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Flags in Time

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

And so I found myself returned to one of my portals in time, the sunny front deck of the Santa Fe International Hostel on Cerrillos Highway, with the wonderful backdrop of the trucks and commuters and drag racers at night. I had grown to enjoy the sounds of the highway and it was soothing to me like the rising and fall of ocean waves. I closed my eyes and slowly breathed in the cool air, feeling the locomotives whirring by, their mufflers popping and banging creating a sort of strange mechanical sea.

The Santa Fe Hostel is a home I had left a year and a half ago, and through some dusty twist of fate found myself returned to, simultaneously altered and the same. I was joyous and reveled in my return to this odd vortex. There was a group of us who made pilgrimage to this space – odd balls and gurus, drifters and explorers, the sane and the insane. There was an essence of mythology surrounding the hostel, the stories which took place here and the characters who passed through. For many of us it held a potent significance to our lives. And I felt in my heart, that I had returned here to compose some sort of story.

Recently I had become interested in the concept of time travel through artwork, memory and writing. Spending spare moments compiling collections of stories and tidbits, musings and moments from my journeys, I was creating a collage of emotion, interactions and landscapes. There were people who held potency, and sacred places my own soul made pilgrimage. I felt that everything we witnessed in this life was a projector image from a deeper reality, a plane I lacked words for. Yet by scrambling everything up, I could catch glimpses through the tape.

The concept of ‘flags in time’ had first been presented to me by a dear old friend nearly 10 years before, on a peaceful January day. The winters in my hometown in Western New York held a deep quality of stillness. When it snowed it was so quiet it seemed you could hear the landing of each individual snowflake upon the earth. Some days the winter filled my heart with warmth and comfort, others it was a deeply sad and infinitely cold.

Eli and I trotted through the forest and held mitten hands through thick layers of wool and felt. We stopped at a clearing overlooking the frozen pond and watched the geese who forgot to migrate fly peacefully through the grey sky, specs of movement in the frozen white world. We knew that change was upon us, as we would both soon return to university in separate states, furthering our divergent paths. Eli told me to create a flagpole in my mind, perhaps with a cherry red, or glittering opal flag at the top. He instructed me to throw my flag out into the pond, and to create a file folder of flags in my mind’s eye. I could then access this point at any time, he told me, and create a further collection of flags, beautiful and evocative moments I wished to make prominent within my life’s story.

As I’m writing this now, I wonder about the points in time I have chosen to throw flags. They are generally moments when the undercurrent shifts, the calm before a great change occurs. But maybe they are also places I know that I will one day return to. A place where some piece of my heart is left behind, some great task left unfinished.

A recent flag in time I have been visiting is a sunny spring day, May of 2020. I was sitting in the same spot as I am now, on the blustery front patio of the Santa Fe Hostel. The undercurrent of emotional energy was palpable that day. I was sitting with my laptop and coffee, compiling a short story of my first journey to New Orleans. It was a saga of maniacal dead heads, all night funk battles and sleeping on favorite blankets in the afternoon shade by the bayou, as the Red Hot Chili Peppers drifted through the magnolias from the Jazz Fest across the way.

As I was compiling my story, my community mate Paul rolled up to the parking lot on his motorcycle and greeted me. Paul had spent the morning riding through Los Cerrillos and Madrid, making the best of the great riding weather. We passed the afternoon lackadaisically, smoking American Spirits and drinking iced coffee. Paul recounted a past dream of his to design leather jackets, and I told him about my whimsical story of New Orleans. Our banter was light yet our hearts were heavy. The recent events of the pandemic left us with a deep uneasiness towards the future, fear crawling like vines through our psyches. Paul eventually left, and I stared off into the highway, a great vacuum in my chest, dreaming of 10-piece brass bands. I conjured up a flagpole and threw it to the Jemez mountains in the distance. I packed up my things and sauntered off, the remainder of the day lost to memory. I left the hostel soon after that day.

This flagpole started visiting me some weeks ago, and would not let me be until I returned to its source.

I wonder if the whole point of travel is simply to feel our own essence waxing and waning around space and time. Life is a continual cycle of the hero’s journey – leaving, returning, forgetting, remembering. Do we ever really get anywhere? Or are we just here, to enjoy the ride, to compose the novel… to become greatly aware of the moment we are within, never forgetting it is just one sentence, within a library of magnificent stories.

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