When memories reach up and grab you

Lately I’ve been on quite a jag of reading the works of one noble New Mexico left handed cowboy poet named Baxter Black. He’s a good friend of my “adopted dad” (my best friend’s father). I had the chance to meet him once back in college and I’ve heard stories of his over the years.

I was heartened to see that my local library carried a good selection of Bax’s works. They make you smile, make you think and make you outright laugh yer bum off.

I just got done reading one of his collections from a few years back. It was one of the books of his NPR material called “Horseshoes, Cowsocks and Duckfeet”. One selection from that book is called “Lake Valley”.

Man oh man. That almost made me weep with homesickness. It also made me smile to know that two people, some twenty-five years apart in age, have similar memories of the same event. That’s the staying power of Lake Valley.

In fact, back in college I used to go to Lake Valley with my best friend. She’s the one who turned me on to it. Her parents used to come along with us too, having danced at Lake Valley back in the day (and probably along with Bax). I remember at the dance they used to give you a family rate of $20. My fill-in dad would gather up all us scraggly college kids, blonds, redheads, brunettes, short, tall, thin, stocky and all about the same age. He’d point to our gang, tell ’em that was his family, throw ’em a twenty at the door and we’d all get in.

You know, in our way, we were (and are) family.

The way Bax describes Lake Valley in his writing is just how I remember it. Though when I was going, a band called The Rounders were the ones playing the old songs. What a talented group, The Rounders…they even played at my best friend’s wedding. Now THAT was a party.

At the end of this post is a photo I found online. It’s how the schoolhouse used to look. Ok, imagine that…but with no desks and a lot more years on it and that’s pretty much how it used to look. See that riser there at the end? Where the teacher would sit? That’s where the band would play. It was a long narrow room and we had to dance in a long oval. Like Bax said, the floorboards give under your feet and after all the years they weren’t particularly even, so you had to mind your feet, but oh was it a hell of a good time.

I’ve never felt quite so free, happy and in touch with the simple easy joys in life. I miss the feeling of flying I’d get dancing a polka with my very tall and very dear friend Larry. I loved the camaraderie of wrapping arm around arm and doing the Schottische and Cotton Eyed Joe (“stepped in what?”). And, as Bax said, when the band took a break, we’d all migrate outside to cool off and dip into the ice chest for food, beverages and the telling of a few good stories.

Ah the memories. If I let ’em, they’ll take over my whole day.

Image from Living Ghost Towns.

The sound of crickets chirping…

In my head. Oh god, all day long when I ponder what will be my blog entry for today, all I hear are crickets. (Go here if you are aurally challenged and need help imagining the sound. I did.)

It is day nine of blogdom for me and I’m more than embarrassed to admit I don’t have any good ideas for a post today. So I’ll post about my lack of post, how’s that?

When I set out (just over a week ago) the ideas flowed easily. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m pretty proud about how things are going so far. As I mentioned in the beginning, this blog starts out as a source of good discipline for me as a writer. And today I’m up against one of my demons as a writer. “Eh, I don’t have a good idea, so I’ll not bother to even write.”

This is bad. It victimizes great writers every day.

For the past few years I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, an exercise in which you force yourself to write 50,000 words in thirty days for the sheer challenge of doing so. I’ve done it twice and won both times. Mainly because I learned this about myself: I work great under a tight deadline. When the race is on and there’s “something in it”, I’m all over it.

But my momentum tends to lag when there isn’t a carrot out there that I’m running toward.

That’s the discipline I’m working on. I’m an amateur writer working on growing my chops. I see how far I’ve come in the almost ten years since I set out to honestly focus on writing, and I can sure see how far I’ve yet to grow.

They say, “write what you know” and writing about New Mexico fits that bill. So far I’m having a good time with this. I hope over time I can get some eyes here that aren’t just family and friends (though I’m incredibly grateful to any family member or friend who is giving me a glance).

I love writing, I really do, and this blog, I’ve discovered, is actually harder to do than it seems. Not complaining. It was just surprising to me. I have some favorite bloggers that I’ve read over the years who complain about how much time a blog takes. I always thought, “pish posh, get with the posting!” Now I know better.

I’m having a fun time…despite the ever increasing volume of crickets in the noggin today.

I suppose I could blame the ABQjournal for having a slow Sunday, or New Mexico Magazine for having a slow month (the “home edition” always leaves me cold, I flipped through it in record time today). But that’s just all excuses. And the time has come to stop making excuses.

Today, I write. Look at that….you can squeeze a whole post outta nothing to write about!

Maybe They Oughta Listen to My Mom

During the some 27 years I lived in New Mexico, I had many occasions to encounter the Rio Grande. How might I best describe my impressions? Muddy, dangerous, cold, forceful undertow. Oh yeah, and flotsam and jetsam of the highest order. Things that make you go ewww as they drift by in the swirling eddies of the mud colored water.

My mom always insisted that my siblings and I not swim in “that dirty water”. Her main worry, of course, was that in the dry seasons, trees and weeds grow in abundance in the empty riverbed. During runoff, water covers that tangled underbrush and it’s real easy to get a foot caught and that’s that in a wicked undertow. The river flows fast when it’s flowing.

I’d heard stories through the years too about if you swim don’t gulp any of the water. Hepatitis. E coli. Other exotic things with exotic names I can’t remember.

I can honestly say, I’ve never swum in the water of the Rio Grande. Now I took on the muddy waters of Ute Lake with a pink air mattress and a smile during summers in my childhood, but I never had occasion to swim in the river. Occasions presented themselves, but I never went in. I’ve sat on the muddy banks a lot, pondering life, raising hell, drinking beer. Once after losing my college love, I sat by the banks of the river in Las Cruces for days on end and raised the water level with the volume of tears I cried. But swim? No.

In each person’s life, they have a collection of images in their head that are indelible. They stick for a variety of reasons. The first time you saw the love of your life. A terrible car crash you once witnessed. What it was like to see the ocean for the first time. One of those images from the mélange in my own brain is from my college days. There were lots of spots in the greater Las Cruces area with good access to the Rio Grande. As such, we college kids made it a point to have many a celebration by the banks of the Rio Grande. Many of these “river parties” took place at night, after a dance or the bar closed. But sometimes it would start as a barbeque down by the water and last into the night.

One afternoon on a warm day, a gang of girls piled in to the car and headed to the river for a barbeque day. It was a crowded party and there were some boys swimming in the river. I always give the river a beady eye of skepticism mainly because my mom drummed it into me. So I watched these nineteen-year-old guys swimming around in that gross water with fascination. I remember one guy, I can’t honestly remember his name, but he was in the water and he was swimming with all his might against the current and he was losing ground. This was a strong guy, in good shape and a strong swimmer and he was putting everything into it, and the river was pushing him back.

Ok, I know for any “mighty” river this probably isn’t all that amazing. But to me, it crystallized everything my mom had said about the dangers of swimming in that water.

Along with the wonder of seeing him swim for all he’s worth and not get any forward progress was seeing bits of yuck floating past him in the water. Not only was I horrified at the danger he put himself in swimming into the current, but my god, what danger did all that crap pose to his health?!?!

By the time that water makes it to the southern end of the state, it’s been subjected to some pretty heinous stuff. Insecticides, manure, runoff, and the occasional dear departed dog. Yes, horrible to say but true, many a person has tossed their deceased animal into that water. Hell, a few human bodies too, but that’s almost too much to consider.

In October this year I took my partner to see the span of river near my folks place in Los Chaves on the Bosque. It’s beautiful there. As we stood on the banks I recall him saying to me, “What’s that foamy stuff floating by?” God knows. I sure didn’t.

So this is a long way of saying there is no way in hell I’d drink that water. So imagine the ewww face I made when I read the article in the Albuquerque Tribune with the story title: “Taste testers find Rio Grande water earthy, approachable”.

Say it with me now….EWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!

The story says that in Albuquerque they are building a treatment plant to make the water, and I quote “drinkable and deliverable to area sinks, toilets and showers.”

They’d do best not to tell folks where the water came from. Cuz I know I’m not the only one who’d be real opposed to having that in my water glass.

I know beggars can’t be choosers when water is tight. But gad…that’s just…gross.

I do love the quote, though, from a local winemaker John Calvin. “He detected some ‘overtones of granite,’ he said, a hint of ‘Russian olive in the nose,’ and something else that might have been ‘evergreen trees after a rain.'”

Wow. Bet that’s not all he tasted……

(actual photo of the actual river in Los Chavez)

Photo by Karen Fayeth

Los Turistas

On Thursday, March 22, Polly Summar wrote an article in the ABQjournal entitled “Rules of Tourist Etiquette”.

It is to laugh.

I know Ms. Summar is well intended. She even makes some good points. I especially agreed with number five, “Do not stand in the middle of the sidewalk during busy times on the Plaza…” Then she says later in the same point, “Would you do this in New York City? No? Well, don’t do it here.”

The thing of it is, they *would* do the same in New York City. I saw it. Hell, I probably did it. They would do the same in Boston, and San Antonio and Dubuque. That’s what tourists do. If you live in a place that is popular with tourists, you have to accept a certain bit of foolish behavior.

And trying to impose Tourist Rules is like shouting at a hurricane. You’re going to strain yourself. It’s not going to hear you. And it’s still gonna blast past you anyway (though hurricanes are not in an all fire rush to buy jewelry from a “real Indian”, but that’s another post for another day).

In fact, articles like this one can be perceived as being a bit hostile to tourists. For a state like ours that depends on the tourist dollar….I’m not saying cater to their every bad behavior, but you gotta accept some of the cost that comes with the plentiful tourist dollar.

Maybe Ms. Summar should take some ’round the way roads to get where she’s going if tourists jamming the Plaza are going to ruin her good day.

The lure of the Plaza is too great. It’s beautiful, and Santa Fe is a vacation destination. The Southwest Airlines in flight magazine told me so.

While I’ve been known to rail against a tourist or two in my life, I’ve also learned a certain symbiotic relationship with them. We both have a place in the world. We get something out of each other. Heck, when I visited New York for the first time just last year, I was completely the tourist, mouth agape at the skyscrapers. I even scared a cab driver by shouting “holy sh-t!” when he rounded a corner onto Broadway and I laid eyes on Times Square for the first time in my life.

To his credit, that cab driver didn’t complain at me or tell me I’d behaved wrong. He asked, “Are you okay?” then said, “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

I like to think his kindness was payback for all the tolerance I’ve shown tourists in my life.

Here’s my qualifications:

Grew up in Albuquerque. Endured many a balloon fiesta as a child where grownups trampled me to get a better look.

My parents lived in Carlsbad for several years. You want to talk tourists? Try working a fast food joint in Carlsbad on a hot August day! I did it.

I currently live in the San Francisco Bay Area. My partner lived on Fisherman’s Wharf in the early days of our dating. He loved the area and I was skeptical when he first moved in. He was blocks away from Pier 39. Let me tell you, I’ve been in both Santa Fe and Pier 39 in various tourist heavy times of the year. Ms. Summar, you know nothing of tourists. Pier 39 can best be described as pandemonium. The locals here know better. You *avoid* those areas. You take a more circuitous route because you know those damn turistas are gong to make you crazy. And you know you can’t expend the calories letting turistas make you crazy because there is still traffic, your boss and that wiener who stole your parking spot left in the day to drive you bonkers.

And you know that no matter how many rules you try to impose, how many ways you ask nicely for them to respect the locals, how many times you gently request they move off of the sidewalk for that family portrait session, they are not going to change. Tourists enjoy a certain sense of entitlement wherever they go. It’s why many other countries don’t enjoy American tourists.

For a while there, post 9/11, we all felt a distinct lack of tourists. San Francisco suffered financially because people weren’t traveling. Hotels, restaurants, cab drivers, the common man suffered the loss. Funny how your perspective on tourists changes when you don’t have them…….

So just know, we can’t change ’em. We can only change how we react to ’em. So Ms. Summar, next time you see that guy flossing on the plaza (point four on her list), don’t see the uncouth, unaware, buffoon, see instead the dollar bills that fall out of his pocket and help make your historic town and our beautiful state keep percolating along.

Well I’ll Be Darned

You know…sometimes I don’t give New Mexico enough credit. One of the things I enjoyed growing up was the sort of slow quiet desert way about New Mexico. I was firmly entrenched in the small backward ways of my home while also silently making plans to grow up and live somewhere else. I always thought living in a big city would be better. Then, towards the end of my college career at NMSU, I thought I wanted nothing better than to live in New Mexico the rest of my life.

As fate would have it, my job situation worked out to move me to the Bay Area. I was now as an adult living in a major metropolitan area. And as much as I enjoy living here, I long for the slower, easier ways of New Mexico.

But again, I often don’t give New Mexico enough credit for it’s deep cultural roots, not just Hispanic and Native American, the culture of America.

I was humbled, again, today as I hit the New Mexico Magazine website. On the front page they have a poll. You are asked to vote for the song that will go down as the best by a New Mexican. Ok, so I expected to see some hokiness. A couple Nelson Martinez songs or maybe Jim Glaser and his “Lights of Albuquerque” (a song which, honestly, makes me cringe a little).

But I have to apologize to my fellow artistic New Mexicans because there are a couple of my all time favorites on this list. Then again…some of these folks can *barely* be called a New Mexican. I tend to get pretty strict on that score…I prefer natives over movers in, but I guess I can’t get too fine on this point. I’m going to just feel proud that our fair state is somehow associated with these fine musical works.

Here’s the list:

“The Bare Necessities” by Terry Gilkyson

This is a great sing along song. Gotta love Baloo in the Jungle Book, deep voiced (Phil Harris lent his voice to the character) and crazy dancing along. A simple happy upbeat tune. Written by Terry Gilkyson, a very well known musician from the 1950’s as a member of the Easy Riders. Mr. Gilkyson retired in the later part of his life to Santa Fe. So while not a native, we’ll gladly claim him as our own.

Now when I jig around the house singing this one, I’ll have peace in my heart that it’s a part of my New Mexican heritage.


“By the Time I Get to Phoenix” by Glenn Campbell

Ok, this one blew me away. Glenn Campbell is one of my all time favorite musicians. I love everything he’s ever written. “Still Within the Sound of my Voice” is a song that breaks me up every time. Ol’ Glenn can only tangentially be called a New Mexican. From a brief web search I found that while about age 16 (in 1953) he played with an uncle’s band in Albuquerque, so I am not sure we can claim him. But it’s a fun tidbit to know that part of his career passed through our fair state. My mom lived in NM in the 50’s as a young woman…it’s cool to ponder maybe she saw him play at some bar in downtown Albuquerque while having drinks with friends. She wouldn’t remember, but I can dream, right?


“A Holly Jolly Christmas” by Burl Ives

What!?!?!? Burl is quintessentially Christmas to me! He voiced Sam The Snowman in that stop action animation “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” in which he also sang “A Holly Jolly Christmas”. The Wikipedia about him says he used to sing “There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” at every concert. That is a TOTAL childhood favorite. Was singing it not five days ago…

Man oh man. Burl. An American treasure. As for the New Mexico connection, I found an interview with his widow that made mention of them living in our great state. Ok, fair enough. Burl, you’re in!


“King of the Road” by Roger Miller

Almost wept with joy to see this one on the list. Hands down, Roger Miller and his music holds a deep, special place in my heart. Most of his tunes evoke a particular memory for me, and usually a good one.

His wacky lyrics sometimes overshadowed the fact that he was an absolutely incredible musician. I adore me some Roger Miller. I sing all his stuff in as loud a voice as possible. Loudly and badly. Oh yeah. I couldn’t really find the link between Mr. Miller and New Mexico, but far be it from me to argue with New Mexico Magazine.


“Singin’ in the Rain” by Nacio Herb Brown

An all time great movie moment from a top ten fave movie. Watched it again maybe three or four months ago. Gene Kelly moving effortlessly through the rain. Debbie Reynolds was never better. Donald O’Connor in my opinion steals the movie from both Debbie and Gene. Adore the movie. Adore the song.

And of all on the list, he’s a true New Mexican. Born Ignacio Herb Brown in Deming, his family moved to LA when he was five. But he’s one of ours, no two ways about it.

Another fact I never knew. “Singing in the Rain” written by a native son.

And because of that, Nacio got my vote…..(and when I voted I got the see the results so far. Nacio is leading the pack. Go New Mexico!!)