Saturday, November 19, 2011

Beauty and Renewal

The beauty of life is in renewal.

As those who have followed this blog know it was set out and intended as a depiction of living and travels in a VW bus. Key to that adventure was Bus Companion. Fate cut her down last June.

The summer months were spent in healing, much of it in the town of Truth or Consequences, NM

Now that healing is well along. Life goes on. In 10 short days a new wonderful person will be flying out and joining me. We will renew travels in the bus, blogging about those travels, and eventually begin an eastward journey.

I have learned much in the months that have passed, about the beauty and the transitory nature of life and about the power of love. If life is a journey, as I believe it is, love is the fuel that powers that journey. Without it we are lost and fail to connect to the great world around us. It is only when we love that we are truly free.

This is my reason for being so long between posts—gearing up and  getting ready for the next stage and the next adventure in this brief thing called life.

Notes in passing.

A very fine gentleman, Walt Rogers (no relation) passed this way last weekend staying over in TorC for six days while on his way to the warmer clime of Quartzite, Arizona.

He took part in our weekly Thursday ritual here, Occupy TorC. Our ranks have grown from 17 the first week to more than 25 this past week.

It is a disparate and sometimes motley crew with homemade signs and big waves for the passing motorists who often as not wave back and honk their horns in show of support for something that they sense is an expression of something gone wrong in this great land that they know needs fixing.

Occupy TorC
What? I think that is the strength and the beauty of the OWS movement. It doesn't pretend to know or make demands but to raise questions and lift consciousness so that as more and more people get involved, more and more opinions are expressed little by little we will begin winnowing the wheat of clear thinking from the chaff of confusion.

Renewal is not only about life and love. It is about where we go as a people in this land and on this planet.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Getting Caught in the TorC Vortex

The stories are legend. And none is the same. No one quite knows how it happens — maybe the car breaks down, or someone stops for the night. A friend calls, or they visit a spa, but somehow a person can set one foot in Truth or Consequences, and then the other. And then despite the best of intentions never leave. Or maybe they do leave but they seem always to come back.

It's called getting Sucked Into The TorC Vortex. Perhaps it's the mysterious the stone turtle on top of the mountain, perhaps it's that for thousands of years this has been a sacred and holy Indian meeting ground.  Or maybe it's the underwater hot water springs — 110 degrees of wetness just below the surface.

Or maybe it's because everybody here — well almost everybody — is just a little nuts.

Nobody knows why but people come and they stay and they can't get away even when they try.

We were sitting in the Black Cat Bookstore and Cafe just a week ago when Tess came in. Tess recently moved from Hawaii to Santa Fe and then from Santa Fe to here where she and her husband are building a health spa and retreat that will tap into the hot mineral water below.

"There is something really special about this place," she says while doing her morning yoga and gymnastics routines inside the bookstore. "Not like anyplace else. Even the moon looks different here."

Tess moved from Maui where she had a successful career in television, and in health and fitness. "I did all I could do there," she says, explaining that 40 she decided to come to the mainland.

When she speaks she still has that on look of awe and wonder about her for her new town and her dream of building a one-of-a-kind retreat.

Be careful Tess. You could be in danger of getting caught in the TorC Vortex from which there is no escape.

Tor C — Nothing To Do and All Day To Do It.

It is fall in New Mexico. It came quickly. One day it was 75 degrees, the next  50. The leaves are starting to turn and quickly blow away in stiff winds that sweep down from the mountains.

It is more established in the northern part of the state where the aspens yellow and quicken among dark pines. A friend from Santa Fe went up into the forests north of the city and sent back these remarkable images of fall in the northern part of the Land of Enchantment. Photos by Jude Byrne. Click to expand.

Click to expand.
Finally down south it was the season finale for this year's  Farmers' Market. The Turtleback Trio played. A chill wind blew off the Rio Grande. Few shoppers came and the vendors unloaded their goods at half price.

It's been a poor year for most vegetables, especially tomatoes. No one knows why. They grew late and small, some scarcely larger that golf balls. Same with apples and pears. Maybe the drought. And some pecan crops without irrgation failed entirely.

But the gourds and melons and pumpkins were fine — just in time for Hallowe'en.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Music In The Air

I apologize  that there are no photos in this post. I did not have a camera with me this morning. I may go back later and get some art, but I wanted to post this while all was  fresh.

I walk down Broadway and the morning sun is bright, the air crisp and cool. Broadway is the main drag through Truth or Consequences. I pass by the Red Bone, a store that has been closed for months, and I hear music—the cheerful wail of an early morning trumpet. I know the source.

Though the Red Bone has been closed, the store is not empty. Inside, several folks who need places to live have set up housekeeping, with the owner's permission, dividing the back of the store into sleeping areas and fashioning a kitchen. The front of the store, visible from the outside, looks like furniture store with chairs and tables and couches.

One of those staying there is Garland, former trumpeter in the Marine Corps Band and horn man for many groups in the 1960s, '70s and '80s when brass was big in rock.  He is older and grayer now with a huge  mane of hair and a white Santa Claus beard that makes him look like what an aging Jerry Garcia might have looked like had he lived as long. I don't have to go around to the back to go in to know the sound spilling out under the door and onto the sidewalk is coming from a man sitting in a chair, eyes closes, fingering the worn brass valve stops, lost in thought and  music. I go on

Ten minutes later I am walking back down Broadway on the opposite side of the street. Again I hear music. But this time it is coming from an open door a few yards in front of me. I approach and peek inside. I see Ruth, the owner/artist doing a dance around the bright Jackson Pollack style paintings she is working on spread out on the cement floor. Paint and high spirits are splattered everywhere, including a pooling puddle of school bus orange beside a half done canvas.

And  Ruth, in the middle of it all, dancing, eyes bright, looking at her paintings. The music finishes just as I enter. She stops with a grin and a bow, beaming.

I hadn't been in her gallery in a week or so but I notice a change. The price tags she had been putting up beside her works on the walls have all been taken down. I mention it.

"You know, I had to. Once I start thinking in dollars and cents something goes out of me. I have to paint for pure joy and expression."

We hug. There isn't much more to say.

There is music in the air.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Open Road and the Open Sea — Junkyard Art

It's warm again, and the evening sun is bathing Truth or Consequences in a peaceful glow. I picked up my bus from Tunie, the mechanic, on Tuesday. It seems to be running fine. Now it, too, is sitting bathed in evening sun with a faraway look in its headlights that seems to say—Hey, I'm all well again. Can we go someplace? I nod in agreement.

Meanwhile I'm waiting to hear from SwankieWheels, who may be passing through TorC on her way to Arizona in the next day or so. Or maybe not. It is after all the migratory season.

Since mankind began farming and we tied ourselves to the soil, we've given up for the most part our migratory ways. But there was a time—and it's rooted deep in our souls—and maybe that's why it feels so right especially at this time of year to take our few possession and set off to go somewhere. The stars are out, the moon is high. Let's go 100, no make that 200 miles. Tires hum, wind blows. And for a tire-humming, wind-blowing moment we  are immortal. Maybe we are. The road rolls out behind us like a past life and stretches forward toward a new existence.

Tunie's art. Click to enlarge.
The  old cars in front of Tunie's shop to me are works of art. They tell stories.They lie in a peaceful state of decomposition having have escaped the crusher—the auto world equivalent of cremation. It is better to let things go their natural way including our automobiles and our flesh. There is something unnatural about the high temperatures at which we sear our bodies to ash and the high pressures we use to crush our cars to tiny blocks of metal.

The is a kinship between ourselves and our vehicles unlike any we have with other objects. We remember them all, just as we remember our loves. And like a lover our cars take us to places that we can never go to alone.

So now I'm talking to my bus. Putting things away in her. She says we've been in town too long. We're a little like sailors, those of us who travel and live on the road. A port of call looks inviting, and we tell ourselves we will stay for a while. But after a while it gets strangely confining and even lonely. There is a camaraderie on the road not found elsewhere. And there is closeness and connection in the parks and mountains, seashores and starry skies.

Home is the open road, the open sea.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fear and Hope in Heartland America

Still no word on my bus, on my home on wheels. I'm to call Tunie, my mechanic, tomorrow. It will be three weeks. Now I remember why I always did the work myself.

Meanwhile, news from the heartland.

We were sitting around the table at the Black Cat book store here in Truth or Consequences Friday morning when the topic turned to Survivalism.  There were about eight of us.

"Sue, what are you doing to survive?" one of the company was asked as she sat down. This was not about earning one's daily bread. No. More like about stashing away 50 pounds of dried beans and having enough water purification tablets to last when we have to start going down to the river for water. In short, the breakdown of civilization as we know it.

Not everyone was sure the end was near. At the other end of the spectrum there was upbeat enthusiasm. "I'm not worried," someone said. "Whatever I need will always just appear. It always does."
The beautiful post office building built in 1939
during another period of not-so-good times.

There seem to be two currents of thought running through America these days—that the world is coming to an end—or that the world is coming to a new beginning.

Those who see hard times ahead see a breakdown of the electric grid, the transportation networks, outbreaks of famine and disease, riots and social upheavals in the cities, and so on.

Those who see the world changing for the better believe the seeds are already in the ground for a new crop of consciousness to rise up. Cooperation and harmony will flourish, we will live better with less, environmental damage will cease and the planet will begin to heal, the corporate state will wither away, mankind be reborn in a spiritual awakening —all somehow linked to realignment of the planets and stars on or around December 21, 2012, at the end of the 13th and beginning of the 14th baktun of the Mayan calendar.

The two seemingly opposed views flourished in discussion and began to gain common ground.

"Maybe we are talking about the same thing," said one gentleman. "The breakdown of the old order which gives rise to fear is necessary for the birth of the new which gives rise to hope."

Sidewalk markers from ....
....  earlier times in TorC.
What about what's going in now? The Occupation of Wall Street? asked another.

"Their hearts are in the right place but it won't be by changing institutions that we get there from here," said a man in a baseball cap. "The change, as Gandhi said, has to come from within.  You have to become the change you wish to see."

By now the coffee was getting cold,  the scones had been eaten, and the cafe owner was not selling a lot of books.

Outside the sun was shining on sidewalks laid down in a different era of hard times, the Depression, by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and later the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The sidewalks are still around more than 70 years later.

"The main thing," a woman  said as we exited the door into the bright daylight, "is that life goes on. It always does and always will."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Turtleback Mountain

Folks who live in Truth or Consequences refer to the mountain across the Rio Grande as Turtleback Mountain. There is a song about TorC that begins, "(u)nder the shadow of Turtleback Mountain ... "

But it is not always clear why the big slab of rock across the way bears the name until the setting sun hits at just the right angle, creating lights and shadows showing a giant tortuga splayed upon the summit.

Turtleback Mountain by day
Turtleback Mountain in evening sun.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Three Men and Their Trades

An 8-foot stack of sun-bleached
bones outside Charlie's antler emporium.
I heard him before I saw him, muttering softly to himself or perhaps singing. There was no moon but enough ambient light to make out the figure of a man wearing a hat and a beard and carrying and tall and loaded backpack frame. He passed by me and walked about 50 yards, then turned around and came back. I was curious who this person was and so I waited. Obligingly on his approach he introduced himself as Freddie and set down his heavily loaded backpack frame.

He also set down a large blue and white checked cloth neatly folded and tied at the corners which he untied to display the contents: a small bundle of dry mesquite wood, some rice, beans, onions and chunks of meat.

"All I need is a pot to cook 'em in," he said.

"Where are you from?" I asked. "And did you walk?"

"Redding. Redding, California. Walked most of the way," he said. "Hitched a few trains too."

The odd thing about Freddie was that he was neat and clean. Not at all the stereotypical hobo. His hair was cut, his beard trimmed. He looked about 45. His backpack frame and its contents all clean if not spanking new. No smell of sweat, drink or cigarettes.

"What are you doing?" I asked. "Camping by the river." he replied.  He surveyed his stash of food and wood lying on the ground. "Just need a pot to cook in," he repeated. "I'll bring it back," he said imploringly. "I'll find some wire and ball it up and scrub it clean."

It was, I decided, worth the gamble. I brought out my old Coleman cooking pot and lid and offered it to him. He accepted. "I'll bring it back," he promised.

"What are the odds he'll bring it back?" I asked my friend standing next to me. "About one in three against," she said.

I watched him disappear into the night. It was the last time I saw my pot.

The trouble with being on the road and owning and living in a VW bus is that no one works on them any more. Well, hardly anyone. In Las Cruces, NM, there is Tunie. He was recommended by a garage in Truth or Consequences as about the only one left within a hundred miles who works on aircooleds.

I'd beat the bus up pretty bad in the summer, driving it hard in hundred degree temps on mountain roads. I figured new heads at least for openers, but never got around to starting the project, and now fall is coming and I need something reliable and was willing to pay if only I could find someone to do it.

It was about 70 miles straight down from TorC to exit 9 on I-25 and then a three or four mile jag down some back roads Tuesday to get to Tunie's, a soft-spoken man well into his  years, from Mexico, with some 42 years of VW wrench turning under his belt. His house, he said, was the pink one at 145 San Ysidora Road.

I didn't need a mailbox or house color to find it. Tunie's was the dwelling with a dozen dead and dying VWs in various stages of decay in the front. I had made an appointment. Tunie was expecting me.

He ambled out, a big man, walking slow. His eyes twinkled. "Nice bus," he said. I thanked him.

He nodded. After some talk I left things in his care. Three days, he said, to  pull the engine, rebuild the top end, test it, tune it and get it back to me.  That was Tuesday.

Thursday came and Tunie called. He had an eye infection and couldn't work, a patch on one eye. I took him at his word. On Saturday I dropped by.  There was my engine now disassembled, and Tunie, eye-patch removed, going over each part and examining it with loving care. We fell into talking VW. "Take your time," I told him, my faith in the soft-spoken man growing.  "Whatever it needs do it. I want to be able to drive to the Pacific Northwest this fall. And across country." His eyes twinkled. 'When I am finished you will be able to drive anywhere without  worry for years."

That's what I wanted to hear. Keep wrenching, Tunie. You are part of a dying breed.

I met Charlie an hour our so outside of Yellowstone National Park  in Montana on the way to Cody. It wasn't hard to meet Charlie. An eight-foot stack of sun-bleached skulls and antlers in front of his barn/workshop announces his presence just off the highway.

Charlie in his youth had been a roustabout in the oil fields of Montana until the fields shut down. With  a home and family to support, he looked for a way to make a living, selling arrowheads and souvenirs to tourists heading to and coming from nearby Yellowstone. It was slim pickings at first. So Charlie enlarged the menu, adding furs, knick-knacks, stuffed animals, mounted heads.

But the breakthrough came when Charlies discovered some folks just like antlers. And there were plenty of them around for the taking. Elk and moose and deer shed their antlers annually. Soon Charlie had more antlers than he could use. What to do with them all?

Charlie's antler chandelier. 
It was then that he got creative. He decided to use elk and moose and deer antlers the way other craftsmen might use driftwood—to fashion displays, make artifacts, using the natural curves and curls of his materials to create designs. And business began to take off.

"I guess I created this industry," he says. "It's kind of a recycling these things one last go."

Growing antlers each year is a nutritional drain on large cervids such as elk, moose and deer. They grow rapidly and require lots of food intake.

Charlie rubs his chin philosophically. "It's a shame to see all that natural effort go to waste."

Out in front the stack of bleached bones, skulls and antlers testifies to nature's bounty. "And they can be pretty and useful too."

About Antlers—Antlers serve many functions, from fighting to adornment. Reindeer in the north use antlers to clear ice and snow when foraging for food. But perhaps none is more unusual than that of the moose. Studies show a moose without a rack does not hear as well as its horned brethren. The antlers serve the moose, among other things, scientists believe, as a giant parabolic sound reflector.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Yellowstone — Part Two: Bison and Beyond

Thursday we found the bison. More precisely they found us. The herd was migrating and crossing the road where we stopped. They all but ignored us, showing no fear or wariness, and walking past people and vehicles as they might a rocks and trees.

Bison never seem to hurry. (Click on all photos to enlarge.)
Strangely, they make little noise even on hard pavement, as though their hooves were of softer material than those of cows and horses; but it may be due to the ever-so-slow and deliberate way they move.

Bison never seem to hurry. Up a hill, down a hill, always the same leisurely pace.

A young bull munches.
The thick mane on the nape of the neck is both wiry, and thick and soft, at the same time. The coat is shaggy. Bison are designed to make it through the long winters when snow covers the ground and temperatures regularly drop to zero and below.

Below, the herd fattens on the still green and lush grass of late summer.

Friday, we returned to the same meadow. The bison had moved on. In their stead a pair of coyotes ran through the  thick, tall grass before skirting the river and scampering up a hill.

A coyote trots through tall grass. 

A pair of coyotes check out the river's edge.
But mostly we spent the last day enjoying the views—some shown below—before packing up and heading south to warmer climes and sunshine of New Mexico.

Pines, river and sky.

Yellowstone Mountainscape.

Yellowstone's 'Grand Canyon' viewed from top.

Vapors rise from a rolling river.

Yellow pine needles.
Go take a hike.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Yellowstone — Part One: Elk, Goats and Geyser

Yellowstone in mid-September lies like a great brown and green blanket in folds over the northwest corner of Wyoming patiently waiting winter while yet basking in the warmth of late summer sun.

Elk graze in street median in Mammoth
Elk meander into towns and parks and graze on grass and chew the shrubbery. The bison migrate in herds to lower pasture. Aspens quake in the the breeze. Tall pines sway back and forth in the winds that come up suddenly and just as suddenly cease and the air becomes silent. Rivers flow. Coyotes sing coyote songs in the night. Pronghorn sheep, antelopes and mountain goats clamber.

Even the earth is alive. There is Old Faithful, to be sure. But there are 300 more geysers and hot springs all over. Steam rises. The earth bubbles in transformation, and petrified trees testify to the long ago.

The faithful watch Old faithful in action.
It is as if part of the North American continent remains unchanged and untouched by man except where crossed by roads and dotted by village and campground.

The invasive species here is the populace in its cars and tents, RVs, trailers, tour buses, vans. We are the outsiders come to see but not disturb.

Yellowstone, signed into law as an act to preserve the land for public use in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, became the world's first National Park. And the idea that a large part of the natural world should be preserved for future generations was born.

The park is is 3,468.4 square miles, most of it in Wyoming and some small areas in Montana and Idaho.

It is home to the world's largest bison herd, to brown and black bears and grizzlies, to coyotes, to wolves. There were approximately 100 wolves in the park at the end of 2010 depending primarily on elk for food.

Mountain goats clamber down an almost vertical precipice. 
Ironically, this vast expanse of land that has seen human habitation for 11,000 years excluded Indians from the start. A treat allowing hunting privileges for some Native Americans was never ratified by Congress.

The automobile opened the park to touring. Between 1933 and 1941 the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed many of the campsites and villages that make Yellowstone so accessible.

Usually, touring tapers off after Labor Day. Not this year. The campgrounds are full. Hotels and RV parks outside the park are booming. The combination of a milder autumn and weaker dollar that encourages many to stay at home may be responsible. Who can say.

The Gardner River snakes through the upper reaches of the park in Montana.
So far the adventure has been well worth it. There is a sense of peace in this land where humans and their needs and wants and machines co-exist in peace with the elk, deer, bear, squirrel, rabbit and all. Two mornings ago an elk cow wandered through our pine forest campground and stared placidly at all about her before leaving without hurry.  A bison walked down the paved road as though the road belonged to him.

"In a sense it does," said a ranger. "These creatures have been coming here and following these same migratory routes for centuries. We are the Johnny-Come-Latelies. For the most part they ignore us."

A late summer thistle in Yellowstone.
The days have been warm with highs in the 70s.  The nights cool with temperatures in the mid 30s.  Sometimes by mid September there is snow. Not this year. This year there is a sense of lingering summer. The full moon two nights ago rose above the mountain peaks and bathed the land below in a pale white light.

A harbinger perhaps of the white winter quilt soon to follow this late summer blanket browns and greens.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Off to Yellowstone at Summer's End

Yellowstone bisons.
It may be a while before the next post. We are off to Yellowstone for a few weeks of camping and hiking at summer's end, as the seasons change. It isn't clear if Internet access will be available or how much time there will be for blogging. But it should be a great adventure. One worth sharing with you soon.

Old Faithful.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Eating Chiles in Hatch

Hatch Chile Festival 2011.
Hatch, NM, is the chile capital of the world.

Every Labor day weekend for the past 40 years, thousands of visitors descend on the usually sleepy town to celebrate chiles. New Mexico green chiles.

This year was no exception. To understand what this fuss is all about it helps to understand something about chiles. Chiles are the fourth great food group from the New World—behind potatoes, tomatoes and corn—to make its mark on global cuisine.

Chiles are rich in vitamins. A good green New Mexico chile has six times as much vitamin C as an orange. For more information about chiles see Chile Facts. They are also flavorful

But what really makes a chile a chile—and why Columbus called them peppers—is a chemical called capsaichin. Capsaichinoids do two things. They fool receptors in the mouth, nose and throat into thinking you have just eaten something fiery hot. The body responds by elevating the heart rate and dousing itself with water, which is why some people break out in a sweat. Capsaichinoids also release endorphins, giving a sense of well-being.

Dried chiles festoon the town.
Not all chiles are created equal. The common garden variety bell pepper is a chile with virtually no capsaichinoids. The succulent green New Mexico variety grown and celebrated here is a mild chile with just enough punch to please the palate, making it ideal for eating, sauces and flavoring foods.The green chile cheeseburger is a New Mexico staple.

At the upper end of the heat range are piquins, cayennes, tabascos and rocotos. And at the top end there are some so hot you don't want to touch them.

By universal consensus the best of the succulent New Mexico chiles are  grown in the fertile valley of the Rio Grande in and around Hatch. Visitors come to the festival from around the world. The BBC sent a camera crew to film the event.

During the festival chiles are roasted along sidewalks, suffusing the air with a savory piquant scent. Bunches of bright red and yellow chiles hang from store fronts, posts, beams and rooftops like holiday decorations. Vendors sell raw chiles, roasted chiles, foods prepared with chiles, chile sauces and chile souvenirs.

For two glorious days the whole town of Hatch chiles out.
Carried in 40 pound sacks.

A few miles outside of town is the festival itself—a giant county fair dedicated to honoring the genus Capiscum. It sprawls over several acres of open field. Admission is $10 the car.

We are just in time for the chile eating contest. Green chiles are piled high on paper plates. All the chiles must be eaten except the stems. It takes about three minutes for the winner to pack in two pounds of greens washed down with water.

Mostly there is music, vendors and a carnival feel. Besides chiles, vendors sell slices of fruits and melons sprinkled with chile powder. The combination is surprisingly good.
Music is part of the festival.

There are also souvenirs from Mexico, Ecuador and beyond. The festival is known to draw as many as 30,000 visitors, though this year there were fewer.  It has been going on for 40 years.

There is international interest. Indians may have discovered the chile more than 6000 years ago, but the discovery has gone global.

Today Thailand consumes more chiles per capita than any other country in the world. Chiles are grown and eaten around the globe.

But the best chiles—the best succulent green New Mexico chiles—are produced right here in fertile, sun-drenched Dona Ana county, New Mexico. Worth a drive.

Dried chiles—beautiful to behold.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Dentistry Mexican Style

Pancho Villa—a larger than life statue in Las Palomas.
Jose Doroteo Arango Arambula, better known as Pancho Villa, crossed the border from the sleepy Mexican town of Las Palomas on March 9, 1916, and attacked the small town of Columbus, NM. He took mules, horses and other military supplies and fled back into Mexico. It was the first incursion on U.S. soil by foreign troops since the war of 1812.

Today, a larger-than-life bronze statue of Villa astride horseback stands in front of the municipal buildings of the tiny town of Las Palomas, where the major industries now are tourism and dentistry.

Once you go you understand why. Convenience and price.

It's a two hour drive from Truth or Consequence, NM. We did it early before the hot late summer sun had a chance to heat the parched earth. The border crossing was manned by sleepy-eyed officials on both sides. There was no line.

For many Americans Las Palomas is the destination, and so it is easier to park on the U.S. side and walk across. That is what we did.

I had come to see dentistry, Mexican style, at work, and was there  with two friends: one getting three crowns;  the other, three fillings, a mouth guard, and a cleaning. The dentist: Ricardo Salazar.

Dancing after dentistry.
Unlike visiting a U.S. dentist, there was no appointment needed, and no waiting when we got there though we did call an hour ahead.  My two friends were seen within minutes after we arrived.

And in an hour all was done, and we were out the door. Unlike at most U.S. dental pratices the crowns and mouth guards were made on premise. No waiting. No need to come back later. The ultimate walk-in clinic.

But the reason most norteamericanos come to Mexico for dentistry is not convenience but price.  The fillings were $35 each. The crowns were $300 for a high-end, all porcelain crown, $150 for one partly metal.

Dentistry done, we walked the hot and dusty town, visited a friend, and had lunch at the Pink Store, known for its line of gifts and souvenirs, especially pottery and porcelain.

While we ate a band played. My friends got up and danced.

Although the U.S. border lies just a few hundred yards to the north, it seemed we were momentarily in a different world.  A stress meter somewhere had down-clicked four notches. Maybe more.

Afterwards, we walked back to crossing. The Mexican authorities waved us through. The U.S. agents looked at our passports.

"Anything to declare?"

"Two t-shirts."

Back on the road again and on the way home.


Monday, August 29, 2011

Drumming for Lightning

I did not know Lightning, and he died before his time. Twelve years ago he was stabbed in the heart. He survived the stabbing but never was the same. Over the last few months his health failed. He died yesterday still in his forties.

In the evening, at Ralph Edwards park, a group of about 25 including his wife and three children gathered.  We sat in a circle with drums, rattles, an old tambourine and guitars, and drummed.

Drumming is a unifying experience. A group cannot talk all at once. It may sing but only one song.

But in drumming there is self expression. One person can set a rhythm and others follow, or a dozen can. But somehow it all comes together, each individual expression part of a whole— music without melody, lyrics without words.

We drummed until after dark. Farewell to Lightning.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Getting Soaked

My neighbor suggested a walk in the evening before dusk along the quieter residential areas of Truth or Consequences, in the historic district known as Hot Springs, before the name changed in 1950. The sky was fleeced with light gray clouds. Lighting flashed.

"We're going to get soaked," she said.

We stopped along the way and talked with a woman working hard at gardening. Gardening takes on a different meaning here. There may be no other place quite like it. The soil is porous desert sand. What grows is a mix of cactus plus anything you can put on it, water and fertilize, that can take sun. It is both sparse and lush at the same time. Below the ground hot water flows and sometimes bubbles to the surface.

Becky—with the sky still light beside the Rio Grande
In addition, in mid to late summer—monsoon season in New Mexico—storms can spring up suddenly, ride down the mountains like avenging banshees, and flood the town in minutes.

An evidence, walk along Broadway and you will see not only pools of standing water but filled sandbags at almost every door—just in case—to keep galloping waters at bay.

Then there is the river. The lazy Rio Grande borders the south side of town, flowing from Elephant Butte lake, adding its own humidity to the air.

As we walk the lightning strikes come more quickly. They ring the town, dancing on the hills like skinny, blue aliens— here for a moment and gone. Mixed with the smell of lightning and rain, the faint scent of wood smoke—perhaps from a distant fire from a lightning strike.

As we walk the rain picks up—droplets at first and then heavier blobs.

Jan—our hostess in the rain
We near a house under renovation. My friend says she knows the owners, Ted and Jan, so we holler, duck in and visit. As we sit on the deck the light in the sky does a gradual disappearing act, becoming deeper an deeper hues of purple/gray, until mountains across the river are no more than dark indigo shapes lit by occasional slashes of  blue/white lightning. The Rain tattoos on the roof. Then it slows, stops.

"Our chance to be going," says my friend Becky

We walk back in darkness.

"I thought we were going to get soaked," I say. I almost sense a smile in the dark.

Back at the house we change to bathing suits and walk to The Riverbend, one of a half a dozen or so resorts that tap the hot water just below ground and pipe it to the surface and into large bathing tubs. For almost 100 years visitors  have been coming here to take these hot mineral baths. Before that the first settlers, the Spanish and the Indians. Taking the waters is called soaking,

That's what we did. Sat in a tub for almost an hour watching the lightning prance in an inkberry sky and hearing the rain dance around us.

We got soaked.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Two Artists

Daragh Vaughan was born in Ireland. Like many who come to Truth or Consequences he is a transplant from another part of the world. Delmas Howe, born in El Paso, is not. He grew up in Truth or Consequences. After a career that took him to New York, he returned to the southwest, to Texas in 1975 and to Truth or Consequences in 1984.

Daragh at the keyboard
Both Vaughan and Howe were on display yesterday in different settings.

For Vaughan it was Saturday work as usual at the Truth or Consequences Farmers' Market, singing a three-and-a-half-hour set of folk, rock, pop and Irish ballads under blue skies before a milling crowd of hundreds shopping fresh produce, baked goods, woolens, crafts, tarot readings and haircuts.

His songs include original compositions including at least one celebrating his adopted home town. When it's over he sits on a stone step smoking a cigarette. "Great set," someone says.

"I'm glad you liked it," he says. "I'm really glad you liked it."

Meanwhile a short distance away at 110 East  Broadway the Rio Bravo Fine Arts Gallery is putting final touches on a by invitation only exhibit of Howe's enormous body of work.  It is impressive. Cowboy nudes in Greco-Roman settings line the walls and fill several rooms. The crowd including buyers from Albuquerque and Santa Fe  moves slowly from room to room, taking it in, and refreshing themselves with food and drink. Howe himself is on hand to greet visitors.

The Three Graces
He seems comfortable. This was not always the case. The unapologetic celebration of male nudity by a gay artist was not well received 40 years ago, and was one reason he left New York unable to make a living.  Today it is a different story. At the exhibition Howe prints and originals are on sale for $40 to upwards of $10,000 and more. He is the recipient of numerous awards and the subject of a 2004 film documentary, The Truth or Consequences of Delmas Howe, which in part explores not just his art but living in TorC.

Recently, this past June, one of Howe's early masterpieces, The Three Graces, 1978, was acquired by the Albuquerque Museum and put on display.

" 'The Three Graces' were my first attempt to combine southwest iconography with Greek and Roman mythology," Howe says. The painting was also the cover of a British arts magazine the year after it was done.

Cowboy Angel II
Howe's paintings would continue to delve further into the semi-classical, semi-mythical juxtaposition of Hellenic grandeur and American southwest and gay motifs.

"I see the cowboy as just about the only thing that approaches romantic mysticism in America," he is quoted as saying.

Howe continues that exploration to the present. His Cowboy Angel II painted in 2009 is priced at $15,000. It is a large canvas on oil, 70" by 44".

Howe himself, now 75, stands genially, tall and erect, among the crowd of buyers and well wishers. He shakes hands heartily.

"It's a terrific exhibition," someone says to him. "Thank you so much."

"I'm glad you like it," he says. "I'm really glad you like it."