PEOPLE ALL OVER THE COUNTRY are always saying to me: “You travel constantly and have been all over America and have seen all the nice places to live, so you choose Albuquerque out of the whole United States. Why Albuquerque?”
Well, that’s a hard question to answer. There are many little reasons, of course. But probably the main thing is simply a deep, unreasoning affection for the Southwest.
I guess it’s like being in love with a woman. You don’t love a woman because she wears No. 3 shoes or eats left-handed or has a diamond set in her fron ttooh. You just love her because you love her and you can’t help yourself. That’s the way we are about the Southwest.
I was born and raised in the farm country of Indiana. “That Girl”—who is Mrs. Pyle—came from among the lakes and trees of lovely Minnesota. But we both adjourned to the East, and lived and worked in Washington and New York most of our adult lives.
But finally two pairs of itching feet combined to send us on our way, into what is probably the freakiest newspaper job in America. We just simply wander constantly around and write a daily column about it for the Scripps-Howard Newspapers, and many others too.
When we left Washington seven years ago, we stored our scant possessions in a warehouse. For the next six years we were without a home or even a base, of any sort. We lived constantly in hotels or on boats; we took our vacations wherever we happened to be; we have been sick in hotel rooms all the way from Alaska to Santiago, Chile; we had clothes and books and suitcases cached away in the homes of friends clear from Los Angeles to New York.
We do like the gypsy life. It frees you of a great many responsibilities. You can always pay your bill and run on to some other place before events catch up with you. You are free in a way that isn’t possible to a permanent resident. Gypsying is in our blood, and even today after 250,000 miles of going-away-from-where-we-are, we still couldn’t bear to think of settling down permanently.
And yet, as the years of wandering rolled over us, we began to sense a lack of something. We realized we had become human whirling dervishes. We had become footloose finally to the point of just swinging forever through space without ever coming down. We were like trees growing in the sky, without roots.
So at last we decided to acquire a base. Not for the purpose of settling down, not a permanent hearthside at all, but just some definite walls in a definite place that we could feel were ours. A sort of home plate, that we could run to on occasion, and then run away from again.
Now we had first seen the Southwest way back in 1926, when we came through in a Model-T Ford roadster on a crazy kid tour of America. We had loved it at that first sight. Then in these more recent years of traveling we had hit the Southwest—as we did almost all other parts of the nation—at least once a year. We became better and better acquainted with the desert country, we made personal friends, there grew in us an overwhelming warmth of feeling for the uncanny sweeps of empty space in this part of the world. And thus it was that when in late 1940 we decided to build this so-called base somewhere in America, we didn’t even have to take a vote on where it should be. We just decided by acclamation. We had never discussed it before, but we both knew without asking. The place was New Mexico.
Under our original plans we would have been in this house only one month of each year—while we took our annual vacation. But circumstances stepped in and took a hand. The war, and sickness, and other events shaped our course until in this past year, we have spent four months in our new house in Albuquerque, instead of one. For the first time in our lives we have become householders. We haven’t stopped traveling, and we don’t think of ourselves as living permanently even in our own home—but in these four months we have got pretty well acquainted with this little center of the universe that we retreat to. And we are not sorry we built our base in Albuquerque.
By the time this appears in print I will again be far away. But the house will be here for us to come back to. And all the things we like about being in Albuquerque will be here when we return. And here are the things we like about living in Albuquerque:
We like it because we have a country mailbox instead of a slot in the door. We like it because our front yard stretches as far as you can see, and because old Mt. Taylor, 65 miles away, is like a framed picture in our front window. We like it because when we look to the westward we look clear over and above the city of Albuquerque and on beyond, it seems, halfway to the Pacific Ocean.
We like it because you can cash a check almost anywhere in Albuquerque without being grilled as though you were a criminal. And because after your second trip to a filling station the gas-pumper calls you by name.
We like because people are friendly and interested in you, and yet they leave you alone. to a vain fellow like me, it is pleasant to be stopped on the streets downtown by perfect strangers and told they enjoy your column; and yet these thoughtful strangers do not ask anything of you and do not keep you standing in fretfulness. People in Albuquerque realize that our life and work is one of seeing thousands and thousands of people a year all over the world, and that when we come home to Albuquerque to rest, we do want to see a few people, but not thousands. And so they are considerate of us.
And we like it here because you can do almost anything you want to, within reason. In four months, I haven’t been out of overalls more than half a dozen times. and I can go to the Alvarado Hotel’s swell Cocina Cantina always in my overalls, and nobody raises an eyebrow.
We like it because we can have Navajo rugs in our house, and piñon and juniper bushes in our yard, and western pictures on our knotty-pine walls. We like it because you can take a Sunday afternoon spin into the mountains and see deer and wild turkey; and because I have a workbench where I make crude little end-tables and such stuff for our house.
We like it because you aren’t constantly covered with smoke and soot, and because the days are warm and the nights are cool, and because the weirdest kinds of desert weeds are always springing up in our bare south lot. We like it because we can see scores of miles in any direction from our house, and yet we can drive downtown in seven minutes.
We like it because the meadow larks hidden in the sage across the road from our house sing us awake in the summer dawn. These meadow larks sing the oddest things. One of them says over and over “Your face is awfully pretty!” And another one says “Here comes the preacher.”
Every night around 9 two rabbits come to nibble on our lawn. And about once a week when we rise early there are quail in our front yard. We have actually counted as many as 50. And when we go out onto the porch they don’t fly away with a frightened whirring of wings, they just walk slowly across the road and inside the concealing sage as though to say “Don’t get it into your head we’d leave if we didn’t want to. We were through anyway.”
We like it out here because we seem to go to bed early and get up early—and certainly out here he who does not see the dawn at least once a week is missing perhaps the loveliest thing the desert has in its Horn of Plenty. We have seen sunrises so violently beautiful they were almost frightening, and I’m only sorry I can’t capture the sunsets and the thunderstorms and the first snows on the Sandías, and take them East and flaunt them in people’s faces.
We like it here because no more than half our friends who write us know how to spell Albuquerque. We like it here because you can see Indians making silver jewelry, and you can see sheepskins lying all over a vacant downtown lot, drying in the sun. and we like it because the dirt street in front of our house washes into such deep gullies that not many people care to drive over it.
We like it because Albuquerque is still small enough that you always see somebody you know when you go downtown. We like it because the whole tempo of life is slower than in the big cities. We like it because in Albuquerque a pedestrian waits for the traffic light even though there may not be a car in sight.
We like Albuquerque because, in spite of the great comfortable sense of isolation you feel here, still you do not suffer from over-isolation. For people here, too, live lives that are complete and full. We want for little, even in the nebulous realm of the mind. There is no famine of thought in our surroundings. In the Southwest character there is a sufficiency which, though not complacent, has in it something of the desert’s charm.
We like it here because you buy gnarled cedar firewood by the pound or ton and people never heard of a “cord.” And we like it because you can drive half-an-hour from home and buy a burro for $5—in case you want a burro.
We like it here because we’re on top of the world, in a way; and because we are not stifled and smothered and hemmed in by buildings and trees and traffic and people. We like it because the sky is so bright and you can see so much of it. And because out here you actually see the clouds and the stars and the storms, instead of just reading about them in the newspapers. They become a genuine part of your daily life, and half the entire horizon is yours in one glance just for the looking, and the distance sort of gets into your soul and makes you feel that you too are big inside.
Yes, there are lots of nice places in the world. I could live with considerable pleasure in the Pacific Northwest, or in New England, or on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, or in Key West or California or Honolulu. But there is only one of me, and I can’t live in all those places. So if we can have only one house—and that’s all we want—then it has to be in New Mexico, and preferably right at the edge of Albuquerque where it is now.