Photograph by Christopher C. Guider

Hydrogen, oxygen, bound together, reduced, reused, recycled. A drop of rain on your palm changes your skin, loses itself in your biology, becomes a part of you. In the absorption, do you become everything else those molecules have touched? You are only yourself in drought.

What words have already been written? What memories remain? Has the well run dry? Have you only begun something you do not have the power to complete? Return to the well. Stare into its dry, cracked darkness and wait. You cannot make it rain.

Roots in deep, driven by water: mesquite, piñon, saguaro. The land here is thirsty. The paper beneath your hand is parched. Words come this way, by depth and by drought. Thirst creates movement. 

* * *

Hydrogen, oxygen, bound together
reduced, reused, recycled

The first twenty-six years of my life took root in the wide landscape of New Mexico. The little town where we lived is nestled in the mountains, surrounded by desert. Ruidoso. The word is Spanish for noisy water. There is a river running through the canyon of a town, but after years of drought, the mighty Rio Ruidoso runs weak. Its voice is hushed, barely discernible from the wind in the trees along the banks. 

A drop of rain on your palm changes 
your skin, loses itself in your biology, becomes 
a part of you

The New Mexican climate is often called arid, a word that denotes no small degree of lifelessness: dry, dried up, bone-dry, waterless, moistureless, parched, scorched, baked, thirsty, droughty, desert, barren, infertile. Yet I remember winter months that terrified drivers with six-foot piles of snow. I remember the snowman my little brother and I built in the front yard, specked with earth, two bright red cough drops pressed in for eyes and a scrawny carrot for a nose. The sun warmed us all the next day and our snowman disappeared into the ground. I remember the freezing winds of spring that brought storm clouds sometimes they carried rain, sometimes just thunder. I remember rainy summer days when I wondered if I could hear the sizzle of water on the sun-baked needles of the ponderosa pines. 

In the absorption, do you become everything 
else those molecules have touched?

My sisters taught me a song once that made me wonder about the rain: If all the raindrops were lemon drops and gumdrops, oh what a rain that would be. Id stand outside with my mouth open wide ah, ah, ah-ah, ah, ah-ah, ah, ah-ah . . .

But what if the raindrops were just raindrops? And what if I could stand outside, mouth open to the heavens, and catch them all? I tried. The drops fell on my lips and my hands, most on my shoulders, forehead, and cheeks. A few fell on my tongue or hit the back of my throat. As they sank into my dry skin, dispersed across the surface of my tongue, I wondered where those drops of water had come from and where they were going. Then I was thirsty.

You are only yourself
in drought

With roots in this landscape, I went away for a while to a more humid climate where colors were brighter and water flowed in abundance. I glanced behind me and ached for the desert — a landscape in which things and maybe people, too, thrust deeper roots into the rocky earth in order to survive. It is a land teeming with earth-toned life, as though wildness found just enough water to scratch color onto the earth’s skin only to have the sun bleach it out again. Struggle is its tradition, baked under the scorching sun in a massive sky, seasoned with diverse cultures in providential collision. The history of the land unfurls into the present like the deep fuchsia blossoms of a White Sands cactus. I didn’t like this arid landscape much until after I left.

What words have already been written?
What memories remain? Has the well run dry?
Have you only begun something you do not have the power to complete?

I went away to find my voice, to gain experience that would give me words worth writing. Three years in greener pastures, a landscape speckled with lakes and rivers, carpeted with viridescent grasses and trees in the spring and summer that set themselves on fire in autumn and blanket themselves with ice for a long winter. I wrote a little. I painted and knitted, brewed beer and baked bread. I worked as a substitute teacher, a law office assistant, a life insurance agent. I wrote a little more, fished around in my memory for clues to find who I was apart from the desert. Three years and I came back. 

Return to the well
Stare into its dry, cracked 
darkness and wait
You cannot 
make it rain

I returned to the desert by train. I wanted to watch the brightness fade and the rolling hills become stratified and chiseled, see the trees knot over on themselves and squat closer to the earth as their wide fluttering leaves darkened and clenched into needles and spined cactus pads. I wanted to reckon with the land, the vast distance I had gone from my roots. Grand Rapids to Chicago, Chicago to Denver. Trains dont run south from Denver, so I caught a bus that would take me to the southern track that would, in turn, take me to the parched little station thirty miles outside of Santa Fe where my brother would meet me. The bus stopped in Raton and left me there. 

Roots in deep, driven by water
Mesquite, piñon, saguaro
The land here is thirsty

It was on a Sunday and nothing in town was open but a convenience store and a bar (with a tattered banner over its door announcing the two beers they served Coors and Bud). I scuffed across four blocks of gravel and dust to purchase an overpriced iced tea and drank the whole thing on the way back. The train ran late. I stood with five strangers on the dusty stand near the tracks, slurped at the melting ice in my styrofoam cup, and waited under the massive New Mexican sky. Six hours and countless tumbleweed visitations later, the train came around a bend and we were on our way. I sat in the viewing car, pulled out paper and pen. Words began to flow, ink on the page like rain on the ponderosas.

The paper beneath your hand is parched
Words come this way
by depth and by drought
Thirst creates 

Barbara Lane is an editorial intern for the Art House America Blog and otherwise writes for The Rabbit Room and on her personal blog, Lost Arrivals. She has lived in various places across New Mexico and Michigan and occupies herself with explorations in writing, bread-baking, and beer-brewing wherever she happens to find herself.


Stop at Every Lamb