“Distances Can Be Deceiving”

It was a warm and sunny July day in 1985 with no hint of the frightening and mysterious hike that was to come in the volcanic hills west of Taos near the depths of the Rio Grande gorge.

My friends Jim, Ron and a Hawaiian visitor named Stanley were on a quest to find a “breathing hole,” a geological tunnel in the earth where air rushes in and out in regular intervals.  Scientists have noted a relationship to atmospheric pressure and air temperature that can cause this phenomenon. Indeed, I had visited such a breathing hole at Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona. (Photo at left) https://www.nps.gov/wupa/learn/nature/geologicformations.htm   Perhaps the site was meaningful to the Indigenous Hopi who it is told have their own story about the wind deity Yaponcha. https://mendotadakota.com/mn/native-stories-hopi-yaponcha-the-wind-god/  Our hiking group was more interested in the Hopi version.  The Hopi story brought these words to Ron: “Inhale and exhale…live life to the fullest.”

We made our way through the dry northern New Mexico desert, the Jeep bumping its way along rough dirt roads and endless open land filled with sagebrush and cactus.  Finally, we came to a spot to park.  As we scrambled up the rough volcanic hillside, Ron stayed behind, not feeling well, and I stayed to keep him company.  Later he felt like hiking and we decided to rejoin our friends.  The wind curled around us and patches of bright yellow flower cheered our way on as we happily sang tunes.  Up the volcanic hillside we went, picking our way carefully around blackened basalt and the high desert pinon and juniper trees.

There was trouble ahead though, as we couldn’t find our friends anywhere on the jagged rocks and it was starting to get dark.  We turned around, carefully threading our way down to where the car was parked.  By the time we got to that area, it is inscrutably dark, even though there was some lingering light left in the sky.  No friends, no Jeep, just the vast silence of the northern New Mexico desert, punctuated by an occasional bellow of cows acres away under an infinite ceiling of stars.  Were we or they lost or had they left without us?

Without much food, water or warm clothes we were literally sitting ducks, afraid to walk anywhere in the darkness for fear of falling off a ledge.  Strange sounds put us on edge as we huddled together against the increasingly chilly night air.  In the darkness we lost any familiar boundaries and landmarks and entered an inexplicable liminal wilderness.

We finished off the pesto pasta and pretty much were out of water.  The sky sparkled with a blanket of endless stars in a moonless night. It was spooky but spectacular and Ron noted how amazing it was to feel dwarfed by nature.  Then a sliver of moon rose over the distant eastern Sangre de Cristo mountains.

Finally, dawn came and the rising sun.  Just as we thought, this was the exact place the vehicle had been parked. What to do?  We climbed the nearby ridge for a larger perspective and saw in the distance a dome shaped dwelling with Tibetan prayer flags flying. Slowly we made our way to what we hoped would be friendly inhabitants.

“Hey there!  You guys must be Doug and Ron,” a man shouted at us as we got close to the house. “Your friends were out here last night several times honking the horn, flashing the lights and yelling for you.  They’re about to call Search and Rescue!” Norbert and Suzanne and their children Shanina and Nurya welcomed us inside the dome home.  Norbert was a wood carver and Susanne a massage therapist who also directed a private school.

It turned out that during the long night our friends had driven to the area several times, honking the horn and flashing lights.  But all we heard that dark night was a few lonely cows acres away.  No honking horns, no light.  Inexplicably and as amazing as it seemed, our friends and we had all been there at the same time…wherever “there” had really been. It was as if we had passed through some doorway to another time or place.

Ten years later in 1995, Ron and I returned to the site to hike it again, drawn magnetically to the mystery of our experience.  We discovered a Buddhist community had grown up near the volcanic hill and we stopped by the place out of curiosity and interest. https://nobletruth.org/  The elder Buddhist Lama Karma Dorje Rinpoche, spiritual leader of the Kaguy Shenpenh Kunchab (KSK) Tibetan Buddhist sangha, happened to be there and inquired as to our visit.

“To hike the hill over there,” we said, pointing in the direction of our intended travel to the volcanic hill.  He paused noticeably, then fixed his gaze upon us as if he knew all about our story, and said, “Be careful.  Distances can be deceiving.”

Will we ever know what really happened? We were at the same place as our friends but in a different time dimension.  There’s no question we would have seen and heard them were it otherwise. It’s complicated, fascinating and multidimensional.  Science says it isn’t that time does not exist, but it has more to do with space than the absolute of time. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-is-spacetime-really-made-of/  The Rio Grande River near Taos and Santa Fe follows a rift in the north American continent, a place where the continent is slowly tearing apart.  Great tectonic plates are grinding against each other creating physical shifts of monumental geomagnetic proportion.  This is a volcanic region in which forces of nature are at play, unseen energies that perhaps could have an effect on the time space continuum as well as our own consciousness. The Taos Plateau, scene of massive molten magma flow, is now frozen in time, inert, solid.  Or so our limited minds think.  Actually we, like it, are in constant molecular motion, porous, energetic waves of light ever changing.

Image from Scientific American

“Distances can be deceiving!”  Distances between you and I, between the sub atomic particles in my body, between one thought and other. It’s all a bit deceiving, this dance of mirrors, smoke and multi-faceted prisms. Each of us are a part of the elemental forces though sometimes our daily routines seem so small in comparison. In ordinary consciousness we’re wondering how to pay the bills, who’s texting us at the moment, what to eat before rushing off to work.  Then we are thrown unwittingly onto the precipices of another world, upended and confused without the habitual markers, trail guides and electronic calendar sync and apps.  Fear takes over–or, wonder and awe.  Like a roller coaster ride we can go with it or fight the flight.  It’s bigger than we are but we just might find out how much bigger this thing called “I” actually is. After all, just one flap of a butterfly wing can set in motion a chain of events sparks a rainstorm half a world away.

Ron and I were in a “time out of time,” on a journey that wasn’t listed in any of the guidebooks.  The distances were indeed deceiving as the venerable Rinpoche said, and we were glad we found our way home.,