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2012 Writing Contest Winners

Adventure at the Silver Bell Mine
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Where life sometimes moves into the subjunctive mode

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This year's best poem


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Readers Turned Writers

Winners of our 10th annual writing contest.


The annual Desert Exposure writing contest was already a fixture of the publication when we acquired it, almost 10 years ago — a tradition that we happily continued. We moved the contest around the calendar a bit in our early years here, but we're still pretty sure this marks the 10th annual writing competition on our watch.

Over that span, we've published many memorable pieces of prose and poetry, several of which stick in my head like favorite songs whenever I think of the writing contest. I remember reading about the dog named Sandulik (featured in two winning entries over the years) the poem about the deer hit by a car, about Hank the ranch hand, the alligator on the loose in downtown Silver City, the man who held his wake while he was still alive to enjoy it, teen pranks at Madam Millie's house of ill repute, and the challenge of finding "Adobe Brown" stucco color. You probably have your own favorites over the years. Not all the ones I remember best necessarily took our grand prize, but in our view all the finalists are winners. (You can catch up with those from 2005 on at our website, www.desertexposure.com/backissues.php; click on the September issues of each year to start enjoying the contest winners.)

Although wildly different in tone and even whether fact or fiction, all those contest winners have in common the challenge we've posed every year: Write something that captures some aspect of the character of the area in which we live. So we've had meditations on monsoons, history lessons ranging from Bronco Bill to Apaches, border crossers both human and donkey, epiphanies at the Butterfield rest stop and under the New Mexico moonlight.

This year's winners likewise achieve remarkable diversity within this Southwestern theme. As usual, while addressing our core challenge, they range across prose and poetry, short story and essay, authored by reader-writers from all over our coverage area — two from Deming, two from Silver City, one from Las Cruces. Only one this year is a return winner.

That author, however, is also our Grand Prize Winner — Laura Leveque of Deming, who also earned our top honor back in 2006 ("The Christmas Donkey"). Her "Adventure at the Silver Bell Mine," this year's winning entry, mixes the supernatural with wry humor, enlivened throughout with Leveque's first-hand knowledge of the contemporary hardscrabble mining world.

Also in this issue you will find "Notes on Being a Newcomer" by Sara Boyett and the year's best poetry entry, "Adobe Tears" by Karen Ray. Next issue you can look forward to our other pair of finalists, "The Tunnel of Love" by Mary Ann O'Donnell and "It Came from the Agave!" by Tara Straubinger.

All, we're confident you'll agree, are worthy additions to our Desert Exposure writing contest roster of winners — a sort of all-star anthology of the region's best writing over the past decade. We congratulate the winners, but the truth is the real winners once again this year are Desert Exposure's readers. Enjoy!

 

 

Boomless Town

Still worried Silver City will turn into Santa Fe or Taos? Don't be.

 

Ever since we moved to Silver City, nearly a decade ago now, we've heard the hand-wringing from fellow transplants about how "we don't want it to become like Santa Fe." We can't recall ever hearing this concern from someone who was born here, perhaps because those folks have been around long enough to see the town's "Santa Fe"-style boomlets come and go.

Rather to our surprise, though, we heard this refrain again in the vigorous, thoughtful response to our June editorial on Silver City's downtown parking challenges. Perhaps, the thinking seemed to be, if we make it hard enough for out-of-towners to park, they'll go to Santa Fe or Taos instead, where the parking and traffic are already a mess.

As small-business owners ourselves, we like to think we have a more business-friendly attitude — though, to be fair, this "not like Santa Fe!" shudder has been known to pass through downtown merchants as well. Of course, we don't want to see Silver City ruined by sprawl, traffic or skyrocketing housing prices that make it impossible for longtime locals to stay here, either. But when we look at the lingering empty storefronts or listen to the legitimate complaints of local businesses strapped by the recession, it's hard not to wish for just a little teensy bit of Santa Fe-ness.

 

We were struck by this again this summer, when we were in Boulder, Colo., for our daughter's wedding. (See last month's Continental Divide column for the full, shamelessly proud-papa report.) Taking a stroll after the rehearsal dinner about 9:30 in the evening, we couldn't believe how alive the downtown was: sidewalk restaurant tables still full, live music, jugglers, happy walkers and window shoppers (since most shops had just closed). Admittedly, if we lived in downtown Boulder, we'd be the first ones hollering for people to shut the heck up. But we're self-confessed stick-in-the-muds and early-to-bedders, so you can't judge by us.

Admittedly, too, Silver City is hardly Boulder, which has almost 100,000 people. But it was easy to think of Boulder, nestled in the mountains, as Silver City writ large — a university, open-minded residents, interest in the arts, good restaurants and the outdoors….

Comparisons to Santa Fe, with nearly 70,000 people plus surrounding suburbs, are no less strained — and Silver City doesn't have the state capital. Both Boulder and Santa Fe benefit, too, from proximity to larger cities (Denver and Albuquerque, respectively) that can feed them daytrip visitors and provide major airports.

A more realistic comparison — or fear, if you prefer — is Silver City and Taos. Silver City actually has almost twice Taos' 5,700 population, and both are relatively remote: Taos is about a two and a half-hour drive from the Albuquerque airport, while Silver City is three hours from flying out of either Tucson or El Paso. It actually takes longer to reach an Interstate highway from Taos than from Silver City. Neither town can really be considered "on the way" to anything except national forests and the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Because of the artists and authors who "discovered" Taos in the first half of the 20th century, however, that small, remote northern New Mexico town remains a destination for tourists, artists and art lovers. More recent local promotional efforts have also boosted Taos' profile as an outdoor destination.

 

Whether you worry about Silver City becoming "another Santa Fe" or, more realistically, "another Taos," there's good news: It ain't happening. Stop worrying. Maybe you should worry instead about faltering local businesses and a flat real-estate market.

The best way to show that Silver City is nowhere on the way to becoming one of these places, in terms of tourist appeal, is to look at lodgers' tax receipts. In FY2011, representing the last half of 2010 and first half of 2011, Santa Fe took in $64.86 in lodgers tax revenue ($4.4 million) for every resident. Much-smaller Taos more than doubled that per capita figure, a whopping $162.12, with $926,695 in total receipts. By comparison, Silver City took in barely over a quarter of the total of little Taos, $245,570, for a per capita rate of $23.81. That total falls well behind neighboring (but on I-10) Deming, which garnered $379,071 (a similar, however, $24.53 per resident).

Looking at Silver City's lodgers' tax totals over time further shows how unfounded the "another Santa Fe" fears are. The town did see some upward momentum in the early 2000s, as the "best small towns" and "best small art towns" accolades began to accumulate, going from $147,089 in FY2000 to $208,908 by FY2005. That momentum peaked at $265,399 in FY2008, when the recession started a downward trend that (we hope) bottomed it out back at $211,978 in FY2010. That's right: Five years of growth, not even adjusted for inflation, were wiped out, and we're still not back to 2008's peak.

If you're afraid of growth, this is perhaps good news. If you run a small business dependent even in part on visitors, or you survive mostly on tips at a local eatery, not so much.

Nor is there much evidence people are being priced out of the Silver City housing market. (We tend to think of this as the "Aspen syndrome," where those with service jobs in the town can't afford to live in Aspen, Colo., itself.) The average home-sale price here in 2009 was $136,291, compared to $379,499 in Taos. This June, the average listing price in Silver City was $247,031, versus $438,546 in Taos.

We continue to think that a little bit of Santa Fe or Taos would be a boon to Silver City, and applaud recent efforts such as the Silver City Arts and Culture District's latest marketing campaign ("Find Yourself in Silver City"). We'd like to see an active effort to recruit more art galleries, because of the critical-mass effect that would benefit those already here. (Visit tiny Tubac, Ariz., to see what we mean.) We'd like to see somebody spearhead a plan to leverage the success of the annual Tour of the Gila into a wider appeal to those who love the great outdoors. At the risk of being finger-wagged for "promoting gun violence," we still think there's more to be wrung out of Grant County's Old West, Geronimo and Billy the Kid heritage.

As summer temperatures continued to soar, we couldn't help imagining a campaign to remind folks sweltering in Tucson or Phoenix that it's about 15 degrees cooler just a little ways over the New Mexico border. (Whom would we have to bribe to get Silver City included in the Tucson TV weather reports and on the weather page of the Arizona Daily Star?)

But if you'd just as soon the town's growth stall, if a few empty storefronts and going-out-of-business sales are a price you're willing to pay to avoid becoming "another Santa Fe," not to worry. Silver City shows none of the deadly warning signs of Santa Fe-ization, and we understand that's just fine with some folks.

 

 


David A. Fryxell is editor of Desert Exposure.




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