Spider Old Woman, Part One

I can understand why a mythical wise woman who is helpful and powerful could be called Spider Old Woman. From big furry tarantulas to tiny jumping spiders who can spring eight times the length of their wee legs, I think spiders are amazing and often beautiful. I once saw a sparkling emerald-green spider, no bigger around than the little tip you press to click a ballpoint pen, sitting on a gas pump in Suffolk, Virginia. Also in the South, I’ve encountered delicate pale green spiders, even their legs the color of spring leaves. I let some rather dull-looking spiders live with me all summer in Truth or Consequences, NM, because they did such a good job with the gnats or whatever those were that used to come to the light when I was writing at night. Webs are functional for catching gnats, and they’re also works of art, especially outdoors after a rain when they’re beaded with drops of light.

As part of a get-acquainted activity in my academic division, faculty from different departments were asked to pair up and tell each other where we from, what we teach, and who we would be if we could be superheroes, and what our superpowers would be. The answers were varied, creative, and revealing. Some professors admired real humans as their superheroes. Young mothers who are also teachers and scholars wanted multi-tasking superpowers. My superhero was Spider Old Woman. My power would be, if I had one, to make people aware of the interconnectedness of all things—aware that when they touch one thread of the web of life, it truly does vibrate everything in it.

Spider Old Woman—or Spider Woman or Grandmother Spider as she’s variously known—may be familiar if you’re a fan of Southwestern mysteries, such as Anne Hillerman’s Spider Woman’s Daughter and James D. Doss’s Grandmother Spider. She’s found in the mythology of Native tribes all over the western half of North America. In New Mexico Pueblo stories, she “creates order from chaos by drawing two intersecting lines, the first from north to south, the second from east to west. It is she who creates the four seasons and adds the four elements of weather—thunder, lightning, clouds and rainbow—to the sky.” (From Spider Woman’s Web by Susan Hazen-Hammond.) I love this view of creation as connection and pattern, and the emphasis on the sacred importance of those events in the sky.

In some stories Spider Old Woman seems to be a sort of magical helper, but she’s old and wise. She doesn’t bring what we want so much as what we need. I found the book cited above at a booth at a powwow in Northeastern North Carolina. Its subtitle is Traditional Native American Tales about Women’s Power. A Spider Woman story in it bore a startling resemblance to real events in my life, and cast a new light on them in a way that changed my life story and helped me reclaim my own power. I’ll tell those stories—both mine and the traditional story—next week.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/528968.Spider_Woman_s_Web

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/913105.Grandmother_Spider

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17349269-spider-woman-s-daughter

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A New Mexico Mystery Review: Murder on Sagebrush Lane

Murder on Sagebrush Lane

Patricia Smith Wood’s second book in the Harrie McKinsey series picks up three years after the events in the first, The Easter Egg Murder. During the elapsed time, editor Harrie McKinsey has married an FBI agent, giving her a natural connection with law enforcement. Wood’s blend of detective work by police, FBI, and a believable amateur works well again. I say a believable amateur because while Harrie handles the stress of the situation with courage, she is affected by it in the way one would expect a non-professional to be. Harrie’s intuitive dreams play a smaller role in this book, but remain part of her motivation to ask questions about a murder.

The crimes in this book revolve around an important place that may not immediately come to mind when people think of New Mexico—Sandia National Laboratories. The attempted sale of government secrets from this research facility in the Albuquerque area and the murder of a Sandia Labs employee are the central mysteries. Alongside these runs the question of what will become of the blood-stained toddler who shows up in Harrie’s flowerbed the morning of the murder. The suspense is strong and Harrie is often in danger, but there is little violence onstage. The bloodiest event has already taken place when the story begins.

A reader could start with this book and go back to the first without feeling the sequence was a problem, aside from the minor issue of a lack of physical descriptions of some of the returning characters. The relationships are established clearly without an excess of backstory.

Wood manages a large cast of characters in complex scenes remarkably well—not an easy feat—as well as the interactions of multiple investigative agencies. She delivers a satisfying string of revelation scenes toward the end, none of which is the conventional confrontation-confession. Once I finally found out whodunit, I realized that the clues were there, but that I’d been sidetracked by all the other possibilities. Readers who like to give their brains a workout trying to solve a mystery will enjoy this. It’s tight, precise, and effectively paced, with every chapter turning the plot through yet another unexpected twist.

A new character I found particularly strong and engaging is Sgt. Cabrini Paiz of the Albuquerque Police Department. She deserves her own series, or could share the lead in this one, should the author be so inclined. There are precedents for this sort of shift. When James D. Doss wrote his first book, The Shaman Sings, Granite Creek Colorado police chief Scott Parris was his primary detective. Southern Ute Tribal Investigator Charlie Moon (nephew of the shaman of the title) showed up to assist him, and in that way that characters have, Moon took over. Not the investigation, but the author’s creative mind. The series became the Charlie Moon series, with Parris moved to a major supporting role. I like the books featuring Harrie, but I think Sgt. Paiz has equal potential as the protagonist of a mystery series, and I hope to see more of her.

 

Related posts:

Patricia Smith Wood

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/a-new-mexico-mystery-author-interview-patricia-smith-wood

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/a-new-mexico-mystery-review-the-easter-egg-murder

The convention of the confrontation and confession

https://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/stop-talking-and-shoot-the-guy

 

 

Waltzing to “New Mexico Rain”

In my years of being happily single I’ve never minded going places on my own—in fact, I love the freedom of going alone, and the openness to meeting new people that I have when I do this. Last summer, when Michael Hearne played at Santa Fe Bandstand, I struck up an acquaintance with a fellow Hearne fan. The music was a little late starting and we were early, so we sat together on the base of the monument in the Plaza for quite a while. The funny thing is that for as long as we talked, I couldn’t remember his name or what he did for work, only that he was from Albuquerque and loved music and dancing. We danced together for much of the evening. He switched partners occasionally, dancing with women he knew from Albuquerque, and then coming back to me. He had to catch the Rail Runner before the song, the one everyone wants to hear and dance to most of all, “New Mexico Rain.”* If this were fiction, the Cinderella-esque departure of the dancing partner whose name I’d forgotten would lead to something. It didn’t. I ended up dancing to that song with a stunningly attractive and much younger man who could lead a waltz with energy and grace.

This year, I arrived early again, and found a huge crowd waiting for Bill Hearne and Michael Hearne**. I sat on the base on the monument between two slim, fit, middle-aged women with brilliant (and definitely natural) red hair of the same length and with the same kind of rippling curls. The one on my left was local, and the one on my right was reading a tourist brochure in French, oblivious to her Santa Fe twin—who assured me they were not in any way connected. If this were fiction, the coincidence of their resemblance would go somewhere. It didn’t. I just happened to be between two oddly similar members of that particular one-percent.

I looked up and saw a tall, slender man with a youthful face and gray hair under a faded pink ball cap—the same man from Albuquerque in the same hat. He was saying to the woman with him, “I don’t see any of the regulars.” I spoke up, and he remembered me—though not my name. He introduced me to his friend, and I easily learned her name, and that she was a massage therapist visiting from North Carolina. I forgot his name and occupation again. But I did dance with him. He flowed back and forth between partners. I liked having breaks to watch the sea of dancers before being re-immersed in its waves.

When he left last August, I said, “see you next year.” He told me he’d wondered if “that lady” would be here again. All either of us could remember about each other was how we danced, with a connection that was perfectly of the moment. If this were fiction, there would be more to this story, but there isn’t. He is my Bandstand Michael Hearne concert dance partner. In its own way, that story is magical enough.

This year, we did get a chance to waltz to those lovely lines about waltzing in New Mexico rain. Maybe we’ll dance again next year. If we’re lucky, perhaps it will rain. (If this were fiction, it would.)

*“New Mexico Rain” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96UkbM6cII4

**New Mexico’s adopted sons—Americana with a touch of Western Swing

http://billhearne.com/wp/

http://www.michaelhearne.com/index.html

“Do You Need a Ride?” A Pedestrian Ramble

One of my favorite Edward Abbey rants in Desert Solitaire is about tourists who won’t get out their cars in a national park and who suffer the illusion that they have actually seen the place when they haven’t walked in it.

For me, walking is a way of getting to know a community and its personality. I seldom sit in waiting rooms when I could be out exploring. A place doesn’t have to be scenic to have character; even a kind of dreary character can be interesting to a writer. While waiting for oil changes at the Ford dealership in the town that inspired Cauwetska in The Calling, I explored the neighborhood behind it. Many years later when I wrote the book, I knew which house Mae and her mother would move to in the opening scene and I could see, hear and smell every step of the life-changing walk Mae takes that evening.

In my review of The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras I mentioned the narrator Hubie Schuze’s reflections on the superiority of walking compared driving. The line that stuck with me from this particular scene is I saw a baby gopher—one of the many things one could not experience if driving a car. I’m trying to find the chapter for another quotation but I keep finding all his other walks in Albuquerque instead. Hubie walks in his city quite a lot.

Based on this literary precedent, I believe it can’t be remarkable to be walking in Albuquerque, surely not so odd that a complete stranger should offer me a ride—and yet someone did. I arrived early for a yoga class Tuesday and decided to walk a few not-very-scenic blocks to pass the time rather than sit. A man of about fifty to sixty, driving a nice car, rolled down his window in passing and asked if I needed a ride. New Mexico is a friendly place, where we talk to strangers all the time, but I’ve never been invited into a car. I was so stunned I just said “No,” forgetting add “thank you.” What was this man thinking? I was wearing yoga clothes, flip-flops, and a sensible sun hat, so I don’t think I looked like some middle-age hooker angling for business at five-thirty in the afternoon. I didn’t look feeble, either. When I was walking in T or C a few nights earlier, a woman I’d never met before asked me what I did to stay so fit. She was getting out of her car, and she didn’t offer me a ride. (On that same T or C walk I passed a group of people who’d been rafting on the Rio Grande. They’d just unloaded their gear and I think they’d been imbibing a little on their trip. One woman, still holding a half-empty beer bottle, hugged another, and liquid poured from the bottle to the ground. The recipient of the hug asked, in a most serious tone, “Are you peeing?” You couldn’t get a laugh like that while driving. That was as good as seeing a baby gopher.)

When I went to the corn dance at Kewa Pueblo (Santo Domingo) earlier this week, I chose to park a distance from the plaza and walk. Twice, shuttle bus drivers tried very hard to let me know I could ride. I know they were just being courteous, but I couldn’t bring myself to ride. In my work in progress, this pueblo will be one of the settings, and walking helped me to soak up details.

When I walk in Santa Fe, no one offers me a ride. The city is full of pedestrians, some of them very interesting. While I walked to the Best of Santa Fe Block Party last Saturday, I encountered young women striking dance and yoga poses on the streets. This evening in the Plaza at Bandstand, I saw a tall trim Anglo man with a white tiny goatee wearing a little round flat African hat in pink and green and orange, pink John Lennon sunglasses, an orange-and-green African print shirt and a swath of similar fabric wrapped around his waist over his bright green shorts. All the clothing looked new, clean and crisp, a carefully chosen concoction.

The best-dressed dog at Bandstand belonged to man whose lean, scruffy appearance and worn-out backpack suggested he might be homeless. He had placed a pair of sunglasses with bright orange frames on the nose of his dog, a gentle, friendly mutt. Children broke off dancing wildly to the Santa Fe Chiles Jazz Band to pet the dog, and the man was gracious, careful of the children’s well-being and his dog’s good behavior. The way he steered and guided his dog made me think perhaps the glasses were there to indicate that the dog was blind. I had to wonder about the story behind his apparent good cheer in what looked like tough circumstances. Now, while writing this, I wonder if anyone ever offers him and his dog a ride.