Home for the Holidays
Instead of licking 27,000 postage stamps. . .
The gate in the photo-illustration on our cover this month is the actual gate in our backyard, through which we invite all of you to come join us in celebrating this holiday season and the completion of another year. (The invitation is metaphorical, of course — sorry, our house just isn't big enough for 27,000-plus guests, even if you come in shifts.) As always, our December cover image doubles as our holiday greeting card; if you don't get a card — again, sorry, we don't have addresses for all 27,000 of you — please consider this entire issue as our seasonal gift to you.
As we close the files on each year, we're reminded how much Desert Exposure's success depends on you, our readers and advertisers. Your enthusiastic response to each issue keeps us going. Every time a vacationing reader sends in a "Postcard from the Edge" for our Desert Diary pages, showing themselves in some farflung destination holding a copy of "the biggest little paper in the Southwest," we can't help but smile at this evidence of the bond between Desert Exposure and its audience. (We've now received photos from every continent — including Antarctica and Australia — except South America.) Whenever an advertiser reports the terrific response they've gotten from their ad in our pages, it reminds us anew that, yes, people out there really read and react to what we publish every month. Even when we screw up, it's proof positive, however wincing, that people truly do pore over Desert Exposure: To date, we've had two phone calls and two letters pointing out our error last month in describing a "1957 Chevrolet Silverhawk" that should have been identified instead as a Studebaker.
This will be our fifth Christmas in New Mexico, and we continue to be filled with wonder and joy at being here. It's not only the blue skies and comparatively balmy weather — 70 degrees as I sit typing this in mid-November — although it's true that we can't help comparing southwest New Mexico's seasons with those in our native South Dakota. (No, we don't miss the white Christmases there, any more than we miss the six-foot snow drifts or the weeks of subzero temperatures.) It's not even the omnipresent chile peppers, which we celebrate in this issue with a feature on the almost-overlooked centennial of the research that led to the New Mexico chile pepper (see "The Red-or-Greening of New Mexico"). Rather, a big part of the joy of living here, I confess, is simply the way our readers and advertisers have taken us into their hearts and made us feel at home.
The holidays, after all, are all about home and family. I can't think of anyplace we'd rather be than right here, in sunny southwest New Mexico, sharing the season with our extended family of Desert Exposure readers and advertisers. We hope this issue helps you feel a little bit the same way, as we deck our pages with everything from chile peppers to tales of the generosity and good hearts of the folks around us (see especially this issue's stories by Jeff Berg on Project Linus and the El Caldito soup kitchen).
We hope, too, that you'll continue to deem Desert Exposure worthy of your time and support in 2008. One of our New Year's resolutions will be to endeavor to make Desert Exposure even better in the year ahead.
So c'mon in! Make yourself at home in this month's issue. But please, remember to wipe your feet — that looks an awful lot like snow on this month's cover.
Making It on the Ranch
A new series celebrates ranching women.
Last month's crush of political news didn't leave enough space in this column to properly introduce a new series of articles, "Voice of a Ranch Woman," that debuted in our November issue. This month's second installment offers an opportunity to redress that omission.
With this series, we're delighted to welcome back to the pages of Desert Exposure author Victoria Tester, who most recently contributed a riveting account of a New Mexico National Guardsman's experiences in Louisiana cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina (November 2005). In that story, she recorded and edited the first-person account of SFC Jim Lee of Santa Rita. Tester is also a highly acclaimed author on her own; her book Miracles of Sainted Earth (University of New Mexico Press) won the nationally recognized Willa Cather Literary Award.
Now, in "Voice of a Ranch Woman," Tester is again collaborating with a local who has a compelling story to tell. These first-person reminiscences are excerpted from recordings of Linda Nielson McDonald at her home on the McDonald Ranch, established in 1903 — one of the five oldest continuously working ranches in Grant County. Linda McDonald, born in Moab, Utah, in 1942, is the wife of Jerry McDonald, who's the son of Jonnie McDonald and Evelyn McCauley. As she colorfully elaborated in last month's inaugural installment, "Becoming a Legend," Linda McDonald came into a ranching heritage whose hazards ranged from rogue Indians to rattlesnakes. Her Nielson grandparents were ranchers long before she was born, and her "Grandma Dee" modeled what a ranch woman could — and had to — be.
After a friend on the rodeo team suggested to Jerry McDonald, "I think that freckle-faced old hide would make a pretty good wife" — meaning his future bride, Linda — she began to learn, too, from "Granny McDonald," her mother-in-law. The family's favorite saying came from Granny McDonald, who sometimes told her grandkids, "You'll never make it on a ranch!" Linda McDonald, however, did "make it" on a ranch, where she and her husband continue to earn a living in one of the hardest occupations in America.
Her recording collaboration with Tester marks the beginning of a project by the two women to record and publish a book of oral histories of ranch women in southern New Mexico. It's a cliche — and these days, probably sounds inadvertently sexist — but it's nonetheless true to say that behind every successful male rancher stands a great ranch woman. We're happy to be able to share some of the untold stories of this remarkable ranch woman with Desert Exposure readers, thanks to the artful arranging of Victoria Tester.
"Voice of a Ranch Woman" will touch on one of our favorite topics in these pages — the history of our region — as seen and experienced by "ordinary" folks (who are actually quite extraordinary). By telling stories of ranch life, too, the series gives us an opportunity to represent a segment of the community whose stories too often go unreported. Most important, like all good stories, the articles in "Voice of a Ranch Woman" are deeply human; even if you've never sat astride a horse or slain a rattler with a mixing hoe, you can identify with this fascinating chapter of the human adventure.
We know you'll enjoy this month's story, and those in the months ahead.
Is it too late for Democrats to consider Bill Richardson — and other "second-tier" candidates — for president?
After delivering the November issue and taking a well-deserved soak in the hot tub, we settled in to watch the seventh Democratic presidential debate. By about 20 minutes into Brian Williams' and Tim Russert's questioning, however, we were beginning to wonder if — like former Sen. Mike Gravel — Gov. Bill Richardson had been arbitrarily axed from the stage. And where were Sen. Joe Biden and Rep. Dennis Kucinich? At least Sen. Chris Dodd managed to get a word in edgewise as the moderators focused relentlessly on the alleged "top tier" candidates — Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards. Otherwise, anyone interested in hearing from candidates beyond the media-appointed frontrunners was left to squint at the corners of the TV screen, trying to glimpse whether the other candidates were even present.
After enduring the Big Three's fratricidal bickering for 20 minutes or so, we were even more eager to hear from the rest of the field. Admittedly, Clinton gave as good as she got; her steely, competent performances in these debates have helped secure her position as the frontrunner. But the attacks from her rivals did leave us wondering: Is Clinton — who voted for the Iraq war resolution — different enough from the Bush administration in her plan to end the war, when she envisions "continuing combat operations" after taking office? (Richardson remains the only Democratic candidate committed to a complete and expeditious pullout, as is Rep. Ron Paul on the GOP side.) And her recent vote on policy toward Iran — which Richardson aptly described as "saber rattling" — appears right out of Dick Cheney's interventionist playbook. It's true, too, that Clinton can't seem to give a straight answer: Does she or doesn't she agree with New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's plan to give drivers licenses to illegal immigrants? (And why did no one ask Richardson — who actually has experience in dealing with illegal immigration — about this issue?)
We confess, too, that Obama simply put us to sleep. The rousing oratory he so memorably delivered at the Democratic national convention must have been performed by a stand-in or body double. And we quickly had enough of Edwards' smug, choirboy self-righteousness, the holier-than-thou-ness of a born-again populist convert who's seen the light on lobbyists and campaign contributions (except those from hedge funds).
So when Williams and Russert finally remembered the rest of the candidates, including our governor, we paid close attention. And, by debate's end, we couldn't help wishing that the "top tier" and the "second tier" could be flip-flopped.
Now, a month and an eighth debate later and 30 days closer to the pell-mell primary and caucus calendar's advanced start, that impression lingers — and is all the more urgent. As we've observed before in this space, if the Democratic contenders were vetted as job applicants, Richardson would be near the top of the stack — a point he's made humorously in his campaign commercials. But it's not just Richardson's lengthy resume that gives us pause: The fact is, the "top tier" all rank below the hastily dismissed "second tier" when it comes to preparation for the toughest job on the planet. If we've learned anything from the fiasco of the Bush administration, it should be the advisability of having a president who knows what he's doing from day one.
Both Dodd and Biden have long track records in the Senate, a body in which they're known as among the smartest members. Like Richardson, their answers in the debate — when they got a chance — were sharp, specific and well-informed. (Biden was particularly good in pointing out the irony of ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani — a candidate totally bereft of foreign-policy experience, who's now given his ear to the deluded neocons who got us into Iraq — criticizing Clinton for lack of experience. As Biden pointed out, Giuliani's entire speaking repertoire consists of "noun-verb-9/11.") Kucinich, who's been a mayor as well as a congressman, likewise has a better resume than the top three — and gives straighter answers.
When Obama repeatedly has to make reference to his accomplishments in the Illinois state legislature, shouldn't we be taking another look at Richardson (governor, congressman, UN ambassador, cabinet secretary) and these other "also-rans"? (Although it must give folks like state Rep. Dianne Hamilton a warm feeling to know she's only a partly completed US Senate term away from being qualified for the presidency.)
The 2008 election represents a critical juncture for America, mired in military misadventure abroad and mortgaging its future at home. Before we let the media, pollsters and the voters of unrepresentative Iowa and New Hampshire rush to judgment about our choices next November, shouldn't Americans take a second look at that "second tier"?
David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure.