After the wells collapsed and my family moved from the ranch in southern New Mexico, we lived outside of Pagosa Springs, Colorado. It's nestled high in the Rocky Mountains, in the southwestern region of the state. We moved there just in time for me to enter second grade.
"Pagosa" is a Ute word meaning either "stinking" or "healing". There is a hot springs in the town with a strong, sulfurous odor.
When we moved there, the lumber mill was still in operation. It has long since shut down. The town was surrounded by cattle ranches, and lots of rugged, high country wilderness. The wilderness is still there, but many of the ranches have been carved up into lots for summer homes.
We spent the first winter at one of my mother's relatives' house. I don't know where the relatives were. I was six. They didn't tell me much. Or if they did, I didn't pay much attention. My wife says the same thing about me now.
Located a few miles north of town on the highway to Wolf Creek Pass, it was a two story frame house, with old wall flowery paper and a musty smell. And a functional outhouse in the pasture. The
radio was usually on in the kitchen, playing country music. Lots of twangy songs buried in reverb about cheatin' and drinkin' and tortuous love. And Hank Snow's "On The Wings of a Snow White Dove".
Winters on the west slope of the Rocky Mountains tend to be long, snowy and cold. During recess at Pagosa Springs Elementary School, we would bundle up and
go outside to slide on the ice. There were giant radiators in each classroom, and we'd put our jackets and mittens and such there to dry during class.
The town was split roughly down the middle
between the English speaking folks, who mostly lived on the wealthier side of town in solid brick houses, and the Spanish speaking folks, who mostly lived on the poor side, some in nothing more than tar paper covered shacks with wood burning stoves for heat. Fights erupted regularly on the playground. A crowd of children would gather around in a circle to watch. And eventually a teacher would come over to break it up.
The next summer, we moved to the Blanco Basin, twenty five miles from
town, and higher still in the mountains. We had a small cabin at the end of the long, winding dirt road that went alongside the river. Later, my father built a huge house that was attached to the little cabin. He got the money by subdividing the acreage. When we were asked at school what our father did, we replied he was a subdivider. Nobody knew what that meant. We certainly didn't. People in the area certainly know what it means now.
At night, I would listen to the radio in my room. The one station that would come
in loud and clear was KOMA, in Oklahoma City. They played the latest Motown classics. Plus the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and so on. I thought Oklahoma City must be the most exotic place imaginable.
Over a period of a few years, what was once our personal idyllic hideaway became a subdivision of summer homes for wealthy Texans and car dealers and the like. After my fifth grade year we moved back to Albuquerque, essentially abandoning everything we owned in the process. Without meaning to, when he carved up that acreage and then moved us away, my father quite literally broke each of his children's hearts. Funny thing was, he came out of it totally broke. And our hearts, each in their own way, healed kinda crooked and wrong.
Wendell showed up not long after I arrived at his house in Stroud, Oklahoma. We had a nice chat, drank a little wine, had some dinner. The next night numerous people came over for the Tuesday night music group. Which sometimes gathers on Wednesday.
That night Bruce Knoch came over. And Rick Reiley. And Gary Smalley. And Casey Ess. And John Fullbright. And of course Wendell Peek was there. And myself. And we just went round and round, singing songs... some we wrote ourselves, some by other people. And accompanying each other.
As I think about it, most good songs are about hearts that were broken and healed kinda crooked and wrong. And of course, sex and death.