Thursday, July 31, 2008

Skinwalker Tales

According to Wikipedia, a Navajo skinwalker or skin-walker (yee naaldlooshii) is a witch; a shape-shifter who assumes the shape of an animal in order to travel.

Clyde Kluckhohn, in his classic 1944 work, Navaho Witchcraft (quoted in The Lore of New Mexico, edited by Marta Weigle and Peter White, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988), tells us: The principal reason that so little is known of Navaho witchcraft is the extreme reluctance of the Indians to discuss the matter. As one informant remarked, "People don't tell about these things; they keep them down here in the body." On the one hand, if other Navajos learn that a certain man or woman has discussed the subject, that person is by that very fact open to suspicion of knowing too much, i.e., of being a witch. On the other hand, if the informant relates anecdotes referring to the supposed witchcraft activities of others, he becomes liable to their hatred and revenge. In particular, if these persons "really are witches," and they learn that someone has gossiped about them, they are, it is believed, certain to witch the gossiper and get him out of the way. Over and above these two excellent reasons for caution and silence, there is the additional motive that most Navahos who are "good citizens" feel a genuine discomfort in talking about such topics which are defined for them by their culture as evil and ugly.

I suspect that this is why so many of the skinwalker tales available are rarely told in the first person; the story is one that happened to "a friend," or to "my uncle's hunting companion," or it comes from some other second or third hand account.

Please note: In collecting various skinwalker tales, I have used academic sources, accounts told to me or to a group I belong to, and a number of shakier sources--you know the kind, those wild and sensational websites that purport to have spiritual connections of one type or another. I will always let you know where I found each tale. Now, as I have said elsewhere on this blog, find your "suspension of disbelief" button, and make sure that it is in the "on" position.

The Tales

The following story can be found on many places around the Internet. It always reads the same, word for word, which would indicate that it is being cut and pasted from page to page without any credit being given to the original poster. I found it at Daily Grail:

One story told on the Navajo reservation in Arizona concerns a woman who delivered newspapers in the early morning hours. She claims that, during her rounds, she heard a scratching on the passenger door of her vehicle. Her baby was in the car seat next to her. The door flung open and she saw the horrifying form of a creature she described as half-man, half-beast, with glowing red eyes and a gnarly arm that was reaching for her child. She fought it off, managed to pull the door closed, then pounded the gas pedal and sped off. To her horror, she says, the creature ran along with the car and continued to try to open the door. It stayed with her until she screeched up to an all-night convenience store. She ran inside, screaming and hysterical, but when the store employee dashed outside, the being had vanished. Outsiders may view the story skeptically, and any number of alternative explanations might be suggested, but it is taken seriously on the Navajo reservation.

A slightly different version of this story, and the only one I found from this perspective, comes from

One night a friend was at a convenience store on the rez visiting with the clerk when a hysterical woman came in screaming about her baby. He didn't know what was going on so he ran outside to see if there was anything he could do. He ran to the passenger side and noticed huge scratches along the side of the car. As he inspected it he heard the cry of a child inside the car. He quickly opened the door and found a child hidden under a stack of newspapers. This was the delivery person for the local newspaper. She had been delivering the papers to area businesses when she heard scratching on the passenger door. Her baby was in a car seat next to her. The door flung open and the woman saw a horrifying sight. It was a creature that was half man and half beast with glowing red eyes reaching for her child. she fought it off and managed to get the door closed and sped up. The creature was running along side the car still trying to get in. Panicked the woman managed to get the child out of the car seat and place it on the floor hiding it under the papers and raced for the nearest open business or house. The creature slammed into the passenger door over and over again until she drove into the parking lot. She ran in screaming and hysterical. She quit delivering papers that night.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pintada Kid Stories, an Index

Tales of living history from the center of New Mexico...

Part 1: Growing up, grandparents

Part 2: Origin of his name, rattlesnake lore

Part 3: Folk remedies, what to do with a dead rattlesnake

Part 4: More about his grandparents

Part 5: San Isidro

Part 6: Traveling around New Mexico

Skinwalkers in New Mexico

Funny thing about New Mexico--every once in a while, right in the middle of a normal conversation, someone will say something that makes you sit up and take notice; something that you might not hear in other parts of the country. You glance around at others who might have heard, wondering what their reaction will be and you make the discovery, once again, that this place must be enchanted because people say the most amazing things that are simply taken for granted. This happened to me once when, during a lunch time conversation in a teacher's room in a southern NM elementary school, someone asked about finding a curandera for his wife, who had been bewitched. No one, other than my own startled self, seemed to find this request unusual (see Las Cruces and the Suspension of Disbelief).

It just happened again to me a few days ago, this time during an online discussion about the pros and cons of a family moving from a crime-ridden city in Ohio to the small town of Thoreau, New Mexico. Right there, in the middle of chatting about weather, and shopping, and schools, someone threw out this piece of advice: " might encounter skinwalkers at night. I would go to either Gallup or Grants [instead]."

No one else seemed bothered or excited by this statement. I wrote privately to the person who had made it, who told me: Skinwalkers are Navajo witches. They dress themselves up in coyote skin and paint their faces. There is actually a documentary out there about skinwalkers, with actual skinwalkers narrating. There is also a video message going around of a skinwalker running in front of a car. It looks like a dog or coyote, then it runs to the side of the road and stands up. It's chilling! I don't know if that clip is on youtube, but I have heard that it is. I have that video on my phone. That video was taken outside of Gallup.

I was grateful to this person for explaining this much to me, as I hadn't been sure that people would be willing to talk about their skinwalker experiences. I decided to collect as many tales as I could. In the meantime, I have found that the discussion of the supernatural in traditional societies in the Southwest is becoming more mainstream. Here is a statement I found in a book called Witchcraft in the Southwest, by Marc Simmons (University of Nebraska Press, 1980):

Recently in his weekly newspaper column, Pulitzer Prize-winning Indian novelist N. Scott Momaday noted with candor that his own young daughters are inordinately fond of witch stories and that he himself has “a thing about witches.” Recalling personal experiences, he reflected that “there are witches at Jemez Pueblo, and when I lived there I knew of them, sure enough. One night I saw some curious lights away in the distance, small points of light moving erratically about at ground level, and I was told that they were “witch lights.” I thought: Nonsense, there are some boys running about with flashlights, that is all. And then one of the lights rose slowly and moved like a shooting star across the whole expanse of the sky. I shudder to think of it.”

Next: Some stories of encounters with skinwalkers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Pintada Kid, Part 6

The Pintada Kid on traveling around New Mexico, and the sights to be seen:
I've spent a lifetime in the Mountains and Back Roads of New Mexico and always have a Sleeping bag in back of my Chevy 4x4 so i travel into places few people get to see and i sometimes will be talked into giving people tours into these Secluded places where you usually don't see anyone for hours on some of the Backroads where there are Ghost Towns and Indian Petroglyphs and Sheepherder Writing and Old Churches and cemeteries, underground caves where the Indians use to live down in the Ground and graves and some good quiet fishing Spots which are Scattered all over N.M. I like to find Dinosaur Bones and Arrowheads and Artifacts and beautiful Rocks. My latest Discovery is a human Skull Staring at me from 20 foot high Arroyo Wall and the rest of his Bones sticking out of the wall along with other Skeletal Remains possibly over a Dozen other Skeletons in that area probably from the 1800s.
Also Willard has the Salt Lakes a few Miles to the East and it's a Great Place to take pictures of Sunsets and go hiking. At night a couple of times i've seen some Giant Fireballs fall into the Salt Lakes. The last Fireball that i saw in that area was a couple of years ago. I was driving through about 10 at night and i thought i had left my interior light on and it was a Giant Fireball of all Colors about to Crash into me while i was Driving and then it just Disappeared there around MP 222. The guys from Willard say that sometimes at night they would get up on the Highest Hill or Mesa and Watch these weird lights at night. I use to think that the Salt Lakes all over that area had Giant Spaceports miles underneath the Salt Lakes and when these Fireballs hit the Water it douses the Flames and doesn't leave a Trace when they go in and it bakes the Salt. I'm Curious why these Fireballs like that area where there isn't anything for miles around.
The little town in between Ancho and White Oaks is called Jicarilla. Used to be Population 5 but the people living there were moved out i think. All that Land around there is Federal Land and great for hiking and hunting and searching for Gold.
If you want to know who owns what in White Oaks go to the No Scum Allowed Saloon. I'm not sure who owns it now i heard some women had bought it and they have live music and Dances there once in awhile. I'm not sure about the Museum [called] My House of Old Things in Ancho but it's Closed now and i'm not sure if will be open again. If you keep going on the Road through White Oaks it turns into dirt and farther on they have places for Sale with plenty of Land and if you keep going you'll pass through a small school house and cemetery in Jicarilla pop.5 and keep going and you end up in Ancho and back out on 54. This is Beautiful Country and lots of Mountains and Forests and Wildlife. I was through there about 2 weeks ago and saw about 10 Wild Turkeys on the Road and Antelope and Deer at Jacks Peak. I know all those Roads. Had a Friend that was a Hermit up there around Jacks Peak his name was Lloyd Hoskins a Goldminer he was over 90 years old and i found him Dead in his Cabin on his Mountain and had been Dead about 10 days when i found him. It's a favorite Place to Hike and search for Gold but watch out for the Bears and Mountain Lions and Rattlesnakes.
Note: Here is an index to all the Pintada Kid stories on this blog.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Pintada Kid, Part 5

Image (not San Ysidro, but I like it) from Dia de los Muertos altar 
Photo and artwork by my sister, Auntie Bucksnort

Here is a unique New Mexico story told in the exact words of the Pintada Kid, just as he wrote it down for me.

Former N.M. Lt Governor Roberto Mondragon came over to visit me a few years ago and on entering my house he saw a Very Old Picture of San Isidro hanging on my Wall. He asked me about the picture and i told him that I thought my Great Great Grandparents had brought it from Spain. Anyway i told him when i take that old picture out it brings rain but i don't take it out too often because i'm afraid the old Frame might fall apart so i only take it out when there is a long Drought.

San Ysidro, the patron saint of farming
From The Food Museum; Exploring and Celebrating Food

Roberto Mondragon told me "I know an Old Story about that Saint you might want to hear. MANY years ago GOD told San Isidro, the Patron Saint for Farmers and Ranchers, you need to take a day off. If you don't i'm gonna send a Drought to kill your crops and San Isidro kept working 7 days a week on his fields and planting and God Send a Drought to Destroy his Crops.
The next year God again asked San Isidro to take a Day off or he was gonna send Grasshoppers or Locusts and San Isidro kept working 7 days a week so his Crop was Destroyed again. 
 Once again God told San Isidro if you don't take a Day off i'm gonna Send you a BAD NEIGHBOR and this time San Isidro decided to take a Day Off.

I have taken out the Saint about a Dozen times in the Last 20 years and it has helped the Drought or to stop forest fires in the Southwest. The First time i took him out i remember we had a very bad drought about 30 years or more ago and it took about 8 hours before rain started coming down and ending the Drought. 

I took him out for the Los Alamos fire and the Trigo Fire and the Corona fire. Some of the times that i've taken San Isidro out, it takes an hour or two for the rains to come. I feel guilty later when people die in Flash Floods or are swept away in their Cars or Arroyos.

Next: Pintada Kid, Part 6--Traveling around New Mexico

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Pintada Kid, Part 4

Making tortillas (Library of Congress)
A bit more about the Pintada Kid's grandparents, in his own words. My Parents both Died when i was a little kid and my Grandparents raised me... My Grandfather grew up in the Mountains of N.M. and couldn't read or write or talk in English but he was VERY intelligent and knew animals better than anyone. My Grandfather was like a Mountain man and very strong and if anyone was making trouble or laughing at him he would grab his Rope or Long Whip from his Pickup and Men would Scatter in all Directions. The Wealthy Spanish and Italian and German Ranchers from all around came to ask him for Advice on Ranching and taking care of sick animals. My Grandmother was the Greatest Cook and all these Ranchers at Branding time would come in, some Landing their Airplanes out in the Pastures just to come and taste my Grandmother's Cooking more than to Work. I only had [my grandfather] in my life a few years. Him and my Grandmother were married for over 50 years and took care of a lot of his Grandkids on a 200 a month salary and he was an honest man and always paid his Bills. He was working into his 70s when he died of a Disease from taking care of a Sick cow. My grandmother died a month after my Grandfather Died, she was very religious and never missed mass on Sunday.
Next: Pintada Kid, Part 5--A story told to the kid by the Governor

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Pintada Kid, Part 3

Photo from an old editorial cartoon (Library of Congress)

Here are some of the Pintada Kid's folk remedies and techniques, in his own words, as always.
I grew up in the Mountains with the Old people and learned lots of the Old ways including Medicinal Plants and Water Dousing etc. Can even tell you how far down the water is right down to the Foot.

My Suggestion to anyone who is afraid of Snakes is to see them at a Snake Roundup or even eat the Meat its good for High Blood Pressure and save that 400 or more Bucks you would pay a Therapist plus you could eat a Rattlsnake Burger and feel BETTER.

im still trying to Go to a Rattlesnake Roundup in Alamogordo and find some Rattlesnake Fat for Arthritis and some Bear Fat to Predict the weather

Rattlesnake meat is good for High Blood Pressure. The Fat is used for Arthritis and Rhemeutism it REALLY Works almost Immediately or for leg or toe Cramps or back pain or growing pains. You can also use Skunk fat but i prefer Rattlesnake Fat.

The Rattlesnake fat takes away the pain from Arthritis for months with one or two Applications. The Bear Fat you put in a Jar and put it on your South facing Window and if its Clear its a nice day and if it breaks up into little pieces its Windy and if it Drift like Snow in a Certain Direction its telling which direction a Snow storm is coming. Somewhere i have a Chart showing about over a half dozen weather patterns for Bear Fat.

You can Tan the [rattlesnake] Hide with Glycerine and Alcohol and the Bones of the Rattlesnakes can be made into necklaces.

Next: Pintada Kid, Part 4--More about his grandparents

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Pintada Kid, Part 2

Pintada means painted. The Pintada Kid tells me that he was given his name by the "original" Pintada Kid. Our P.K. was born near Pintada, NM, located in Guadalupe County. It was given that name for either the petroglyphs or the colored mesas in the area.

The Pintada Kid has a great deal of knowledge about the natural world. He learned from the old people he grew up with and through his own observations and experience. Here is what he has to say about rattlesnakes.

"When you kill a Rattlesnake remember to Cut off the Head and bury it. A Rattlesnake can still Strike Hours after its dead so dont leave the Head on. Also if you bury the head you wont step on it or have an animal or bird pick it up and drop it somewhere else. When it rains the Rattlers on the Rattlesnake get wet and dont rattle so watch out when you go for a walk in the rain. Just because its winter and theres snow on the Ground does not mean all snakes are hibernating. I know places in the center of N.M....when i was out there around March there was snow on the Ground but around the Cliffs it was very warm and i almost stepped on an over 5 foot rattlesnake which i killed with my Ski Pole Walking Stick."

"I spend lots of time out in the Backroads in the center of New Mexico and have been doing this for over 40 years. 30 years ago or more i use to head out to the mountains and kill maybe 2 or 3 good size Rattlersnakes in a Day just on the Road. Today it can take me all Summer to Kill that Many and even then i might not kill 3 some Summers. TIP if you kill a Rattlesnake use a Long handled Shovel Preferably."

"TIP if your worried about snakes and you will probably never get Bit if you Never walk close to bushes or shady spots in the summer without being extra Careful were talking about out in the Country anywhere in N.M. Dont walk close to mounds or holes in the Ground and nests of sticks and if you smell and awful smell like a Dead animal try to get away from that area. Remember any snake can give you an infection if it bites you."

"Ive Killed Big Rattlers all my life or ever since i can Remember. My biggest was over 6 foot long and i was inside my Pickup when i shot it. On My Knees behind the Steering Wheel and the Window half way rolled up the Fricking Rattlesnake was half way up my door i put 4 shots from my Pistol into its head before it dropped. My Suggestion to anyone who is afraid of Snakes is to see them at a Snake Roundup or even eat the Meat its good for High Blood Pressure and save that 400 or more Bucks you would pay a Therapist plus you could eat a Rattlsnake Burger and feel BETTER. I know about being afraid of Snakes especially when your out on a Cliff or Hiking and they Rattle Off and you have no idea where the noise is coming from or what direction you are going to be hit. The Big Rattlesnakes can Drown out a Loud Car Stereo and it seems like theres a Dozen Rattling at once. To Me the Sound of the Rattlesnake is the Most Chilling Sound in the WORLD."
Next: Pintada Kid, Part 3--Some folk remedies

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Pintada Kid, Part 1

When I first read a comment on the City-Data New Mexico Forum from "The Pintada Kid," I sensed that I was "hearing" a truly unique voice. Here is part of the comment that so caught my imagination:

"I grew up in the Mountains of N.M. amongst the Old Sheepherders and Ranchers and as a Kid in Grade School i was elected to be the cook for all the Ranch Hands whether i wanted to or not. So i guess cooking is a passion i grew up with plus playing guitar and singing. I like my cooking better then that Tasteless expensive food in some Restaurants."

I just couldn't get that picture out of my mind--a little kid cooking for ranchers and sheepherders... I tried to imagine what his life had been like, but his experiences were so far from mine, that I couldn't really fill in the blanks. So, instead, I watched for more posts that might tell me more, and was eventually rewarded with this one:

"...they didnt have the Child Labor Laws at 8 and 9 years old back then. While all the other little kids in Grade School were looking forward to Summer Break it would mean more Hard Work for me in the Summer and i dreaded it. I would pack my little Bedroll and go work out in the Surrounding Ranches working from Sunup to Sundown Herding Sheep for miles out in the New Mexico Prairies and Milking cows and fixing fences from Sunup to Sundown sometimes late into the Night for 4 dollars a day....

My Grandfather threw me on the Back of a Horse at 8 or 9 years old and hit the horse on the back with a Board and thats how i learned to ride.......... I remember i was about 12 or 13 and we saddled the horses out in the middle of a Pasture early in the Morning and when i got on the Huge Horse that i got on Reared up and came down on top of me and knocked me out. When i got up i looked down at my Feet and my Foot and Toes on my right Foot were Pointing Backwards. I Could hear my Grandfather say the Dam Horse Broke his leg and he picked me up and loaded me on the Truck and we bounced over miles of Rough Country to get to the Nearest Dirt road to get me to a Doctor. My grandfather said i was about to bend the Gear in the Truck with all the Pain i was in. Anyway i woke a couple of days later in the Hospital in Mountainair and spend like 3 months in Traction without getting up from bed at the hospital there. I broke the femur bone the biggest bone in your body in a couple of places it was a compound fracture. After a few more months on Crutches i was back on my feet and riding horses again and back to doing back breaking ranch work.

P.S. As a kid i remember all the Feed Sacks weighed like 100 lbs not like the 40 or 50 lbs they weigh today. My first time deerhunting while i was in Grade School i killed 3 good size buck Deer in less then 24 hours."

Eventually, I found another tantalizing bit:
"My Parents both Died when i was a little kid and my Grandparents raised me and my Grandfather was like a Mountain Man who Could pick up a Truck while my Grandmother changed the Tire and my Grandfather who knew the Mountains and Animals well taught me about the Mountains and animals and hard Work and my Grandmother taught me and my two sisters about Cooking, Gardening and Medicinal Plants etc.

My Grandfather and Grandmother both Died years ago after being married over 50 years they died about a month apart. My Grandmother told my sisters to take her to get her hair done and she died a month after my Grandfather died...

My Grandmother went to Mass every Sunday and like my Grandfather worked every day of their lives without a Vacation. My Grandfather use to tell that when they were fencing out the Land in New Mexico in the early 1900s that they were paying 50 cents a day to do hard work building fences from Sunup to Sundown.

My Grandfather couldnt read or write or talk in English but he knew animals and hard work and whenever a College Educated person would come to the Ranch on some job he would say to me..... AQUI VIENE UNO DESOS QUE SABES MAS Y ENTIENDE MENOS." [Here comes one of those who knows more and understands less. Translation courtesy of The Pintada Kid].

Next: Pintada Kid, Part 2: Origin of The Pintada Kid's name; and some things you didn't know about rattlesnakes.

Note: All quotes used with permission.

Unique Characters in the Land of Enchantment

The air of enchantment...
Perhaps it's the air of enchantment surrounding my adopted state of New Mexico, but I'm sure that the state is filled with all kinds of unique characters. I've only met or seen a few--the old miner, parked out in front of Mary's Bar in Cerrillos with his little team of burros pulling a converted pickup truck, with a spare burro tied behind. Or the sharp-toothed butcher of Las Cruces...

There's a third New Mexico character who I've had the pleasure of meeting, if not in person, at least in a virtual sense. He has agreed to tell his very unique life story to me, and I'll be passing on this remarkable tale to you in the next few posts. It's a project that's keeping me awake at night, I'll tell you!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Canyon Spirits and Motel Mysteries

Canyon Spirits; Beauty and Power in the Ancestral Puebloan World. Photographs by John L. Ninnemann; essays by Stephen H. Lekson* and J. McKim Malville. Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

This is a lovely book; the photos are beautiful and make you want to spend some time looking at all the details and then to map out a journey to see these places for yourself. Lekson's essay, "Anasazi Pueblos of the Ancient Southwest," speculates on the history and events experienced by the Ancient Puebloans who left behind so many tantalizing ruins, still puzzled over today. His interpretations are backed up by scientific methods for measuring past weather patterns and other archaeological techniques for speculating on what is, after all, an ultimately unknowable past.

It was the second essay, "Ancient Space and Time in the Canyons" by Malville, that lost me. I do not see how an archaeologist can look at a cave wall with petroglyph notches and a spiral carved into it and start talking about calendrical stations, triangular shadows, and "hierophanies of space and time." I know the man has studied these things, but it seems to me that his theories are based on pure speculation; one theory balanced on another and another.

I am reminded of David Macauley's spectacular The Motel of the Mysteries. Here is the publisher's description of this book, first brought out in 1979:
It is the year 4022; all of the ancient country of Usa has been buried under many feet of detritus from a catastrophe that occurred back in 1985. Imagine, then, the excitement that Howard Carson, an amateur archeologist at best, experienced when in crossing the perimeter of an abandoned excavation site he felt the ground give way beneath him and found himself at the bottom of a shaft, which, judging from the DO NOT DISTURB sign hanging from an archaic doorknob, was clearly the entrance to a still-sealed burial chamber. Carson's incredible discoveries, including the remains of two bodies, one of them on a ceremonial bed facing an altar that appeared to be a means of communicating with the Gods and the other lying in a porcelain sarcophagus in the Inner Chamber, permitted him to piece together the whole fabric of that extraordinary civilization.
Yes, Howard discovers the ancient site of the Toot 'n C'mon Motel and from the artifacts there (a toilet paper roll! A "ceremonial" and "ritual treasure" toilet seat!) constructs an extremely skewed world view of our own civilization. It just makes me wonder what the Ancient Puebloans might think of Malville's hierophanies...

*Lekson was a contributor to Canyon Gardens; The Ancient Pueblo Landscapes of the American Southwest, previously reviewed on this blog.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Endless Days...But Beautiful

Enough complaining. Here are some pictures of the beauty and wonders that surrounded us at Bottomless Lakes. All of these photos, except for the last one, were taken by Auntie Bucksnort.

Baby swallows in their nest by the bathroom entrance. They were guarded by three adults, who made every bathroom trip an adventure.

Once you got by the swallow guards, there was a tarantula doorman to greet you.
Vultures waiting for us to give up

Abundant plant life

Colorful mesquite beans
The little pirate band, temporarily in jail. Photo was taken just after Captain Emma ate all the leashes. (Left to right: Emma, licking her chops; Little Weets, aka Tiny Cujo; and Leny, my pillow mate).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Endless Days...And Nights

Sleeping in the little tent trailer is an art. There are enough beds to sleep at least seven very close friends. Mr. Zee, Auntie Bucksnort, the three dogs and I only make six, so there should be plenty of room--especially if the dogs acted like dogs and slept on the floor. Not our little doggy pirate band!

Bucksnort, for reasons best not enumerated here, got the two double beds to herself. The queen-sized bed (sounds spacious, doesn't it?) ended up with the other five of us rolling around and competing for sleeping space. Captain Emma likes the lookout position, which just happens to be the place where my feet would go, if they were ever allowed to assume a natural position. Little Weets likes to be right in the middle, under the covers. When disturbed, she lets the world know why one of her nicknames is Tiny Cujo. Her bared-teeth snarling sounds reduce us all to helpless giggles but no one has ever dared to touch her when she is doing her Cujo thing. Leny, the biggest of the pirates, prefers the inside edge of the bed, and Mr. Zee is quite happy on the window side. The problem is that the two of them sleep like wonky parentheses, forming this shape: ) (. My spot would be in the middle of those.

You will notice that the available space in between the wrong-facing parentheses is shaped like an hourglass. Now, if you have read this far (and I can't imagine why you would have done so) and if you know me at all, you will have to acknowledge that my shape is anything but an hourglass and never has been. Just keep that in mind when picturing our night under the stars.

In retrospect, I'd have to recommend against any kind of camping just two weeks after knee replacement surgery. I've been making a wonderful recovery, but night time is the most difficult because it is so hard to find a comfortable position. So there I was, shifting carefully in my allotted hourglass space, trying to position a pillow under the bad knee, then finding that I needed to do it all over again after fifteen minutes or so.

And then the snoring started.

Leny snores in what can best be described as harmonics. I hope that I am using the term correctly. What I mean is that she harmonizes with herself, kind of snoring in multiple voices, as it were. Then Mr. Zee would begin with a little counterpoint from the other side and both of them would gain in volume until I was shaking with laughter. And get this--every time I raised up my head to peer across to Bucksnort's quarters, no matter what the time of night, her eyes were wide open, which made me laugh even harder.

At some point I must have finally dozed off, only to waken at the earliest light to find Leny's tail section on my pillow (the one where my head was, not the knee pillow) and my head firmly clenched in Mr. Zee's armpit, which frightened us all very badly.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Endless Days at Bottomless Lakes

Mr. Zee has a special relationship with our little tent trailer. He worries about getting it set up before the sun goes down, and then he forgets to observe Camping Rule #1: Drink something, anything, to help you remember that camping is fun. Do this before trying to set up the tent trailer. Then he loses all reason and does strange things resulting in breakage and is very, very crabby.

We all went down to Bottomless Lakes for a couple of days of relaxation—Mr. Zee, my sister Auntie Bucksnort, and me. The dogs came along, of course: Captain Emma Sparrow (aka Hem E. Roid), Leny (Big Dog), and Weetzie (Tiny Cujo). The dogs and Bucksnort and I were all observing the first Camping Rule while Mr. Zee fumed and sizzled and broke things off the trailer. It was not an auspicious beginning, but we had all forgiven each other by the next morning, especially once Auntie Bucksnort agreed to delete all the plumber’s crack photos from her little camera.

Our camp site was in a picturesque spot. We could see Lea Lake, there were red sandstone cliffs behind us, and we had a wonderful view of the storms moving over the distant mountains. What we also had, there at our little campsite, were flies. More flies than you could possibly imagine; flies without number. Flies crawling all over us, the dogs, our food. Flies throwing themselves into our drinks, even when we changed over to travel mugs with the tiniest of openings. Bucksnort ate three, which she reported were minty, but crunchy.

I can measure the enjoyment of the other campers by some of the encounters I had in the ladies' room.

Me, to middle aged lady at sink: Good morning.
She, grabbing my arm: How do you people stand these flies? We can’t cook, we can’t eat. We can’t wait to leave! Gaaahhh!!!

Me, to teen-aged girl at sink: Good morning.
She, leaning in and staring at her own image after only one night of roughing it: [Silence].

Me, to little girl at sink: Good morning.
She, backing away from me, then turning and fleeing: Mommeeeeeee!!!
Me, looking in my own mirror to discover wild hair, black circles under eyes, twitching caused by flies landing on skin: Mommeeeeeee!!!

To be continued...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Native American Cooking

In the comments on the book review for Canyon Gardens; The Ancient Pueblo Landscapes of the American Southwest, (see the post titled Designing Pragmatic Desert Built Environments), Erikka asked if I knew the title of a good Native American cook book. I love to cook and have a great little collection of New Mexico cook books, but none specifically on Native American cooking, although some may have a chapter or two devoted to the subject. For information and opinions, I turned to my helpful friends on the New Mexico Forum at City-Data, as I so often do.

You can see the discussion, now ongoing, and find some cook book titles at

For an online collection of Native American recipes, check out the Santa Ana Pueblo's web page, The Cooking Post, which is a wonderful resource for mail order foods, information, recipes, and even some cook books.

If you would like to check out a wonderful collection of favorite New Mexican recipes from some real experts, be sure to take a look at another ongoing discussion on the forum.

Erikka, thank you for your great input (and ideas for posts) on this blog!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Socorro Blast

It is so much fun to witness a good writer getting better and better. That's exactly what you will find in Pari Noskin Taichert's Sasha Solomon mystery series. She started with The Clovis Incident (2004) and The Belen Hitch (2005), both of which were great books and fun reads. But I've become a confirmed fan with her latest in the series, The Socorro Blast (2008).

Not only do we get reacquainted with the always imperfect and whipped cream swigging Sasha, but we also get to meet some more members of her eccentric family. We get to ride along with her attempts to solve a mystery, this time in the areas around Socorro, Magdalena, San Antonio, and Albuquerque. And to top it off, Taichert offers some timely insight into the machinations and manipulations of the media. Don't miss it!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Designing Pragmatic Desert Built Environments

Isn't that a catchy title for this post? It comes from a chapter in the book, Canyon Gardens; The Ancient Pueblo Landscapes of the American Southwest, edited by V.B. Price and Baker H. Morrow, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006. This isn't the usual sort of book you'll find me reading but I have to tell you, I was absolutely captivated by this collection of essays.

Yes, this is serious stuff, written by university researchers. Yes, the facts are often couched in that academic language we all learn in graduate school. But if you persevere, as I did, you will find yourself surrounded by the ancient Puebloan peoples, admiring their survival methods. You will start to see how they could have lived in the harsh desert climate for millennia by using a pragmatic, low-risk approach to siting their buildings and growing their crops, and by seeing themselves as part of the land and the landscape, as opposed to the way we tend to impose ourselves on the land as something apart. You might be surprised to read of the wide variety of crops that were either raised (corn, beans, squash); encouraged--Indian ricegrass and sand dropseed, amaranth and goosefoot species; and gathered--Cholla fruit, the seeds of fourwind saltbush, juniper and algerita berries, piƱon nuts, watercress, and the fruit and fiber of the yucca.
You will encounter some unexpectedly lovely writing, as in the essay on "Zuni Maize," by Mary Beath, and you might be greatly touched by Rina Swentzell's piece on "Conflicting Landscape Values: The Santa Clara Pueblo and Day School," which recounts the experiences of children leaving the nurturing shelter of pueblo life to go to a school where they were surrounded by a loss of trust and lack of respect.

In addition to an examination of ancient survival techniques, you will also find a discussion of how we might use some of this ancient wisdom in choosing home sites and in gardening in this desert land. You might just find yourself looking at the land, and your relationship to it, in a new way.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Myth of You and Me

The Myth of You and Me, by Leah Stewart. New York: Shaye Areheart Books, 2005.

I found this book on a list of “books you can’t put down,” so I was sure to have it nearby for my knee surgery recovery. Imagine my surprise when, on p. 19, I read:

When I was fourteen we moved to Clovis, New Mexico. My father was in the air force. It was the sixth time I had moved since birth, and this time I was angry. We had left Fairfax County, Virginia, with its proximity to malls and monuments, where everybody’s parents drove the beltway to play some part in the large and mysterious doings of government, for this cow town, dusty brown and flat, like an old postcard. While my friends went on to high school together, I was set adrift again with no one but my family, three passengers afloat on a dirt sea.

This is a book about friendship and families and opportunities, both lost and found. It's a book of keen observations that had me nodding, with tears in my eyes, and reaching for my notebook. To top it all off, much of it took place in Clovis and it helped me know my town a bit better.

When I volunteered in an elementary school this past year, some of my fellow volunteers walked over from the neighboring high school every week. Little did they know how curious this older volunteer was about their lives. Here's what Stewart had to say about being a kid in Clovis, and I suspect she got it right on:

I thought of what I could tell him about Clovis—that the fundamentalists signed yearbooks “In His Name” and considered Mormonism a cult, that the kids who wore Megadeth T-shirts and smoked on the edge of school property were called thrashers, that people of Mexican descent were called Spanish, that Spanish kids hung out with white kids or black kids, but usually not with both, that when the fire alarm went off at school early one morning all the girls you otherwise never saw came out of the nursery, cradling their babies close. That after you suffered through the unbearable heat of summer days, you got as a reward a warm and crisp night, that the flatness of the land, the way nothing blocked your view of the sky, made you feel open and expansive, like a deep breath. “It’s okay,” I said.

Now, I'm not much good at writing book reviews that don't sound like those little quotes on the back of the book jacket (astounding! couldn't put it down!) but I want to tell you that I was constantly touched as Stewart told about the lives of these friends. Here are a few more quotes to give you the flavor of the book.

To belong nowhere is a blessing and a curse, like any kind of freedom.

A person is not a suitcase, with a finite number of items to unpack. A person is a world. Look at any photograph—of a stranger, your father, your very best friend. Sometimes the mystery is all you can see.

Maybe I did live an old story, but I couldn’t help but live it as though for the first time. The first time you fall in love, it’s like you’ve created the first love in the universe, and the first time someone you love dies, you grieve the universe’s first death. What does it help to be told that what you feel is nothing new? You want your father’s respect, not a pale copy of all the children who have ever wanted their fathers’ respect, but fiercely, because he’s the only father you’ll ever have.

Okay, reading this book was an astounding experience, and I couldn't put it down.