There’s a stretch of road on I-40 about 12 miles west of Tucumcari where you pass a short little mesa on the right and then the road swings ever so slightly to the north before opening onto a broad plain heading straight west. The view brings forth the word “vistas” and “wide open spaces.” It’s rimmed on all sides by mesas, but the expanse between the highway and the mesas is Miles. Miles and Miles of New Mexico space. The little village of Montoya sits at the west end of that valley.
I’ve taken some bad trips and made some bad moves in the past. Really bad trips. Not the LSD-induced type, but travel that ended badly. The bad trips I’m thinking about never occurred in New Mexico (well, there was that FFA trip to Las Cruces in 1977 where I got lost with Anna Marie Lujan in Juarez, but wasn’t that in Mexico, not NM?). There was a move to West Texas. One to Liberal, Kansas (an oxymoron if I ever heard one). And a move to North Carolina.
In all those places, I spent a lot of time envisioning myself back in New Mexico. Mind you, I’m not a whiner – I worked at meeting new people, learning new local hot spots (not a lot of those in Liberal, but I did locate one small boutique that served wine on Thursdays at 5:00 – and in a dry county at that), exploring the library and other important landmarks. But every place I moved to only made me miss New Mexico more. . .
And oddly enough the place I would envision first in my longings for home, in those early morning hours between sleep and awake when your thoughts are more like dreams, would be mile marker 319 on I-40. In my mind’s eye, coming around that curve and seeing that stretch of road represented everything I didn’t have. My New Mexico landscape. Independence. Calm. It looks like nothing else in the nation. It’s unassuming, probably not on any maps as an attraction of any sort. But it’s my stretch of road. My New Mexico touchstone.
The first time I drove it after moving home from North Carolina, I silently vowed never to leave here again. Big words, but good grief, I hope I pay attention to myself next time the subject of migrating elsewhere comes up. This is where I belong. This is who I am. This looks like home to me.