Until one has loved an animal, part of one’s soul remains unawakened.Anatole France
After visiting the Earthship community, Ethan and I continued west on Highway 64 into Northwestern New Mexico. It was a mesmerizingly scenic 2 hour drive through the uninhabited Carson National Forest. We passed a town and several mountains named “No Agua,” which sent a wave of worry over me… and would later prove prophetic. The best part was a scenic lookout over Jawbone Mountain, a craggy behemoth about which the internet contains almost no information. The mystery only adds to its appeal, and I am dreaming of returning to explore!
We reached a high point overlooking the valley wherein lay our destination: Tierra Amarilla and the Chama River. Below us the land abruptly changed from piney mountain woods to brushy desert canyons. As our little car zigzagged down the mountainside switchbacks, I could hardly pull my eyes away from the views to focus on the road.
I’d made reservations to stay at a Hipcamp in a greenhouse. The price of a campsite, it advertised trustworthy WiFi in a beautiful and relaxing locale. The host, Arvo, had sent me a long rambling email containing detailed directions along with colorful messaging such as:
“While you believe in creating your own reality, please do know that no one has ever manifested a road to our place unless they went through gate #2. Not that it couldn’t be done, I have an open mind, but maybe you just want to arrive rather than test your ability to bend the space/time continuum?”
I couldn’t wait to meet this person.
We arrived at Arvo’s gate at the exact minute we’d forewarned him we’d be arriving… and he was nowhere to be found. The yard was full of broken down cars, piles of wood and curious dogs. Ten or more hand-crafted wooden greenhouses were scattered across the property. I honked a few times until a young couple emerged.
“Hi Arvo!” I called, waving.
“Oh, I’m not Arvo,” the man replied. “But he’s probably around here somewhere.”
He turned and disappeared between the greenhouses.
Half an hour later, Ethan and I were still waiting at the gate and it had begun to rain. Ethan grew annoyed as it became more and more likely that he would miss his evening business call. There was no phone service for miles, so hot-spotting was out of the question. It dawned on me I should be more concerned about establishing backup plans for WiFi outages.
Finally Ethan proclaimed he was going in, and hopped the gate. “Be careful!” I shouted after him. I crossed my fingers that Arvo didn’t have a gun.
A few minutes later, Ethan emerged along with an older man. He was sporting a pair of dirty overalls and had a wild scraggly crown of hair in the style of Einstein, Christopher Lloyd, or Rick Sanchez.
“You park here, come on,” he said in a thick German accent. I scrambled over the fence and followed them into one of the greenhouses.
The chaotic vibe of the yard melted away the moment I stepped in. Before me splayed a peaceful green world; a secret garden. A giant grape vine snaked its way up a central pillar. Its branches clung to the ceiling and walls, producing a leafy canopy through which the sunlight flickered. Bunches of dried raisins dangled enticingly next to our heads, and lush mustard green plants peeped up from planters on the floor. Bohemian cushions perched atop a futon and a bench – antique heirlooms that were probably hand-sewn a lifetime ago. Beside the bench was a small round table which had no doubt seen many years of good meals and conversation.
It felt safe, welcoming and full of history; the kind of “grandma’s house” feeling that a place develops after bearing witness to many years of love and life, sadness and celebration, hard days and peaceful nights.
Hiding in the shadows beyond the table was an entrance to a cozy little apartment, complete with bathroom, bedroom, and rustic kitchen. A propane camp stove sat atop an ornate iron relic which I guessed was once an oven. A basin sat upon the back of the toilet, into which flowed new water upon flushing, with which to wash your hands.
The shared shower was in the next greenhouse over. It was an unpretentious spigot rigged up in the middle of a whole room of plants. I felt like I’d been transported to the middle of a rainforest and was bathing in a waterfall. It was absolutely magical.
The first evening ushered in a magnificent sunset. We walked the dirt road which overlooked the Chama Valley and ran alongside a private canyon.
Over the next few days, Arvo warmed to us and began to tell wild and wonderful stories of his younger days. He led us to his scenic overlook and meditation pad and offered us a bottle of homemade sparkling rainwater. He showed us his gardens and beautiful hand-made cabin, and had deep discussions with Ethan about philosophy and mushroom foraging.
One afternoon, Ethan was sitting out at the meditation pad when a piece of bark fell from the sky and hit him on the head. Then another, and another. He looked up and saw a large shiny raven. It was picking at the bark with its beak and throwing the pieces at Ethan. Ethan chuckled and said something to the bird, and it hopped closer, tilting its head at him.
“That’s Chaco,” came Arvo’s voice. “He’s my roommate. Watch, this is his favorite treat.”
Arvo stuck his arm in the air, holding out a lumpy stick of butter. Chaco the Raven immediately glided down and greedily pecked at the butter.
I wasn’t even surprised to find that this eccentric man had made friends with a raven. When Chaco was a young hatchling, his whole bird family died in a storm. Arvo found the lone ravenette in a sorry state, but nursed him back to health. He now flies freely around the region, but frequently returns to Arvo to say hello and gorge on free butter and elk meat.
I took out my phone to film this enthralling interaction between Arvo and the blackbird*. Arvo beamed. He’d been thinking of creating a documentary about ravens, he told us. It could be similar to “My Octopus Teacher”, and he’d call it “My Raven Roommate.” He just needed a film student to bring their camera equipment out and stay with him for a month to film it. Ethan and I contacted our siblings, who both have degrees in film, to try and make him some connections. I imagine someday we’ll see the movie pop up on Netflix, and I will excitedly exclaim, “I met him!”
*You can see the footage on my YouTube video starting around minute 7