Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Christmas in New Mexico, Day 5 and Day 6

Day 5

We left Santa Fe and drove south-east out of the mountains and onto western edge of the llano estacado, the staked plains of Eastern New Mexico and Western Texas.

Guess what the backseat did.

The plains are miles and miles, flat and sparsely covered which ever way you look. The land has changed from the sea of grass that the Spaniards found. There is much more Juniper and much less grass. The cattlemen thought they knew more than God about how to manage this land.

To the west we could see a mountain range. I saw a herd of prong horns.

After we passed a place called Eden Valley, there were farms and ranches. I didn't see many before then, but they may have been more than I thought, just out of sight of the road.

We arrived in Roswell and ate the second worst meal on our trip, an Italian restaurant called Portofinos. There was supposed to be a cafe decorated with aliens and such, but it was closed.

We went to the UFO museum. I have seen and read just about everything in there before and wasn't convinced. I'm still not.

We drove south to Carlsbad Caverns passing through a town named Artesia, the malodorous capital. On the north side were several feed lots. If you have never driven by feedlots, I can't describe the smell. Cow manure multiplied by however many cattle are on the lot is the best I can do. It is best to hold your nose and drive quickly. As we got to the center of town, a refinery added to the mix. I think the people there must have long since become inured to the aroma. I know that we city dwellers become so used to the stench of cities that we no longer notice it. I can often tell when I can't smell it, but seldom notice when I can. The people of Artesia must multiply that inuredness by about a thousand.

Sunset near Carlsbad. The photo doesn't do justice to the crimson of the sky.

Tomorrow: Carlsbad Caverns

Day 6

After a much more leisurely breakfast than I would have liked we drove to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The rest of the family wanted to walk into the Cavern rather than take the elevator down. I had already decided that since I have seen it several times I was going to hang out at the visitor center. I bought a couple of books at the book store. One of them, Hot Biscuits, was a delightful collection of short stories and antidotes about ranch life. The other was Coyote Stories based not on the local tradition, but on the tales of the Northwest Indians.

After I read these stories, I thought a lot about New Mexico. True, these stories are not the stories of the Indians of this area. I know that it is a mistake to generalize from one tribe to another. The best one can do is generalize within the same language family. (Some day I'll spend some time on the subject of how the Eastern (Tanan) Pueblos came to speak a language related to Kiowa. The Kreses group and Zuni have not been related to any other language group. Lifestyles are similar, religion is a problem.)

The Coyote Stories portray Coyote as a trickster who is sometimes a benefactor and sometimes not. Coyote's flaw is self-importance.

One story from my large store of personal antidotes: One of the times I drove from California to Texas, we stopped in Santa Rosa. Instead of staying on Interstate 40 to Amarillo, I went south and then east through Clovis and then to Texas. Somewhere along there, I came to a crossroads. There was a big sign: Congested Area. At the cross roads, there was a gas station/convenience store. Cattycorner to it was a bar. If there were any houses, they were a long way from the highway. My opinion: the only time it was "congested" was when the bar closed for the night.

One of the things I didn't mention was that in Taos, after the dances, we drove around the square. Some of the souvenir shops/artist galleries were open. Now you know why I lovingly refer to northern New Mexico as the world's largest tourist trap.

How does this relate to Coyote? All three things the touristyness, the UFO museum, and the "Congested Area" sign strike me as Coyote at work.

I have never had time at a National Park to listen to the Ranger lectures. One young Ranger gave a very informative talk on Bats. You could tell he loved bats. He had previously worked at a bat research facility. Great talk! Another Ranger gave one on the geology of the cave. She did it quite well, but wasn't the enthusiast that the previous ranger was. Still, I like geology and found it very interesting.

We left Carlsbad and drove east to Arlington and home. I saw a deer on the hillside as we left Carlsbad. It was a long drive in the early dusk and into the night.

Looking out from the Visitor center at Carlsbad onto the llano estacado

The backseat stayed awake almost the whole way.

Home Again:

When we arrived back in Arlington, my grandson allowed that he was glad not to see snow.

One of my kitties, Baby, was quite happy to see me. She spent the night demanding that I pet her and purring.

The next morning, C.C. gave me the cold shoulder. She would sit where I couldn't miss her, staring down and to the right. She made sure I knew that she was not happy with me. In fact, she wasn't even sure who I was; I had been gone so long. Later when I sat down at the computer, she would come and drape herself over my shoulder as usual, but then she would remember that I was in disgrace and walk away.

Princess treated me to a long and comprehensive list of my flaws -- in her loudest, most strident Siamese voice. She wailed and complained all day.

Angel was very happy to see me when I picked her up from the kennel. She looks thin. My daughter says that when she keeps Angel, she doesn't eat. I doubt that she does better in the kennel, but there is no way to take her with me. She is nearly 11 years old. I hope I have her for a lot longer. She has mostly slept all day.

It was a wonderful trip, but home is good, too.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas in New Mexico, Day 3 and Day 4

Day 3

Christmas Day dawned overcast. I looked up at the mountains and predicted snow. We drove up the scenic Rio Grande Canyon to Taos. The backseat fell asleep. As usual.

Before heading to the Pueblo for the dance, we took a detour to a bridge over the Rio Grande. The rest of the party walked across it and took photos of the 400 hundred foot gorge.

The Pueblo was performing the Deer Dance. They do not allow photographs of it. The walks around the Pueblo had been shoveled. Some people used the mounds of snow to gain a better vantage point for the dance. Many of the residents stood on the roofs of the lower units and on porches of the second story to watch.

The Deer Dance is performed by many tribes throughout North America. Each group has its own variation, but generally, the dance is meant to honor the deer and to bring good luck in the hunt for the coming year.

At Taos Pueblo, the “Clowns” built a very smoky fire. I saw them throwing branches of evergreens on it. Smoke in many cultures is purifying.

The Clowns have several roles in the dance. I heard a parent warning a child that if she didn’t behave, the Clowns would take her away. A woman refused to come out of the restroom because she was afraid of the Clowns. I know that they have some function in “policing” the behavior of the tribe, but it is more one of upholding social mores than in punishing miscreants. Unless you count being ridiculed as punishment.

Two lines of women, dressed in their traditional off-one shoulder costume danced into the plaza following a drummer. Did I mention that it was snowing? They looked cold. The costumes were of many different solid colors with bands of embroidery at the hem and top. They were carrying a sprig of evergreens, a rattle, and over one arm, a colorful blanket. They danced in an oval and then the two halves danced up the center, following two women dressed in white. The women formed a circle around the dance floor. They wrapped up in their blankets, but kept their rhythm.

The Clowns escorted the deer dancers into the circle. The clown’s faces were painted white with black patterns around their eyes. They wore little on their torsos, but a cloth wrapped partially around them. Their hair was tied back with corn husks, and they had what looked like hawk wings on each side of their head and down their arms.

All the dancers wore warm-looking leggings and thick boots.

The Deer Dancers wore the heads of deer or buffalo on their heads with the rest of the skin over their shoulders and down the back. Their torsos were awrapped over the shoulder and around the waist. They carried two sticks that they used to walk like an animal. The deer were lead by two older men wearing white antlers whose torsos were painted white. They looked cold.

Men of the tribe formed a line across the entrance to the dance floor. Tribal policemen were there to keep the crowd of visitors away from this walk way. My impression was that they were there to keep the visitors under control; the residents, under the sway of the Clowns, knew how to behave. The Deer Dancers moved in a group around the dance floor. The Clowns would capture one of them and try to force their way through the men at the entrance. The men at the entrance tried to keep them in. If the Clowns succeeded in breaking through, they would carry their prey away, presumably to a warm place to wait for the next dance. If they couldn’t break through, the dancer returned to the dance.

One of the Clowns was a very witty fellow, judging from the laughter that greeted his comments. I don’t speak the language, so I don’t know what was said. There was a lot of foolery between the Clowns and the spectators closest to the dance floor.

I was told that the different dance beats were meant to imitate the gaits of various prey animals.
As we started down the canyon, the backseat passengers began to bicker. I suggested that they go to sleep. “Please.”

Here and there, the canyon floor widened. Small towns and farms filled these flats. In the cold, winter dusk, they looked cold. I thought how much warmer the occasional apartment house looked. The Pueblos were built to conserve heat. They were a much more communal society than the Europeans who invaded them.

We had dinner at Denney’s. :-(

This has been the most difficult blog to write of the whole trip. The one describing the day following this one was much easier, and indeed, done sooner. Standing in the snow, watching a very old dance that has the force of a religious observance was an awesome experience. I have tried to get in as much detail as I can, but the words are inadequate.

Day 4.

My daughter and grandson decided to try snowboarding at Ski Santa Fe. We drove them up to the ski lift, stopping to rent equipment. A 19 mile drive sounds like nothing, but over icy roads, it was a trial. It snowed all the way. For the first time, the backseat didn’t fall asleep in the car. I guess I should have been more apprehensive, but I have complete faith in my son’s driving.

He and I adjourned to a couple of nice, warm museums. After a good lunch in the Museum Hill Café, we visited the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the Museum of International Folk Art. Both had fantastic exhibits. The Folk Art Museum had a display of doll houses arranged as though it was a block in a town, complete with painted yards, streets, walkways, people, (dolls) and toys -- horses, wagons, etc. An imaginative exhibit. The houses were all different and all lovingly crafted. It looked like a turn of the 20th century scene.

I could have spent the entire time we had in that museum, but the Indian Arts Museum had an equally enthralling exhibit, Here, Now & Always about the cultures of the Native Americans of the Southwest. As a native Oklahoman, I’ve always been more interested in the Southeastern tribes, but on this trip, I’ve become interested in the Pueblo Culture. When I was a child, the story told when I visited Mesa Verde was that no one knew where the residents went and why they left. It is now pretty sure that they merely migrated to the various Pueblos and Pueblo ruins in the southwest. We still don’t know why.

It snowed the entire time we were at the museums. All too soon we had to leave to pick up the rest of our party. It was a long, cold, snowy drive up the mountain. We were fortunate to follow a snowplow. The road up the mountain was icy. There were quite a few cars coming down. One car had driven into the snow at the verge of the road. We didn’t quite make it up to the pick up point. My son decided that it would be better to walk the rest of the way than to take a chance on getting stuck.

I could tell that they had fun, but we still had a cold snowy drive down the mountain. We were fortunate enough to get behind another snow plow. Or maybe it was the same one. No tracks could be seen on the other side of the road, the one we had just driven up. The snow had covered them.

By the time we got down we were ready to call it a night. We ate an interesting dinner at the Flying Tortilla adjacent to our motel and turned in.

Tomorrow: Roswell

Following a snow plow down from Ski Santa Fe

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas in New Mexico, Day 1 and Day 2

Wishing one and all a Happy Hanukkah, a Joyous Yule and/or a Merry Christmas; and a Prosperous New Year.

Current Mood: happy

This didn't get posted everyday as I had intended.

Day 1

After some hemming and hawing, we left Arlington in the morning and drove straight through to Santa Fe, arriving in the dark to a snowy landscape. My grandson leaped out of the car, threw a snowball at my window, fell down and made a snow angel. This is his first white Christmas. He thinks he likes New Mexico.

It took about 11 hours over mostly four-lane highways with not many towns to slow us down. We drove from the Metroplex through the wide open space of Texas which looks pretty much the same where ever you go to Ammarillo. The backseat passengers slept for most of the way. My son drove.

Someone commented on my blog about a perceived insensitivity to urban poverty. I saw plenty of rural poverty and some rural prosperity. There were abandoned houses and even more ugly abandoned mobile homes all along our route. Some of this has always been a feature of the Texas landscape, but I saw some falling down houses on the main streets of the little towns we passed through. The front of one house has fallen in and part of the roof had caved, leaving exposed pink insulation blowing in the Texas wind. Seems like someone would have removed these eyesores from the towns at least.

Incidentally, my reply to the insensitivity comment was that poverty is not an urban or rural issue.

Some houses were neatly kept, prosperous looking,surrounded by windbreaks. There would be clusters of such houses, not close, but within sight of each other.

We saw an obviously ripe field of cotton. We wasted some time in idle chitchat about why that field was still unharvested while others near by were. Later we saw some harvesting equipment sitting beside a field. It was noon, and the sky was still overcast; we didn’t know why no one was working. Later still we passed the cotton picking machines working a field. Who knew that cotton was harvested in December?

We didn’t need to speculate at all. In time, all questions are answered.

I also observed fields of winter wheat, barely up, like a green fuzz on the ground. Some of the green wheat fields had cattle grazing on them. I had heard of this practice. As a recent home owner, lately responsible for the cutting the grass, I realize that this winter grazing will have no effect on the eventual crop which is a seed heads of the grass. No matter how many times I cut it, if I let it go at seeding time, there will be lots of seed heads.

In one town, I saw pumping oil wells closer together than I have ever seen them. So close that unless they were at different levels, it almost seemed that they would be working against each other.

At times there were tumbleweeds blowing across the road. They don't really damage a car, unless they hit just right, and then they might scratch the paint.

Tumble weeds, in some people’s estimation a symbol of the American west, are not even native to America. They are called Russian Thistles, and probably arrived as seeds contaminating a shipment of grain. When the seeds are ripe, the stem becomes brittle and breaks off. The ubiquitous western winds of the prairies and deserts sends the whole plant blowing across the landscape scattering the seeds far and wide. The sight of the rootless weeds blowing across the wide open spaces came to symbolize the life of the cowboy, not tied to any place, but roaming free across the west. In reality the plant puts down a deep taproot and comes back every year to produce more tops which break off and scatter more seeds. As survival-of-the-species mechanism go, it is very effective. How can you eradicate a plant like that? Western farmers have tried without success.

As I said, the backseat slept all the way to Amarillo. The scenery got more interesting after that. As we neared the New Mexico border, one of them who was old enough to know better started asking, “Are we still in Texas?” After a while we started reading the mile markers to her.

We crossed the border into New Mexico. Yes, there really is a turquoise sky. This time it was only a little fringe on the north above the mountains, but it was there. I knew I wasn’t in Texas any more.

Tomorrow, we are going to Bandelier.

Day 2.
Current Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico

Christmas Eve arrived bright and clear. The skies were a deep uncharacteristic blue, the snowfields were white, except where snow plows had cleared the roads. With four highly individualistic persons on this trip, we started out with the usual hemming and hawing.

We drove through scenic snow covered mountains to Bandelier National Monument. Around every bend was a photographic vista.

Looking down into Frijoles Canyon.

When we got there-- a setback.

The park was closed. We found a phone number and called to learn that it would open at noon. We drove back to White Rock, NM and ate lunch in the Bandelier Grill. My burger was well-cooked. The men of the party opted for chicken-fried chicken and steak, respectively, which arrived on huge platters. When it comes to eating, my teenaged grandson is classified as a man – or a plague of locusts, whichever way you want to look at it.

Next time we'll call in advance.

Getting to Bandelier is to drive through deep canyons and up hairpin turns across the ridges to the next deep canyon. The ruins are in Frijoles Canyon.

Alfred Bandelier was an amateur anthropologist who toured the ruins and wrote extensively, including a novel, about them. There are ruins in other parts of the park, but it is a two-day hike to get to them. These are the most accessible. There is the ruin of an adobe pueblo on the canyon floor which was occupied from 1200 to about 1500 A.D. It was not one of the pueblos ruined by the Spanish Invasion. I had an interesting discussion with the Ranger about why it was abandoned. We don't know. Her theory had to do with very slow growth of timber in the area. She speculated that they may have moved because they ran out of lumber to heat the Pueblo. The temperature outside was almost 32 degrees Fahrenheit which send our thoughts in the direction of heating problems.

I hiked to the Pueblo Ruins, but didn't climb into the ruins of the cave dwellings. People lived both on the canyon floor and in the caves on the canyon walls, although I have the impression that the caves were used more for storage and as places to retreat to when some of the nomadic bands in the area were raiding. My grandson and daughter climbed into the ruins on the cave walls. I went back to the Visitor's Center where there was a nice, toasty fire, and I could converse with the Rangers and listen in on Tourist questions.

The one ruin inaccessible in winter in the area of the Visitor's Center requires a climb up 140 feet of ladder. Not a good idea just after a snow storm.

Almost all the canyons feeding into the Rio Grande Basin were occupied by Indians of the Pueblo culture at one time or another.

San Idlefonzo and the associated Santa Clara Pueblos claim to have migrated from Bandelier, but I think the Ranger was saying not from the Frijoles Canyon ruins themselves. The Cochiti Pueblo and the associated Pueblos of Santo Domingo and San Felipe also claim to have descended from the Indians of the Bandelier area. The last group to claim descent is the far-off Zuni Nation. I keep trying to get all the Pueblos straight without much success. Who knows which of the Pueblos destroyed by the Spanish after 1680 also descended from Bandelier?

Looking down on the ruins from the rooms in the cliff.

I think most of the Pueblo ruins were probably not abandoned at one time. (Except of course the ones we know historically.) Most likely as the population grew, groups moved off to found new Pueblos where there was room to farm. Why any one place was abandoned is still unknown, but the story of the Pecos Pueblo which was documented in historic times is instructive. The Pueblo got down to 17 people. Too small a base to support life in the desert. The last survivors migrated to Jemez Pueblo which still honors some of the Pecos Pueblo traditions. Pecos Pueblo is a little unique. Because of their position, they traded extensively with and were raided extensively by the nomadic Comanche Indians. See http://www.newmexicohistory.org/filedetails.php?fileID=489 for a fuller account of this Pueblo.

My son spied some deer and photographed them. My daughter photographed a Rufus-sided Towhee, AKA a Canyon Towhee. None of us saw the rabbit-eared Abert's Squirrels for which the area is famous.

We headed back to Santa Fe and another trip to Target for things not packed.

We had a great dinner at Tortillas Flats. My diet is not going well.

Afterwards we drove through the main square and to the Canyon Drive area to look at the Christmas lights. Quite a few other people had the same idea. It was lovely.

The Novel above is The Delight Makers by Adolph Bandelier.

Notice the netting on the cliff in this photo. It is there to protect the road from falling rocks.

Tomorrow: Taos Pueblo

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Spin This Joke

As soon as I write something, I find that someone has said it better. For instance, after writing "Steal This Joke," I found this gem from Arthur Godfrey's Stories I Like to Tell. (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1952, p.79) I'm not going to steal it or "spin" it as one compiler of jokes calls what we do; I'm going to borrow it, that is, quote it -- at least until I figure out a way to make it mine.

A 13-year-old high school boy originates a joke and puts it in his school paper. A press agent, home from New York for a vacation, sees his old school paper and clips out the joke. He sends it to a Broadway columnist who prints it. Someone else puts it in a book as something that happened to Alexander Woollcott or John Barrymore. A man acting as a toastmaster at a big dinner picks it out of the book and uses it. A radio writer at the dinner steals it and uses it on the show the next day. A night club comic hears it on the air and tells it at the club. A high school teacher, in New York for a fling, hears the joke at the night club and tells it to his principal when he gets back. The principal remembers seeing it printed in the school paper so he calls the boy in who wrote it and gives him a severe talking to for printing old jokes.

Poor kid.

Godfrey doesn't know who thought this up either, but he uses it as an example of the life cycle of a joke. All humorists, including those who merely aspire to the name, recognize the phenomena. We laugh while going, "Now how can I steal, pardon, spin, this?"

As always, feel free to appropriate.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Steal This Joke

About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment. -- Josh Billings

In a class in Stand-up Comedy, the instructor advised us to steal jokes to make up our routine. Fortunately for us, among the things that can’t be copyrighted are jokes and titles. Comics do create original material, but it takes both practice and experience to write good, funny jokes. I did make up a couple of the jokes I used, but for the most part, I stole the material.

One joke in particular I lifted from the Reader’s Digest -- an excellent source, by the way.

Hi! My name is Letricia Ferguson, and I am very glad to be here tonight!

Do you like the name “Letricia”? I picked it out myself. When I was born, my mother didn’t give me a name, only the initials, L.B. When I went to work at my most recent job, the Human Resources Department demanded that I give them my full name not just initials. We argued about it for some time. They finally agreed to accept L. (only) B. (only) Ferguson. Sure enough when I got my first check, it was made out to Lonly Bonly Ferguson.

There are people on the West Coast who think my name really is “Letricia.”

Of course, I changed the set up, the location where the situation occurred, the organization, and the name to a variation of my own which in turn modified the punch line. In short, little remained of the joke but the idea -- which is, of course, what I stole.

That is what writers do, we steal an idea or situation and then we modify it. T.S. Eliot is reputed to have said, “Mediocre writers borrow, great writers steal.” I don’t think that is actually what he said, but at least when modifying it, we give him credit.

There are only 1 to 36 standard plots, depending on who is counting and the criteria being used.* We take these basic situations and we change the names, the genders, the characteristics, the locations, the technology, the threat, the means to overcome it, the climax, and the denouncement. We add and subtract sidekicks, love interests, villains, and obstacles. But the basic plot, yeah, we steal that.

So if you are ever privileged to hear my stand-up routine, feel free to steal from it.

* Here is a link to a list of these plots: http://www.ipl.org/div/farq/plotFARQ.html Google has an interesting answer to the 7 basic plots here: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=210539 Scroll down to the last comment to find a summary of Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. Here is a link to a very funny discussion of RPG plots: http://www.io.com/~sjohn/plots.htm Finally, here is a link to a Scientific American article about story telling: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=the-secrets-of-storytelling&SID=mail&sc=emailfriend

BTW My mother gave me a perfectly good name, not initials. It is a joke.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Predators "R" Us

Writing Prompt: Why are you loyal to certain brands/stores? What keeps you coming back?

I read somewhere that if a bird of prey finds a mouse under a certain bush, it will revisit that bush regularly for a while to see if it can find more mice there. We as predators are hard wired to return to the scene of success. (Oh, yes, we are, too, predators.) So if we have made successful "kills" at a certain store, we are more likely, statistically, to return to it. But if our success is not repeated, then the behavior will taper off.

If on the other hand, we are not successful, then we will seek other places for our hunt. We may pass the unsuccessful site and give it a try, but we won't go out of our way to revisit it.

Think now, if the hawk or owl has an unpleasant experience at a certain bush-- say a fight with another predator or a narrow escape from a trap or even just a loud noise, the predator is most likely to avoid the site. I doubt if any one has studied this idea in terms of birds of prey, but entire theories of psychology are built on this proposition.

So for all you marketing execs out there, it is better not to lose the customer in the first place than to overcome a bad experience.

I know you can't have merchandize that appeals to everyone, but you can carry a good selection in your niche and keep in mind what your niche market really wants.

You can also give good customer service so the predator, I mean, shopper won't avoid you.

Is it really that simple?

Yes, it really is.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Note on an Experiment

My daughter tells me that my blogs are too long. Cutting them into separate posts has problems too. The blog on Rogers Heights seems out of order. Either you read the second part first or you have to scroll down to the first part and then scroll up to the second part.

I discovered something about the way blogs are posted at Blogspot that I think will allow me to post one a day, but also allow a future reader to read the posts in order.

This is an experiment.

If it works.

If not, I’ll have to start over.

Wish me luck.