Credit to: Frances E. Vandal
Yesterday afternoon a friend and I met at Downtown Subscription, a local coffee bar near the Capitol. She told me of a recent conversation with someone who had grown up in Santa Fe, moved out of state and returned. She asked why. His reply was that “Santa Fe is close to the heavens.”
I didn’t appreciate this when I moved to Santa Fe eight years ago. Physically I didn’t appreciate that my breathing could be more labored as I hiked and light-headedness more common. Sitting in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo, the southernmost range of the Rocky Mountains, Santa Fe is the third highest city in the country at 7,200 feet. The air is thinner and the sun feels warmer. On some days there is a clarity in the sunlight itself that seems crystalline.
When I moved to Santa Fe, the American Lung Association rated it with its top designation of an “A” as the city having the cleanest air in the country. However, in the relatively short time I have lived here that designation has slipped to a “B -“ due to the large oil and gas production in the state and wildfire and prescribed burn smoke.
And cars and trucks.
Like many places and with people on the move, Santa Fe is growing in size. As human population presses on the earth, so it does on Santa Fe. Some of its narrow streets in the older parts of the city, once used by pedestrians and those on horseback, are now asked to carry more and bigger vehicles. Apartment and condo developments are expanding across the city though it is a question of whether they are affordable for people on New Mexico wages.
Recently as I drove along Cerrillos Road, I was stopped by several groups of men and women pushing grocery carts piled with bags and blankets and boxes hurrying on the side of the road. Most were dressed in baggy, ill-fitting clothes and some had caps pulled over their faces. Two dogs accompanied them. Another day as I pulled out of my driveway, I stopped suddenly as a man and woman with a teenaged boy appeared on the sidewalk in front of me, pushing another piled cart
and carrying more bags, looking confused as to where they were. We looked at each other. Homelessness has a face.
St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Santa Fe, is said to have brought heavenly light to earthly life, to have been both down to earth and reaching toward heaven.
When night comes, clusters of stars can sometimes be seen from my backyard. They create a dome of lights and a kind of perspective. If the moon is bright enough, the outlines of the coyote fence and the cottonwood tree especially stand out against the shadows of the smaller trees.
My favorite time is the early morning dark, when Maddie and I open the unsteady gate and step into the darkness of my backyard. As she sniffs the air and the hard packed ground, I look into the sky over my neighbors’ rooftops. I ignore the power lines and telephone pole with its electric box. Often several stars can still be seen. I turn and see the moon has made its arc due west now that we have reached the autumn equinox. Its light shines through the heavy branches of the Chinese elms next to the casita. Dawn is a faint glow in the east.
I listen closely and breathe deeply. It is nearly silent. Though a distant rushing sound of traffic is more noticeable.