I am Anchored in the River

I was born only a few short miles from the Father of Waters. The Mississippi River is a constant presence in my psyche and my memories; always changing, always flowing, never exactly the same. It scoured and flooded our history. It was a demarcation line – so wide that there was us and there was them. You could barely make out a figure on the opposite shore. Were they really there? There were so many stories.

It could be beautiful, or it could be fearsome. I remember joyful summer days on the deck of the huge excursion boat watching the shoreline and the city glide past. The big ship’s engines vibrated as it made its way through the strong current. The river’s cliffs were made of red brick. Tow boats pushed barges up the river. There once were old warehouses that held cotton and furs – and a licorice factory. The old bridge made of granite and iron was built to last 1,000 years and it just might.

I lived as a boy near the confluence – where two great rivers flowed together. This is where Lewis and Clark, and a dog named Seaman, began the trip of discovery. This is where we ventured out, across the winter ice, to explore an island in the river. The island was big and wild, positioned where the Missouri River made a long, last bend toward its destiny. I remember the trees…massive trunks soaring skyward with piles of driftwood from ancient floods braced against the trunks. There were Snakes.

Still later I lived in sight of the Missouri River, named after a local tribe… the People of the Big Canoes. This was near the farthest reach of French settlement in the old colonial days. The river stretched clear to the Rocky Mountains. Some of the river’s water comes from John Colter’s Yellowstone and the old pathfinder was buried near here, on the south bank, not far from the edge of civilization in 1813. The sand glitters with promises of Colter’s mountains: grains of Granite, Jasper, and Rosy Quartz.

Now I live on a hill sloping to the Rio Grande del Norte, called so by the early Spanish. The same river is called Rio Bravo in Mexico. My Keresan Pueblo Indian neighbors say “mets’ichi chena”, maybe the oldest name, meaning Big River – Rio Grande in  Spanish. The Rio Grande is a trickle by comparison to the rivers of my youth, but it is the lifeblood of the desert. Looking across the valley there is a broad forest of ancient cottonwoods following the river south toward the sea. We would not be here without the river.

The Navajo call the river “Tó Baʼáadi”, meaning Female River; the southward direction is given a female distinction among the Navajos. So, I have lived alongside the Female River as well as the Father of Waters. The current flows in my veins and I am anchored in the river.

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If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.  — Martin

Look not too fondly to the past;
Its charms are sweet but do not last.
By hastening to that Siren’s song
we’re on a path forever gone.

If we should ere be great again
the way behind is History’s bane.
Our future road climbs straight defined —
the path is forward, not behind.

Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far and Grace will lead me home.
– John Newton

In Praise of Old Hotels — Las Cruces

Brick and Stone: Architecture and Preservation

I’ve not added much to this series on old hotels lately. It’s not for lack of trying — I’ve been out traveling but not finding anything good to write about. A lot of the “good” old places have been demolished or else my schedule didn’t make it easy to stay at the few promising places that I passed on my journeys.  I’ve been trying out a few 1950s era motels but there isn’t much to write about.

amtrak Deming

I recently had an opportunity to stay over in Las Cruces, New Mexico, after dropping my daughter off at the opulent Amtrak station in Deming where she caught the train to New Orleans. “Never again on that route”, she says emphatically. That’s her story to tell but I’ll just say that it ended with a very long bus ride. Everyone has a story to tell about Amtrak and now she has hers.


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Transition Season at the Garden

Our Albuquerque Botanical Garden, part of the city’s Biopark, puts on a grand show for the holidays. The entire garden is lighted with fanciful figures and streaming lights through the trees. It takes weeks to get ready. I stopped by to take a walk as the fall season takes hold but we have not had a frost yet. My camera seems to be acting up so I took a bunch of pictures. I still don’t know if it is the camera or the photographer at fault. The last flowers are still cranking out blooms even as the workers are installing the holiday lights.


The roses were particularly impressive even as we approach mid-November. There are several rose garden areas including one specifically for arid climate roses. I bought a new rose bush this past spring and it bloomed nicely at first but the sun did some damage. I had to move it to a more shaded position and that ended the blooms. My wild rose seems to do quite well but only blooms for a short period of a few weeks.


There were other flowers still doing their best in spite of the calendar. Sometimes the seeds are as interesting as the flowers.

The late blooming mums are hanging on in a few places. The small flowers in protected places still are clambering for attention.

More of the seeds are grabbing attention.

I’m easily captivated by the large Prickly Pear Cactus. I have some wild varieties at home that are mostly thorns…but the rabbits still manage to eat them in the winter. The fruit produces a wonderful jelly if you have the patience and the proper gloves.

The Japanese Garden is always a treat and it seems a little different each time I visit. That’s true of any garden but particularly so of this garden, I think. My timing was right and I was there in the mid to late afternoon and the slanting sunlight was creating shadows and backlighting some of the views.

Regardless of the season the garden is protected by its own fire-breathing dragon standing at his post by the children’s castle.


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It’s a Desert Out There – Organ Mountains

I recently was visiting in Las Cruces and had the opportunity to briefly visit Organ Mountains – Desert Peaks National Monument (OMDP). This is one of several Obama-era national monuments targeted for reduction,  downsizing or other degradation by the Trump Administration. New Mexico, a “Blue” state, has two newer monuments targeted for degradation, the other being Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument near Taos. I’ve written about that monument here:  https://malpaisweb.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/its-all-holy-land-rio-grande-del-norte/


To hear the Trump administration rhetoric, one would think that President Obama ran around willy-nilly creating National Monuments. In fact, a lot of study went into the designation. The economic study for this monument is available at: http://nmgreenchamber.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Organ-Mountains-Desert-Peaks-FINAL-REPORT-8-16.pdf .

The OMDP is in four separate parcels with each one preserving one or several important geologic or cultural features.  I was able to visit just one and the pictures posted here are from that single parcel, located east of Las Cruces. This is the “Needles” section and includes the Organ Mountains iconic mountain peaks. On the east side there are broad vistas sweeping all the way to White Sands National Monument, some fifty miles away. I wasn’t able to visit the Sierras de Las Uvas or the Protillo Mountains complex. I hope to be able to do so on another visit.




The public comment period for input into the administrations decision…for or against the monument ended in July. Supporters need to express their opinions to state and federal elected officials to fight against the proposed downsizing and/or degradation of the targeted national monuments.

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Reposted: The Meaning of Life….a Ghost Story

(It’s that time of year again…)

I assume that almost everyone has one or two memorable cemetery experiences. When we are little we get taken to cemeteries at times of sadness or solemnity and, while it looks like a park it obviously isn’t a fun place. It’s sort of a morbid thought but there is a headstone with my name on it awaiting my arrival in the family cemetery. In a way it is also a little comforting. I recall going to a cemetery as a young child for the burial of one of my dad’s uncles – somebody I never knew existed until we got that late night phone call from Sainte Genevieve. My dad would get these calls from time to time. It would be a short and hushed conversation on the telephone and then he would hang up and announce that Sainte Genevieve called and Uncle so-and-so had died. We had a direct phone line to Sainte Genevieve (how cool was that?) but we very rarely got a happy phone call. She was usually the bearer of bad news. My brother was older and knew what was going on and probably knew who made the call but it was always “Sainte Genevieve called.”  It took me a while to learn that Sainte Genevieve was a place. We had family there but we called it “Ste. Gen” when we would go there in happier times to visit.

lorimer cem2Cemeteries are places where people create monuments or markers representing how they want to be remembered after they are gone or, more often, how others want them to be remembered. This is an intentional relic of a person’s existence. The ruins at Pompeii or Tikal or Mesa Verde are unintentional relics of someone’s existence. I find them both to be interesting. But what about those folks in unmarked graves? My Irish immigrant ancestors are buried two to a hole in unmarked graves in the same cemetery that holds Tennessee Williams, William Tecumseh Sherman, Dred Scott, Kate Chopin and Father De Smet. My ancestors left behind lots of grieving relatives but none of them had the resources to mark the graves.

I went to college in a very old town with a very old cemetery on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River. There were French folks buried there – the ones that settled the place. There were rows of unmarked graves identifiable only as a faint dimple in the grass. I recall one section of about forty unmarked graves that were known to be the victims of a horrific steamboat wreck. Only their date of death was known.

As college students with time on our hands and looking for something to do we would make our way to the old cemetery and just ponder the meaning of life. We usually did this at night and with a few six-packs. One can come close to discovering the meaning of life at night in a spooky cemetery with a few six-packs surrounded by dead people. We were not disrespectful or up to mischief, we were just under age. We had to be careful where we stepped. The cemetery was riddled with large holes where the earth had subsided or local ground hogs had burrowed into some of the graves. The tree roots would reach out and grab your feet if you weren’t careful.

One of our group was a direct descendant of the old French trader who founded the town. He even carried his surname. The trader’s wife’s grave was the oldest…not counting the Indians. We avoided that part of the cemetery.

lorimer cemOn one of these excursions we came across a woman’s headstone that made us stop in our tracks. The stone was by itself – not in a family group. It gave her name followed by the word “Spinster” and her date of birth: October 31, 1815 (yes, Halloween), and her date of death: December 31, 1899. The poor woman lived 85 years and almost made it to 1900 but instead, somebody decided to label her as “Spinster” and leave her there by herself. That’s how they wanted her to be remembered. She was certainly on our minds when we pondered the meaning of life that night. The next day, probably a Saturday or Sunday, we went back and made a charcoal rubbing of her headstone and another headstone we found of a Revolutionary War soldier. We taped the headstone rubbings up on the dorm room wall…for some reason. Not as a trophy but sort of a cautionary remembrance.

After a while, things started happening…weird things (of course). Unseen visitors were rearranging things…moving things from place to place. One of the guys was awakened during the night when he felt someone sit on his bed…there was no one there. Other things that were hanging on the wall fell to the floor but not the headstone rubbings. Finally somebody saw the figure of a woman come out of the dorm room closet and walk across the room and disappear. This was at night but she was visible with an eerie glow. That was enough. She came down off the wall and the old soldier did too, just to be on the safe side. Was it just the power of suggestion? Once one odd thing happened, did we imagine the other occurrences? When the old woman’s headstone rubbing came down the strange occurrences stopped. This was followed by a self-imposed silence on the entire topic. I don’t recall it being discussed or mutually agreed to…just that none of us felt comfortable talking about it. We stopped going to the cemetery at night after that. We found other ways to explore the meaning of life. When we all went our separate ways after college we left behind a well hidden time capsule that included an account of the cemetery adventure and the subsequent occurrences.

Some years later I happened to meet a younger alumnus of my Alma Mater who happened to live on the same floor of the same dorm building about three or four years after I graduated. Our time capsule had been found — we were not as clever as we thought. I’ve never followed it up but my acquaintance said that there were still a few unexplained events taking place. The power of suggestion is alive and well….or perhaps it’s the “Spinster”.

(Revised and reposted — from the original posted on The Red Room)

A Fork in the Road

Schoolmate shot in the head by another — playing with a rifle…

That was my first encounter with gun deaths as a kid. Absolutely preventable. There would be more — friends or relatives of friends. We are at a fork in the road. Fifty-eight deaths at a concert. We have been here before but we always take the wrong path forward. That path only leads us to another ugly fork in the road and we always take the wrong path forward — deeper into the abyss of gun violence — fork after fork after fork. We don’t have the guts to take the right path because the wrong one is the familiar way…we don’t know what we will find on the right path and there are forces at work that keep us from going that way. We seem to be running in circles but it is a straight path downward.

Coworker’s son accidentally shot and killed by his father in a hunting accident.

That was my second encounter with gun deaths…some years later. Very sad, devastating indeed, and truly an accident. About one-third of Americans own firearms. About half of that number own only one or two guns. Many are hunters who are careful people when handling their firearms. Accidents happen but not all that often. Many are also sport shooters who are drawn to competitions or enjoy target shooting as a hobby. They are also very careful and usually shoot in a safe and controlled environment. I am technically a gun owner because I own a black-powder flintlock pistol that I once used in target shooting almost thirty-five years ago. It hasn’t been fired in over thirty years but I keep it in a safe place. Hunters and sport shooters are not the problem — but could be part of the solution to the gun problem in America.

Staff member’s young brother shot and killed by a confused and fearful security guard.

My next encounter with a gun death was absolutely preventable. He was a young black kid, a pre-teen, playing where he shouldn’t but was viewed as a threat by a startled security guard. The boy was with friends and they were doing what kids do. Somehow there was confusion in the dark and the security guard had a gun and used it. Guns are everywhere and fear is a great motivator to use them even when there is no real danger. About 3% of Americans own half the guns in this country. That’s somewhere around 180+ million guns. The average among that group is seventeen guns but some own many more. So many more that the average for all gun owners is somewhere around eight per owner. Some of those gun owners are legitimate collectors. Some might be legitimate gun vendors. Some, maybe more than some, are compelled by fear or some misguided notion of paranoia. I had a neighbor who pulled a gun on a fellow driver in a road rage incident. He was usually a calm person and not excitable but something happened that made him think he needed a gun. Then something happened that made him think he needed to use the gun. No one was hurt in the incident but a short time later it turned out he had a brain tumor. There is a lot of fear pushing people to own guns, mostly hand guns, and most of it is unwarranted.

A close friend and colleague gunned down by a white supremacist when he answered the front door.

My fourth encounter with a gun violence death was not that long ago. A good friend and colleague  was killed — they call it “assassinated” because he was a government official — by a white supremacy nut job who apparently acted on orders from an Aryan Brotherhood cell. The case is still open though the shooter was killed in a car chase. Someone put him up to it. There are crackpots and gun-crazy people and criminals and mental cases who should never have access to a gun. Kids should never have unsupervised access to a gun. The more guns we have the more they are circulated and end up where they don’t belong. About a half-million guns are stolen in this country every year, from private gun owners or from gun shops. Last December two guys stole a large Ford truck and drove it through the wall of a local gun shop and stole “several” guns…the number was not reported. They got away with the guns and have never been apprehended. About 1,600 guns are stolen in America each day. As gun advocates like the NRA pressure state legislatures to roll back gun possession and control laws the theft rate in those states increases. The guns fall into a black-market pipeline that funnels them into cities with stricter controls. A gun is stolen every minute in America.

A former coworker’s husband, a law enforcement officer, shot himself in the head on a quiet day on a quiet street for no apparent reason — a suicide.

A person bent on committing suicide will often find a way to accomplish it unless there is some intervention. Having a gun handy will speed things up — no intervention possible. It often destroys more than one life.  I live and grew up in a middle class community. I had the benefits of being educated and gainfully employed non-stop for 36 years. I mostly lived in “white” neighborhoods where one would not expect a great deal of gun violence. I know more people who died from firearms than I know who died from traffic accidents. I’m sure my experience with gun deaths is almost nothing compared to the experience of someone living in a ghetto or barrio or a gang controlled neighborhood.

Double homicide — jilted guy shoots and kills his girlfriend and her husband as they come out their door to go to work…an ambush killing.

This happened two doors away from my daughter’s house in a small town in rural Missouri. Gun violence is not just a city thing. The guy got away and was finally caught several hundred miles away. He had a gun and thought it was OK to kill people and figured he could get away. If he didn’t have the gun he wouldn’t have been waiting in the dark to squeeze off a couple rounds into his “problem” people. He wouldn’t have considered that to be a solution to his problem. There are about 310,000,000 guns in America with more added every day. We need more guns like we need a hole in the head.

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