A Decade of Desert Exposure
Sampling some favorite moments from the first 10 years of "the biggest little paper in the Southwest."
Love & Sex
For a Valentine's Day-themed issue, we interviewed famed sex expert Dr. Ruth Westheimer (we sent her papers, she loved them, she agreed to be interviewed):
"The soap-operas do us a tremendous disservice, because they show us different sexual experiences every single episode, with a highness of emotion and satisfaction, and nobody in real life can duplicate that. It doesn't work that way. So the mass media has done us a disservice. On the other hand, if we can couple those wonderful beautiful bodies that we see in the movies and on television, and put that extra knowledge in that it needs hard work to keep that going in reality, which we don't talk about, then it's wonderful.
What do you see coming in the future?
"I see that in the year 2001 and on from there, because of people being more knowledgeable, about relationships and sexuality—this is a little bit of my wishful thinking—I see very few unintended pregnancies, I see a cure for that dreadful disease of AIDS, I see a cure for all of the other sexually transmitted diseases. I would see, maybe we are going to live in a peaceful world, where everybody is going to let their neighbors live peacefully." (February 1998)
Naomi Amador became pregnant at age 12—the youngest reported pregnancy in Grant County at that time. She was 21 and the mother of three when we interviewed her:
Do you feel like you lost your childhood?
"Yeah, oh yeah. I do. I feel like . . . there were times when, right after I had [her daughter Brenda], I would go see my friends at a track meet, and think, 'That could have been me.' But I had just had a baby. And all through that year I was exempt from PE [Physical Education] because I was pregnant. Now, I think there are things that I could do, but I can't, because I'm not like everybody else. I'm so different, really different. But it doesn't bother me anymore. Because I know that once this task is done, and I've raised my children, then that will be my time. Other people, they go through their life and they have their time, and then they settle down and have kids. I just did it backwards. When I'm 48, I'll be traveling. You know, my oldest daughter Brenda will graduate when I'm 31. So [laughing] . . . and my other two will be freshmen in high school. So it's not like I've wasted my life. I've just done it different." (May 1998)
In 1999, Lior Lapid was a 17-year-old honor student senior at Las Cruces High School and seven-time winner of the New Mexico State Chess Tournament. Two years before, he'd finished first in the nation in a K-9th grade chess championship:
"Chess has had an amazingly positive effect on my life. It taught me to make goals and to form plans on how to reach those goals, as well as to narrow down the choices I need to make. Chess has also taught me to appreciate teamwork. Your whole army of pieces is a team. They all have to cooperate and work together to achieve checkmate. Some pieces have to sacrifice themselves or their positioning for the benefit of the other pieces. The game has taught me to appreciate others. My life is shaped by my family, friends and community. I can't do it all on my own. I need the help of other people in my life. There's also no such thing as prejudice towards various pieces. Every piece is different and deserves respect. You have to treat all pieces equally. Each piece can make or break a game. For example, though the queen is the most powerful piece on the chessboard, there are always exceptions. Sometimes having three pawns positioned in strategic locations can be better than the manipulations of a queen." (November 1999)
Las Cruces hatmaker Darryl Sullivan has crafted cowboy hats for movie and rodeo stars and President George W. Bush:
"The neat part is, you can do anything with a hat. You can resize, undersize, change the shape, cut the brim down. You can take one hat and make it 10,000 different ways. . . . There's really no school to go to. You just kind of learn it. A lot of people don't realize what's possible. They say, 'Gosh, I didn't know you could do that to a hat.'" (May 2003)
Members of the SunTree Travel Club—a Las Cruces nudist group—set us straight about "naturism":
Eric related another story about another couple from Texas who wanted to join SunTree, but told the owners of the club that they were indeed "swingers." They were turned down flat, but were allowed to join a while later, with conditions. After a time, they became bored, and during one get-together, they brought a boom box with them. The music started, and the wifely part of the couple started to do a striptease. "They wanted to furnish some entertainment," Eric recalled. "After she finished, we were like, well, okay, so what?" (October 2004)
Newspaperman-turned-rancher Gene Simon talked about how he got ideas for his long-running newspaper column:
"Cows and columns made a great combination, strange as it may sound. Here's why: The bulk of my column ideas came from the seat of a pickup or the back of a horse. Your mind is uncluttered. There aren't a lot of distractions." (December 2005)
Matchmaker Ivan Thompson, the "Cowboy Cupid," on some of his more challenging clients:
lot of older men tell me they want a young, thin, pretty gal who has
no children and doesn't want any. I refer those men to [magician] David
Copperfield. I know if he can make a jet airplane disappear, he won't
have any trouble filling their orders. . . .
"I got a letter from a doctor in Switzerland,
who had heard about me from a friend in Houston. He was looking for
a second wife, and that was fine with his current one. . . .
"I never had a problem with Mexican men, and with my customers, I was very lucky, since I was able to stop most of the horse's rears before they came here. It got so that I could sniff out the nuts on the telephone." (February 2006)
Bud Sanders told us about performing as Elvis Presley:
"An audience is an audience. It doesn't matter. Once I had an audience of five ladies. I think they were all sisters, and they had a blast. Then last month, we did a show in Odessa, Texas, in front of an audience of 500. Each time I perform, I make a roomful of new friends." (March 2006)
Science & Space
We asked Dr. Ray Smartt, senior scientist at the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, NM, is the Sun yellow?
"Artistically, we make it yellow, but it's not. It looks yellowish towards sunset simply because the Earth's atmosphere tends to filter out the blue light. Actually the Sun produces what we call white light. If a surface reflects this light evenly at all wavelengths, like snow, our eyes receive many different wavelengths, or colors, that are all balanced, and they add them up and we perceive white. But if the Sun were yellow, snow for example would also appear yellow." (June
David Berry, one of a group of area
residents who spend months in Antarctica supporting scientific efforts,
explained the appeal of the job:
"The first year, you go for the adventure.
The second year, you go for the money—after all, there's almost
nothing to spend your salary on down there. The third year, you go
because you can't think of any other work that seems as worthwhile." (October
The "chileman,"Dr. Paul W. Bosland of NMSU's Chile Pepper Institute, explained what makes chile peppers hot—a chemical called capsaicin:
After a few literally fruitless inspections of various plants, he returns bearing a jalapeno, which he expertly dissects with a pocketknife. "See that orange part inside? That's the placenta. Only the crosswalls around the placenta can make capsaicin. The outer skin, the seeds, the flesh of a chile aren't hot in and of themselves, only from contact with the crosswalls."
He takes a bite of the jalapeno, then spits it out. "The more orange inside, the more heat. The walls have absolutely no heat. The seeds are not hot, but they're attached to the vein so the oils splash onto them. When you're de-seeding a chile you're really de-veining it; that's where the heat comes from." (November 2004)
NBC News space analyst James Oberg, though a supporter of New Mexico's proposed spaceport, cautioned:
"This is rocket science, and I do expect accidents. It's a sad consequence whenever you're prospecting a new frontier—you push so hard that you kill people. If you don't, you're probably not pushing hard enough." (February 2006)
Politics & Politicians
Sen. Jeff Bingaman
Who are your role models or heroes?
"I think in government I always admired the job that Harry Truman did as president. I admired the job Sen. Anderson did when he was representing New Mexico in the Senate. Those are two of the folks that I've always been very impressed with."
If you weren't a US senator, what do you see yourself doing?
"Before I got into politics I practiced law in Sante Fe. I think that would be the natural course that I would've followed if I had not gotten into politics."
What makes you happiest?
"Well . . . that's a tough one. I guess seeing my family succeed." (October 1997)
Then-Gov. Gary Johnson
What is one of your favorite memories as a youth?
"Favorite memories for me really go back to school and competing athletics. That was something that was made available. If I break down the 10 best, or 20 or 30 best memories, they probably relate to being school and participating in athletic activities." (October 1997)
When Gov. Bill Richardson starred in a Times Square billboard promoting New Mexico tourism, we called Maxies Delicatessen at 723 7th Ave., which got a prime view of our governor from right across the street:
The boss at Maxies, who asked that we not print his name, confessed that none of his customers had mentioned the New Mexico billboard.
"But I saw it," he added quickly. "Personally, I thought it was a little odd. I mean, an advertisement for New Mexico? You rarely see a state advertise." (April 2003)
Living with the Land
We interviewed Ty Bays, who was then president of the Grant County Cattle Growers Association:
"You may laugh at me when I say this, but we know what the Indians felt like. We've been in control for over 100 years, and I know they were in control for longer than we were, but white men came in here, they didn't necessarily disagree with the way Indians managed the land the way they do us, they just disagreed with their way of life, and they eliminated them. People come in here, they don't know much about us, and they're trying to eliminate our way of life. Unfortunately, we're not going to get to go to a reservation when this thing is done." (August 1998)
A firefighter for 26 years, 21 as a smoke jumper, at the time we talked to him, Gary Benavidez had
been Fire Management Staff Officer for the Gila National Forest for four
"When we started our fire suppression efforts, in about 1910, we started changing the make-up of the fuels and vegetation, just by excluding fire. The reason they started the 'fire suppression mode frenzy' was that in Idaho, in 1910, a devastating fire killed a number of people. There are historical accounts of smoke drifts all the way to Chicago. The forest service was in its infant stages, and it decided to suppress fires. That became the policy.
"You see, before fire suppression, the fires were low intensity. About every six years, a fire would come through, cleaning out the downed, dead material and putting more nutrients in; then the forest would be fireproof for a number of years. When we eliminated fire from the forest, more fuels started accumulating, because the downed materials, especially the bigger ones, don't decay; they can last 30-70 years before they decompose. Through fire suppression, we put more woody material on the ground and we also allowed more trees to grow; this is what's causing the high-intensity fires. It was only in the 1960s and 1970s that we started to see a change in the policy of fighting fires.. . .
"I point this out when I talk to different groups about prescribed fire and wildfire. If you live in Florida, sooner or later Mother Nature is going to knock you right between the eyes with a hurricane. And if you live in the Midwest, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, tornadoes are a fact of life. If you live in California, you've got earthquakes, fire, mudslides—everything. And if you live in New Mexico, right next to one of the largest forests in the country and the largest continuous wilderness in the country, sooner or later fire is going to affect you. Not every year, mind you, but it's not going to stop because we want it to stop. There are going to be big fires on the Gila, I don't care what we do. That's the ecosystem. We don't have the power to stop hurricanes. We don't have the power to stop fires." (June 1999)
When rancher Kit Lane battled federal authorities over land rights, we looked at his backers in the "Wise Use" movement:
"We're in the midst of a giant struggle," says G.B. Oliver, executive director of the Paragon Foundation, "with entities that want to take ownership from private hands. The strength and power of any nation is its natural resources. Whoever controls the natural resources controls the country. This isn't a new struggle; it's been going on since the beginning of time."
. . . It will probably come as a shock to people far removed from the public-lands debate, but the notion that national forests and wilderness areas belong to all Americans—as Theodore Roosevelt put it, "All the great natural resources which are vital to the welfare of the whole people should be kept either in the hands or under the control of the whole people."—is not universally agreed upon. The question of who owns "public lands"—or at least the unfettered right to use them—lies at the heart of the Laney case and the entire property-rights debate. (May 2004)
Art & Artists
Lee Friedlander is perhaps the world's greatest living documentary photographer. We interviewed him after the publication of his book, The Desert Seen (1996), a visual exploration of the Sonoran Desert:
"The real world is the thing: there's nothing else. The good . . . the real photographers are dedicated to that, yeah, I think so . . . the ones I like, anyway. They're all more interested in the world than in their own heads. . . . I don't think much about imagination. I don't think I have much imagination. I don't think it's needed in photography. What do you need imagination for when you've got the world in front of you?" (January 1998)
For 31 years, Cecil Howard was a professor of art at WNMU. In 1999 he was honored with the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts:
"I have never been a landscape painter, and I have always worked internally. I've very rarely set up anything and copied from it. But after we moved out here to the farm, I decided that I couldn't live in front of this view and not paint it—so I did a full series of landscape paintings and got it out of my system. I liked them at the time. They were satisfying, they proved something to me—that I could look at something, and mix the colors that match, and it proved that I can draw. I've always known it, but nobody else knew it. My students were amazed." (September 1999)
Animator Ralph Bakshi's credits range from Fritz the Cat to the original Lord of the Rings movie to an occasional cartoon in our pages:
Sure, computers have changed things—look at what Bakshi calls "that fish picture," the new release Finding Nemo. "They allow you to do cheaply and fast what Disney once had to spend $100,000 on: special effects, shadows, levels of color. There are no limitations on the number of levels with a computer, as there are with painted cells. A computer can combine smoke, wind, rain—it's mind-boggling to an old-timer like me.
"It's also getting an adult audience into the theaters, because there's something interesting to look at. There's no other reason for the success of Shrek—which I call 'Dreck'—or for that fish picture to open with $70 million." (July 2003)
Linda Brewer's colorful creatures are featured in galleries across the country, included her own Blue Dome Gallery in Silver City:
"There's probably not an animal that I haven't done. I don't do frogs very well, so I avoid them. I'll go through phases. In the Wall Street Journal the other day there was an ad with a picture of a goat that I ripped out. I know I'm going on a goat craze. . . . I'm a quadruped person, not a biped person." (November 2003)
Dorothy McCray came to WNMU as an art professor in 1948. On the eve of a retrospective there of her work, she talked about where her painting ideas come from:
"Life is full of surprises. It's a matter of reacting to those surprises. I'll have a cup of tea with a friend and see the bracelets on an arm, a set of bathroom fixtures, a memory of an experience. And I might combine them—use the shapes of the bracelets or the bathroom fixtures, or put the cat in the bathtub." She points to a wavy pattern in the hardwood floor. "You could sketch that if you wanted to." (January 2005)
Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
In an excerpt from her epilogue to Max Evans' book, Madame
Millie: Bordellos from Silver City to Ketchikan, Silver City Museum
director Susan Berry recounted the area's early tussles
"Silver City struggled for years to reconcile its rugged frontier heritage with its corporate image as a progressive, enlightened community. Mining camps were traditionally diverse and forgiving places—in the absence of an old, established social order and with few questions asked, more opportunities for new beginnings existed than in other places. Of course, as the town grew to include more 'respectable' women and families, increasing pressure was brought to bear on local officials to suppress the demimonde. Silver City's historical response to this dilemma was to enact legal restraints on prostitution, and then not enforce them." (April 2002)
We toured the Shakespeare ghost town with Manny Hough and his wife, Janaloo Hill, whose parents bought the town when she was a child:
"They hanged over 10 men here," Manny says, warming to the subject. "The last were in January 1881—Russian Bill, because he'd stolen a horse, and Sandy King, because he was a damned nuisance. There were just two penalties back then: get hanged or get out of town. There wasn't all this appeals business. Later, lots of people would verify the hangings, but they'd always say, 'I didn't pull the ropes.'" (June 2003)
When controversy erupted over plans to dig up the Silver City grave ofBilly the Kid's mother, we explored the supposed mystery of the Kid's death and his postmortem fame:
Attorney Sherry Tippett says that she has read—though she admits it's hard to believe—that more books have been written about Billy the Kid than any American except Abraham Lincoln. O. Henry's fictional Cisco Kid was inspired by Billy's life and legend. Sparked in part by a 1926 bestseller by Walter Noble Burns, The Saga of Billy the Kid, Billy's story—at least the Hollywood-romanticized version of it—has been brought to the screen more than 40 times. According to Marcelle Brothers, co-founder of the Billy the Kid Historical Preservation Society, "No other individual has been portrayed in more films than Billy the Kid." He's been played by actors including Roy Rogers, Johnny Mack Brown, Robert Taylor, Audie Murphy, Paul Newman, Kris Kristofferson and, most recently, Emilio Estevez in two Young Guns films. Bob Steele and then Buster Crabbe starred in a series of Billy the Kid movies in the 1940s. Gore Vidal wrote a television tale of Billy the Kid, played by Val Kilmer. Aaron Copland composed a Billy the Kid suite. And let's not forget the 1966 movie, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. (January 2004)
Our article on Old West tourism introduced us to Western history expert Bob Alexander, who went on to write Six-Guns and Single-Jacks: A History of Silver City and Southwestern New Mexico:
"There's a natural allure to the West, a nostalgia. . . . It's something that refuses to die, because the Old West has all the elements of a good story—sex, violence, triumph over the elements and adversity. It's the original morality play. It may not have been that way in reality, but that's how it is in popular culture." (August 2004)
Richard Dean's great-grandfather was killed in Pancho Villa's historic raid on Columbus:
"I've also been asked . . . if it was 'a mistake' for the park to be named after the man that sacked the town. And that's not easy to answer." He says he believes it would be far easier for state officials to explain why they changed the name, should they do so, "than why it is named what it is."
He compares the 1916 incident to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York: "I don't think many people would be in favor of a 'Bin Laden Square' in Manhattan." (March 2005)
Just in time for Opening Day, we recalled some memorable moments in this area's own baseball history:
At a West Texas-New Mexico League game on April 28, 1950, Jim Martin, a catcher for the Pampa Oilers, was hit by a lightning bolt. The lightning knocked him unconscious and parked his catcher's mask 20 yards past the pitchers mound.
Abilene, another West Texas-New Mexico League team, in 1950 became one of the first teams to use shorts as part of its uniform. The experiment lasted for two games before being called on account of mosquitoes. . . .
Between 1925 and 1927, five of the banished "Black Sox" players apparently played in Grant County. Three—Chick Gandil, Lefty Williams and Buck Weaver—played in the Copper League. Others are thought to have played under aliases, with teams from Fort Bayard and Chino among those who used the so-called "outlaw" players, thus faring much better than their opponents. (April 2005)
New Mexico writer Rudolfo Alfonso Anaya has
won recognition as an interpreter of the lives of Hispanics in the Southwest,
beginning with his acclaimed first novel, Bless Me, Ultima, in 1972:
"I think what we have to retain as we go along
through this tremendous change that has come over the land is our sense
of history, our sense of storytelling. We have to relate to those values
that communities have always passed along in stories and not give that
up. . . . When I was growing up, we had a very definite set of values
that was given to us by our elders, and we talked about these things
around the family table. Not necessarily formally, just through storytelling.
Now young people don't seem to have that. They're kind of at a loss.
I think if we could get part of that back into their lives it would
help them see themselves with more self-esteem, more pride, more responsibility." (March
Ann Rule's career as a true-crime writer has spanned 30 years, during which she has authored more than 1,400 articles and several bestselling books:
"What I find is that it is the gentlest of people who are the most fanatic true-crime readers. And I think it's because gentle people cannot understand how anybody could take pleasure out of another creature's pain. And we want to find out why. My readers are worried about this, and ask me, 'What's the matter with us, that we like your books so much?' And nine times out of 10, it's these very gentle people. They're not reading to find out about the blood and the gore and the grisly details—because there's not that much of that in my books—they're more psychological treatments than anything else. For one, people think that the more they know, the less likely they are to be victimized; secondly, they just want to know, 'How could anybody do that? What was it in their background?' For the same reason I write, my readers read." (April 1998)
In her first book, Songs of the Fluteplayer: Seasons of Life in the Southwest, Sharman Apt Russell recounts her early years becoming at home in the Mimbres Valley, where she moved in 1981:
"I guess some of us, more than others, have a stronger need to have a relationship with the natural world, with the non-human world. Whether it be with animals—and some people are great pet lovers, while some are great gardeners—whatever form it takes, it's as though our sense of being in the world involves relating to that non-human world. And for me it's part of a relation to landscape. Growing up in Phoenix, the views, the sense of landscape, the mountains in the distance, it was all part of my idea of what is beautiful. I think that's partly it. I find certain views and a certain sense of the landscape around me. . . beautiful, aesthetic. I think it also must be spiritual because I find that's my idea of the other, the non-human, and to some extent the sacred, what I resonant with on a spiritual level. So aesthetically, spiritually, in terms of my relationships, I love and need that sense of landscape and that sense of the non-human.
"My instinct is, that's who we are developmentally as human beings. We imprinted on wilderness. We're still very much tribal in some ways. We're still very much hunters and gatherers. I feel like a hunter-gatherer when I go to Wal-Mart. I find that satisfaction of finding everything I need so quickly and right there. I still feel that I respond to the world in very similar ways that a tribal hunter and gatherer once responded to the world. I'm just in a very different context." (March 2000)
Former Atlanta newspaperman Jack Warner and his wife Donna moved to Silver City shortly before his first novel, Shikar, was published:
"I never thought I could write a novel. My whole training was in brevity. The thought of writing that much dumbfounded me. But Donna was writing a book—she's still writing it—and I looked at how she was doing it, one scene at a time. That seemed manageable. So I started writing, one scene at a time, and found it very easy; it went very quickly. I wrote a third of it in a week." (June 2003)
Author Denise Chavez founded the Border Book Festival in Las Cruces and Mesilla:
"Words are for everybody. What people don't realize is that you shouldn't be afraid of books, of words. People are killed for words. Look at what's happened in the history of the world. Garcia Lorca was assassinated for his words. Mandela was imprisoned for his words. Why are we afraid of words? We're afraid of feelings, of emotions: 'I don't want to think about that, it's too painful.'
"Don't be afraid of literature! It heals us! It opens us up! It makes us realize that intrinsically we are all the same. It's hard to get people to realize that art saves lives. It certainly saved mine." (March 2004)
Cultures in Conflict
Before 9/11 and the Iraq war spotlighted tensions between Islam and the West, we interviewed Ahmed Alblali and Fahmi Banafa of Las Cruces' then-new mosque, Masjid Al-Huda:
Another little-understood Islamic concept from a Western perspective is that of jihad. Can you tell us the meaning of jihad?
Alblali: "Jihad means 'to struggle.' The prophet Muhammad used this action, jihad, to protect the Islamic countries from their enemies; whenever the enemy attacked, he used to call for jihad. They [western media] claim it means killing innocents or killing for no reason. If you read the Quran, or the Sunna, you will never be able to find a single verse that supports the killing of innocent people. There are many verses that forbid Muslims during war, during jihad, from killing noncombatants, killing animals, or crops, and cutting down trees. . . . We have to examine our sources. Many times we're taking information from enemies of Islam, sometimes governments, sometimes media." (December 1998)
A former Navy chaplain, Michael LaVelle spent seven months in Saudi Arabia with the Marines during Desert Storm. He came to WNMU as the campus minister with United Campus Ministry in 1998:
"When you look at the Old Testament, the Jewish scriptures, you see that the beginning concepts of God were of a tribal warrior deity who lives on Mount Sinai. In the Old Testament, readers were told that this God was their God, mightier than other Gods. I think that this really touches on the idea of civil religion. Civil religion means that we are turning the creator of the universe into an American tribal deity, something I have great discomfort with. It excludes the good Muslims, the good Buddhists, the good secular humanists, and others who, while not Christians, are certainly good and loyal Americans. I have seen that kind of development of Christian tribalism, and it concerns me. If we are going to think God is on our side, and that makes our might right, we have to realize that our opponents think exactly the same thing. It's obvious that these [9/11] terrorists gave their lives in a way that was, in a way, quite heroic from their point of view, so that they could attain paradise. So they, certainly, are embracing a form of civil religion." (October 2001)
We asked TSgt. Albert Maxwell, a US Air Force recruiter in Las Cruces, if he knew of any of the men or women he'd recruited being killed in action:
"It has not happened yet, and I have not really thought about it, so I have not had to deal with it yet. I have stayed in touch with about half of the people that I have recruited, so I know it would be rough to deal with, and I would do a lot of praying." (November 2004)
Phil Brown is a Grant County musician and producer:
"Artists have gotten wise and now choose producers to collaborate with who can bring a fresh vision to their music. When it works, it's magic. When it doesn't it's chocolate sausage." (May 2001)
Ana Egge spent much of her life after the age of 10 in Grant County. In 1995 she moved to Austin, Texas, to pursue her music career:
"The space between the melody can mean as much as the words, or the melody itself. I've kind of evolved into just letting the melody go on without words, sometimes, humming or making noises. Keeping myself amused, I guess." (September 2001)
Bayou Seco—Ken Keppeler and his wife Jeanie McLerie—have been sharing their unique blend of "chilegumbo" music for more than 20 years:
"We play what we think is important," Ken explains, tugging on the gray, sternum-length beard that makes him look a bit like a refugee from ZZ Top, "not what people want to hear. But we make them want to hear it. It's music that's not filtered through an industry, that's really important. We try to give people a sense of the breadth of cultural complexity of the United States, of the world." . . .
"You're not a star if you play Cajun music," Jeanie adds. "If you've got that ability, it's your place in the community to do that for people. There's not even a spotlight on the stage in the dance halls. I love that." (April 2003)
Musician Ed Teja reminisced about living on a boat off the coast of Venezuela:
"People look for certainty, but there are a lot of lessons in uncertainty. Living on a boat, you learn that feelings are often more important to your survival than your thoughts. When things go wrong, they go wrong very quickly. If you stop and analyze things, you'll probably be dead. We had the good fortune to make some mistakes that we lived to learn from." (December 2003)
We talked to Melanie Zipin as her second CD, "Shades of Blue," was about to be released:
"You can't gear what you do for the public. You have to create your songs and then hope people like it. The songs are like your children and you're sending them out into the world, saying, 'Please be nice to them.'" (March 2004)
All the World's a Stage
Ceil Herman and her husband Peter founded the No Strings Theatre Company, which performs at the Black Box Theater in Las Cruces. She serves as artistic director:
"It is imperative that the director knows answers for the many questions that might arise, particularly in terms of character development, language, plot and thematic issues. This way I can better work with my actors as they make their own discoveries about the play. . . . In the end, it's a judgment call on all decisions, and I rely on my instinct as well as my experience to assemble all the pieces of the puzzle that ultimately come together and become the play." (July 2000)
We asked playwright, screenwriter and NMSU teacher Mark Medoff what medium he prefers to write for:
"I enjoy theatre the most, because of the camaraderie of the crew. There is a familial type energy in theatre, and it is much more intimate than film making ever is." (July 2003)
Playwright Tom Smith (whose Aunt Raini premieres this month at the Black Box Theater), told us:
"Las Cruces is a great place to write. There is not much to do here, so there is not much distraction. I need some isolated time, since I cannot force myself to write on a daily basis. There are a number of other good writers here for the same reason, I think. . . .
"I want to pose questions to the audience, and give them something that they have to think about. I want them to discuss the work at a coffee shop after they see it. I like theater to show a world the audience can't see in real life." (December 2004)
Richard Greenwell, president of the Tucson-based International Society of Cryptozoology, talked about "Bigfoot"
"There have been about 1,500 good Sasquatch reports, most of them going back 40 years—eyewitness reports with names of people and what they were doing, in great detail. There is a consistency in the reports that gets to be tedious, boring, always reporting the same thing. The lack of variation in the physical descriptions lends credibility to the sightings. The picture that emerges is of a large, muscular primate standing about seven to eight feet tall, and weighing between 600 and 900 pounds. Although it walks bipedally, as humans do, it is almost certainly an ape. There's also the Patterson film, there are tracks . . . do you want to see track casts? These are from Gray's Harbor County, in Washington State, and they were found by the sheriff's department. They've been analyzed, and the conclusion is that they are real. There are some fake tracks, but these aren't fake. There are certain anatomical features that are so obscure that you'd need to be an anatomist to understand them. The foot length averages 15 or 16 inches." (August 1998)
David B. Richman, a science specialist at NMSU and curator of its Arthropod Museum, wrote about scorpions:
"Scorpions are fascinating creatures. They produce live young that climb on the back of the female and ride until they molt. They have a unique anatomy that has not changed much since the Carboniferous. They perform odd mating rituals, they glow under UV light, and they have unusual sense organs, called pectines, whose function is still not clearly understood. They include some deadly species, as well as ones that can hardly sting, and vary from the fat and chunky Pandinus to the very slender Syntropis, with a tail as thin as a pencil lead. They live from deserts to tropical forest and one species is even found in southern Canada. Such creatures are worth some attention, even though most of us may find them ugly. If survival is any indication, ugliness may have its compensations." (June 2001)
We considered the pet overpopulation crisis, and efforts by the Spay and Neuter Action Program to counter it:
But to understand the problem, you have to put out of your mind all the cheery images from pet-food commercials and those scenes from 'Lassie.' No, you have to think of the nation's pet population like a giant meat grinder. The inexorable pressure from behind of newly born pets pushes the pets at the grinder end to their deaths. . . .
"The animals euthanized at shelters are the lucky ones," says Lynn Janes. "They represent just a small amount of the problem. Other animals are dumped, drowned, shot, put in a plastic bag by the side of the road. It happens all the time. It's not just what happens at the Humane Society—that's a tiny piece of the pie. People don't realize the number of animals that are just dumped, or the puppies that are given to some kid to maul." (August 2003)
Controversial wolf-hybrid rescuer and activist Deirdre Wolf told us:
"I'm not going to change. I've lived by the tenet—it was Joan Baez' husband who said it—that if you see something wrong and don't do something about it, you're worse than those who are doing the wrong because you know it's wrong." (January 2005)
Barbara Barron, who was married to a cockfighter for 42 years, described what happens to birds who survive a fight in a "drag" pit, where exhausted or injured birds are paired to fight until one or the other just can no longer fight:
"They hold the bird by the feet, put its head on the ground, and pull the head off by stepping on it." This, of course, is achieved by tugging on the bird's legs while stepping on its head. "The cockfighters don't want someone else to pick up a bird that is still living in case it could be used as a future breeder." (March 2005)
Las Cruces falconer Peter Jungemann marveled:
"You could spend your whole life doing this, and never have a dull moment. The birds are not machines. Each species and each bird are different. Hawks tend to be catlike, while falcons and soaring hawks are more doglike.
"If prey gets within 5-10 feet of a goshawk, it is gone, even if it is sitting on your hand. A red-tail will watch the quarry, and make a plan—get out its slide rule." Jungemann laughs. "It has to do things a different way." (April 2005)
Our coverage of the controversy over trapping on public lands contrasted the views of Sierra Club activist Margot Wilson and trapper Jeff Lehmer:
"If you did to a cat or a dog what trappers do to an animal in the wild," says Wilson, "it would be a fourth-degree felony."
"What about cars?" says Lehmer. "They hit animals and make them suffer and die. Are you going to ban cars?" (September 2004)
Wildlife rehabilitator Dennis Miller, founder of Gila Wildlife Rescue in Silver City, explained why his work minimizes human contact with injured animals:
"We don't run a zoo. A lot of people want to come see the animals. But then pretty soon all these animals wouldn't be wild any more. They'd be used to humans and think all humans are nice, which is not true." (August 2005)
Writer Jeff Berg tagged along with Border Patrol agents, including one he dubbed "Harry":
At mile marker 102, we turn south from the highway and continue for a short distance down a sandy track. Soon, we come across two vehicles—a large pick-up and a four-door sedan, parked just off the track near a fence.
Harry explains that these two vehicles, which now have four flat tires each, and another that was whisked back across the border by a tow truck, were placed there to be used to smuggle something or someone, or both. Often, groups of border crossers will pitch in to purchase a vehicle to use once they make it over the line. These vehicles were discovered before they were used, and since they now sit on county land, Harry says, the county is responsible for getting rid of them. Both have Arizona tags, and the truck has all of its seats taken out, except for the driver’s seat. Harry thinks that this vehicle probably would have been used for drugs, since the seats are gone. He also tells me that fake Fed-Ex trucks are often used for smuggling, and we both remember a recent incident when smugglers painted a vehicle to look like a government vehicle. They had trouble with spelling, however, substituting "immunization" for "immigration."
We leave the vehicles behind and head back for the highway. The only living creatures we have encountered are mice and rabbits.
Harry tells me how more seasoned agents wear Ray-Ban sunglasses. New agents think that tri-color Oakley sunglasses are the best. "Things are changing," he says with a laugh. (September 2003)
Manuel and Martha Acosta of Palomas, members of the Independent State Network of Human Rights, talked to us about the Minutemen:
"They're distorting reality," says Manuel emphatically. "They think that Mexicans arrive to take away what is theirs, but they're mistaken. They're going in order to work. If someone goes to stay with a cousin or an uncle in Deming or wherever and doesn't work, he won't stay there long." (August 2005)
Our investigation of immigration issues included an interview with Minutemen founder Chris Simcox:
"We do not patrol the border. We sit and watch. We do not detain or stop. We are extra eyes out there, only to support and contact the Border Patrol. The Minuteman SOP keeps everyone safe." (October 2005)
Life in the Southwest
When the state threatened to close the Butterfield Rest Stop on Hwy. 180 between Deming and Silver City because it wasn't busy enough, we paid a visit in search of the "rest" promised by "rest stop":
9:50 a.m.: We abandon our shady picnic table long enough to check out the guest register set outside the restrooms. Though it's barely mid-morning, three visitors have not only used the facilities today but been so moved by the experience that they felt compelled to sign in. The registrants—from Columbus, California and Albuquerque—left pithy comments: "clean" and "beautiful, clean." . . .
10:10 a.m.: We've had enough. We've been here half an hour and haven't had a moment's peace. In, out, in, out—the people here are worse than a little kid with an unlatched screen door! If this is what Mr. Dominguez of the highway department calls a low-traffic rest area, we'd hate to see a busy one. (We shudder to think where all these people would find to go to the bathroom between Silver City and Deming if not for Butterfield Station, but we're pretty sure it would be neither clean nor beautiful.) (May 2003)
In a piece singled out as one of the year's notable essays by The Best American Essays, we toured the area's tourist traps, such as Bowlin's Running Indian Old West Trading Post on I-10, founded in 1952:
The Black Cat fireworks poster in the side window, by the entry, looks as though it could have been here since 1952. Inside, however, everything's up to date, jam-packed with the latest geegaws and gimcrackery—as if an Old West Wal-Mart somehow mated with the QVC cable-shopping channel and abandoned their offspring out here on the desert. Look up! The ceiling is a riot of wind chimes, which here and there collide with hanging "Handpainted Indian pottery." Look over there! Route 66 earrings, mounted cattle horns, black bomber jackets perfect for a New Mexico summer day, New Mexico coffee mugs with your name right there on the cup. Automobile getting a tad gamey? Here's some "cowboy incense" to freshen it right up. ("Tex, kin ya pass me some more bullets for muh six-gun—oh, and some of that there cowboy incense, please.")
If it's ceramic and not on the shelves here, you don't need it anyway. Rearrange the luggage in your trunk and make room for a ceramic roadrunner, sleeping cat, Indian, eagle. . . or how about a scene of the entire Last Supper, complete with ceramic bread and wine? (August 2003)
In another piece recognized as one of the year's notable essays by the editors of the national anthology, we meditated on New Mexico's holiday luminaria tradition:
The challenge of modern life—much as it was for the ancients who feared the sun just might not come back this year—is finding hope and holiness in a tiny speck of light, as faint as a prayer, hardly visible amid the gathering gloom. How can the lamp keep burning when there's so little oil left? Won't the winter wind snuff out the small candle in its makeshift paper lantern? We stand like those scouts on the mountaintop, eyes straining through the overwhelming night to spy any sign of the sun. The people that walk in darkness must make do with the glow of a luminaria, the flicker of a farolito. (December 2004)
Back issues of Desert Exposure from April 2003 to the present are available by sending $4 each to PO Box 191, Silver City, NM 88062. Contents of issues from January 2005 to the present are online at www.desertexposure.com.
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