Thursday, November 29, 2007

How I Became a Vegetarian

Death is all around here on the eastern New Mexico prairie. At least that’s how I feel today.

Yesterday, when driving home from volunteering at the community college, I saw a herd of cattle running along inside the fence line of a large pasture. I’m used to seeing placid groups of cattle grazing peacefully and this was something unusual, so I stopped my car by the side of the road to see what was going on. There was a huge cattle truck parked off by the fence with its gates open and ramps down. Because I didn’t remember seeing any cattle in this particular field, I assumed that they had just been unloaded there.

There was a cowboy mounted on his modern day steed, a four-wheeler, attempting to herd the smaller groups into one big herd--at least it looked like that to me. I wondered why he would stir up what I was starting to realize were already panicked animals, but I eventually decided that he must be trying to move the cattle to the far corner of the pasture so that the big truck could make its way out of the gate.

As I watched, the cowboy drove back over to the truck, perhaps to talk things over with his co-workers (co-cowboys?). And then the cattle headed down the fence line toward where I was parked. As they passed me, some of them stumbling and obviously worn out, I was able to look closely at each animal. Their eyes were rolling, their tongues hanging out, and some of them had foam coming out of their mouths. They were wet all over with what looked and smelled like liquefied cow manure. It ran down their sides and their legs; it ran down their faces into their eyes and mouths. They were breathing hard and just moving forward by instinct.

It made me so sad. I know that they are born and bred for slaughter. I know that they will make up the hamburgers I’ve always eaten. But looking at them, I couldn’t understand why an animal that is destined to be killed and cut up and turned into meat wasn’t being treated with some dignity during its brief life. There was no reason for those animals to be living in filth. There was no reason for them to be turned out into a pasture while soaking wet, with a night of freezing temperatures ahead of them. They were exhausted and no doubt thirsty, and I could see no accommodations for watering them.

I drove home, feeling that the world is a bad place and that I am a bad person for driving fast by the feedlots around here and never, ever really looking.

This morning I headed out on my bike to look at “my” cattle and to see how they had fared during the bitter night. I was hoping to find them grazing tranquilly, all panic somehow forgotten. It was a hard ride, cold and extremely windy. I had to travel down what I classify as a “scary” road: Scary = fast moving (though occasional) traffic and no shoulders. At times I got off and pushed my bike into the wind, lest it push me backwards.

When I arrived at the pasture…I got it. There were no tranquil cattle grazing. There were no cattle at all. I had completely misinterpreted and misunderstood what I was seeing yesterday. Those cattle were about to be loaded into the big cattle truck. And for an animal raised for meat, going somewhere in the big truck is never a good thing. They were panicked and trying to get away. They were hopeless, because they knew that the cowboys always win. Sure, I’m assigning human emotions to animals. But I defy you to look into the eyes of manure-covered beasts like them and not see a life of unwilling, unrelenting, and miserable slavery.

I know there is a better way. I have raised meat animals myself, in my “back to the land” days. Although we were inexperienced, we did everything we could to ensure that our animals had good lives and that they met their end in as humane a way as possible. They were raised in a clean barnyard and were never sent to the slaughterhouse. They were killed at home with a quick shot, usually as they ate a peaceful meal in familiar surroundings.

Here is my challenge to you: Learn about how the animals we eat live and die. It’s not easy reading, believe me. And don’t just read about it—go to a feedlot and look into their eyes.


Read about the raising, transportation, and slaughtering of animals at

Read about another way to celebrate the that animals we raise and who nourish us:

Read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver for information about humane raising of meat animals.

Sleeping with the Stars (sort of)

We stopped at the famous El Rancho Hotel for lunch when we passed Gallup through recently. The hotel was built in 1937 by the brother of movie magnate, D.W. Griffith. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and protected by the National Historic Preservation Society, it is now owned by the family of the respected Indian trader, Armand Ortega.

The Hotel is located on the old Route 66. When I stepped through the door, I was reminded of some other fine old lodges in other parts of the country, built sometimes as public works projects and often during the Great Depression. The ambiance was similar, although on a smaller scale, to that of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, Old Faithful Lodge in Yellowstone , and the Quinault Lodge on Washington state’s Olympic Peninsula. The El Rancho lobby was built with polished brick floors, massive ceiling beams, and a stone fireplace that is flanked by two handmade wooden staircases that lead to the second floor gallery. It’s furnished in that kitschy and beloved rustic Old West style. There are Navajo rugs, and mounted animal trophy heads, and longhorn cowboy furniture everywhere you look.

Because of all the movies that have been filmed in the area, a great many movie stars have stayed at the hotel and there are great old black and white autographed photos hanging on the walls of the upstairs gallery. You’ll see pictures of Burt Lancaster, Paulette Goddard, William Bendix, Jane Wyman, John Wayne, and lots more. The rooms are named for them; as are the New Mexican and American style dishes available in the restaurant, where a friendly and attentive staff welcomed us in.

Next time we go to Gallup, we plan to stay at this historic and picturesque Hotel. The Ronald Reagan Room sleeps six, and is a bargain at $128, considering the wonderful ambiance, décor, and sense of tradition. Where else in New Mexico can you sleep where the stars have slept?

Well, that would have been a nice line for an ending, but I’m sure you can think of other New Mexico places where the stars have slept—Santa Fe's Silver Saddle Motel and La Fonda are a couple that I know about. So here is today’s challenge—what other hotels do you know of in New Mexico that have a star-studded past? Please leave a comment, you know I love them!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Place Called To'hajiilee

The empty road--traveling toward Tucumcari, NM (nowhere near
To'hajiile, but I like the photo)

Crossing New Mexico on our recent road trip to California, we passed by a place with the intriguing and beautiful name of To'hajiilee. It is the name of the city located a bit west of Albuquerque, and it is also the name of the band of Navajos that live there, away from the main reservation (the "Big Rez"). Driving past To'hajiilee signaled the beginning of our passage through Navajo country.

Here is what the New Mexico Tourism web site has to say about the Navajo Nation:
The largest U.S. Indian tribe, the Navajo Nation consists of more than 298,000 members, about 106,807 of whom live in New Mexico, according to Census 2000 figures. The reservation includes approximately 27,000 square miles. Its boundaries extend from northwestern New Mexico into northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah, larger than many states.

This was just a quick week-long trip, driving to and from California with a few days in the middle to spend with family to celebrate our Thanksgiving. Along the way, I saw many places that I want to go back to and explore in depth. In the meantime, I’ll learn what I can from home. Here is my list of places to travel back to and explore:

We had lunch at an amazing place in Gallup, the El Rancho Hotel (“Home of the Movie Stars”). I’ll tell you more about that later.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Looking for a Few Good Books: A Challenge

I read a lot. There are certain authors that I follow, and I always want to read both fiction and nonfiction about New Mexico and the rest of the Southwest. However, I would like to challenge myself to read some books that are a bit different from what I usually seek out, so I have compiled a list of books I’d like to read over the next few months. My friend Sonja in New Hampshire used to let me know about great reads but alas, there is no Sonja here in New Mexico, so I’ve picked these ten titles from a variety of award-winning and “best” lists. I’ve linked the titles to reviews and/or additional information from resources like The New York Times Book Review and National Public Radio.

Now, here is where you can help. As the Wikinomics subtitle (below) says, “mass collaboration changes everything,” so I’d like to see the list of books you’d like to read. If we share, we can broaden our horizons. Please send a comment that includes your list. Thank you for collaborating.

My Challenge List:

I Am America (And So Can You!), by Stephen Colbert.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz.

The Gathering, by Anne Enright.

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire; The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56, by Rafe Esquith.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini.

The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn and Hal Iggulden.

The God of Animals, by Aryn Kyle.

Black Swan; the Impact of the Highly Improbable, by N.N Taleb.

Born on a Blue Day; Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant, by Daniel Tammet.

Wikinomics; How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Mabel; A Biography of Mabel Dodge Luhan by Emily Hahn. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1977.

In every book about New Mexico, Santa Fe, or Taos, the name Mabel Luhan comes up again and again, so I needed to know more about her. Although there are newer biographies and books about Mabel Ganson Evans Dodge Sterne Luhan (1879-1962), I was interested in reading this one by Emily Hahn (1905-1997). Hahn was a freethinker and unconventional woman of her times, as was Mabel, who married and divorced three times before marrying Tony Lujan (Mabel changed the spelling later), a Pueblo Indian from the Taos Pueblo.

Mabel started out as Mabel Ganson in Buffalo, New York, born into a well to do family. During her life she spent time in New York City, in Florence, and in Taos, and was right in the thick of all sorts of societal movements. She “collected” people, and knew revolutionaries, labor leaders, Bolsheviks, writers, artists, early psychologists, and many of the “new women” of the time, including Margaret Sanger and Gertrude Stein. She was headstrong and willful; argumentative and ambitious. She married, divorced, and moved on again and again (and again) like an unstoppable force.

I was interested in learning about Taos history, and this book was tantalizing in its glimpses of the early artistic and literary colony that grew up there. D.H. Lawrence and his wife Gertrude make a tempestuous appearance in the book. Alice Corbin Henderson, Alice Henderson Rossin, and Witter (Hal) Bynner also appear—all of whom were interviewed for the book Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog.

The experience of reading the book was somewhat marred for me by the obvious dislike and almost scorn that Hahn had for her subject. She seemed to want to disprove every autobiographical statement that Mabel had ever made about her life. However, the author’s attitude actually ended up making me very curious about Hahn and her life, and it looks like that will be another subject for me to learn about.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Harvey Houses

It seems that whenever I read about New Mexico, the history of the Harvey Houses is intertwined with the history of the state. In the fictional Night Journal, author Elizabeth Crook describes the life of a Harvey Girl in Las Vegas, NM. When I read about the history of Santa Fe in Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog, by John Pen La Farge, I was reminded that La Fonda was one of the Harvey Houses from 1926-1968. I needed to learn more about Harvey and his empire, and this is what I found.

Born in 1835, Fred Harvey emigrated from England to America when he was 15 years old, and worked for his living in restaurants, on river boats, and at a railroad post office. Along the way, he noticed the plight of the poor hungry travelers, who apparently had to scramble to find meals during their journeys. In a time before fast food (imagine!), train passengers ran the risk of being left behind when they tried to eat a quick meal at a restaurant near the train station during a short one-hour dining stop.

Using his restaurant experience, Harvey opened the first Harvey House Restaurant in Topeka, Kansas in 1876. Harvey’s idea was to provide quality food to railroad travelers for a reasonable price in a clean environment with good service, back when trains didn’t have dining cars and food service along the way was either nonexistent or of low quality. Harvey's new customers appreciated having good dining facilities where the food was served on china and customers were required to wear coats. By the late 1880s there was a Harvey House Restaurant every hundred miles along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad line, from Kansas to California. Fred Harvey even got the contract to run the dining car food service for the Santa Fe Railroad.

Harvey found that hiring men to work in his restaurants was not such a good idea, as they often turned out to be “as wild as the west was,” so he began hiring women, who soon became known as Harvey Girls. In order to qualify as one of the “Harvey Girls, the women had to have at least an eighth grade education, good moral character, good manners, and be neat and articulate. Harvey paid good wages, as much as $17.50 per month with free room, board, and uniforms. In return for employment, the Harvey Girls would agree to a six month contract, agree not to marry and abide by all company rules during the term of employment. In no time, these became much sought after jobs. When they were hired, they were given a free rail pass to their chosen destination.”

When Harvey died in 1901, his idea had grown to 15 hotels, 47 restaurants, and 30 dining car operations along the Santa Fe line.

In Clovis, the Harvey House building is still owned by the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad, which uses it for storage at the moment. Next door is the privately owned former Clovis Railroad Station, which now houses a railroad museum.

For photos and more complete information, please see:

Arizona Lodges:

[Harvey] Hotels, Lunchrooms, Restaurants in New Mexico:

Legendary Route 66; Harvey House Hotels and Restaurants: This web site gives a history of the Harvey House and the locations of all of its restaurants and hotels.

Slaton [TX] Harvey House:
This is a delightful 1992 article from the Slaton Slatonite that contains lots of details about Harvey Girls and their impact on the West, and even includes a song written in their honor. It includes a quote from Will Rogers: "Fred Harvey kept the West in food and wives."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Believe in Me

"Never let them tell you what you can't do"

If you want to see what the land around Clovis looks like, you can't get a better view than by watching the 2006 movie Believe in Me. It is based on the true story of Oklahoma high school basketball coach Jim Keith, who arrives at his new job in 1964 to find out that he will be coaching girls, not boys, at a time when girls' athletic teams were not at all respected or taken seriously. After a lot of hard work, team bonding, and some threatening local politics, the team goes on to the state championships. Though predictable (especially now that I've told you what happens) the story is a sweet one. It took me the better part of a box of Kleenex to get through it.

The producers chose the Clovis/Portales area for most of the filming because many areas had a mid-century look about them, and because there are a lot of vintage autos here. They were met with that famous Clovis hospitality--the locals brought them homemade suppers, donated vintage clothing and props, and lent them classic cars. The producers said that if they had a particular need, they had only to broadcast it on the local radio station, and they'd get donations by the next day. You can read more in the Production Notes.

The video is, of course, a big hit around Clovis, and the local video stores have a hard time keeping enough copies on their shelves. People here watch to see local street scenes, their cars, and themselves in the crowd scenes. Even though I'm fairly new to Clovis I recognized a few spots. The prairie scenes and the sunsets were absolutely stunning.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More Sweaters for the Knit for Kids Project

I've just finished up another batch of sweaters to send off to the Knit for Kids organization, which will distribute them to needy children in the U.S. and around the world.

I was surprised when I checked my records to find that my last batch of five sweaters was sent away just this past June 2007, and that I have already produced another nine since then! It didn't seem as though I was knitting all the time--I just picked up a sweater to work on mostly when I was doing something else like traveling in the car or watching a movie with my husband. Oh, yes, and while driving across the country and while hanging out in a motel for two weeks while waiting to move into our new home. It's pretty amazing what you can turn out when you use an idle moment here or there.

So here are the latest sweaters. My total will now be 26 since I first heard about the Knit for Kids organization at the Candia Town Meeting in March 2006. This will be my last batch of size 2 sweaters, as a careful check of the organization's web site reveals that they are looking for bigger sizes. Output should slow down a bit as the larger sweaters will naturally take longer to knit.

I encourage you to take part in this project. If you have any questions, I'll be glad to answer them. Just send me a comment.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Veterans Day

Veterans Day, also called Remembrance Day, was originally called Armistice Day in honor of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. Here are some related links (thanks, sonjag!) that I found interesting.

Catalog of Political Cartoons by Dr. Seuss:

Powers of Persuasion:

Remembering Pearl Harbor:

War Stories:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Visual Offering: Tribute to the Day of the Dead

Virgin Mary 22" x 28"

Artist David Martinez first started developing the idea for Visual Offering: A Tribute to the Day of the Dead two years ago. His show is currently at the Eula Mae Edwards Museum Gallery at the Clovis Community College, running from October 30 to December 14, 2007. You can visit at any time from 8AM to 5PM--just stop at the office across from the gallery or at the front desk and ask for the doors to be opened for you. I would recommend getting there soon, before all the pieces have sold. This is a great time to collect this artist's work, while it is still reasonably priced ($50-$1000).
Couple of Drinks 14' x 6'

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. Photographs were taken and are posted with the artist's gracious permission.

Red Skull, Blue Skull, Green Skull 31" x 39" each

Saint Mary 12" x 24"

Waiting 48" x 24"

The Eula Mae Edwards Museum Gallery is located at the Clovis Community College, 417 Schepps Blvd., Clovis, NM. 575-769-2811. Hours are 8AM to 5PM weekdays; check at front desk to have gallery opened.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge

We went to Muleshoe, Texas over the weekend. I don’t know why, but I just love that town. Maybe it’s the name, or maybe it’s the metalwork you see around town, but Muleshoe is just a place where I like to go.

Just 22 miles south of town is the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge, which covers 5809 acres and is the oldest national wildlife refuge in Texas; it was established in 1935. It is a 49-mile ride from here in Clovis.

The refuge contains White Lake, Lower Paul’s Lake, and Goose Lake—playa lakes, which have no outlets and depend on runoff for their water supply. Only Upper Paul’s Lake is spring fed. When all the lakes are full there are 600 acres of water available for wildlife, in addition to other saline lakes in the area. Coyote Lake and Salt Lake are both nearby. The latter is part of the 3236 acre Grulla National Wildlife Refuge located near Arch, New Mexico.

Sandhill cranes winter over at the Muleshoe refuge and at Grulla as well. They start arriving in late September, with their populations peaking between December and February. According to the Muleshoe Brochure, an all time record of 250,000 cranes was witnessed in February 1982. The cranes “roost on the refuge lakes at night…at sunrise they fly to surrounding agricultural land where they search harvested fields for waste grain and invertebrates and graze in the grasslands and wheat fields.” (Brochure, p.5)

There are an amazing 320 species on the Muleshoe refuge bird list, ranging from raptors such as the bald and the golden eagle, to shorebirds like the snow goose and wood duck, to songbirds like the horned lark and the prairie warbler. Mammals include prairie dogs, coyotes, bobcats, badgers, skunks, rabbits, and porcupines. Prairie rattlesnakes are common throughout the area.

We only saw one other person during our visit to the Muleshoe refuge. She was watching the ducks at Paul’s Lake, so we just drove on over to White Lake so that we could have our very own lake to ourselves. We watched flocks of sandhills coming in for landings and joining the hundreds of birds already in the water. The sky was huge as it always is here, the sun shone on the lake below the mesa, and there was an incredibly peaceful feeling about the place. The night sky must be wonderful as there are no nearby light sources to interfere with stargazing. We want to go back and camp there and watch the stars. I suppose it will be just the two of us, the sandhill cranes, the stars, and the prairie rattlesnakes.

Grulla Bird List:

Grulla National Wildlife Refuge:

Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge:

Monday, November 5, 2007

Things I Didn't Know About Cotton

It’s cotton harvest time right now in West Texas and the High Plains of New Mexico. We see fields of cotton still growing, fields that have been recently harvested, and lots and lots of cotton that has escaped the machinery and has landed along the roadside. I’ve been gathering a bit (I like to think of it as gleaning) and will be doing a cotton handspinning experiment that I’ll write about in a future post.

Cotton is a food, fiber, and feed crop. Being a handspinner, I have always thought of cotton as just a fiber. I didn’t know that two thirds of the crop consists of cotton seeds, which are crushed to provide oil (used in cooking oil, shortening, snack foods), and meal and hulls (used in animal feed and as fertilizers).

Back when cotton picking was done by hand, an experienced worker could pick 450 pounds of seed cotton a day. Today’s modern cotton harvesters can cover up to 6 to 8 rows at a time and can harvest up to 190,000 pounds of seed cotton a day.

500 pounds of cleaned cotton—seeds and trash removed--will make 325 pairs of denim jeans, or 300 diapers, or 1200 pillowcases.

Just in case you want to learn more about cotton, here are some great web sites.

Cotton Counts; Educational Resources:
Includes information about the cotton content of U.S. currency, an online presentation called "Cotton: From Field to Fabric in Forty Frames," and a list of links to additional resources.

The Story of Cotton:
Using non-technical language, this web site tells the history of cotton cultivation and gives a clear description of the production of cotton today. It includes photographs showing how cotton plants and fields look as the crop grows.

National Cotton Council of America’s education pages give lots of technical information:

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog

After the war [World War I], artists, writers, poets, Indian-rights activists, seekers of the exotic, intellectuals seeking an unstructured society, remittance men, and all others who did not fit in elsewhere arrived in increasing numbers.”
~John Pen La Farge

Although I didn’t have a name for it, oral history was what I wanted as a child, as opposed to the dry history textbooks that we were given. I wanted to hear what happened to ordinary people and not to have to read about a lot of boring battles and facts that I had to memorize without context. I’ve always learned best when reading fiction about a particular period because it made the past seem more alive, and recorded oral histories are even better than fiction.

In his book, Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog; Scripting the Santa Fe Legend, 1920-1955, John Pen La Farge recorded the oral histories of 24 of Santa Fe’s colorful characters, getting the details while they were still alive, so to speak. He takes care to tell us that this is not a history and that individuals may blur certain details. Of course they do, and part of the fun of this book is reading about incidents from several different viewpoints. He tells about family life, local politics, parties, artists’ lives, Indians, ranchers, La Fonda, merchants, the coming of the opera, and any number of quirky individuals. It is the best kind of social history.

"...word got back to the East that one might find a rather exotic freedom in New Mexico, in an atmosphere like no other." p.2

La Farge, born in 1951 to Oliver La Farge and Consuelo Pendaries y Baca, is a Santa Fe native. His father was an anthropologist and author of scientific papers, fiction (notably Laughing Boy, Pulitzer Prize winner in 1929), non-fiction about Indian culture, and a column for the Santa Fe New Mexican. His maternal grandmother, Marguerite, was onetime Secretary of State for New Mexico.

"Toward the end of the [19th] century, anthropologists and archaeologists adopted New Mexico as the prime American location for study. So many anthropologists came that the Zuni Indians joked that their typical family included a mother, a father, three children, and an anthropologist." p.3

Over a number of years in the late 1980s, historian La Farge talked with people representing “a cross-section of Santa Fe during the best of times: native Santa Feans, both Spanish-American and Anglo, artists, immigrants, those who came by accident, those who came intending to stay, those who fought to preserve the older cultures’ traditions and values.” (Quoted from the book cover). The people La Farge talked with were friends of his family, people he had known all of his life, many now gone.

"Those who did not or could not fit in elsewhere found a good fit in New Mexico, where people's natural tolerance and the territory's vast spaces allowed them to live as they pleased."

"The people of the land were nonjudgmental as well as exotic, welcoming as well as foreign, and reasonably willing to let a man do as he pleased as long as he did not do it in the street and frighten the horses." p.3

Their world was Santa Fe at its most charming when it was a town where people could walk to find all their necessities, when the plaza was the true town center that had the stores that they needed to buy groceries, clothing, hardware, and medicine. It was a time when the population was small enough for the neighbors to all know each other. And it was a much quieter time, when one could give directions to a visitor by telling him to go up the hill and turn left at the sleeping dog.

Turn Left at the Sleeping Dog; Scripting the Santa Fe Legend, 1920-1955, by John Pen La Farge. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 2001. 396 p.

More about Oliver La Farge:
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

More about Santa Fe (Scroll down and you will see a link to an article about Santa Fe by John Pen La Farge):
Santa Fe Basics; The Story of Many Peoples