A tenderfoot in Taos

An exhausted mother. A lively baby. A compassionate drunkard.

  • (c) IStock, markgoddard

 

On a gray morning in late May, I'm sitting on a wet park bench in Taos, nursing my 8-month-old daughter and trying to prevent a wardrobe malfunction. She flails her sturdy arms and legs against my stomach, each kick threatening to throw off the blanket covering her. Sometimes, this tussle makes us both giggle; today, it makes me sigh with exasperation. I feel like a wrestler overmatched by a midget.

My daughter, my husband and I are two hours into an eight-hour road trip, the last leg of a week away from home. Nobody slept well last night, we've already taken a wrong turn, and the rest of the day stretches out bleakly before us, more rounds of driving and diapers and threefold grumpiness.

In the park, I clutch my daughter and squint judgmentally at crowds of black-clad Harley riders, roaring up the narrow street on their way to a nearby rally. Showoffs. I roll my eyes at the quiet little craft fair arrayed on the grass beneath the cottonwoods. Junk. I wrinkle my nose at the smell of hot dogs and Frito pies. Yuck.

My daughter -- clearly a less critical soul -- meets the world with calm curiosity, taking it in with her huge blue eyes. She acts as if it has always been this way, and for her, it has. Not for me. Even the dry Colorado land I love and call home looks suddenly alien; after the seismic shock of birthing a baby, I long for my own birthplace, for the rusty, leafy Northeastern river town where I grew up. I haven't missed the place for almost two decades, but right now, I want the ancient and familiar.

Each day I search the ground around me for recognizable shards, trying to fit them together. Writer, wife, friend, reader, hiker, desert dweller: These pieces I know, or thought I did. Mother: This giant, gorgeous new piece is mesmerizing, but shouldn't it belong to someone else? Mother fits with wife, though a little awkwardly at first; I can also see how mother might add a great deal to writer, and vice versa. But at the moment, they don't seem to pair at all. Mother and friend is tricky. Mother and reader? Ha, I wish.

I know I'll find ways of joining all these pieces, combinations that create a sum greater than its jumble of parts. But today the mosaic of my life is ragged-edged and full of holes, and the holes look less like possibilities and more like just a mess. I sit on my damp bench, clogged with sleep deprivation and ill humor.

A tall, gaunt, gray-haired man, dressed in a shabby flannel shirt and blue windbreaker, approaches from the direction of the Frito pies, waving to interrupt my sour reverie. "Hey!" he says. "You should cover up that baby's feet. Those feet might get cold."

And another thing, I think crabbily. Why does every freaking passerby think they can hand out parenting advice? You try keeping these wild little feet covered.

"She's fine, thanks," I say without enthusiasm.

But in the next instant, I realize my advisor is drunk, very drunk, at the inauspicious hour of 10 a.m. I've seen booze release cruelty and courage, stupidity and joy, but never have I seen it reveal an intense concern for baby feet. This guy, whatever his reasons for being plastered and alone in this park on a Saturday morning, must have some sweetness at his core.

"Thanks," I repeat, this time with sincerity.

My advisor, already distracted, lurches away. I gather up my daughter, pat her full belly, and, yawning, begin my own unsteady walk back to our car. I smell the rain in the desert, look at the mountains above town, and silently concede that this drive has some pretty nice views. My daughter smiles up at me and I pull her blanket tight, tending to the universal business of keeping a little girl warm.

High Country News Classifieds
  • SEASONAL SAN JUAN RANGERS
    Seeking experienced crew members to patrol Colorado's most iconic mountain wilderness.
  • ENDANGERED SPECIES STAFF SCIENTIST
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a staff scientist to advocate for the conservation of endangered species. General position overview: The position will involve working...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PROGRAM
    The Center for Biological Diversity - a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of imperiled plants, animals and wild places - seeks a dynamic...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a Staff Attorney to join our team of attorneys, scientists, campaigners who are working to protect America's public lands...
  • SOUTHWEST CONSERVATION ADVOCATE
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a Southwest Conservation Advocate to join our team of attorneys, scientists and campaigners who are working to protect America's...
  • OCEANS PROGRAM CAMPAIGNER
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks an experienced campaigner for its oceans program. The aim of the position is to campaign for the protection of...
  • CLIMATE LAW INSTITUTE ATTORNEY
    The Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute is looking to add an attorney to its team and will consider applicants at both staff attorney...
  • FULL-TIME CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a full-time Campaign Director in our Climate Law Institute to join our campaign for progressive, urgent government action to...
  • WESTERN WATER PROJECT MANAGER
    National Wildlife Federation is hiring NM-based position focused on riparian corridors, watershed health. Learn more and apply online: https://www.nwf.org/about-us/careers
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Associate Program Director Location: New Mexico; flexible in state Position reports to: Senior Program Director Position Closes: March 13, 2020 GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The...
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIVE
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...