barred enmeshment with twelve other writers. What in the world will that be like?