SANTA FE, N.M. - The country 'round here ain't much, as an ol' boy from back home might say, but the sky--the sky is something.
Driving up I-25 from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, a visitor from forest-covered, water-rich Arkansas finds himself a stranger in a strange land. Why'd they clear all this land if they weren't going to use it?
Maybe to expose the whole great, upturned bowl of sky. Out here there's nothing to obscure it except for the occasional mesa. The bare, rounded hills off to the side of the road look as if they were dumped there by some vast construction project. Beyond them, the deep blue mountains rise afar off, so abstract from here that they might as well be frescoes painted on a pale blue sky. Under its uncaring gaze, the pilgrim begins his ascent through the Sangre de Cristo, the Blood of Christ, up to Santa Fe, Holy Faith.
All 360 degrees around, there seems nothing but the sky - and its ever moving panorama of clouds. Off to the west, they darken into storm clouds, gathering ominously in a column occasionally torn by jagged lightning.
The old phrases take on new meaning out here: a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. You realize again why prophets of every faith go into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights before they emerge to hand down the Word.
And you begin to understand why those other species of prophet - conquistadors, visionaries, revolutionaries, land barons, empire-builders of all kinds, exalted bandits of every stripe - could look on this stark scene and imagine it empty, only waiting for their great selves to found a dynasty.
The conquerors, each in turn, must never have lifted their eyes to this sovereign sky that dwarfs human ambition. A firmament like this might have been painted by a Titian or Michelangelo, except that the clouds never stop moving. The light out here is always shifting, minute by minute, unwilling to settle for mere perfection.
D. H. Lawrence, seeing New Mexico with always fresh eyes, spoke of a "splendid, silent terror, and a vast far-and-wide magnificence which (goes) way beyond mere aesthetic appreciation. Š (I)n New Mexico the heart is sacrificed to the sun and the human being is left stark, heartless, but undauntedly religious."
Welcome, in the phrase on the license plates, to the Land of Enchantment.