Walk along the Santa Fe River, and most of the year you’ll be walking in dust. Either that, or on pavement. I don’t know if its ever been a continually flowing stream, but I do know that human intervention has changed it considerably from what it once was. When I first moved to New Mexico some 20+ years ago, the river seemed a sad joke, desolate with litter, scraggly weeds and dry dirt.
Lately though there’s been an organized effort to clean up and return the river to a natural life force. The river banks have been reinforced, weeds pulled, willow and cottonwoods planted, and a paved rec path now winds along much of its length.
Mostly though the river remains dry, as do so many of the waterways out here. It’s an intermittent stream as I learned back in my map & compass days. Meaning the riverbed fills with water only occasionally, as in springtime with the mountain snow melt, and in summertime with the afternoon monsoonal showers. When the river does flow, it flows briefly. Magically. Forcefully.
But these days it’s dry.
On New Year’s day we walked in the riverbed, my pup and I, drumming up slight clouds of dust, and darting through fans of red fronds, our explorations secluded within walls of willow and banked earth.
New Year’s Day is a day I normally feel upbeat. The turning of the year always inspires me, ignites me with desires and goals, destinations and journeys. But these days with so much conflict, so much distrust and destruction and disillusionment in the world, I’ve been struggling to feel optimistic. The beautiful, blissful mindfulness I found on my long September walk flew with the November west wind back to The Green Mountains. Sometimes it seems that in its place a dark cloud of smoke has started piling up just at my doorway, constantly churning and threatening to seep in through the cracks of my quiet world.
As the smoke of my mind churns, I catch myself —
Look around you.
There ahead on the left is a long ledge of a rock, jutting out of the south bank like a grand piano. Waist-high, it’s flanks are water-worn, with long chipped and rounded shelves. Something about it is strange though. . . . there are all sorts of little rocks on it, configured in an unnatural, even decisive way.
I step closer, as my eyes adjust, and exhale a small cry of of recognition and delight.
Dozens of heart-shaped rocks line the ledges.
Every one is different.
Different colors, different textures, some smooth, some rough. Some more perfectly shaped, others misshapen. Some minuscule, others enormous. Yet all the same. At their core, all related.
And each placed here by hands as various as the hearts they held — and hold.
I walked away smiling, for the first time all day.
On my way home I found a heart-shaped rock near the sidewalk and placed it in my pocket, and then — once home — by my door, so that later that day, when we returned to walk again, I could place my own heart beside the others.
Clouds and spitting snow and sunshine passed, and some hours later we returned to the heart shelf and I smiled again. But OH! I forgot my heart rock!
I so wanted to add one to the community of silent hearts.
I looked around along the river banks, a wee bit desperate to find another heart.
AH! Here’s one!
But the Perfectionist designer voice in my head said, Are you kidding? That hardly looks like a heart at all. You can’t put that up there — you need to find a better one.
Deflated, I looked around for another moment, when it struck me — Are YOU kidding? Your heart is perfect, just the way it is.
And I nestled my perfectly imperfect heart among the others.
I thought this little story might end there.
But the next day we visited the river heart shelf again, and, as I studied the menagerie for a moment I gasped a small breath of surprise and irritation: One of the large heart rocks next to where I’d placed mine was missing.
Just within the span of a few hours, someone had TAKEN one of the biggest, most special hearts!
I can’t believe someone would do that! How could someone do that?!
And then it occurred to me:
Maybe someone needed a big heart just now.
I know the feeling.