Sunday, September 29, 2013

There's A Chill Is Coming On

We don't expect there to be a hard freeze for a while yet, but you never know. New Mexico has apparently been cited by the Weather Channel for the most extreme weather for 2013, and I'm not in a position to prognosticate. But there is a distinct chill in the mornings now, and I've even run the heater -- once -- to take the edge off and see if the dang thing still works. I took the air conditioners in the bedrooms out of the windows, too. None of the windows are left open overnight any more, either. And I thought about covering the tomato plants so the late fruit could ripen on the vine, but I didn't do it last night, so after the sun comes up, I'll take a look at how the plants held up overnight.

The tomatoes are about the only things we planted this year that actually did pretty well. Most of the rest either perished outright or came up stunted and then perished. Oh, the sunflowers were pretty productive, even though they were stunted somewhat. Some of the other flowers were attacked by bugs and withered. None of the vegetables made it. Some of the beans never even germinated.

Even most of the wild flowers and the other things that grow on their own around here were fairly stunted overall, and we really don't know why it's been that way. We planted earlier than we should have, and planted everything in pots rather than in the ground or in the raised beds we were planning on. We'd been told that planting in the ground wasn't a good idea because of the alkalinity of the soil. The planting soil we used, though, may not have been ideal, and I'm pretty sure the alkalinity of the water we were using to irrigate with was also a problem. Then, of course, I wasn't sure how quickly things would dry out in the wind. I think a lot of the plants got too dry too often in the early growing season, and that's probably the main reason why most plants either died or were so stunted.

The drought's been bad to be sure and the older trees are really showing the stress. There were also huge dust storms, one of which overwhelmed the sky, enveloping everything in brown, gritty fog. It was an unexpected and amazing experience. Right out of the Dust Bowl.

The enormous amount of rain we've received lately has helped regenerate the flora; it's surprising the amount of new growth in the last few weeks, for example. But now that it's getting colder, the leaves will fall and most of the plants will shrivel and dry up. We're happy for the Cherokee Purple heritage tomatoes; they've done very well, and we had some excellent tomatoes in our salads all summer. Yay!

And next year, we'll try again. Hopefully, we'll have raised beds built by then; we'll use a different planting soil, we'll try planting later and keeping a close watch on soil moisture so things don't dry out as much as they did this year before the rains came. I'm not sure the quality of the water is really the problem, as the farms around here irrigate with the same water and they seem to do OK. They no doubt correct the soil ph, but beyond that, probably don't do much.


Thursday turned into something of a diversion from our intended path. We got a late start heading up to Santa Fe to see and hear Dale Chihuly at the IAIA. When we got there a few minutes before he was set to begin, we found that all of the parking lots were full or nearly so, and there were all these old folks attempting to hustle from their cars in the extended lots to the library/auditorium way far away. There must have been 1000 or more of them. The auditorium only holds 250 or so. What were they going to do? We didn't stick around to find out. Chihuly is an icon at IAIA, one of their early faculty, and certainly among the highest profile glass artists in all history. Ms. Ché visited an exhibit of his works at Cheekwood Plantation one time when she was in Nashville and was transported into another world, she said, that captivated her imagination like nothing else she'd ever seen. Attending a Chihuly talk was almost gilding the lily, but as it turned out, we didn't get there early enough to make it the kind of experience I think she wanted to have.

Instead, after a late breakfast in Santa Fe, we went back to the Art Museum to take in the "It's About Time" exhibit before it goes away. Subtitled "14,000 years of art in New Mexico," I thought it would be more than interesting, and it was. It was extraordinary. It's not a large exhibit -- none of them at the New Mexico Museum of Art are large -- but it was filled with truly iconic works from the earliest past history in New Mexico (that we know of)  to the potentially radical present. I wonder what sort of a future is being pointed to... The focus of the exhibit was "art through time in a particular place." New Mexico. Where art is -- and has long been -- a fundamental factor of everyday life.

For example, I'd never seen actual Folsom Points before, and I was surprised they weren't bigger. But my word, they were gorgeous. We might be used to seeing ancient stone spear points and arrow heads, or maybe not, and we might even take them for granted and not think of them as "art." But these points and arrow-heads were exquisitely made, artistically done. They were to my eye clearly and unecessarily beautified for the sake of it.

Much the same could be said about the Mimbres and Chaco pottery and weaving on exhibit, wonderful things, intricately decorated, or simply, handsomely, proudly made "plain" for daily use. Again, in New Mexico you may encounter ancient pottery frequently, and it's easy to take it for granted, but at this exhibit, the pottery you may have thought you saw many times before is analyzed as the artistic work it is, and my appreciation for it only increased.

And so the exhibit continued through the Pueblo periods and Spanish periods, and the American conquest periods, until we came to the Idea of New Mexico as the iconic Southwest art market and home for internal expats that it is today and it has been since around the turn of the 20th Century.

The market aspect can be a daunting thing for many local artists as well as the many artists who come here from elsewhere, not to mention the hordes of tourists and the visitors who eventually retire here -- like we have. Daunting in that there are so many expectations in the art market, there can be so much rivalry, and as some artists have indicated, unless you're "chosen" by the god-like adjudicators of the current art markets, men and women who often don't live here nor have they more than superficial connections here, you're shit out of luck. Bitterness is an inevitable byproduct of this system.

The exhibit doesn't get into that issue directly, but it does rather carefully examine the contending schools of art that took root with the artist colonies of Taos and Santa Fe back in the day and how that contention and rivalry still influences the arts communities throughout the state. Mention is made that all of the fine artists back in the day were expats.

The point of the exhibit, of course, is that "art" per se in New Mexico did not begin with the expat artist colonies of lore and legend. Far, far from it, both in time and space. The urge to art and the practice of art was here long before the expats arrived from New York or California or wherever they came from. It was here and vibrant thousands of years before they came, and it would be here and vibrant without them, something local artists long have realized.

I've written about Carlos Vierra whose murals are in the St. Francis Auditorium at the art museum. His advocacy of neo-Pueblo/neo-Colonial architecture and decoration became a big part of the energy behind the adoption of Santa Fe Style as the local standard -- often mocked, but so far never completely overridden. Though it is often asserted that he came from New York, Vierra was actually a Californian, and his devotion to the Style was (I believe) a California-generated convention and conceit. He grew up in the historic California capital, Monterey, and he was from the era of Helen Hunt Jackson's "Ramona," let's not forget, and there is still no better known fictional treatment of the Noble Indian Savage and the Spanish colonial grandee than that, though more recent authors have tried to tackle the topic more... realistically, shall we say? In our overflowing and growing library of books (for which I recently purchased yet another hand-made set of shelves down at Claudio's in Albuquerque) there are some fairly early copies of "Ramona," but I have never read the book all the way through. In Vierra's time it was almost a standard text. Historical romances were considered emotional fact.

There are occasions when I still think of enlarging our old adobe ranch house with another wing, one that would be more or less "Spanish" style with vigas and latillas and a flat roof and a "kiva" fireplace and "portals" and all that, and then I wonder, "What am I thinking???" For one thing, the house is quite big enough as it is, and all we really need is to clear out some of the excess stuff that we don't have any use for any more, perhaps consider finishing the attic when get a new roof, and that'll more than take care of any potential space needs far into the future. For another thing, despite its adobe construction, the house is not "Spanish" in style or anything else, it's late Victorian, most recently remodeled and gussied up in the 1950's. And then abandoned. All we did was renovate the ruin to make it habitable again. So I want to add a "Spanish" wing? Why?

Well, because. I've been influenced as strongly as any other expat by the prevalence of the Santa Fe Style and its rigid insistence on adherence to certain architectural conventions and conceits, without which one's home cannot be considered "authentic New Mexican."

Wait, wait I say. This is a truly authentic old New Mexican home, not the ersatz that passes for "authenticity" in the style guides. This house, in its own way, is as authentic as it gets -- though some of the features I wanted preserved when we renovated were not saved, in part because the contractors working on the place didn't think they were important. They may have been important to my eye, but to the locals who were employed in fixing the place up, they were little more than "old shit" and in the way, not worth the trouble and expense to hold on to.

And that's really the way things have traditionally gone throughout the centuries until the application of Anglo style standards -- thanks to Vierra and others -- who insisted on a permanent "look." With no substantial changes. Ever. No wonder they had to construct in concrete rather than adobe and enforce style standards with strict regulations and laws rather than allow natural evolution over time.

So, we wend our way back to time, the premise of the exhibition at the art museum. Indeed.


Which brings me to the next section of this by now very long post, Max Evans down at the Bookworks in Albuquerque where we finally, after all these years, got a chance to meet him and chat with him a bit, including some talk about time. He's called 'Ol Max Evans' -- and not for nothing, either. He's old, eighty-nine now, and still going strong, though he says, "Everything's falling apart" and he can no longer type, so he's only got one more new book in him, once again about Sam Peckinpah, and when it's complete with his collaborator, that's it. No more. Done.

One of his biographers titled his book, "Ol' Max Evans (the First 1,000 Years)," and that's more like it to me. He will, of course, one day shuffle off his mortal coil, but for now, he's doing pretty damn good and he was a pleasure as a raconteur and interlocutor.

I had some books of his, collections mostly, and we bought some more while there and he cheerfully signed them for us. I told him that we'd watched "Hi Lo Country" again the night before "to get ready" for meeting him -- which got a few chuckles. While watching the movie, I was reading "One Eyed Sky," and that story became the centerpiece of Ol' Max's talk at Bookworks, thanks to Ollie's question about what Max thought was his finest work. 

Told from the point of view of an old cow and an old mother coyote, "One Eyed Sky" is lyrical and moving to a fault, it's almost magical, and he said he banged it out in a frenzy on an old Underwood typewriter, almost in a trance, during one night up in his Taos studio. Time seemed to stop for him while he was writing it, and he said he came down from his studio with a completed manuscript in his hand, surprised that the sun was shining and if he'd been listening, he would have heard the birds outside screaming, but he was just so taken with the story he didn't hear anything.

He said the story came from his personal observation of an old cow about to give birth at a watering hole, and an old mother coyote on the mesa above, her four hungry cubs spaced evenly along the rim. He said he he knew, oh how well he knew, what was about to happen, and he left the scene only to ask a cowboy later what had become of the cow and her calf, assuming the calf had been born. He said that someone -- I forget who now -- had described the story as (paraphrase) "All of living..."

And the story came,to him and he had to put it down on paper, which he did in one night, and he thinks it is his finest work. Ever. Others may disagree, I suppose, but why? There's hardly anything in American literature quite like it. And he's proud enough of it to include it in practically every anthology he's published since 1963.

He talked a bit about the movies and Peckinpah, Randolph Scott, and Jason Robards, and a new screenplay for "Madame Millie"  by Kirk Ellis which he's sure will be made into a movie... one day. Yes, well, Hollywood has its own schedules and ways about it; things happen and don't happen on their own time.

I asked him what/who influenced him to make the transition, really the transformation, from cowboying to writing, and he seemed a little confused by the question, though I'm sure it had been asked before. He said he'd always been a reader, that he had books at home from a very early age, and there was a teacher at the one room school in Texas who insisted the children read, read, read. And he did. Once he learned to read, he never stopped. So he said, "I don't know," who or what influenced him most to become a writer. If I can interpret, I think he may have been saying writing, for him, was all but innate, for he was a writer from the moment he could read. The 'transformation' I asked him about wasn't a transformation from his point of view at all.

I thought too that after he sold his ranch in the Hi Lo Country around Des Moines, and moved into town where he took up his other love, painting, and a few years later moved to Taos (this would have been in the 1950's) he was all of a sudden around artists and writers and the occasional film-maker and he lived for the next 20 years or so in a world where those activities were taken for granted the way cowboying had been when he was ranching on his own. Whatever he did, Evans seems to have been extraordinarily adaptable to the culture of his milieu, a term I'm sure he would avoid using for anything but humor.

He was just lucky that way, I think. Some would call it blessed.

He also said that now that writing is physically so difficult for him, he wants to go back to his first (artistic) love and take up painting again.

His latest compilation, "Animal Stories, a lifetime collection," includes "The One-Eyed Sky," which he calls a novella, but at just under 20 pages is more of an extended short story. And I agree, it's very nearly perfect. The book includes dozens of other animal tales he's written over the course of a very long post-cowboy career. The thing that jumps out at me from these stories and so much else that he's written is his remarkable ability to empathize with the animals -- let alone the people -- he writes about.

He doesn't just tell stories about his characters. He gets down into their souls and shows us what's in their hearts. 

Now to go check those tomatoes. It was cold overnight.

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