As part of our Healing Power of Nature summer series, we partnered with photographer Shino Kitano for her cross country roadtrip across the United States. While her trip started smoothly, she unfortunately contracted COVID-19 and needed to make a detour to complete her recovery. She wrote about the hospitality and healing she experienced at a ranch in remote New Mexico.
Under the influence of Covid, my head feels jittery and hazy, as if I've received an electric shock. But I want to continue my journey at all costs. I cannot stop in Arizona. A source there introduced us to a couple who ran a ranch in New Mexico. I contacted them immediately, and they suggested that I stay at a remote house where cowboys sometimes stay, and take it easy until I was better.
The fever still persisted, and I slept in the tent. Fortunately, the campsite was in the woods, so the shade of the trees kept out the strong sun. Late in the afternoon, I finally staggered up, managed to pack up the tent, and left Arizona.
By the time I entered New Mexico, which took nearly five hours, the sun was setting, and in the western sky, there was a faint light leaking through the clouds as if the sun was trying to squeeze the last of our strength out of the sky. The entire ranch was already shrouded in darkness. A white horse stood in front of a dimly lit stable, and several people were gathered around it.
I got out of my car and greeted and thanked them from afar, but they didn't seem to care, and upon closer inspection, I saw that the horse's right leg, illuminated by my flashlight, was bleeding with muscles popping out of it. They assumed that he had been attacked by a bear.
The remote house had a kitchen and living room in the front and a bathroom and bedroom in the back. I set up a Snow Peak table and chairs in the living room to create an office. The heat from the midday sun was still in the room, but I fell asleep in the hot room before I knew it.
The next morning, someone knocked on the door. I opened the door to find Dianne, the wife of the couple who owned the ranch I was introduced to last night, standing there. She said, "I've prepared breakfast for you, so eat it. And get well," she handed me a bowl of homemade granola, another container of yogurt, and blueberries and raspberries.
I wandered out and looked around the ranch again. Yesterday it was too dark to see, but several horses and cows were right under my nose. They gave a quick glance at the stranger who had suddenly appeared, and then, perhaps bored with the scene, began to graze again.
After a while, Dianne came in again. While I was lying on the bed watching the cows and horses, it was time for lunch. She brought a container with noodles in it, ramen noodles. Who would have thought I would be treated to ramen on a ranch in New Mexico! Dianne is the mother of five boys, four of whom are grown and helping out on the ranch, except for one who passed away in his twenties.
She would come over from time to time and we would talk at a distance.
“If you hadn't had Covid, I would have wanted you to stay at my house," she said, sounding very disappointed.
With her help, I got better little by little. One afternoon Dianne called me and said she had an idea and wanted to take me to a special place. She was very interested in the Snow Peak equipment and suggested we do something with the Takibi Fire & Grill in particular.
Dianne got into the Jeep and I followed behind her in my Honda.
'How many acres are here?' I asked her.
She told me gently, "Well, you don't usually ask the ranchers that, because it would be like asking them how much money they make.”
After about 20 minutes of driving on unpaved, rickety roads through the ranch, we finally arrived at the special place she mentioned. A few rescued horses lived there, and the red dirt stretched as far as the eye could see. Several large chunks of rock were stacked on top of each other to form an elevated plateau. The top of the hill is one of Dianne's special places.
She slowly took out a Japanese tea set from the car and began to prepare it. I am Japanese, but I am ashamed to admit that I have never studied tea ceremony. Dianne made a fire in the Takibi Fire & Grill with her experienced hands, placed a pot on top of it, and began to boil water. She even prepared homemade sweets for us, even though she was very busy working on the ranch. Having lived in the U.S. for a long time, there are not a few Americans who ask me to share Japanese culture with them because I am Japanese. I appreciate this, but at the same time, I sometimes feel that it is a bit intrusive, and for someone like me who has lived in the U.S. for such a long time and is even aware that I am an American, it can feel like someone else is forcing their identity on me. Dianne, however, was completely different. She truly enjoyed the tea ceremony. I was moved to tears as I felt her sincere desire to show me this special place and to enjoy it with me.
The water boiled, and Dianne carefully prepared the tea and handed it to me. I finished the tea without leaving any froth. Dianne made herself a cup of tea and then began to tell me a story, as if she had made up her mind.
"When I was in high school, I had an accident and lost my memory. I lost so much of my memory that I couldn't even live a normal life, and I had to relearn everything. I think it changed my personality. I think I wasn't very kind to people before that"
Dianne gulped down a cup of matcha from the teacup in her hands. Rain clouds could be seen in the distant sky, and the wind was picking up. Through the clouds, several rays of sunlight were shining on the ground, shimmering like a curtain. We smiled at each other and left this special place. The experience at the ranch reminded me of the power of hospitality and the ways wild places can offer a safe space for healing and connection.