New Mexico is a brown state, with a swath of green down its middle – the Rio Grande. But even that is brown during the winter. It is a high desert with mountains jagging and thrusting up the sides of the flat lands like buttressed walls, or like table-tops laid out for the gods to feast. These mountains and mesas are blessed by that brownness every evening. It is the brown dust kicked into the air by the winds and pickup trucks and small children’s feet that sets the sky afire at sunset, spreading pinks and oranges and reds across the sky, painting those mountains the color of blood and watermelon.
The sunset overwhelmed me as a young child. I could not contain it gloriousness. I could only see bits of clouds glowing pink, like UFOs ready to carry me off, or the darkening sky that told me it was time to head home for supper. It was the brown I grew up in – the dust and dirt of my backyard. Our front yard had some grass. Several large pines shaded the lawn, but the roots would not allow for unobstructed running, and my mom didn’t want me digging in the grass. So my play was restricted to the back yard. The ground was bare, with the exception of prickly, pale, purple-flowered weeds, and a large tree that I can’t remember ever providing any shade. We found relief from the dry summer heat under the lilac bush that abutted the standing garage.
Dust and dirt made for great play. Next to that big bare tree, my brother and I made mud pies, mud balls, mud torture for my mother. Next to the garage, behind the garbage barrels, my sister and I could mark off walls in the dust for a play house. We would outline some with stones or broken, colored glass. It was here, under my sister’s tutelage, that I learned the feminine art of nesting.
The big creepy mystery of my backyard was the building across the alley. Over our back fence, I could see the windows of the abandoned hospital. Cobalt blue and brown medicine bottles lined those windows’ sills. They were too high for me to see into, but they made me wonder. What would cause such a panic that they would have to abandon everything in a hospital? Why couldn’t they pack up and clean up like we did when we had to move, no matter the reason? It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that I had lived in a ghost town. We skittered around having adventures in an abandoned hotel and saloon and in vacant lots with abandoned Model Ts. But we always avoided the hospital behind our house, with medicine bottles in its windows.