(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
Like someone who had looked straight into the baking sun, the hot New Mexico desert, a landscape of painted sand and strange towering rock formations, was burned into my mind’s eye. Even as I settled into the window seat of the airplane to fly back to my own home in the Northwest, the people and places I’d encountered filled my mind.
The effect of the light and climate and otherworldly terrain of New Mexico on visitors is the stuff of legend. And it isn’t just the rich and famous who feel it. Or the artists and intellectuals who crave space and freedom to create and find it in the vast empty state. There is something in the place that strikes a chord with people of all walks. Everywhere I went along the road from Santa Fe to Taos, I met people who had left the crush of big cities in the east or the lush green overgrown vegetation of the south or the frenetic pace of southern California. People who, after spending a few days in the desert, pulled up stakes and moved there for good.
Traveling teaches you a lot about yourself. One of the most important revelations is that each of us has deep, deep, inside a kind of internal temple bell that can only chime when struck by a certain place. For some it is the sea, the churning surf and the taste of salt in the air. For others it is the dark forested mountains or wide views from soaring peaks. Many can’t focus or think clearly without the pounding pulse of a city built of skyscrapers and asphalt grids.
Most of us never know what kind of bell we carry until we step into the landscape that resonates within us. The lucky ones who hear the tone, feel the vibration and realize they are living their lives in the wrong place, can act. They have the means or sometimes just the determination to make the move and settle where they feel most at home. Others find a happy place in the middle, spending most of the year where they have to be and a week or a couple of weeks in the place that fills them with happiness. Saddest of all, some either cannot or will not ever find the place that makes them sing. They flop on the surface like a fish in a shallow pool and never know exactly why they are not happy, just that they can’t find peace. Because of circumstances beyond their control they never get the chance to discover where it is they feel most at home. Or, worse, they are deaf to the ring and never know the source of their restlessness.
We are each born with a kind of spiritual divining stick that sends us out to see the world, or, at the very least, new corners of our familiar world. We have what we need to find the spring that sends a shiver through us, that pulls us down to the right patch of earth. It’s up to us to dig the well.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is the editor of Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org