Monday, April 25, 2005

Seeing Things

As I noted in a previous post, it helps if I can visualize the people and places where the novel takes place. In 2001 I went back to St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island for what would have been my thirty-year class reunion -- had I stayed there, that is. I walked through the halls of the dorms and the schoolrooms, bringing back the memories of my one year there, and locking in sense-memories. It wasn't hard to see Bobby walking the halls.

Part of the novel takes place at a summer camp where Bobby spends eight weeks every summer from the age of nine to seventeen. The camp is located in the mountains south of Santa Fe, overlooking the plains to the west and off to the horizon, only interrupted by the Sandia Mountains to the south near Albuquerque and the Jemez Mountains to the west and north, stretching up to Los Alamos. (In between Santa Fe and the horizon is a small peak called La Tetilla, and yes, it looks just like one. I've long agreed with Richard Bradford's idea in Red Sky at Morning to paint the top of it pink.) But there was one small thing that bothered me; I had never actually been in the mountains south of Santa Fe other than a short day hike up Sun Mountain back in 1978, and that's where the pictures in my mind of what Bobby could see from the camp. So part of the time while I was in Santa Fe last week was looking around to see if I had gotten it right.

I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, that it doesn't really matter whether or not there was a place with the views I described in the book that could be where Sun Mountain Ranch Camp for Boys was located. (By the way, for the last ten years the name of the camp was Sandia Ranch. Then I remembered as I drove up Interstate 25 that -- duh -- the Sandias overlook Albuquerque, not Santa Fe. Thank Dog for the "Find and Replace" feature in Word.) But I had this urge to find out, and after taking a breathtaking drive up to the overlook below the Santa Fe Ski Basin where I'd worked as a liftie in 1978, my uncle took me south of town down Old Santa Fe Trail, past Museum Hill, past the Carmelite convent, past the John Gaw Meem hacienda, and then,
[a]fter a half-hour of twisting and bumpy roads, over narrow culverts crossing dry arroyos, past stark rock outcroppings hiding the last vestiges of snow under their shadows, Bobby saw the telltale red shingled roofs of Sun Mountain Ranch poking through the ponderosa pines.
It wasn't exactly like that; the road I was describing was more like the road up to the ski basin, and the trees along the dusty road up into the mountains were piñons and junipers, not ponderosas, but the view from the top was exactly as I remembered it from back in 1978, and the sky was just as impossibly blue and clear. I could see Bobby there. I could hear the wind in the trees and smell the dust as he came down the trail from his cabin, past the lodge and to the overlook that formed the chapel. It was right.

In one of those little karmic coincidences that makes you believe there is more to life than just matter and energy, as I drove back to Albuquerque that afternoon the radio played Desperado by The Eagles. It is one of the anthems at Sun Mountain in the summer of 1979, and Bobby can't get through it without remembering those days at camp. Neither can I; it's right up there with Nether Lands.

I love how things like that work out.


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