When I was a child, my father sometimes loaded my little brother and me into our 57 Chevy Carryall and took us up into the Jemez Mountains, west of where we lived in Northern New Mexico. The road to our favorite picnic spot skirted the southern edge of the Valle Grande, part of the Valles Caldera, the collapsed remnants of a volcano Wikipedia informs me is a small supervolcano. I used to press my nose against the window of the Carryall, squint at the brown specks that I knew were distant cows, and imagine that the family which owned the vast meadow rimmed with distant mountains had a son, a boy about my age. I wanted to marry this imaginary boy, just so I could spend my life in the center of that great beauty.
The Jemez Mountains will always be – in the words of my daughter who feels the same way – the place where my soul lives. Returning to this place, as I do briefly at the end of every summer is both an interesting and a bittersweet experience. Thanks to forest fires, pine beetles, and the passage of time everything, even the skyline has changed. The overgrown ponderosas of my childhood and youth have become stark burned skeletons standing guard over thickets of new growth. The people who were so important during that same time are mostly gone. As a storyteller, I am achingly aware of the stories that have been lost to time.
This has been a wet year, and lush new growth covers the mountains. The Valles Caldera is becoming part of the National Park system. Now, almost sixty years later, my brother and I loaded our father into a SUV even larger than the old Carryall and drove him – thanks to a backcountry driving permit – into the Valle itself where we discovered a new story, that of more interlocking bowls and mountains, more dark forests and tiny streams almost hidden in the tall grasses, than any of us had ever imagined possible.
New growth covers the mountains and new people with new stories fill the town where I grew up. Since I am still part of the community, even though I am rarely present, I see it as my job to help the new stories emerge, even as I remember the old ones.
Thus I will be working to find a time, a place, a way to offer the people who are now living their stories where I once lived mine, to share those stories – with me and with each other.
Harriet has told stories at the Phoenix Fringe and at the Gila Bend Shrimp Festivals. She’s taken part in the AZStorytellers Project and in StoryRise events. As an instructor at the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute, she has performed in many events including the La Lloronathon and a number of Myth Informed concerts.