Timeless love and sand dunes

  • Dunes and mountains at White Sands National Monument.

The gypsum dunes at White Sands National Monument have a timeless quality, endlessly shifting and moving, an inspiring white expanse that quiets the mind and makes other vistas and landscapes seem annoyingly busy.

When Tom and I drove up, I was hit by a wave of nostalgia for our son, Nate.

Nate and I stopped at White Sands on the first leg of a big summer road trip, a two-month odyssey from our driveway in Arizona, across southern New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, the Natchez Trace, Nashville, Tenn., the Blue Ridge Mountains, up to Baltimore, Maryland, then back across the Ohio Valley heartland and south to Scottsdale.

Because Nate and I had more time off, Tom (and my mother, Jeannine) flew in to Houston and out of Baltimore, so Nate and I were on our own for the beginning and end of the journey.

White Sands was one of the first stops, and we were just starting to unwind and luxuriate in the endless-summer feel of the trip. We rented saucers and slid down the sides of the dunes, laughing in the warm sun, letting go of work, school, chores and responsibilities.

I remember that trip as perfection, the bat flight from Carlsbad Cavern, a folk festival in Texas, Texas barbeque, alligators in the Louisiana swamps. And endless hours in the car with Nate.

Nate happens to be the coolest kid on the planet: funny, smart and kind to his mother. From the beginning, when he arrived via emergency C-section, he has been a roll-with-the-flow kind of guy. He never complained if lunch was late or we missed nap time. Unlike other babies, he never slept in his stroller; he was always looking around, soaking in the action.

I adored him from the moment they put him next to me, wailing, and I said, “Nate, it’s me,” and he became suddenly quiet, looking straight at me, knowing I was his mother. It is a deep, enduring, timeless love as endless and unchanging as the gypsum dunes.

Nate’s calm nature made him the perfect road-trip companion. He managed the GPS and I drove. Back roads, highways, city streets, finding bed and breakfasts, tourist sights and hole-in-the-wall taco shops.

It was one of those experiences that makes you hyper self-aware, like watching yourself from above, knowing how special it is, knowing that you’ll always remember it, wishing it would never end.

So, when Tom and I drove into White Sands, the nostalgia hit me like a wave. I had shown him pictures and tried to explain, but the feeling is lost in translation. And while the dunes looked exactly the same, our lives are in transition.

Nate is back in Tempe, with his roommates, studying away at college, and Tom and I are on the endless spring-summer-fall-winter road trip, permanently leaving behind meetings, deadlines and jobs.

Tom, a geology freak, was in awe of the dunes, and we hiked the “trail” over the sand, up and down, out to where you could see only sand and whiteness. He loved them so much that we came back to hike again a second day.

We rented saucers and slid down the sides of the dunes, laughing in the warm sun, a rewound, replayed, slightly altered filmstrip of the summer trip with Nate.

Before we left home in January, Nate and I had a near-daily exchange, me bringing him a green smoothie I had whirled up that morning, he bringing me an Americano coffee, made in the espresso machine we got him for Christmas.

Like the summer road trip, I knew, even then, that those 10-minute exchanges, update and quick hug, were time-stamped with an expiration date.

But the mother love was timeless.


  1. Reply
    Deborah Willoughby April 14, 2015

    This is just lovely. Thanks.

  2. Reply
    Merstew007@gmail.com Meredith May 26, 2020

    I’m soooo touched! Mother love. Wonderful memories. AMAZING! Miss you. Happy you are out back in the Van.

    • Reply
      Judy Nichols July 4, 2020

      Thanks, Mer

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