Writing in Place - Field Trip - The Albuquerque Volcanos:

Directions: Drive West on Interstate 40 and take Exit 149. Proceed North (right) heading towards Double Eagle Airport on Paseo Del Volcan. At five miles you will see a road that goes into the Volcanoes Day Use Area of Petroglyph National Monument. The road is gated and the gate will probably be closed. The parking lot is only open until 5:00 so park along Paseo Del Volcan or turn in on the road and park off Paseo Del Volcan West of the gate. Walk past the gate and proceed East to the empty parking lot there are some shade structures and restrooms there and we will meet in that area. I have been cautioned that there are rattlesnakes in the area, so pay attention. Actually, as bugman D. Fagerlund points out, rattlesnakes are apparently only dangerous to people who are drinking heavily, so there is no reason to be fearful.

Here is a map of the Volcanos area:

external image 6836d02e-12d4-464f-92be-d79df53554ef.jpgWe will be walking the trail towards the JA Volcano and the Scenic Overlook on the East Side of JA.

This week, the themes of the field trip are vision, vastness, and the depths of time. Certainly we can bear witness to the way that humans impose themselves on the landscape but in this setting we see the human “footprint” on a very “macro” level. Looking across the city we can see the artifacts and products of the mass of humanity occupying the space. Eerily, however, it is also quite easy to imagine the space unoccupied, void of human inhabitants. And, as powerful as the landscape is, it is also easy to get lost in the vastness of the sky, the negative space that defines the peaks of the Sandia, Manzano, Jemez, Taylor, San Mateo, Ladron, Sangre De Cristo, etc. mountains that string into the distances in all directions. Sky Determines, (1948) by Ross Calvin is a classic New Mexican book that investigates the way that the vast New Mexican sky influences the outlooks, philosophies, and ways of life of the people who have lived with the New Mexico sky as a backdrop. Calvin’s work suggests that places effect people dynamically, imposing limits, catalyzing emotions, inspiring reflections, and molding ideas of self and expectations.

Calvin and others show that place does not have to be a static stage or framework that merely contains the drama of plot and the passions of human interaction. A writer can use place to create mood, develop characters, create tension, and effect pace. The approach of an impending storm, for example can create a sense of escalating urgency. A character’s engagement with the circumstances of his/her environment can reveal aspects of that character in a convincing way. A character may show himself to be careless, vigilant, mean-spirited, kind, cowardly, etc. through his/her reaction to the weather, the horizon, a cloud of mosquitos, a rattlesnake, etc.

During our visit to the volcano peaks area, remember to create silence for yourself for several minutes at least three or four times.

Exercise One: At some point soon after our arrival, take a moment and write down your impressions. These should be descriptive and sensual. You should also describe your feelings, a bit of the internal landscape – avoid pigeon-hole words like “happy,” “stressed,” “melancholy,” etc. Instead describe the feelings that add up to “happy,” etc.
Later, based on your impressions, write a short piece (200 words more or less) that addresses the dynamism of the setting as people engage it. This can be a mini-essay, a character study, or a compressed narrative.

Exercise Two: Imagine that during our visit, someone had shown up at the park with a badly behaved dog. Re-do your piece with the imaginary dog and his/her clueless owner(s) factored into the landscape. (This scenario is not out of the realm of possibility – maybe we’ll have luck and this situation will actually materialize.)