After leaving the retreat, I headed west and then south, across and then down the wide valley. There is only one highway bisecting the valley, mountains bordering the east, and sagelands expanding to the west. At the base of the mountains lie a huge series of pale dunes, heaped up sand and dust accumulated there over millennia, blown there by the wind.
Snow began to fall and then it was dark. Snow formed drifts the road, and stuck to the cold asphalt. I drove slowly, behind a jeep with their brights on, passing only one or two people as we crossed the state border.
The imaginary world that spread out beyond the headlights was full of my own thoughts, projections of what might be there. A massive, flat topped mesa? Or the Cañon de Rio Grande, where the land suddenly breaks off, space opens up, and a thread thread of green-blue runs at the bottom? Sagebrush, certainly, for miles and miles: the infinite void of sagelands that spread, almost unbroken, from here in New Mexico to southern Canada.
As I drove I thought more about the retreat. I had decided I would not go to another in that tradition. I had gone because I’d never been to something like it. It was hard to know what a retreat was, and how I felt about it, before I went. To me, it felt as though a sacred tradition and culture was being sold, but I wrestled with these thoughts for weeks and even months afterwards. Was it just my own anti-establishment mindset? Or was I seeing through falsity and appropriation?
While at the retreat, I had taken one morning off to go into the mountains. There was a stream flowing down, winding through aspens and cottonwoods. Ice in the stream, a little snow here and there. As I walked a dog appeared out of the trees. Seeing me she stopped, and looked expectantly. I said the magical words: “do you want to go?” And soon she was racing ahead, looking back every now and then to make sure I was still following.
She led me higher and higher, back and forth across the icy stream, across roads, always looking back and waiting for me—all the way to the base of the mountains. She stopped for a drink of water, gingerly stepping on clear ice and breaking through, wetting her paws. It was strange, to meet a new friend like this, that needed no words or even a common species to experience something together. She was self-composed, she knew where she was, and where we were going. I could have walked as far as she wanted, up into the mountains, following the stream up to a lake. But we had been walking for an hour, and I knew I needed to head back. As I turned away from the path, which had began to slant upward and leave the trees behind, I wondered how far into the mountains, on this narrow path, that this simple, honest dog would have led me.
When I arrived back at the car, I noticed that she had followed me all the way back. She stood at the edge of the trees, looking towards me, but not coming any closer. She had a collar, and a home—she didn’t really “need” me. But like anyone, I guess she had found walking with someone more enjoyable than going around alone. And I guess this is what I needed too—companionship, love, and someone to look for me and to look for, as we go along this old trail together.