I turned the key to “off” and listened as the 2007 Forester engine wound down, its familiar clicking and moaning more a comfort than a worry. Our red car sat facing stairs leading up to Nxai’s Place.
Through the passenger seat window I saw the compound’s main house sitting at the lowest section of the property’s sloping acres. Outside the driver’s window the newest of the three houses loomed above me. When I’d read “compound” on the VRBO website entry for Nxai’s Place, a guest cottage about 20 minutes southeast of Santa Fe, my mind froze a bit at the possibility of bad things. Compound is not a word I use and generally calls to mind cults or other things I’d prefer to avoid.
The engine now sat quiet after two days of driving a zig-zag route from Cheyenne. I opened the door and swung my feet to the gravel drive. Taking a few moments to stand, my knees clicked and moaned as I rose to stretch and close the door behind me.
I noticed the quiet. Not the absence of sound but a bluejay croaking, a cow mooing in the distance, and the clang of an approaching Amtrak passenger train on the tracks across the road. In spite of those few sounds I recognized a stillness on the property encouraged by groves of high-elevation aspen and fruit trees, budded but net yet flowering or leafing.
Once inside the adobe cottage I dropped my camera bag, satchel, and backpack on the desk, the bags brimming with lenses, books, journals, tablet, and laptop. Those bags contained the aspiration of my unexpected but welcome four-day personal retreat. The VRBO description promised no cell phone service or television, only limited non-streaming wi-fi, books, magazines, and the opportunity to unplug from most of life’s electronic leash. A quick glance at my personal phone confirmed the cell phone coverage claim. My work phone had been turned off and slotted in the satchel before leaving Cheyenne. I did not retrieve it.
After a quick trip to the grocery store for food that I’d cook over the next four days, I uncorked a bottle of dry French rosé and stepped onto the porch. If stress can melt like butter, that’s what it felt like smelling and sipping the wine, walking amongst the trees, listening to the birds, watching the eastbound Amtrak across the dirt road stop for passenger exchange, and noticing the western sky turning pink.
For two days I cooked frittatas, ate salads, and drank coffee or red wine based on time of day. I listened to Beethoven, Bach, Einaudi, Williams (the classical guitarist), and Fleetwood Mac, sometimes while reading about writing or penning journal entries. I finished reading a memoir, and I read poetry by Wyoming and Nebraska authors. And because of the wi-fi, I messaged with my wife and daughter as we enjoy being connected.
I’d planned to maintain that schedule for four days but on the third day I rose and ventured out in search of experiences. Not with crowds of people, which I avoided, but something outside the compound.
The 24 hours of day three filled with memorable outings. I hobbled for an hour around the ancient cliff dwellings at Bandelier National Monument, enjoyed an evening drink with the compound’s owner at the new train car bar across the road, and attended a Civil War plaque unveiling ceremony at Pecos National Historical Park (an event honoring New Mexico’s Lt. Col. Chaves and volunteers who were instrumental in turning back Confederate soldiers at New Mexico’s Battle of Glorieta Pass). And I ate tacos for lunch in Santa Fe on an outdoor table.
I had not originally planned to venture beyond the quiet of the compound but these enjoyable outings still linger as I contemplate my walking through ancient housing sites, hearing of a Civil War battle that claimed lives and changed the course of the war, and enjoying conversation with a new friend in an old train car.
Back at Nxai’s Place, I settled back into my contemplative routine, milking the final hours of peace before returning to my work life.
On Sunday morning, as I engaged the Subaru’s engine and inched outside the gate toward home, my thoughts went to the word “compound” and the positive meaning it now carries in my mind and soul.