Soot of a Most Sorrowful Kind

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Over the weekend, I read on “Only in New Mexico that there had been a fire on the highest trestle bridge of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad.

A Google search netting me an article in the Denver Post with a photograph of the fire on the Lobato Trestle that is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

The sadness immediately hit me in the heart. The Cumbres & Toltec railroad, billed as “America’s Highest & Longest Narrow Gauge Scenic Railroad,” holds a special place in my heart.

In fact, I did a post about my memories of the Cumbres & Toltec back in 2007. Looking back to that post, I rather enjoyed reading what I wrote, and I was filled with melancholy at the idea that the railroad won’t be running this summer due to the damage.

I believe that either New Mexico or Colorado, or both, will fix the bridge because the railroad is a big tourist draw. However, times are tough and money is tight. So who knows how long it might take before the Cumbres & Toltec is up and running again?

On his blog, Jim Baca was kind enough to post a couple family shots from his adventures on the Cumbres & Toltec.

Having recently semi-reorganized my rather vast pile of family photo albums, I did a dive into the memories and dug up a few photos of my own. There was a family trip back in August 1978, and I found a couple photos worth sharing.

As mentioned in my 2007 post, Captain Type A, also know as my dad, rousted us all early from our beds in the Apache pop up trailer we’d camped in the night before. I’m unclear why we were up so early, but it was, ostensibly, to go and catch the train.

Chama sits at 8,203 feet, so even on a nice day the mornings are rather chilly. Getting out of bed wasn’t the easiest of tasks that day.

I recall my dad being pretty excited and the rest of the family being…well. Um. Fairly excited?

Look at this happy group! (I’m the shortest one in the front.)

Man, is that a spouse and three kids that are LOVING the head of the household right now?

And also…helllooooooo seventies! How much denim is in that photo?

This is the station where the journey begins on the Chama side. That little figure huddled off to the right sitting on the wagon under the Chama sign is me.

Cold. Cranky. Waiting.

But I suppose there was a payoff. Once the sun came out and it warmed up and the train actually got moving…well heck, look at that face!

I’m diggin’ it!

I remember really having a lot of fun once we were actually on the train. The end point of the trip, Antonito, was a charming little tourist town. I thought it was big fun since I’m a longtime lover of souvenir and tchotchke shops!

We ended the day covered in soot and ash, tired but happy. It ended up being worth it, a fun family trip, even if the beginning was a little rough.

I’d like to think that the Cumbres & Toltec will get up and running again, because there are whole legions of children who haven’t yet been tortured by their early rising father at an elevation of eight thousand feet.

Flash Fiction & Fables Finale – New Mexico Folklore

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And so it is that we’ve come to the last day of this fun and different sort of week on the blog.

What a ride it’s been!

My goal was to shake up my brain a little bit so I could get some fresh blog posts out of the ol’ noodle.

Well, it worked. I already have a list of about ten fresh topics that will start coming your way next week.

For today, I have what I consider to be the grand prize for coming along with me on this ride.

Today is the Fables part of the week.

After scouring both books and the internet, I’ve selected an item from a book called Cuentos de Cuanto Hay. The subtitle is “Tales from Spanish New Mexico.”

This story collection is published by University of New Mexico Press, and was edited and translated by Joe Hayes.

The stories were originally collected by J. Manuel Espinosa in the 1930’s. He traveled around Northern New Mexico collecting verbal tales from the Spanish speaking residents, then transcribed and published them. That first published book was called Spanish Folk Tales from New Mexico.

Joe Hayes found a copy of the book and had loved it through the years, so in 1998 he worked with Dr. Espinosa to clean up many of the stories, added in a few more, and republished the collection.

It is charming, odd, and packed full of deep rooted stories from the Hispanic culture.

Just like New Mexico itself, many of the stories are a bit quirky.

Even the title of the book reflects the beautiful slow moving, “Land of Mañana” charm. Joe Hayes translates the phrase Cuentos de Cuanto Hay as “tales of olden times.” Literally translated, it means “stories of whatever it is.”

Which seems sort of New Mexico to me. “Eh, tales of whatever!” with a dismissive wave of the hand.

The story I’ve selected, “Juan Pelotero” also brings a lot of that New Mexico mischievous sense of humor. There is a line in the story where two characters agree to meet at “such and such a place.” Details, feh, who needs ’em!

The name, Pelotero, is also symbolic. In today’s vernacular, a pelotero is a ball player, usually baseball, but pelotero can also refer to futbol. The first line of the story gives you the clue to the more archaic use of the word: “Juanito Pelotero was a gambler.” Pelotero back then meant a player, a rogue, a roustabout.

You’ll also find the story tends to move fast in some parts, skipping over details. At just a few pages long, it packs a lot of story in there.

Since these tales were originally an oral legacy passed down from family member to family member, I’m going to bring “Juan Pelotero” (and maybe others) back to the verbal tradition.

Today, I’ve made a recording of the story and it’s posted below for your listening pleasure. I suggest putting the story on in the background while you go about your work checking email or what have you.

As I converted the file to MP3 format, feel free to download the audio file and put it on your iTunes or iPod to listen later if you would like.

I recorded this using a podcast microphone and Garageband software.

Do not expect recording studio quality, please. The quality reflects my gear and my room. I’ve done my best to keep the sounds of The Feline and my iPhone out of the recording, but I live in a creaky house and it’s windy today. You get the idea.

If listening to a story isn’t your thing, but you’d still like to read it, I’ve posted a .pdf. Click here for that. (remember, this edition of the story is copyright the University of New Mexico Press, so don’t run off doing anything naughty with it, you hear?)

______________________

The story of “Juan Pelotero” was told to Dr. Espinosa by Bonifacio Mestas of Chamita, NM.

Run time is just over nine minutes. File is just over 4MB, so it may take a few moments to load. Player opens in a new window.

Enjoy!

Karen Fayeth reading “Juan Pelotero”

Footnotes:

1. Sorry about the high-pitched whine behind the audio. I think it’s from the internet router on my desk.

2. In case you are wondering what a sacristan is, click here. I had to look it up too.

3. Yes, I think the part about the talking spit is weird.

4. The dove sounds I’m making are read as written in the story. Cucurucú is how it’s written. I did my best….:)

Anyone for a Mojito?

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So let’s see, I moved to this odd and fascinating Golden State of California in 1997.

This is now 2010…

So that would make it…let’s see, do the math…carry the one…

Ah yes. Thirteen years that I’ve lived here.

Thirteen. That’s a lucky number!

And you’d think that in thirteen years I would have arrived at the place where I no longer pick hayseeds out of my hair.

You’d think.

But you’d be wrong.

What a yokel I am.

Here’s the latest.

Brace yourself for another backyard adventure.

Today I was out in my side yard. There is this scrubby, invasive, grows too fast tree/bush thing out there that I *hate*.

It’s so unlike me to have vitriol for something that is only a plant. But I do.

So I was out there hacking away at the damn thing because if I don’t stay on top of it, soon it will grow taller than my roof and the neighbors will complain. It tends to invade the nextdoor neighbors yard as well.

Ticks me off.

So I trim the crap out of it.

Here’s how it looks now:

Never fear, oh mighty plant lovers. In a month it will be back at roof height. Gawd I hate that thing!

Anyhoo. After I was done committing gross violence to a bush/tree type a deal, I looked down and saw a few huge weeds. Well…I had my gloves on and the ground was soft, so I started wiggling them durn weeds out by the root.

At one point, I noticed a row of different looking weeds growing from the crack where the outside wall of the house meets concrete.

So I gave them a hearty tug.

Suddenly, all I could smell was this minty odor. I smelled my hands. Leather gloves and mint.

Weird.

So I took a small plant sample inside so I could Google it.

Sure enough. We have mint growing wild in our yard

I have no idea where this came from and I don’t recall mint growing in the yard before. It just, I don’t know, appeared out of nowhere this year.

Look, I’m from New Mexico. I’m used to coaxing things to grow in the yard with a lot of vigor and pleading.

Not here. This sh*t just grows wild! There ya go! Something magical. Didn’t even have to try.

Next up on the list of fruits ripening in my untended backyard:

Figs!

Yes! Love fresh figs.

I’m ready for ’em!

Anyhow. This has been a very big day. Maybe I need a nap.

Oh, and in closing…this for my friend Natalie who likes bird of paradise.

That’s a biggun!

I swear to god that thing blooms all year long. That shouldn’t happen. And yet..it does.

Show and Tell Time

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Since yesterday was a whirlwind of deadlines and today is a whirlwind of meetings, I thought for the blog today I’d share a bit of what I was working on yesterday.

The deadline was for the Arthouse Co-Op, located in Brooklyn.

I participated in a project they have going called The Fiction Project.

They sent me an 80 page Molskine notebook and challenged me to fill up the pages with stories. My topic for the stories was, “And suddenly…”

Whoo. And I thought this was going to be *so* easy to do. I love to write short stories and flash fiction. What a snap!

Silly me.

It was a fun challenge. Writing the stories wasn’t even the hard part, though it was hard enough. The rough part was in actually putting all the stories into the book in some coherent form. It’s harder than you’d think.

I thought I was done and had a full book of stories, but when I glued it all into a first draft piece, I still had four pages left to fill.

I suppose I could have left those four pages blank, but that seemed like cheating.

So I sat down to dash off something quick.

Dash off something quick. Har, har. Of course, that’s when writer’s block set in.

Anyhow, it took a while, but when I did finally write, what is below what came through.

It’s in need of more editing, but as I ran out of time, I had to just run with it. This is what covered the last four pages of my Moleskine book. For your perusal.

It’s called “And Suddenly…It’s Over”

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I look at my oldest, most reliable friend and plead silently, “speak to me!”

The blinking eye of the cursor just beats a perfect metronome rhythm back at me, waiting. The whole empty white page, devoid of the text I yearn for so much, mocks me openly.

I love the words, the black squiggles and marks on the page. Words that express how I feel, how I want to feel, how I ought to feel. But the words don’t flow so easily from my veins.

I plead with the empty page to fill up quick, but it never helps. So I take another course and appeal directly to The Muse. She is recalcitrant and obstinate, but I goad her along.

She wakes from her satin sheets, stretches her pale, lovely long arms, and rises.

“Oh, all right,” she concedes after I’ve wooed her with mimosas and caviar.

And so we sit down to write.

I step back, ceding control of my body, my thoughts, and my mind to The Muse. I let her dance. I let her sing. I let her weep if that’s where she wants to go.

I am at her service, totally, completely.

We write tales of the life cycles of the human, of cranky old men with faithful dogs riding in rusted old pickup trucks. We write of lost girls with music in their head and small town girls finding their way in the big city. (editors note, these were the topics of the other stories that filled the book)

Sometimes we write of horses and cows, other times about diamonds and millionaires. We write of everything and nothing. All of it and more.

Today, however, this day when there is nothing I want to do more than write, I can’t manage to coax her to give more than a single paragraph.

This is the worst. We begin the takeoff sequence, the words start to form, but I can’t get wind under my wings. Soon we stutter and the engine fails. We write, but then we don’t get very far before we don’t write anymore.

The cursor blinks. Waiting.

I sit, begging, pleading with her. I try to do it on my own, force the words to come through, but each letter oozes painfully out of me like blood from a fresh, deep wound. It’s not natural like when she does it.

I used to think this was a terminal condition, this writer’s block, and would last forever. Over the years I’ve come to know that the diva inside of me, she of all the ideas and brilliant turns of phrase, will always come back. No matter how firmly she leaves or how far she goes, one day, I know she will return.

And she does.

She’ll always find a way to embody my fingers and my soul because she just can’t resist. The pull toward the joy we feel in those moments when the words flow free is too great. It’s like an addiction, stronger than any drug or drink.

We write because we must write.

And so today, I wait her out. The first paragraph is written and I wait, blinking in time with the cursor.

If I don’t squeeze too hard, if I don’t press her, it will happen.

Magically, it will happen.

So I avert my eyes and pretend it doesn’t matter. I fix a cup of coffee and I read the news and I say in a sighing way, “oh, I guess we’re not going to write today.”

And finally, when I’ve got her fully convinced that it just doesn’t matter, The Muse shows up with a “who me?” look on her face and suddenly has the will to write.

So we take another go at that runway. Faster this time, we let the words start to flow free. Soon, with enough speed and plenty of ideas to fuel our ascent, we break away from the land below and we begin to rise.

The adjectives and adverbs and participles flow smoothly over the wingtips and we soar, together, my fingers are her engine while The Muse is pulling all the levers.

It’s magnificent. Suddenly, we kill off the main character and bank hard to the left. Oh this is a great run. Then a plot twist, some suspense, upward we climb, faster, faster.

And finally, when it feels like my fingers might snap off from the speed and the altitude, the climax of the story arrives and we climb to impossible heights and finally crest that hill.

Once over the apex we begin coasting down the story arc of the glorious dénouement.

Then, the story draws to a close. The engines slow, the fingers wind down, and we touch gently back to down earth, weary but fulfilled.

Flaps come up, we coast to a stop and ease our rig back into the slip.

And suddenly…it’s over.

It is then, with much melancholy, together we type the words…

The End