Rio Grande : Oh Fair New Mexico

Subscribe to Oh Fair New Mexico RSS FeedSubscribe to Oh Fair New Mexico Comments

by Karen Fayeth

The Song That Changed Your Life

On the way to work this morning, I listened to legendary San Francisco radio station KFOG. They’ve recently had a bit personnel shakeup and it turns out their new morning guy is former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield. I’m not totally thrilled with the change, but I will say this: he is able to pull pretty decent guests.

This morning it was Matt Nathanson and it was a good interview. They talked music and influences, and Pinfield asked what I thought was an intriguing question.

“What is the one song that changed your life?”

For Mr. Nathanson, it was “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls. He said it made him want to play acoustic guitar and changed the course of his music. Pretty cool answer and song.

When they cut to commercial, I was left wondering what my answer would be. What is the one song that changed my life?

Well sheesh, that’s hard question. Music is so integral to my life that it can’t possibly be one song. There have been many songs that have changed my life and there are unwritten, un-thought of songs on the path ahead that will certainly change my life again.

As I drove and pondered, I was able to come up with a bunch. Here are just four of a much longer list.

Let’s dig in:

1) It’s 1991 and I’ve just gotten an undergraduate degree and about to start my MBA program. Right before the new semester began, my boyfriend broke up with me. I was quite into that particular boyfriend, pretty sure he was “the one,” and the breakup hit me like a ton of bricks.

I wallowed deep into a lot of sad country music, but one song in particular was a constant companion.

“Are You Still Within The Sound of my Voice” by Glen Campbell

There was a place down on the Rio Grande where he and I used to go, so I would drive there, bring out a blanket and my boom box and find a place on the banks of the river. I would play that song over and over again while crying, sobbing, keening. I rose the level of that dusty ol’ river with my salty tears.

Glen and that song got me through it. I can still hardly listen to that song, it’s so etched into my memory and DNA. But that song helped me make the transition back to good. It made me stronger. It did, indeed, change my life.

2) It’s 1994 and I’m living in Albuquerque, fresh out of college, gainfully employed and living that single girl life on my own. I’d lost a lot of weight and was feeling sassy and strong.

My musical tastes still ran toward country, but I was starting to listen to a lot of other music. In fact my musical education expanded a lot since there was a whole lot of music in the 90’s that was changing the world.

I’d caught the end of a song on the radio that got my attention, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

A few days later I was riding in an old Jeep CJ that was open to the wind with radio playing loud. That song came on, those now easily identifiable guitar chords, and I asked the driver to turn it up.

I was super late to the party on this song, but on that day, really hearing the song, my life changed.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

Oh muh lord. Of course we all know the impact of Nirvana now, but back then, it was unlike anything I’d ever heard. I just knew I needed more. A lot more.

I bought “Nevermind” on CD and played it over and over and over. I had never heard an artist express themselves like that. I sang along with angry lyrics while the music (and musician) spoke to me in ways I still don’t understand.

3) It’s 1997 and I’ve moved to the Bay Area and I’m spending all of my time in San Francisco’s North Beach where my musical education took a turn toward the Blues.

There were a couple bars I knew how to get to and went to all on my own. A little girl with hayseeds in my hair, the employees and the musicians took me in. I became part of their family and they mine.

Blues music rolled in waves down Grant street back then and I’d start at the Savoy and work my way down. Grant & Green, Lost and Found, The Saloon.

Then there was a man named Willie who belonged to the street, but was still part of our family. More than once he protected me from the less kind aspects of city streets. He was a talented man with a bit of a drinking problem, but oh could he play that harp.

He’d tap his foot in time and play the blues. Then I’d go inside the bars and hear the musicians dive deep into history and play those same songs.

There was one that made me take notice, made me sit up. The beginning of what became a beautiful blues education. The door opened and I walked through.

“Matchbox” written by Blind Lemon Jefferson

On one night I heard four different musicians do the song, each putting their own fingerprint on it. This one song took a hold of me and never let go.

4) It’s 2015 and I’m with the love of my life, the one who actually is the one, and we’re attending a show at a small but awesomely funky venue in our new hometown. The act is Radney Foster and going to the show is like coming home.

I wrote a lot about why that night itself mattered right here on this little ol’ blog.

But more than that, Radney’s music was a core part of my college years and my life. A life I left when I moved to California. It was mostly the right decision, but damn I often feel like I left a huge piece of myself behind.

So many people here in the Bay Area. Crowded. Packed in. People who don’t understand the emptiness you find in New Mexico. The wide open spaces. The ease.

A lot of people here who don’t understand New Mexico, don’t understand what matters to me, and sure as hell don’t listen to country music.

And now here was Mr. Radney Foster standing on a stage in Northern California. There were even people other than me came to see the show. People who get it. It was a mind bender.

He did a lot of the familiar songs, and late in the show he introduced a new song. Told us that his wife grew up in Oakland. How he was at his in-law’s house in the Oakland hills and watched a gorgeous Bay Area sunset. Then he told his wife “I’m going to be late for dinner,” because he had to get down a song.

“California” by Radney Foster

It made me cry a little because it’s a beautiful love ode to California, written by someone from West Texas. A desert rat like me who gets it, was there back in the day, and understands why California.

It’s hard to explain to folks back home, but now I have the perfect musical explanation. In the following weeks I played it over and over again. This song let me know it’s okay to have my heart in both New Mexico and California. This song brought peace. Healing.

Truly life changing.


Whew. Yeah. Okay. I could probably go on. This list expands and grows the more I think about it.

I bet you are thinking too. Running through the soundtrack of your life and remembering the songs that mattered. The songs that changed your life.

It’s worth the journey. Feel free to share here or on Facebook. I’d love to know which songs changed your life.

Image used royalty free and found here.

A Long Time Coming

It began with a photo of fish.

The photo was published in the online edition of the Albuquerque Journal. I often read the Albuquerque Journal so I don’t feel so far away from home.

A glance at the file information for the photograph gives a date of June 2002. I find that so hard to believe, and yet it’s true

The photo shows three fish that got stuck when their river home dried up. A rapid New Mexico drought took all the water.

I can’t recall which New Mexico river this happened to, I probably should have kept a screen shot of the newspaper article, but even as I know that New Mexico has struggled with drought for years (and today), I was amazed and shocked by this photo.

It is difficult to believe that water could evaporate that quickly.

Here is the photo:

The image didn’t leave my head, it rattled around in there and said so many things to me. My brain worked it over and a story began to form. The feeling of trying to draw a breath but only getting New Mexico mud.

The first draft of the story “Sangre del Toro” took shape in October 2002. Wow. Thirteen years ago.

Over the years I have submitted that story off and on to contests and literary magazines. I’d dig it up, edit and polish and try again with no luck.

I believed in the story, in the character, in the image, so I kept trying. And trying. And editing and trying and so on.

I did another edit and submitted it again for another round in the publishing meat grinder this last December. I have come to understand that publishing is as much about timing as it is about quality. And that’s why I kept trying.

On February 26, I finally got a yes from a literary journal named Jet Fuel Review.

It was almost surreal to finally hear a yes in response to this story and it’s even more surreal to announce that the Spring 2015 edition of Jet Fuel is live.

You can download the entire edition here: Full Edition

Or you can read just my story here: Sangre del Toro.

Woo! Whatta rush. Very excited about this one finally seeing the light of day. It was only by searching my hard drive to find that fish photo that I realized this published piece was thirteen years in the making.

Thirteen years of believing in a kind of sad story about a little girl caught out, just like the fish.

The editors of Jet Fuel told me they thought the metaphor was a little too obvious, which is probably true. I guess they still liked it enough to publish.

And so please give it a read and support Jet Fuel. They are a great group and I am forever indebted to them for taking a chance on little Adelida.

An Oh Fair New Mexico Tradition

In what has now become an annual tradition in my almost six years of this little ol’ blog, it’s time to bring out something that was first published back in 2007.

It’s as true today as it was back then.

Without further ado:

Top ten things I miss about Christmas in New Mexico (in no particular order):

Originally published December 11, 2007

1) An annual shopping trip to Old Town in Albuquerque. This was a longtime mom and me tradition. Every year I’d get to pick out my own ornament that would eventually be mine when I became an adult. I have every one of those ornaments stored in a Thom McAnn shoebox and they go on my tree every year. They are a glitter and glass history of my life. I remember buying each of them and it gives me a beautiful sense of continuity to have them on my tree.

2) Luminarias. I always was the one to make them for the family. Someone would drive me to an empty lot and I’d dig out two buckets worth of good New Mexico dirt, then I’d go home and fold down the tops on brown lunch bags. Each would get a candle inside and then at night I’d light them. It was my holiday job and I loved every folded bag and every bulk buy candle (and every small emergency when a bag caught on fire in the wind). I miss real luminarias.

3) The Bugg House, which, sadly, is no more. My sister lived over on Prospect and we’d go for a walk in the dark on Christmas Eve to take a look at the outstanding display of holiday spirit. On the way to Christmas shop at Winrock Mall, I’d take a detour to the Bugg house to take a look. No one does lights like the Buggs did.

4) Neighbors bringing over a plate of freshly made tamales as a Christmas gift. When there are three generations of Hispanic women in a kitchen with some masa and shredded pork, magic happens. Yum! I also miss that people would bring tamales to work in a battered Igloo cooler and sell them to coworkers. I was always good for a dozen or more.

5) A ristra makes a good Christmas gift. I’ve given. I’ve received. I love ’em. They’d become a moldy mess here, and that makes me sad, cuz I’d love to have one.

6) Biscochitos. My love for these is well documented.

7) Sixty-five degrees and warm on Christmas Day. Growin’ up, I think one year there was actually snow on the ground for the 25th, but it was melted by the end of the day. Oh Fair New Mexico, how I love your weather.

8) Christmas Eve midnight Mass in Spanish with the overpowering scent of frankincense filling up the overly warm church. Pure torture for a small child, but oh how I’d belt out the carols. And when we came home after, we could pick one present and open it. Gah! The torture of choosing just one!

9) A New Mexico piñon, gappy, scrawny Christmas tree that cost $15 at the Flea Market and was cut from the top of a larger tree just that morning. Look, to my mind, it ain’t a tree unless you are using a few low hanging ornaments to fill the obvious empty spots. These overly fluffy trees just ain’t my bag. If you aren’t turning the bad spot toward the wall, you paid too much for your tree.

10) Green chile stew for Christmas Eve dinner and posole for New Year’s, both served with homemade tortillas. My mouth waters. It’s weep worthy. I can taste the nice soft potatoes in the stew, the broth flavored just right. And posole to bring you luck with red chile flakes and soft hunks of pork. Yeah……

*sigh* Now I’m homesick.

Which is not to say I don’t have happy holidays where I live now…but sometimes I feel melancholy. And in a weird way, that’s what the holidays are for, right?

Finally, in order to just really drive a homesick knife into my heart, I give you this, the beauty of Old Town Albuquerque:

Image via New Mexico Magazine

Misty Water Colored Memories. Of the Way We Were. Orale.

In the wake of my most recent (and fabulous) visit to my home state of New Mexico, I find I’m getting my old crone on.

New Mexico has both grown and grown up over the last twenty years. I suppose change is inevitable.

But sometimes I still lament the way it used to be.

So here’s a top of my mind list of how New Mexico used to be. This just happens to be what I’m thinking about on my first day back in California on a stormy Bay Area day.

Grumpy McGrumperson’s List of “That was my New Mexico”

  1. It rained in summer. It snowed in winter. The Rio Grande bulged with water in July. Farmers irrigated their land. Sure, it was still a desert, but water didn’t cost $300 a cubic meter. Cotton plants grew tall. Pecans grew large. It worked. Now New Mexico is in the midst of a terrifying descent into serious drought and a mismanaged water conservancy.
  2. If you went to the Balloon Fiesta, there was never, not for one moment, a thought that you’d just sit there and watch. You were expected to pitch in, even if you were a small child. “Safety” and “insurance” didn’t ever come into mind. We just helped, because getting those hot air balloons off the ground was what we did in Albuquerque.
  3. Breakfast burritos at the Balloon Fiesta were cheap, incredibly delicious, and you bought them out of a battered ice chest and didn’t think twice about it. Same with tamales at Christmas.
  4. Pinto beans were made with pork. No one ever wondered about or protested this fact. Ever.
  5. If you ate a Biscochito, you didn’t question if it was made from lard. OF COURSE it was made with lard. And no one thought that was weird, bad or worried that it would make them fat. Anything but lard was unfathomable.
  6. Luminarias used a real candle. None of this electric hogwash.
  7. If it said Hatch green chile, you knew it was actually from Hatch. It seemed strange to even question.
  8. When you looked into a bucket of ice at a bar, and pulled out a bottle, it was beer. Just beer. None of these foofy malt-based sugared up drinks. Just beer. And decent beer. What’s with the light, light, oh so lite you can breathe it like air. Just drink a damn beer! Or don’t. (this comes straight from the events of this weekend. I grabbed what I thought was a beer. It wasn’t. *sigh*)
  9. While on a two lane highway, when someone passed the other direction, you gave ’em a wave. Be it whole hand, the pointer finger, two finger Boy Scout style or whatever acknowledgement you like, you did it. And the other driver waved and smiled back. (in some places this still happens, but I got an awful lot of unreturned waves this weekend.)
  10. We didn’t call a tortilla a wrap. It was a tortilla. They weren’t made of spinich or tomato, and if mom made ’em from scratch they were thick and oh so very good.

There’s more, I think, but that’s enough of what’s bothering me today.

I suppose time marches on whether I march in step or not. New Mexico can’t stay the same forever and neither can I.

Must be the dark clouds I have, both mentally and meteorologically, that’s got me all stirred up.

Wish I could find a way to send you some of this wet weather, my Fair New Mexico.


Had a mindblower of a weekend.

In celebration of the birth of The Good Man, we had a (much necessary) weekend away.

Somewhere where cell phones don’t work and television, p-feh…who needs ’em anyway?

We got a little wild. :)

We went to a place called Safari West. It’s located north of the Bay Area, just outside of Santa Rosa.

It’s an over 400-acre ranch that houses exotic animals of all kinds.

The owners have been working this place since the late 1980’s and it’s amazing.

I’m still processing it all…and the over 700 photos I took. (Yes, I said 700).

Highlights of the trip:

On the first night we were there, a baby Giraffe was born. It was a bit of a surprise to the Safari West folks. They knew mama Marla was pregnant, just didn’t know she was ready to go.

Here’s a photo of our as yet unnamed hero. This is about seven hours after his birth. Sssh, he’s sleepin’.

Is a hard thing getting born. Especially for a baby giraffe who plummets some six feet to the ground with a whump then is up on his wobbly pins about an hour later.

Here he is a bit knock kneed but doin’ it.

But that was not the only fascinating new thing…

That same night, Safari West took delivery of 38 flamingos and installed them in their new enclosure. I have always been a HUGE fan of flamingos. The Rio Grande Zoo used to have quite a few. Don’t know if they still do. But as a kid, they made a big impact on me.

These are “greater” Flamingos (their “lesser” and more colorful cousins will be arriving soon).

From there, it’s hard to pin down all the amazing things!


Cape Buffalo (that’s some scary sh– right there….)


And on and on and on. That’s not even scratching the surface.

OH! And Zebra. I adore Zebra.

And Watusi cattle!

And! And! And!

It was amazing. A photographer’s dream (though tough too. Animals don’t, you know, pose).

We also slept in genuine tent cabins constructed by South African craftsmen and modeled on safari tents, including wood floors and open space. They were actually really nice and quite comfortable, though a bit cold at night.

In the dark we could hear all the animals of the safari calling and howling and, you know, doing what wild animals do.

I can’t even begin to write out how utterly geeked out I still am from the weekend…

We’ll be talking about this for weeks.

Next Page »