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Celebrating peace and quiet

Paul Andersen

My wife and I spent last weekend in Santa Fe to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. Our son was on his seventh-grade class trip, and this was one of the first times in years that my wife and I have gotten away alone. At first I felt the awkwardness of a first date until we stopped in Salida for a picnic lunch beneath huge cottonwoods at a riverside park on the Arkansas River. We sat on a blanket on the grass in the comparative quiet and just looked at each other, gradually feeling the magic of rediscovery – husband and wife, man and woman.The little historic town was bustling, but not in the way historic towns bustle in the Roaring Fork Valley. There was an obvious absence of construction noise – no beep-beep of backing trucks, no staccato of nail guns – and for that we were grateful.Upon arriving in Santa Fe, I could feel rising tension with every mile of four-lane highway, every increment of traffic congestion. From the windows of our hotel room, the muted roar of the city seeped in like a thick fog. At night the city glowed with an unearthly halo. I was aware of the lights and the noise because of the contrast to where we live in the Fryingpan Valley, happily buffered from the taint of industrial and the incessant mechanical drone of contemporary life. Still, it required distance from home to enjoy our long-overdue reunion and to appreciate more fully our lives together. After a day or so, we could feel a return to the easy friendship we had taken for granted before the demands of home and family. That simple existence seemed like a lifetime ago. If not for our renewed intimacy, Santa Fe would have been a trial, and an expensive one at that. The gross commercialization inherent in that “world-class shopping” mecca was a constant buzz, magnified by what seemed like a doubling of prices on everything. Playing the role of tourist is an eye-opener when you assume the role of “local” in your own tourist-oriented community. My wife and I made no pretense of being cool in Santa Fe. Instead, we were consummate gawkers, unabashed and unapologetic. We left Santa Fe with gratitude for the close time we had spent together, but also with relief for escaping the city and its overlay of noise and light. Our mistake was sidetracking through Taos where a “rolling thunder” motorcycle rally sent a 200-decibel vibe through the desert air. Surrounded by the din of motorcycles, it became apparent that many people are hell-bent on banishing the sounds of silence. They either find something frightening about silence, or they look at silence as a vacuum that human nature for some reason abhors.Later, far removed from any city or town, somewhere in the vast, high plains marking the border of Colorado and New Mexico, we felt a return to peace and quiet, realizing how vital to our well-being is the tranquility of a desert breeze, the murmur of a creek, the trill of a blackbird.Back home on the Fryingpan, my wife and I unpacked, then took a moment to thank each other for being the life partners we have vowed to be, for the love inherent in our mutual respect, and for the easy friendship that has weathered every storm.We strolled around our small yard exclaiming about how green everything is, how sweet the lilacs smell, how fast everything has grown this spring, and how clear and clean is the air. That night we ate a quiet dinner, fed the cats, and watched the dog curl into a tight ball. When I turned out the lights, the darkness beyond our windows blanketed the sky with stars. The open window let in a flood of cool mountain air. Listening intently, all I could hear was the distant rush of rapids on the Fryingpan River. Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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