Sunday, December 25, 2011


Maybe this particular Sunday morning’s a good day simply to say "Thank you!"

There’ll be other Sundays to mention controversies and unpleasantries.

As I write this, wispy clouds are caressing the Organs, and the setting sunlight has transformed them into Christmas decorations.

So thanks first of all to Doña Ana County. Not only to the mountains, and to the chile fields, but to parts of this county that haven’t changed much in decades. One recent day I went to the far North of it and bought vegetables from one of the sons of Adrian Ogas, who chaired the County Commission when I was a young reporter. Mr. Ogas is 95. I then went south to Brazito, to visit an adobe house in which I’d been very happy forty years ago – and when the man who lived next to it came out to see what I was doing, he turned out to be the grandson of the man who’d rented me the home. I’d probably seen him playing around the general store when I paid rent. Then I stopped for supper at Chope’s, which had been a special treat in the old days, and found the matriarch celebrating her 94th birthday.

Las Cruces is a much bigger city, and too many hiking areas have houses now, but I feel grateful for how much remains of what I loved about this place decades ago.

Thanks to the Farmers’ Market, which has grown into quite an institution. Particular thanks to vendors there for healthy food (and interesting crafts and art). Some are interesting and engaging people to talk with. They express points of view as varied and interesting as the foods they produce. So thanks for the contribution to both our physical and our mental health!

Thanks to Occupy! Thanks both to the folks down at Albert Johnson Park and to the city for working with them reasonably. I’m an old pessimist; but it’s heartening to hear people talking about some of the fundamental ills our great country is suffering, and doubly so to see them inconveniencing themselves in order to push folks to ask tough questions and contemplate change.

Thanks to the city for electing a local government that’s greener than most, and serious about good government. (Don’t mean to omit the county, just don’t know enough of the current commissioners well enough yet to opine; and no thanks to the School Board for saddling us all with Centennial with inadequate planning.)

Thanks today to . . . well, let me postpone naming him. Coral reefs, which are essential to the Earth’s well-being and ours, are dying. We’ve lost about 20 or 25% during the past few decades. Yet one reef is thriving. While fish elsewhere are heading for shortage, its fish population is growing. The varied creatures who live there are stunningly beautiful and strange. It is as such places used to be, before our impatient and overpopulated race started poisoning the world.
The reef is called "The Garden of the Queen." The country’s President – a diver, who’d seen the beauty first hand – turned this reef into one of the world’s largest marine reserves, banning commercial fishing there. Despite his country’s miserable economy, in which decades of U.S. sanctions have viciously compounded some inherent "inefficiencies" in a socialist economy, he has sharply limited tourism at the reef – and required the few tourists who fish there to return their catch to the sea. So, yeah, thanks, Fidel Castro. (Of course, he has an advantage: in our country, suffering from devastating economic havoc wrought largely by banks and financial speculators, politicians rarely say "no" to whatever those with money want to do to the environment.)

Mrs. Claus -- aka Gail Larkin
Thanks finally to a variety of folks I’ve noticed, here and elsewhere, who’ve exhibited the spirit of the season, all year. Thanks to the people who got so angry with the Mesilla Valley Mall for firing Mrs. Santa that a day later the Mall’s management apologized and made up with her. (I was mad too. I even got Greg Greenfield’s cell-phone number and was planning to call him, before I called Mrs. Santa and learned of the apology.) For those who missed it, Mrs. Santa’s car was stolen, and when the Sun-News called her about it and she spoke with them, the Mall fired her over the "bad publicity." When I saw her last Saturday handing out candy canes at the Farmers’ Market, she said the kids who stole the car had now returned it to the Mall parking lot. Thanks to them too!

Thanks to the rabbis in Dearborn who spoke out, saying they’d have attended the protest against Lowe’s if it hadn’t been on the Jewish Sabbath, after Lowe’s obeyed the dictates of a right-wing Christian group that had demanded it pull advertising from a show displaying Muslim U.S. citizens. The rabbis seem a lot more Christian than the "Christians."

Finally, thanks to everyday people who make us laugh, or help us when we need a hand. Such as a handyman we know, who’s also a musical performer, and who recently underwent knee replacement. Despite his problems, he fills the air with wisecracks. I’d be grateful just for his patience and good humor, joking with us while teaching us how to replace a faucet or get the heater going. Saturday, I got another reason. A favorite vendors at the Market described a time when he was despondent and barely getting by. The handyman, who’s far from wealthy, showed up every week or two and handed him some bills to help him through the bad time.


[The column above appeared in today's Las Cruces Sun-News.]

Thank to the bicycling Santa, too:

Christmas Eve (yesterday) we happened to be down by the old city hall, in late afternoon.  We spotted Santa bicycling around in circles in a parking lot, with the church in background and no one else around.   Another of life's little mysteries.   Don't know whether Rudolph and them were laid up, or what.   Didn't ask, just waved.
Later, played around some with the image, thinking it'd make an amusing Christmas card.

I tried a high-contrast version, and then a faux color-pencil one:
I'd been on my way to meet some folks for an early supper, or I'd have asked Santa to relocate slightly so that I could get a good shot with the Organs in the background.  (I guess a couple of peaks, in clouds, are dimly visible just above the church, but that wasn't what i had in mind.)  So this morning I tried to make up for my mistake:

One of 'em oughta make a pretty good Christmas card.  (If anyone knows Santa's local alias, let me know, so I can send him a copy!)

As soon as I posted these, we happened to speak to Dael's father.  As it turned out, he'd gone out on Christmas Eve to give an English lesson to an eight-year-old boy; and, since it was Christmas Eve, he wore a Santa suit as he bicycled over to the kid's house.   Of course, a lot more people stopped and took his photograph than stopped to photograph the guy in Las Cruces, because Dael's father lives in Osaka, where Christmas ain't such a big deal.  Or maybe by some odd magic we were photographing him, without knowing it?  (After all, it's Christmas.)

He also told us a neat Christmas story.  About eight years ago, he was giving lessons to another family.  It was around Christmas, and someone in the family asked the kids what they wanted Santa to bring them.  All the younger kids said what they wanted, but the oldest, who was eight years old, said that he was all right, he didn't need anything.  The adults present thought that was odd.  Someone pressed him, and he said, "I'm old enough to know it's really the parents who buy the presents, not Santa, and we don't have much money.  We're poor." 

Of course, Dael's father, Don, ain't the kind who shrugs that stuff off.  He's the kind who took in stray animals and troubled children all through her childhood.  He's the kind whose eyes tear up at kids like the boy in Japan  So he went out and bought a bunch of soccer stuff, and took it to the house late at night.  "I wrote him a note from Santa -- I wrote it in English, even though he might have a hard time reading that, because if it was in Japanese he wouldn't believe it was really Santa.  I  told him thanks for being such a good boy."

Recently Don's wife got a call from the kid's mother.  She'd been cleaning his room, and in a drawer found he still had that note from Santa -- eight years later, at sixteen.

Anyway, thanks, Santa!

As if it weren't all Christmassy enough, when we leave the bicycling Santa and get to the restaurant (La Nueva Casita) I have to go down into the park across the street to record three kids making a snowman.  [pix to be added shortly]

A snowman anywhere is fun, but in this particular park these kids could be the first in history to build a snowman on Christmas Eve.  A snowman in southern New Mexico has a particularly short life expectancy, but the kids weren't too troubled by that. 

At any rate, in case you've forgotten, here's how to make a snowman -- mostly, with joy!

He kind of looks as if he's listening
 to the snowman's heart, but he's just
placing buttons on its chest.
This fellow observed the proceedings -
likely a spotted towhee, I'm told.

Four fast friends . . .

. . . but three go home for supper

Thinking about it, a snowman in the desert is the perfect exemplar of a key aspect about photography.  One thing photography might be about, at some level, is the transitory nature of all our moments, even all our lives.  Photography captures moments (or aspects of them, anyway).   Other than an ocean wave, there ain't much that's more temporary than a snowman in southern New Mexico, making this guy the perfect subject.
The burst of joy the kids felt building him, late in the afternoon on a cool, clear day, undoubtedly disappeared just as fast, to recur at odd moments, consciously or not quite consciously, at odd moments as the kids travel down the decades, perhaps watch their own children build a snowman. and we all disappear -- as quickly as the snowman, from the mountains' point-of-view.  We're all snowmen (or snowwomen).  That helps us savor the moments we do have.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Snow Country

    A week ago Monday, it snowed heavily all day, and in the afternoon I took the drive described in the previous post (and Sunday column). 
    Tuesday the sky was beautifully clear, but cold enough that everything retained its snow-covering.  Before the sun climbed above the Organs, I went out to shoot pictures in the early-morning light -- and, uncharacteristically, headed into town rather than along or into the mountains.  The sun would light the city first, then the desert and foothills east of the city; and I'd seen a couple of things the previous afternoon that I thought might be worth a shot in better light.

NearTortugas Mountain

Cactus in Snow



These folks looked more content . . .

. . . though I didn't stop to ask 'em.

Once I reached Las Cruces, there were few cars out -- and drivers were having their problems with the slick roads. 

This fellow looked resplendent in morning sunlight.

This still looked cold.

    I drove slowly through the Mesquite Street neighborhood, then wondered how the old cemetery would look under snow.   I found it silent, and deserted but for an employee working near the building there.   It is a simple cemetery, with graves dug in flat desert.  The dead have neither the big grey headstones nor the soft green grass of a New England cemetery.  The markings memorializing these dead are simple.  They do get more bright colors than a New England cemetery.

The cemetery also has a decent view of the mountains, and looking at it reminded me that the clouds were starting to break up and that the early-morning light deteriorating into the flat light of mid-day, so I drove East.

The drive was exhiliarating.   It seems ironic: I grew up in the Northeast and have been in plenty of great snowstorms there, and a few in other countries; but this was different.  I was like the proverbial kid in a candy shop, as each new angle on the mountains, and each desert plant wearing white, seemed unique, and demanded I stop and shoot some more, even if the image -- objectively -- wasn't all that great.
One of the town's painted water towers -- and the Organs

Of course, I worked my way back to the Baylor Canyon Road windmill to see how that looked this morning -- but along the way every snow-dressed tree caught my eye. 


Finally I stopped back at home to pick up Dael and come back out.  I paused there long enough to notice that the ash trees had shed all but two or three of their yellow leaves during the succession of high winds, cold, and snow.


The windmill still had a bit of snow clinging to it.

The peaks had a bit more.
We photographed it all -- as happy as kids making snow angels.

We even returned several hours later, around sunset, to watch the moon join the party. 

Below, I've posted additional images from the day, images I've had a moment to treat in one way or another.  (That is, there's no further verbiage in this post.  For better or worse, this is more of a gallery than a blog post.)