Guns and Better
I've written before in this space about how themes seem to emerge, unbidden, from an issue of Desert Exposure as the lineup of stories comes together. This month, though, that interweaving of common threads struck me more strongly than ever. A publication like Desert Exposure works best when it reflects the unique character—both good and bad—of the region it covers. It seems to me the themes knitting together this issue's feature stories are as essential to Southwest New Mexico as its rugged mountains and blue skies, its cacti and its piñon trees.
Most obviously, there's the region's rich and varied past, the subject this issue of stories on the historic Butterfield stagecoach trail, which made one of its stopping points in Old Mesilla, and on a re-creation of General "Black Jack" Pershing's cavalry ride across our corner of the state, en route to beginning his pursuit of Pancho Villa. Though steeped in history, both stories are nonetheless timely, with a new book on the Butterfield Trail just published and the cavalry ride set for this month.
It's also hunting season, the perfect time for Jesse Wolf Hardin's evocative essay on elk hunting using vintage equipment (which of course also ties into that history theme). Readers who sometimes take umbrage at Larry Lightner's "Ramblin' Outdoors" column may find themselves likewise provoked by Hardin's story, especially because of its powerful "you are there" approach. But, like it or not, hunting has always been an integral part of the fabric of this region. Hardin gives hunters and non-hunters alike a glimpse into the primordial, almost spiritual appeal of the hunt.
Some readers may also be provoked by this issue's feature on Deming gun-shop owner and would-be survivalist Rick Reese. Here again, the role of guns in our region comes to the fore. And even if you don't agree with Reese that the country's on the verge of collapse, this story, too, is timely, albeit in a tongue-in-cheek way: The new Disney movie Chicken Little, being released in theaters this month, puts the question of "Is the sky really falling?" front and center. Just in case it is falling, you can test your survival skills with the story's accompanying "The Sky Is Falling Simulation Contest."
(Oh, and the next time somebody tries to tell you that Desert Exposure is "too liberal," biased in favor of environmentalists or, as someone once memorably referred to this publication under its previous owner, "a hippie rag," show them the stories I've just mentioned. Our charge is to cover everything that makes up the character of this region, even topics that might make some readers uncomfortable.)
Guns and violence—admittedly, unusual themes for Desert Exposure—also lurk under the surface of Jeff Berg's article this issue on efforts to counter the alarming growth of gangs in Southwest New Mexico. Gang activity is going on right under our noses, turning our youth into criminals. If you think "it can't happen here," read Jeff's in-depth report.
But this issue also spotlights the other side of the region's character, showcasing ways in which New Mexicans are lending a helping hand to those in need. These days, with the National Guard so often in harm's way in Iraq, we tend to associate these hardworking soldiers with guns and violence as well. But Grant County National Guardsman Jim Lee's story, recorded by Victoria Tester in this issue, shows what the Guard can accomplish with tools, know-how and compassion in lieu of weapons. Lee's unit was the first from outside Louisiana to arrive in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His deeply moving account of what he saw and experienced, and of the bonds forged between New Mexicans and Louisiana residents, will both shock you with nature's power and touch you with the depths of human endurance.
Similarly, our story on the Niño a Niño project shows a remarkable commitment to helping the less-fortunate on the part of two long-time Silver City residents, Kathy and Phil Dahl-Bredine. Just as notable, though, are the continuing connections between their work in Oaxaca, Mexico, and their friends, family and acquaintances back home in New Mexico. We hope you attended the Oct. 29 fundraiser for this worthy project—if not, the note at the end of this story tells how you can still contribute.
The Niño a Niño story, the gangs report (sadly) and even our article about re-creating Pershing's ride to pursue Pancho Villa all, of course, in varied ways illustrate the inescapable influence of our proximity to Mexico. This issue's Letters column shares some of the gratifying response to last month's special report on the challenges of illegal immigration across that border with Mexico. I can't count the number of people who've taken the time to comment on that story—in the grocery store, at a dinner party, during last month's Weekend at the Galleries—and I continue to be impressed simply at how many Desert Exposure readers will take the time to plow through a story that long and complex.
Thank you for the time you give us each month—an astonishing two hours per issue, on average, according to our recent reader survey—and for your thoughtful responses, both pro and con. We know that in this hectic age there's nothing more precious than time, and we hope that each issue—whatever themes coalesce in our pages to capture some aspect of life in Southwest New Mexico—continues to reward your investment in Desert Exposure.
David A. Fryxell is editor and publisher of Desert Exposure.