LOOK! Right in the middle of a rambling plain of loose stones, grey dust and sharp green foliage, corralled by ragged red mountains in New Mexico, is a landscape of white sand dunes.
And they are on the move.
And they are only 10,000 years old.
Even with my chronic case of innumeracy, I can tell they aren’t very old.
In El Paso I am staying with Silvia and Jim and Jim decides I’m a perfect opportunity to tick off his bucket list.
A Montana native who’s been in El Paso six or seven years, he’s always wanted to visit White Sands. So we do.
We pile into Silvia’s red Hyundai and head for the hills.
It’s a three hour drive north-west, across the New Mexico desert.
I photographed this from the display in the White Sands visitors’ centre:
Life is not obvious here. It is implied, or twice removed, and must be read in signs or code. Ripple marks tell of the wind’s way with individual sand grains. Footprints, mounds, and burrows bespeak the presence of mice, pocket gophers, and foxes.”
Jim, Silvia and I galavanted over the gypsum dunes, which were soft with a talcum powder edge to the grains.
Silvia and I walked the hardened tips.
We sat in the shade of a dune for a while, Silvia reading, when a tree the brightest of greens beckoned my attention.
It was incongruent with the sand, where only the hardiest plants grew, each adapting to a shifting landscape that is moving 12-15 inches a year, swallowing up the desert in its path.
The tree was old and gnarled, parked just over the tip of a dune on the edge of the plain.
It had sprouted a nearby forest of little babies, but there was just one grown tree that had managed to stand still long enough to reach the water table below.
I sat in the shade on the sand, fine and cool, the high half moon in the blue sky above, and looked out over the plain. I imagined I was an Indian, wrapped in my blanket against the desert wind, watching the riders come down off the mountains and over the plain.
My eyes are narrow, piercing the distance.
I wonder: were these the plains the buffalo ran?
In which case . . . where are the buffalo? Or the Indians, for that matter.
Like the shifting landscape below me, they have moved or been moved . . . on.