Probably a good place to start is where. Any story deserves a setting, a location, a back drop. I don’t know that desert is necessarily accurate, it doesn’t describe the character that this place truly deserves. Because, it has character that you wouldn’t believe. Trust me, it continues to baffle me, consistently and relentlessly.
The center where this rehabilitation occurs, is nestled in a desert canyon called Rainbow Canyon. Red canyon walls set up an aesthetically attractive enclosure around the center. They overlook the lush green fields, well maintained and assumingly fruitful. A rocky road curves through the canyon, hugging canyon walls and racing next to train tracks. Wild overgrown brush overlaps the road, laden with pools of stagnant water. The canyon is home to a herd of cattle, who sort of meander in and out of fences, taking orders from no one. Wild horses, deer, jack rabbits and cats all take up residency in the canyon. It is basically, everything that you would imagine from a canyon in the desert. Nothing short of beautiful though, if you give it the chance.
Every day I board a white van, packed with my coworkers and take the trip up through the canyon. The misplaced van bounces awkwardly through the canyon, dodging potholes and the occasional wildlife. We all sit silently, plugged into the prized electronics we cling to. Listening to the music that provides some sort of sanctuary and identity in a place where it is pretty easy to lose track of. I try to appreciate the peace that the canyon provides, before pulling around that last bend to climb the steep driveway up to the center.
The center is basically a massive log cabin. Some sort of club, ranch or otherwise agriculturally connected building. It’s perched atop a hill and looks down on a long field of emerald green. Similarly painted mobile homes sit on either side of the center, each with its own designated purposes. It’s a beautiful facility, I will give it that credit. Seemingly well maintained, but too much wood. Walls, ceilings and floors are all paneled in wood. Initially the wood feels cozy and classy. But for some reason, it quickly becomes too much. I remember thinking to myself that the walls were beginning to mirror how I was beginning to feel; wooden, hollow and mismatched.
The character though, comes not from the center. It comes from the city that sits 20 minutes below the center. Being a staff member, I take residency in staff housing in the town of Caliente. This peculiar town has few commodities, but isn’t short on personality. Three mediocre restaurants, a gas station, a small grocery store and a Family Dollar. The population is a little over 1000 and the residents are like nothing I have ever encountered.
Let me preface this by saying that I am from Denver, CO. Granted, it isn’t a huge dirty city. It isn’t littered with stray cats, crime and crack dealers, but it’s big enough. And it certainly has diversity. So, to suddenly find myself in a small predominantly white, Mormon town was a culture shock to say the least. Never did I think I would be waking up to roosters. Real roosters. Yelling, early in the morning. Never did I even fathom the idea of ATV’s, dirt bikes, sand buggies and four wheelers being used as actual transportation. Didn’t once imagine watching wild deer hopping over fences and though yards like school children chasing a ball.
One of the neighbors that lives on my street described it perfectly. An old man, preoccupied with the upkeep of his lawn sits on his front porch smoking on a fragrant pipe. He smiles and waves every day as we pass him, and one day strikes up a conversation from his porch. He tells the story of how he drives back and forth to see his family in Maryland. When I ask him why the long commute, he says, “It’s a slow friendly pace around here. This town has something I think the rest of America forgot about.” He couldn’t be more accurate. As painful as I often find it, it’s humbling and life is pretty simple around here.