Monday, March 5, 2012

Being Here

This week I don’t feel like complaining about the inanities of politicians or the fact that our greed and selfishness is destroying our society and environment.

I’m alive, in Doña Ana County. It’s pleasantly warm – but months away from blistering heat. And there’s a lot more than the weather to love about living here.

Yeah, the light caressing the Organ Mountains, the night silence broken only by occasional howling of coyotes, the vastness of the sky, and the relative emptiness of the streets are all part of it, as is the presence of friends we love.

But there’s more. As we drove home from El Paso the other day, I started wondering: What is it about this place?

With a little time to kill before Chope's opened for supper, we wandered around La Mesa just before sunset, shooting photographs. Met a nice fellow who was restoring a building more than 150 years old; it was where the priest and nuns used to stay before the church was built. His wife was doing the tile work, including mosaic archways and accents.

I can’t prove it, but I feel as if a higher percentage of people here are people who commit themselves wholly to what they do. They have to. If they want something done, they can’t necessarily rely on someone else to do it.

At Chope’s we filled up on the good, spicy food and enjoyed the familiar feel of the place -- and its history. When Cecilia, one of Chope's four daughters, came out to say hello and asked us if we were enjoying our meal, I was thinking about the fact that her grandmother was making enchiladas for farmers, in this very place, in 1915. (When Chope's was remodeled years ago, the family made sure to include a lantern in memory of Chope's mother, who would hang a kerosene lantern when she had food available.) Chope was born in the house – in 1940, I think.

You know people differently in a smaller town. You know them over time, seeing them at different stages of their lives and likely meeting their kids and/or parents, too. In a place like Las Cruces, the people you see today you’ll see again tomorrow, or next week. Maybe that also makes people more honest and open.

The next day we wandered out to Leyendecker to hear about three years of research some NMSU folks have done on hoophouses (a kind of simple, inexpensive greenhouse to facilitate growing vegetables in our winters). A surprising number of people from southern New Mexico had come out to inspect and learn. The material was interesting, but so was the audience. A diverse group of unusual people clinging to odd bits of land around the valley. All seemed highly interested in growing food, growing it right, and learning and sharing what they could about growing year round and with limited resources.

There's an ability – and responsibility – to help shape this place into what a community ought to be. I felt that living here in the mid-1970's. I never felt that way in the other places I've lived.

Afterward we stopped at Habañeros. From the outside, it doesn’t look like much; but inside, the young married couple who run it make you instantly welcome with sincere smiles and a small bowl of "welcome soup." The decor is simple but pleasant, with colorful paintings on the wall, and the food is tasty, fresh, and imaginative. It’s one of the places you don’t notice until you do, and then you put it high on your list to return to.

In a big city, you know pieces of people. You see some people in your office, others on the tennis or basketball court, others in social gatherings, but never all of those people all together. In Las Cruces, you see a lot of the same folks everywhere. The day I started work here as a reporter in 1974, I walked into the city attorney’s office and discovered I’d met him the previous Friday, at the NMSU chess club. When we went to a poetry reading a few weeks ago, one of the four poets was County Commissioner Billy Garrett, and another was Dick Thomas, husband of City Commissioner Sharon Thomas.

The next evening we went to a 50th wedding anniversary. I was moved to marvel, not for the first time, at some couples’ ability to live together a lifetime and still obviously love each other passionately. (We live next to one such couple.) The Anniversary Couple were the Thomases – who’d eloped as youngsters and still love each other.

I took a lot of photographs. I didn’t have time to think much. But later I mused on the wonder of it, the way all these fine folks we've been meeting up with these past few days just happen to be on this particular parcel of the planet, raising children, doing good work, and trying to create a better world – all of this with a certain independent spirit that seems to mark the folks who grow up or find their way here.

I do enjoy the Organ Mountains. There's also a lot more than weather to love about living here.
[The foregoing column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News yesterday, Sunday, March 4th.]

The Church in La Mesa -- 1853?

Doorway - La Mesa

P.S.: There is one difference between the column as it appeared in the paper and as it appears above:  somehow in writing it I must have wavered between referring to Dick Thomas as "husband of City Commissioner Sharon Thomas" and saying "Dick Thomas, whose wife is . . ." and mindlessly split the difference, referring to him as her wife and failing to catch that howler in proofing the column.  (Thanks to Reymundo for pointiing it out!) 


  1. Hi Peter, I am an 8th grader doing a project on goathead/puncturevines. I noticed you had some excellent pictures in the post on august 26th last year. May I please use those pictures?