Fire & Frost

Strolling along a rim of the Rio Grande Rift almost two decades ago where it's fairly shallow in places within walking distance of the New Mexico-Colorado state line, lava flows long ago spread over that land in a hard, gas-pocked layer. Beautiful stones like this one flung from not-so-distant fiery volcanoes of old can be seen scattered about in random fashion. And on cold mid-winter mornings their beauty is enhanced by a thin coating of sparkling frost giving them a lightly sugared, chocolate cake appearance–an intriguing product of fire and frost.

Camped on east side of the rift where shaded portions of the ground were still thoroughly frosted, across the rift on the west side, morning sunlight had already warmed earth enough to melt away the worst of the icy film, distant mountain peaks snowcapped against blue sky.

While camped there I scrambled down to the riverbed to explore lava–tubes outside and inside–and found signs of wildlife carrying on with their wild-living ways along the east bank.

Canadian geese taking pleasure in the riparian environment had laid eggs here and there.

Still living and working in a stinking, noisy, toxic city at that time, dreaming of escape, I called the office and told them I was going to stay on vacation a few more days. No one there objected. Good for them because I fully intended to resign if anyone raised any hell about it.

I spent extra time roaming along the shores of the grand old river while probing its lava layer.

Crouched comfortably in the entrance of a lava tube pondering steady river flow and how long it would be before the water I saw passing by would finally empty into the Gulf of Mexico, I dozed and dreamed, suddenly flying in pursuit of geese gliding just a few feet above its serene surface. The dream was delightfully vivid, including sensations of flowing breeze, shifting air temperatures and waves of local wild fragrances. How long I slept there I could not tell, but it was a much needed rest after too many years of too much intense stress.

No one knew where I was and no one came along to disturb the peace. An ideal experience.

About a decade later friends invited me to go ballooning over the rift with them, another superb experience I'll never forget. That balloon flight had started off with a rough launch as the basket dragged along on the ground for several yards before going completely aloft, triggering discussion about how none of us could get insurance for the flight. Nonplussed, the pilot continued rapid ascent over the rift with contagious confidence, calming us down.

I never imagined that old lava-tube dream would someday come true as it eventually did.

Presently, the pilot cautiously dropped the balloon down between rift walls and expertly settled the basket down on a flat boulder island in the middle of the river. I somehow had presence of mind to photo and video that mid-river landing and much more of that flight.

A fantastic experience I may never would have enjoyed without the generosity of friends.

Our pilot patiently waited for us to record our brief landing before firing up the burner to take us up, out and over the rift gorge as it deepened to a landing point on its far side near the bridge where we gathered for champagne, fruits, craft breads and cheeses and crackers.

I wonder now about friends who asked me to join them on such a magical flight over a magical landscape, hoping they are all well and safe in these days of rampant pandemic surges and riotous mobs trashing our nation's capitol, endangering and killing others at the pleasure of a pathetic, failed demagogue. It's difficult to understand the fire and frost affecting hearts of fellow citizens these days but it isn't hard at all to sense it. I hope the days of easy-going attitudes can be restored across the land before it's too late and permanent damage spreads and hardens over us all in a too-thick layer of indifference and intolerance.

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