The Unbearable Weight/Lightness of the Desert / by Karie Luidens

2019-05-12 - Foothills.jpeg

This morning I headed out, backpack stocked with sunscreen and a full water bottle. I stopped at Coda Bakery for the number seven—banh mi with tofu—then drove the length of Menaul east to the Sandia Mountain foothills and their many trailheads.

I needed a day outdoors to clear my head.

This wasn’t going to be a hike so much as a light walk. I didn’t even wear my boots; cheap sneakers were enough to grip the gravelly dirt of well-trod paths. I passed guys on mountain bikes, a slow-moving elderly couple with walking sticks, eventually a dozen or more joggers out with their dogs.

What a lovely Sunday, right?

This is the desert, out here on the edges of Albuquerque. But it’s not, you know, the Desert. You can see the city right there in the valley, green with riverside cottonwoods and landscaped parks, glittering under the mild spring sun. The trails aren’t meant to cut the shortest route to a destination: they meander among cholla and flowering prickly pears. The better to let you spot tiny yellow butterflies dancing around your ankles. To stop and press a fingertip into the rubbery new growths cacti put out after the rain like leaf buds on a deciduous tree. To admire the texture of the foothills’ granite boulders and scan the horizon’s haze for other mountain ranges to the west, to the south.

The trails are professionally maintained and labeled with small posts at each fork. One sign pointed to sheltered picnic tables, and that’s where I walked. I settled in with my barely-sipped water bottle and unwrapped my sandwich. Each time a hiker or bicyclist passed, I waved.

What a lovely Sunday.

It is so easy for me to feel safe in my life. My home is secure, my neighbors are friendly, my water is clean, my future looks bright here.

Thus I have the luxury of forgetting day by day that this city, Albuquerque, is an oasis of infrastructure in the desert. In the Desert—the one that stretches endlessly, beyond that hazy horizon, all the way west into Arizona and south into Mexico.

The paths I walked here this morning were blazed for pleasure. There, hidden from view, migrant trails cut carefully through thorns and brush and mountains out of desperate necessity.

I remember hiking out there, however brief the experience was. I remember how my back ached and sweat with the weight of five gallons of water as I struggled on those unseen trails back in March. I found it so hard, even thought I wasn’t in danger—I was just trying to help for a few days.

Now I’m free to forget that weight and stroll with just one small bottle of water for myself.

It’s lighter, easier, leisurely. Lovely. It’s lovely to spend a Sunday thinking only of oneself.

But I won’t forget. Especially now that the Desert is among my memories I won’t forget those who are out there each day, weighted down by supplies and fear, trying to make good time as they work toward their paths’ destinations.