Commentary: I own land up by Derry only because I visited Cruces just when my friend, Bud (Professor Orville Joseph Wanzer, Jr.) was retiring from NMSU. Somewhat deaf, and much preferring nature to people, he wanted to live out his days in solitude. I saw an ad for 50 acres, a half-mile of riverfront. Cheap. We drove up there. Much to Bud's surprise, it was “the place.”
It felt isolated. After a few miles on a dirt road, we turned up a gentle slope. Alone on the river's west side, we could see farms and distant mountains to the east. With two friends to split the cost, we bought it. That was in 1984.
Bud lived there nearly three decades, with a revolving pack of dogs, some wild. He built a small house, studio, and shed. He installed solar power. He walked daily, worked on the place, and wrote. He tried gardening, but the heat and rodents were merciless. He taught himself stained-glass – and became a master. For a while an entire room housed a train set, and the town (houses, stores, farms, cows) he created for the trains to chug through. Little people looking about as baffled by life as we usually were.
I dreamed of moving there. I dug a well, prepared a home site, and cleared a road up from the arroyo. (An especially vigorous monsoon flood soon erased the lower end of the road.) I designed various homes for the site – adobe, straw bale, rammed-earth.
Bud created a unique outdoors stained-glass gallery: with limited windows in his house, he built a stained-glass carport; then he erected free-standing structures using 2 x 4's, with openings for the glass – out in the desert, at the mercy of the elements – or any 12 year-old with a BB gun.
I visited most every year. I loved the special quality of the silence – the perfect antidote to city life's nonstop background din. I swam in the river with the dogs. Long, empty days there had their own rhythm.
Bud didn't see much of anyone for months, so the first day he talked loudly and constantly. Once he relaxed, we had good talks, or shared the silences of old friends.
When his health deteriorated, we moved him into town. After some intense years of frequent ER trips, he died this February.
Thursday was our first visit to the land since Bud's death. Nature is reclaiming the place. Thorny branches across the driveway bar the way. A darkness has settled there that reminds me of the scenes foreshadowing evil in scary movies. Inside, layers of rodent pellets share floor space with books, papers, and other odds and ends left behind. By his old desk, where he sat so much of each day lookin' at the river, I found a Bible held together with duct tape. Inside, in pencil: “Presented to Orville Wanzer as a token of honor for regular attendance in sabbath school in 1903.” 1903? His father, Queens cop and Olympic shot-putter.
His place feels like a stage set after the play has closed its run.
I wandered over to my empty home site, spooking a deer in the arroyo. The gnats didn't follow me. I sat looking up-river and down-river. The Rio was full. Blue water. Bright green fields. Mountains going red in the late light. That silence again, absolute silence. I was right where I wanted to be.