DAY 138 - JOHN LEBLUE
Day 139 - Taos, New Mexico - 4818 km
John Leblue, nickname ‘Blue’ lives in the desert near Taos. One of the remarkable people I met in a bar in town where I had a drink with Sarkis, my host. He is 77 and a bit slow in communication, most of what you say to him doesn’t resonate immediately. He told me about his work as an artist, making jewellery from natural stones, paintings and being a fine art model for certain occasions in his younger years. He has also a history in poaching and calls himself a ‘mountain man’. When I heard he lived in the desert in self-fabricated houses, which sort of collapsed for a part under the winter snow I couldn’t wait to pay a visit. Blue was down with it, I said I would be there at eleven. The next morning Sarkis borrowed me his old Subaru to get there. I drove through the hills, through Taos, over the 127 meters high Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and took a left on a straight dirt road into the desert. Left and right it far views of plain land with soft green sage and rabbitbrush. Now and then I found shacks or trailers popped up randomly in the desert, surrounded with junk and cars rotting away. ‘Those are hillbillies, would Sarkis say, but he didn’t join me today, he had to work. Blue’s place was a hard find among the trashy settlements all around. The places didn’t seem to have dwelling numbers. The adress was Flag road 178 and I would recognize the beginning of the road market by some Buddhist flags. A monstrous rebuilt pickup truck which reminded me of Mad max passed me and the people waved. Peculiar folks lived here, a mix of retired hippies and so called ‘trailer trash.’
I drove around a bit and almost gave up the search when I stopped at a wide yard full of colourful junk with a sign with the nr 178 painted on a old piece of wood nailed to a post. I parked the car and walked up the driveway where I saw Blue fixing some things. “You hippies are always late!” He joked when he saw me coming. I was a little late, but his place wasn’t an easy find. What a beautiful mess, I thought. Cars, used over the years which, at some point, didn’t want to leave his property anymore. Chairs, an old laundry machine, desks, tires, mattresses. He takes me to one of his studios. A fabricated building of plywood which barely keeps standing and the ceiling is bending down in the middle. The walls are full of colourful psychedelic works of art. Blue makes sure all of them hang perfectly straight first, before he gives me permission to photograph them. He seems a little grumpy. I have to win his respect, so I ask about his paintings. His mind works slow, there are long pauses between every sentence. There are several spaces and buildings and he walks me around. Proudly he shows me his own small temple, dressed up with carpets and Hindu gods. Although his property is fairly large, he sleeps, cooks and eats in a small trailer, which is richly decorated with jewellery, masks and drawings. All the jewellery is made by himself. He wants to sell, but doesn’t really know where to do it. He tells me stories about rough turquoise stones he found himself in the desert. Very old crystals which seem to be worth a lot. He’s on a roll and he can’t stop talking.
After an hour I think walk alone on his property and try to imagine how it must be to live here, out in the open in the stillness of the desert. It’s hard to grasp, there’s a deafening silence and open space all around. I cycle often through these deserts, but it’s totally different when you’re moving, heading forward. Your mind needs to be resilient to withstand this absence of life around. I ask him to take a photo of him in his self made native robe and eagerly he walks back to put it on. When I leave he is full of joy, in contrary to when I arrived. I bought a necklace from him. He doesn’t often have people coming over. He has a daughter of 53, but he jokes that he’s younger than her. “The path to longevity is in a youthful contenance”. I give him a hug and we make a selfie. Than I drive away and look at him for a while through the rear view mirror, where he keeps standing in the dust cloud in the middle of the road.