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Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words – so here are three.



Images taken yesterday, our third consecutive day of heavy snow which have given us a total of around two feet.


Friday, 27 February 2015

Me and My Big Mouth

I can’t say my primary school headmaster didn’t spell it out to me, over fifty years ago. ‘Pride goeth before a fall,’ he said – and he was looking at me. (I think he got that Biblical quotation slightly wrong, but the message stayed with me – blast him.)

So what was I saying the other day, about the glorious sunshine… and going on Facebook to have a cheap laugh at the expense of the folk back home?


Ha. This is the sixth consecutive grey day, the second in a row that I’ve woken up to find six fresh inches of snow – and they’re forecasting a similar amount over the next twenty-four hours.

I don’t mind it at all. I don’t mind sitting in then little porch (above) to get a wifi signal -  even on a morning like this when it’s 16 F (-9 C). It lends drama to the business of being a visiting writer, more colourful recollections to take home. And more than anything else it stops me from getting distracted by those mountains and forests that surround us. Right now there’s very little a guy can do but sit home and work – and it’s paying off, big time. It’s looking as though I may well complete the thing I came here to write within the next two weeks.

However… pride… and falls. I’ll say no more – just upload a picture of the snow as it was a few days ago:


Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Devisadero Trail, Take 2

What I love about this life is that no matter how much you know – or think you know – every day is an education. It just never stops.

I had this bright idea for today. I’ve been writing like a demon all week and deserved a holiday. I would hike the whole of the Devisadero Trail. I would start good and early before it got muddy, set out at nine and be back for one.  That was the theory. The trail starts out like one of those paths you just want to follow. Nice and easy.



You see what I mean? And the weather – yes, the weather certainly helps. This is February, for God’s sake!

And then, less than a mile out, you come to the point where the trail splits. There’s the quick route to the top – which I did last week – and there’s the rest of the loop, which follows the northern, shaded side of the hill. That was my intended route today.

I think I got about 600 yards before I decided that I place a high price on my well-being. The trail had been well used, and the result was a long slick of packed snow, frozen hard – and, as we used to say in Lincolnshire, ‘ower slape’ (too slippery).


I turned around, and re-joined the path that sticks to the south-facing slope. Got to the top…..


 … and found a quiet spot for an early lunch. It was there that I spotted that rare Taos phenomenon, a cloud, and whipped out the camera, before it melted away.


On my way down I stopped to examine a few examples of the mountain flora. I was surprised to see oak trees at 8000 feet – although I do recall reading something about them in one of those ‘Welcome to Taos’ brochures. Can’t remember what type of oak, but there was no doubting that’s what it was.


I also spotted a few mahonia hanging in there (in England we call them Oregon Grape, for the purple fruits they bear in late summer). I am very fond of these: they have yellow flowers in the spring, very sweet-scented.


Later I was struck by the wonderfully vicious spikes on what I took to be prickly pear cactus. Further north (in Nebraska, for example) they tend to be green, with much shorter spines. But I’m sure these are the same species.

I was back to the parking lot on Hwy 64 (Taos to Raton and points east) earlier than I expected. By 1245 I was back at my casita brewing coffee. By 2 o’clock I was in town at a store called Mud ‘n’ Flood buying a set of crampons. Next time up there I will tackle the rest of that loop. That’s a promise.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

In Memory of Ron Chavez

They have a weekly Farmers’ Market in Taos. It’s outside in the summer, but in winter they have it indoors. I went along on Saturday. Bought a fine-looking jar of chokecherry jelly (jam, we Brits would say) and was sorely tempted by various cookies and pastries.

Just as I was leaving I spotted a fellow selling books – second-hand, by the look of them. One caught my eye immediately. It was a collection of stories by a guy called Ron P. Chavez. I grabbed it, and my heart jumped – more so when I read on the back that ‘Ron… lives and writes in Taos.’

I met Ron back in 1986 when I was a British undergraduate exchange student at the University of New Mexico. I’d come over with my family and needed to earn a few bucks. I did gardening at the married student housing complex, later washed windows at homes and businesses around town. I worked in the mornings, attended classes in the afternoons and evenings. Mostly I studied western lit. and creative writing. It was in Rudy Anaya’s graduate writing workshop that I met Ron. He travelled in from Santa Rosa every Wednesday for the class, a round trip of 240 miles. He’d grown up in the same village as Rudy, was trying to write about the Spanish and Native cultures he was familiar with, and was keen to learn.

For the first month or two we didn’t speak. Then he read a piece I’d written, a fiction, in which a character made some disparaging remark about New Mexico. He took me to task immediately. ‘You’re living in Albuquerque,’ he said. ‘You cannot know the real Nuevo Mejico. Wait until the spring,’ he said, ‘then give me a call. Bring your family out to Santa Rosa and I’ll show you my part of the state.’

It was late May when I made the call. ‘Come on over,’ he said. ‘And listen, don’t eat.’

We piled the kids into the car and took off. What I hadn’t realised was that Ron at that time ran the legendary Club Café on old Route 66. As soon as we arrived he took us inside and fed us – a huge meal of chiles, tacos, carna asada; beer for the grown-ups, ice-cream for the kid. As we ate he told us about the illustrious history of the place, showed us photos taken in its hey-day, before the freeway, when three shifts of waitresses and cooks kept the place open twenty-four hours.

After the meal we all got into his truck and he took us on a tour. We saw the blue hole Anaya writes about in Bless Me, Ultima. We went to the village of Las Pasturas – Puerta de Luna in the book – and saw the old Spanish church. We visited Ron’s home, and the little factory he’d set up to make his own brand of salsa. Then he took us to some sand-dunes and showed us how his new truck could climb straight up the steepest slope. He was very proud of it.

Finally we went down to a spot beside the Pecos river where he unloaded a little inflatable boat and set up camp on a sandy island in mid-stream. We gathered wood and made a huge fire. He erected a barbecue and produced from the back of the truck a huge tray of home-made burgers. We feasted again.

I remember getting home late that evening, exhausted, still full, and my ears ringing with the tales he had told me about his family, their roots and the Comanche people on whose lands they had settled over two hundred years previously.

My year in Albuquerque was soon up, but I stayed in touch with Ron for some years. He sent me articles he had written for the Guadelupe County Examiner. He told me that we should get together on a project he had in mind. He wanted to get down the many, many stories he had in his head about Route 66 – and I was the man to work the magic with the words. That never happened. A few years later when I told my brother, who was travelling through the southwest, to call in at the Club, he reported that the place was closed. I wrote to Ron and found out it was all due to MacDonald’s, who’d set up and bled him dry.

After that I lost touch for many years. As recently as 2010 I traced him through the internet and found out he’d left Santa Rosa and moved north. That was all I knew.

I asked the guy at the stall, how much for the book? He wanted four dollars. I asked him whether he knew Ron Chavez. ‘Sure,’ he said. ‘He lived in town for years.’

‘So how is he?’ I asked. ‘I need to look him up.’ That’s when he told me the sad news. Ron died just a few weeks ago.

He was a big man and a big character. I wish I could’ve seen him one more time.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Sunlight in the trees



One of the great pleasures of living here just now is the almost constant sunlight, and the way it illuminates the trees that surround the Foundation’s grounds. Yesterday I spent an hour or so watching the skies as the sun slowly set behind me. 



Well, it's a good job I grabbed that opportunity. After ten days of sunshine and balmy temperatures in the 50s and 60s (12-16 C) today has dawned cold, cloudy, with snow in the forecast. As my old rat-catching mate Walter used to say, 'If it gets much colder I shall `ave to put on another pair of braces, mate!' [braces in England are suspenders - and suspenders in England are... well, slightly suggestive.]