How Quickly Time Flies


A year is really a blip in time isn’t it? A hardly noticeable heartbeat. And then another. And then another.

Time to confess why I’m so melancholy.

I thought I was over it. I’m not over it. Not by a long shot.

Posted one year ago Tuesday. Posted here again because it’s all still true.

Immersed in memory.


There Is This Man I Know…

First posted: August 23, 2010

It would be wrong to call him a cowboy. That implies something he’s not.

He is, in fact, a farmer. Chile, corn, cotton, alfalfa. He fretted the drought and smiled at rainy skies.

Except that time it rained so hard it washed away the seeds he’d just planted. That night, he fretted while the rain fell.

That’s unusual for a farmer.

He has a smile that could light up a room, the sky, the world.

He has the mind of a trickster, and his wry sense of humor is what drew me in.

Back then, he was a tall, slim drink of water.

His chest bore a long scar, a remnant from open heart surgery in childhood. It fixed a congenital problem. For a while, anyway.

That surgery colored his whole world. He was told he might not live past the age of twenty.

But he did. He lived. Oh, he was alive.

He took me out to dinner. We each ordered steaks at the truckstop diner in Vado, New Mexico.

It was far more romantic than it sounds.

He took me fishing and let me use his brand new rod and reel. I managed to irretrievably knot up the fishing line. He didn’t even get mad.

Because he is a gentleman.

He took me for long rides down bumpy dirt roads. I sat next to him in the cab of his pickup, holding on tight, grinning.

He has a confidence that is older than his years.

He and I had some fun then parted ways amiably. I still call him my friend. More than a friend. A dear friend. “One of us” from a loosely knit group of kids who made a family while running around Las Cruces, growing up and getting educated.

I haven’t seen him in years, but over the years I’d ask after him and sometimes he’d ask after me, too.

He’s got an amazing wife and three sons and the weight of responsibility for his family’s farm. A responsibility he stood up to each and every day.

Last week, he had surgery. That ol’ heart problem was giving him trouble again.

The surgery went well, but he got an infection at the hospital that he couldn’t quite fight off.

Sunday morning, my friend, my family, someone who showed me how to live passed away.

He was just 40.

I can’t stop being angry. It’s not fair. No one ever said life was going to be fair, but I don’t care. It’s not fair.

I’m not good at grief. I’ve lost a father. I lost my best friend from high school. I lost a grandmother who was very integral to my life.

You’d think all the practice would make me better at this.

I’m not good at this.

Sometimes it’s just easier to be angry.

It’s an acceptable stage of grief.

There’s Good News and there’s Worrisome News


From the Monday Las Cruces Sun-News:

New Mexico’s pecan industry posted its largest-ever production for a low-bearing year and raked in the most money – some $186.8 million – in the nation last year, according to a recent official report.

That’s good news! That’s very good news! For my farmer friends who haven’t either sold their farm or converted to corn, pecans are an excellent way to keep the land and make good income. It’s a proud New Mexico tradition.

In the past few years, China has developed a taste for pecans, so global demand is high, which also means the prices paid the highest ever.

So yes. I’m happy to hear this. A tip of the cap to the Mesilla Valley farmers.

But there’s a little bit more to the story than just a fabulous year with a bumper crop.

Earlier this year, I was in Las Cruces and noted to my best friend and her husband that I was surprised to see so many farms around where they live were planting pecan trees. I’m enchanted by pecan groves with rows and rows of tree soldiers standing firm in very straight lines. I’m fascinated by the process of picking pecans using a machine that shakes the tree and a raker to pull all the ripe nuts out of the soil.

So I wasn’t too upset to see new pecan groves going in. That’s when my best friend’s husband gave me a little insight.

The word is: Water.

Southern New Mexico land owners are fighting with their local water district and the state for irrigation rights. My friend used to be able to order up water and flood his acre with regularity. Now he has to wait and sometimes isn’t allowed to get water. To top it off, his costs for irrigating have nearly tripled.

But, he told me, there’s a loop hole. If you have pecans on your land, you have better access to water rights due to a court case and adjudication between the New Mexico Pecan Growers Associationand the Elephant Butte Irrigation District. So everybody and their brother are rushing to plant even a few pecan trees so that they can continue to irrigate their land. There was a rush on pecan saplings, in fact, they actually ran out in many stores.

But this is a convoluted story…because pecan trees are water hogs. By encouraging people to plant more pecans, they are using up ever more of the already precious resource.

So we’ve got all of these people with pecans on their land. Even a few trees can produce a lot of pecans. It’s pretty easy to pick your own pecans and sell them in town (mostly to the Salopek operation) and pick up a few extra dollars. Plus you still irrigate your land. All in all, that’s a pretty good deal.

So again…I’m happy about the fact that the Mesilla Valley had a banner year and that farmers are making money on pecan and people are still able to access water for irrigation.

But I’m worried.

Here’s an older post in my ongoing musings about Southern New Mexico and water.

Photo Credit: Robin Zielinski/Sun-News

Bending Nature to Our Will


So if you were to, say, go to Google Images and put in the word “square” you’ll end up with a screen full of images of this:

Square watermelons.

Why, you might ask? Well. The story goes that in Japan (you knew this had to be from Japan, right?) they don’t have much retail space in grocery stores. It’s hard to stock round or oblong watermelons because they are tough to stack and take up a lot of room.

Use a little ingenuity and bring on the square watermelon! Easy to stack, easy to store.

Making the melons square is fairly easy, just put the fruit in a box as it grows, the same way they get a pear in a bottle of brandy.

And for this special hand boxed hand-picked fruit, grocers charge 10,000 yen, or using today’s exchange rate, about $126. Yikes.

Why am I nattering on about square watermelons? Because today’s Theme Thursday just happens to be “square”, of course!

Details from BBC News.

Photos from all over the web, but these both come from Financial Hack.

Dyin’ or Revivin’?


Last week I received an email by the good folks running the literary competitions at my local county fair. After notifying me that my story won a prize, they invited me to come out to the fair next weekend to read my story aloud on stage as part of their literary event.

Well I was just pleased as punch to say yes. What a wonderful opportunity.

This past Saturday, I had some time on my hands while I sat in a chair waiting for my hair to turn that color that only my hairdresser knows how to make.

I started thinking about this event next weekend and planning. I need to spend some time practicing reading my story aloud. Practice is everything in a public speaking situation.

I wondered if I’d be asked any questions about the story. I thought I should try to think up what I might be asked so I could be ready with good answers.

One of the first questions I thought of was, “what was your inspiration for this story?”

I had to spend some time thinking that through. It’s a story that’s been rambling around in my mind for a while, and I’ve taken several stabs and getting it out, to both greater and lesser success.

Mainly, I was inspired by the fact that upon reading the guidelines for the competition, I noted that there was a “Western” genre available to compete under. This is not something I often see, so that really got my creative juices rolling.

My absolute author-hero is Larry McMurtry. I adore his way with description and dialogue, and his western novels are a cut above.

I have a collection of short stories that McMurtry edited. It’s western stories written only by writers raised in the west.

When I saw that my county fair offered a Western category, I knew there was no doubt that I had to write a western story.

That said, what I wrote isn’t truly a classical western. Technically, the western genre implies a story set in the 1800’s, the so called “Old West.”

If you read any of the literally thousands of short stories that Louis L’Amour wrote, you’ll find within his formula a common theme. The great conflict in his stories is of man against nature which includes cattle grazing the land, the weather and water. In fact, water rights always seem to play a big role in L’Amour’s short stories.

I guess that the western genre has declined so much because these concepts seem hopelessly old fashioned.

But are they?

Until his untimely death last year, my dear friend who farmed cotton and chile on his family’s farm in La Mesa was fighting with the state of New Mexico over water rights. This problem was such a vital aspect of his life that it was mentioned in his eulogy.

Yesterday I watched a televised show where renowned French chef Eric Ripert spoke passionately about the “farm to table” movement, and visited a Virginia farm where the owner was doing something revolutionary.

He was not overgrazing his land.

He spends time calculating how many head of cattle his land can bear and then actively rotates pastures to be sure that his cattle never overgraze. His land flourishes, his cattle are healthy and he’s seen as an innovator.

This is not innovation. Louis L’Amour wrote stories about this very idea over 70 years ago. This concept is also something they taught me in my collegiate FFA organization**. It’s called “being a good steward of the land.”

And so, to bring this back to my point…

I wanted to write a western story because although I keep hearing that the western fiction genre is dying, I’m seeing that the topics driving most true western stories are still essential and vital to today’s world.

And so maybe Westerns aren’t dying. Maybe, much like the land, if tended to and nourished, the genre can continue to flourish with a modern sensibility.

Writing a western story set in modern times that won an award at my local county fair is so deeply satisfying to me. It’s my affirmation that the Western genre is alive and well inside at least one little girl who was born and raised in the west.


Further proof: The Western genre gets back in the saddle

**”I believe in the future of farming…”

Perhaps a Sunlamp Is Required

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On this post-holiday rainy day, I reserve the right to be melancholy.

Holiday blues, weeping gray clouds, and general lethargy. Sure. It’s my prerogative.

I am loath to say the next seven words I’m about to say but…

I heard this great story on NPR.

You may not realize how pompous I think the people are who quote NPR. Now here I am committing the crime I rail against.

The story was of a musician named Shawn Camp who had a record set for release back in the year 1994.

Through a series of events, the record was shelved until recently. Camp met the new studio head at Reprise who gave Camp’s record a fresh listen and it was finally released in September of this year.

What’s got me going here, got me writing a whole blog post about this story, is one of Camp’s songs that they played on the air.

It was a beautifully written song about being at the funeral of his grandfather. For some reason, the words reminded me of the incredibly sad funeral I attended back in August.

Despite the passing of four months, I find I still grieve for my friend. I guess there’s still something left to grieve, because lately he’s been showing up in my dreams.

Listening to Shawn Camp’s song reminded me of a dream I had just last night.

It was me, and my friend, and we were dancing. Just a simple two-step, nothing fancy, but we danced and he was whole and healthy and grinning from ear to ear.

My best friend was there too, and before I was even done, she got the next dance with him. The three of us laughed like it was, well, 1994, and it was good.

Now, this dream was particularly odd because in real life, my friend wasn’t much of a dancer. Oh, he was long legged and tall, a perfect partner. But he had a farmer’s sensibilities and didn’t dance that much. He could, and did, but it wasn’t something he did a lot.

But there in my dream we danced. When I woke up, I remembered seeing my friend’s body laid out there in a casket inside the El Paso First Baptist Church.

The old Southern saying is “now, don’t he look natural?”

No, he didn’t look natural. In my dream smiling and laughing and giving me seventeen kinds of heck…that was natural.

I’ve always been pretty glad that at the end of the line for my dad, one afternoon when my mom had run into town for errands, my dad and I had a talk. It was uncomfortable and weird, but in that talk, a lot of things were said that needed to be said. I can happily say I have no unresolved issues there.

But with my dear friend, I have something unresolved. It niggles at the corners of my mind and sits on my chest when I have another dream in which he plays a cameo. I owed him an apology. I’d planned to deliver that apology when he came home from the surgery from which he never returned.

Perhaps in dreams I can find the way to lay my issues to rest, to lay down the burden I carry around, to feel at peace with the loss of my friend.

Or maybe we can just dance and forget about I’m sorries.

After my best friend is done (which may take awhile), I got the next waltz.

Cuz these Fat Babies were made for dancing

Photo by Karen Fayeth