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Looking downstream on the Rio Grande south of Algodones from above
Photo credit: —Blake Steigerwald

Something about nothing

~Evan Belknap

Most of my stories this year have revolved around me working, whether it be in the mountains, backpacking with kids, or on the river, taking thrill-seeking grandmothers rafting. I love my work but it’s exhausting—to be on all the time, day and night. After a long season, all I want is to have a scene to myself, not tinged with the responsibility of keeping people alive. Me time—to go on trips with my friends, to climb every other day—to do absolutely nothing.

In Albuquerque, where Kobe and I live, we walk a lot, especially in the mornings. Everyone on my block has at least one Chihuahua, and we’re considering getting one to fit in. We walk about and look at the array of imported plants that people have in their yards. They’re every color, especially now that Fall is here. They’re filled with foreign fruits, leaves, pigeons, finches, bees, and behind them are so many houses, people inside each one, and we listen to the noises of the birds, of the cars, of voices in the houses, of sirens and people blasting music from their windows. We walk along and look at our feet, look at the glass and trash and spiders in the gutters, at old footprints trapped in the concrete, flowers, fading paint, sagging fences, time eating away at everything—and it’s really quite a lovely scene.

We like to walk to the river and be under the cottonwood trees, especially this time of year, when the trees are so bright yellow that even when you head back into the streets of the city, everything continues to glow yellow, as if you had stared into the sun.

I like to watch the river go by, so brown and slow, and I always wish I had a boat to go float around in… sometimes I do.

Today, my brother, my dad, and I pushed some canoes into the Rio Grande River near Algodones and climbed aboard. Onward we paddled, down toward Bernalillo. The cottonwoods burned a golden fire into the sky and a warm breeze licked the leafy flames about. We saw Sandhill Cranes, ducks, and a Great Blue Heron in the cloudless sky. We talked off and on, but mostly just listened to the silence.                 Willows had vanquished most of the Salt Cedar on the banks and shimmered a healthy blue-green.

I’m always amazed to be alone on the Rio Grande. ‘Do people not know that you can do this?’ I find myself thinking. There are a million people living along the Rio Grande and somehow we’re always alone out there, cruising along in our canoes, gazing out at the Sandia Mountains behind the trees. It’s as easy as leaving a car at the take out, all jumping into another car and going to the put-in, and driving a shuttle later. OR, if you’re a genius like my brother, you can drive straight to the put-in and then, at the take-out, call an Uber driver to take you back to your starting point for $8.96. This is a revolutionary idea. It’s not that I want everybody to rush out there to the river and clog it all up, but it is a nice thing to do, and I think people should try it at least once.

After a while, we pulled over and hopped onto the bank to stand in the mud and drink a beer and look around, and, once, my brother fired up his drone and flew it around, capturing the whole show, way up high, where the camera could see the tributaries, where Las Huertas Wash came down from the mountain and entered the river, where the floodplain ended, how the whole river meandered about, and then he flew it down lower to see the leaves flickering on the trees.

Everything was going so well, until he clipped a branch and his tiny helicopter crash-landed somewhere out there in the briars and rattlesnakes. He cursed and then sighed, packing his controller back into its bag and getting the canoe ready to go find it.

Searching around the Bosque, climbing over and under fallen cottonwood skeletons, through burs and Russian olive trees, stupidly, for a little gray robot, I was thankful for the time to be with my brother, who I don’t get to see all that often, and was happy that this was the place where I had chosen to live and spend my time.

This was exactly the kind of nothing I wanted to be doing. Eventually, we found the drone and continued downstream, paddling gently into the wind.

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