Smoke Along the Water: A Meditation on the Rio Grande

Re-Post of Moccasin Millennial Blog Published May 25, 2021

Originally posted on TCJ Student

You always notice the smell first, I realized. Standing on the other side of highway I-40, I leaned back against the door of my hatchback, closed my eyes, and breathed in the chilly, dusk air. A slight, swampy murk lingered on the breeze. It was true; you’d never guess there was a hidden oasis in Albuquerque’s cradle unless you were in the know, understood which turn-offs to take or which dirt roads splintered off to the side, concealed. To keep myself bound to the directional pull of the water, I always heard my mother’s voice in my head, rehearsing the steps quietly with each tug of the steering wheel. “Look out for the horse-crossing sign, that’s your final turn for the river,” she’d said, laughing, after one too many U-turns. Now, I reflexively looked for the rusted yellow diamond glinting sideways from the street, the horse’s faded muzzle pointing river bound.

It’d been months since I’d been back to this burbling little nook, but I could feel out its invisible path all the same. With just a few steps into the scraggly brush, wooden trail-posts jutted out like spindly, kindred arms beckoning to wrap me in. You must be tired to be coming back, they seemed to be saying. We’ve missed you. I didn’t have to respond for them to know; they could feel it from the way my soles sunk into the earth with each step, weighing heavier and longer than the last.

The smell came along tiny gusts of wind moments later, carrying the lake’s quiet presence if you were close enough to catch it, to answer yes, okay, I’m coming. Just like that, the trail-post arms and mucky, burbling, swampy smells sealed you in and away from the rest of the world.

But the world, in its tiring, cumbersome, relentless kind of way, always refused to wait for long. Among the tangle of branches that hadn’t quite tasted fall yet, I found one of the wooden duck observatories carved deep into the foliage, a makeshift hideaway. I sat down at the wooden bench tucked away in the corner, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and listened:

A trickle of laughing children cascading from the pier; like tumbling ripples, playful screaming in my ear. Currents whirling through the roots of trees, snaking around bends, sinking into soil. Hidden. Muted flutters of duck wings dancing along the water’s edge, dipping downward, diving in. Fishtails flipping wildly, fins flared. Trout bursting into air and slipping back underwater, startling my eyes open. Five o’clock traffic dragging by, running along the peripherals. Sun-peeled trail markers dotted with fading turtles, words melting together, too sun-scorched to read. Cacti in bloom bursting along every crack, every corner. A blood pink sun bleeding across a darkening sky, a soldier’s face hidden in the clouds, swallowed by invisible plumes of fire.

Just like that, surrounded by mirrors of shimmering



smoke was all I could breathe.

Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Arts. (She is originally from Albuquerque, NM)