After leaving the park, I take the longer way to Silver City, through Routes 61 and 152. The bike sweeps through the curves of the surprisingly Mediterranean landscape, between the hills. Different from the yellow plains of this morning, the sides of the road are sprinkled with green trees, typical of the mountainous terrain of Greece or Spain. The higher altitude is also felt in the chill of the wind that now flows through the warm air. On Route 152, small signs lead the way to the old Santa Rita copper mine. I stop the motorcycle and dismount. A few cars are parked on the gravel shoulder overlooking the open, brown pit. One of them is a large black van with a handicap permit. A man in a wheel chair is sitting next to it, gazing at the green copper craters. His thin white hair flies in the feeble wind. Without looking at me or changing his sitting position, he asks “What kind of bike is that?” He says that he used to ride when he was younger and describes his old motorcycle, a BMW 600.
The old man grew up in this region of New Mexico, moved out, lived in different places for many years, and then recently returned. Throughout our conversation, he keeps his eyes on the copper mine in front of him, like a man watching a movie or driving a car. I am trying to exercise my manners and refrain from prying, but my curiosity takes over, asking one question after another. He continues to answer with his eyes glued to the mine, as if he is waiting for something to happen down there. The man is 94 years old, born in 1916. His wrinkled face is peaceful and calm and his posture is upright and erect. Before I leave, I ask him if he needs help getting back into the van. He finally turns to me, smiles, and says, “Thank you, young man, I am fine.” I take one last look at him, get on the motorcycle, and ride on west toward Route 180. It could be that my encounter with this man is not an omen, a sign, or even an event of any real significance, but it left me with a spiritual, perhaps even mystical impression. This man who was born here in 1916, lived a full life and came back to the land of his childhood just before it was time to leave.