There’s a stretch of road on I-40 about 12 miles west of Tucumcari where you pass a short little mesa on the right and then the road swings ever so slightly to the north before opening onto a broad plain heading straight west. The view will make you think “vistas” and “wide open spaces.” It’s rimmed on all sides by mesas, but the expanse between the highway and the mesas is miles and miles of New Mexico space. The little village of Montoya sits at the west end of that particular valley.
I’ve taken some bad trips and made some marginal moves in the past. Really bad trips. Not the LSD-induced type, but travel that ended in the worst way. The bad trips I’m thinking about never occurred in New Mexico (well, there was that FFA trip to Las Cruces in 1977 where I got lost with Anna Marie Lujan in Juarez. . .). There was a move to West Texas in the early 80′s. One to Liberal, Kansas (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) in the early 90′s. And a move to North Carolina for 355 days in 2002.
In all those places, I spent a lot of time envisioning myself back in New Mexico. Mind you, I’m not a whiner. When I was in those places that seemed so foreign to me, I worked at meeting new people, learning new local hot spots (not a lot of those in Liberal, but I did locate one small boutique that served wine on Thursdays at 5 p.m., and in a dry county at that), exploring the library and other important landmarks. But every place I moved to only made me miss New Mexico more.
And oddly enough the place I would see in my dreams when I was longing for home, in those early morning hours between sleep and awake, would be mile marker 319 on I-40. In my incredibly homesick state, coming around that curve and seeing that stretch of road represented everything I was missing. My New Mexico landscape. Independence. Calm. Open space as far as the eye can see.
That stretch of road looks like nothing else in the world. It’s not flashy and won’t appear on any map as an attraction of any sort. But it’s my stretch of road. My New Mexico touchstone.
The first time I drove it after moving home from North Carolina, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and silently vowed never to leave here again. Big words, but good grief, I hope I pay attention to myself next time the subject of migrating elsewhere comes up. This is where I belong. This is who I am. This looks like home to me.