Quack Gong

In an earlier post, I mentioned how much I love my “outdoor gym,’ the Rotary Park on the Rio Grande in T or C. Though the exercises I do there aren’t yoga but strength training with resistance bands, I still aim to bring a yogic sort of mindset to the movement, paying attention to my body and breath, and also to the world around me.

It’s amazing how busy my mind can get within a few reps of a single exercise. As a writer, I carry plots and characters in my head, and they show up and want attention. This is something I choose to invite while I run, setting a plot problem to solve in a free-flowing way, letting ideas bubble up while I turn my mind loose on the trail. With the trance-like drumbeat of running, I can get into a creative groove and stay aware of the beauty around me. There’s no steady flow during this strength workout, though, as I keep changing from one move to the next. I’m better off focusing on the scenery and on correct form in what I’m doing.

That’s where the cormorants come in. They winter here, fishing the river. Some gather on an island of matted reeds and twigs while others float. Their vocabulary is fascinating and full of surprises, from duck-like quacks to grunts, peeps, and croaks. The sounds were wild today when they announced that a blue heron had landed on their island, calling my attention to it along with each other’s. I’d been so busy inside my head that I had missed the arrival of this enormous bird.

As well as talking with each other, the cormorants dance noisily in brief arcs of foot-dragging, water-slapping flight, serving some purpose known to them but mysterious to me. I think of them as the gong in a Zen temple, interrupting my distracted mind and bringing it back to the present. The river. The mountains. A warm, sunny day and a swim of cormorants with sleek black feathers and bright yellow beaks. No need for my mind to be anywhere else.

 

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Strange Things Happen

I dreamed I was leaving Hatch (the town where the chiles come from) and took a wrong turn onto a winding road with psychedelic pavement and narrow walls alongside it, also in bright pink, purple, blue, and yellow. The road took me to a farm at the end of a dirt road, where I met men who were raising pigs. I petted a piglet, got directions, and left by yet another route, not my usual way in and out of Hatch, but not the trippy pink one either.

While I drank coffee, I tried to interpret the dream symbols, but they made no sense. A friend called and asked if I’d like to go to Sparky’s in Hatch. A favorite blues band was playing. I agreed, and then proceeded to toss my purse into the trunk of my car with my keys in it and closed it. I hadn’t unlocked the car yet, so my phone and both sets of keys were in the trunk. Normally I would have a key in my pocket, but for some reason, I put the key in my purse. I walked to a neighbor’s blue and purple house and called Better World Club and got unlocked. Hm. Wrong turn on the way to Hatch instead of on the way out?

I picked up my friend at the foot of his driveway—more of a road, really—in the very small town of Arrey, and when we arrived at Sparky’s, Guitar Slim was playing a psychedelic pink and yellow electric guitar. As many times as I’ve enjoyed his music, I’d never seen that instrument before. While the band took a break, I looked in the display case behind me—Sparky’s has a mindboggling collection of off-beat antiques—and there was a collection of pig figurines. Two women in motorcycle gear arrived, one wearing a red elf hat and the other a leopard print elf hat. They also wore jingle bells along with their black leggings, turtlenecks, leather vests, and boots. Leopard Elf had the words “Pig savers” on the back of her vest. (I looked it up later. These are rubber nipples for bottle-feeding piglets. I guess she’s a pig farmer?)

The dancing was great—couples, kids, solo dancers, and trios. People from the audience were invited to sing, including Leopard Elf. Afterward, my friend offered me tomatoes, so instead of dropping him at the end of his “driveway,” I went all the way down the dirt road to a sort of farm—he grows tomatoes, mostly, and has a few chickens—and we picked the last viable tomatoes of his outdoor crop before the frost that’s expected tonight.

On my way home, I missed the turn to get on I-25 for T or C and ended up on the back road, winding and in places narrow, as the sky turned pink and purple and deep blue.

You could say this was all coincidence, a series of normal events. But I’d just been dancing in T or C to a different blues band the previous night, and had encountered this same friend in the crowd. The least likely thing was that he’d want to go dancing again right away on Sunday afternoon. I see him in town so much I haven’t been down the dirt road to his place in over a year. The way the night’s dream lined up with the day’s events, though in scrambled fragments, is intriguing. Hatch, wrong turns, a farm, a dirt road, a narrow winding road, psychedelic colors, and small pigs. The biker elves weren’t in the dream, but a lot of other things were. When I have precognitive dreams, they’re almost always about bizarre trivia like this. Only on rare occasions do I pick up significant events, warnings, or omens. This was just a reminder that time leaks, that past, present, and future are all happening at once, and reality is not the version that our linear perception of it creates.

 

A New Mexico Mystery Review: Zia Summer by Rudolfo Anaya

A mystery with many layers, the first of Anaya’s Sonny Baca novels is crime fiction and also literary fiction with mythical depths. At one level, it’s the story of a young private detective’s search for his cousin’s killer; at the other level, it’s the story of his spiritual development and reconnection with his traditional culture and his ancestors. The story also reflects on the ecological and ethical challenges facing New Mexico as some seek to develop it and others to preserve and protect it. The sacredness of earth, sun and water, and their spiritual place in human hearts, is as important as the question of who committed the crime, and even inseparable from it.

Sonny Baca, great grandson of the famous Elefgo Baca, is—like his bisabuelo—a flawed hero. Sonny is still maturing as a man and in his profession, learning from his mistakes, but at the same time he’s smart, perceptive, and courageous, and he thinks a lot about both the world around him and the struggles within him. For a reader used to the pace of most crime fiction, this occasional descent into deep wells of thought may feel digressive, but Sonny’s insights are part of the story. Most of the time, the pace is intense and the story flies along.

One way Anaya sustains the flow is that he never translates or explains the Spanish words and phrases his characters sprinkle throughout their conversation. This not only kept the pace and the authenticity, but taught me. I began to understand them as I read. (If you’re not a Spanish speaker, notice how you figured out bisabuelo already.)

Though they have full personalities, there’s an archetypal quality to the characters. Sonny’s neighbor don Eliseo is the Wise Old Man, human and believable, not idealized. His spirituality is both transcendent and earth-bound. Rita, Sonny’s girlfriend, comes close to seeming too perfect, a strong, loving, nurturing goddess, but she’s written as seen by a man in love with her. The villains of the story are the inversions of these benevolent archetypes, making them some of the most disturbing criminals I’ve come across in a mystery.

The writing is engaging, as one would expect from a literary master like Anaya. The first chapter, however, is the weakest, heavy with backstory. Don’t let the slow start deter you. After that, the story comes alive. While the crime is horrific, the fullness of Sonny’s life and circle of friends balance this element with humor, love, and mystical wisdom.

*****

New Mexico Magazine recently profiled Anaya in a wonderful and thorough article, linked here.

 

Five More Things I Love About Truth or Consequences

Music. The quality and variety here is incredible, all within walking distance of my apartment. I’ve danced to blues and rockabilly at the T or C Brewery; listened to the Southwest Chamber Winds at Grapes Gallery, admiring the art during the concert; attended open mic night at Seba Gallery for original acoustic music by local singer-songwriters—again mingling music and art; was immersed in healing music in a church; and was surrounded by the vibrations of healing music again in an amazing sound-space designed especially for such events. This last concert, Matt Venuti’s, was like nothing I’d ever heard before. He plays a tuned drum, an instrument that is both melodic and percussive. I may have to incorporate that instrument into my books. Jamie would love it.

Full circle sunsets. Even with no clouds, there can be as much or more pink in the east over the Turtle as in the west. In the summer when there are storm clouds, the bowl of color effect is breathtaking and constantly changing. Orange, blue gray, rose pink, salmon pink, yellow-gold—all encircling the town.

Freedom to be yourself. Two of my neighbors happened to paint their houses blue and purple at the same time without consulting each other. (One house was previously pink paisley, the other solid lavender.) One of the purple-and-blue houses has a statue of an alien in saint’s robes on the porch. Self-expression in outdoor art is everywhere, and in the way people dress. I was at a meeting with my fellow yoga teachers, sitting outdoors at one of the downtown establishments, and I kept seeing various colorful folks pass by, such as a stout Santa-Claus-like man in red suspenders riding his bicycle with his dog on a long red leash trotting down the middle of Broadway. One of the other teachers, who was facing in toward the windows rather than out toward the street, would see that look cross my face and ask, “T or C?” And that would sum it up. Yep. T or C.

My outdoor “gym.” I take exercise tubing down to the Rotary Park on the Rio Grande and attach it to a pole of a picnic shelter for resistance training, and use the benches for various bodyweight exercises, while enjoying a view of the river, Turtleback Mountain, and wildlife ranging from ducks and herons to huge orange dragonflies. In keeping with T or C’s freedom to be oneself, no one has ever looked at my funny for doing this.

Too much to do. Especially at this time of year. The weather is perfect for running and hiking, and of course the end of October and early November are festive, too. First there was the costumed dance party at Grapes Gallery, a fundraiser for Friends of the Pool, with live blues music and the creative people of T or C dressing up and competing for the best costume award. (Artists do great Halloween outfits. My Gumby costume was pretty plain compared to the winners.) Then there was Day of the Dead in Mesilla, with all the beautiful shrines to loved ones on display in the old plaza under a classic New Mexico blue sky while musicians played from the bandstand. ( I know, this was not in T or C, but only an hour away.) On Halloween, the children’s costumed safe walk took place on Broadway, and I had to go around and admire everyone. The street was closed, business owners and employees were in costume on the sidewalks handing out treats, and families in Halloween finery were trick or treating. People here love to dress up. A man dressed as a baby doll stood in the doorway of his shop sucking on a lollipop. I even met a tiny dog in a Harley jacket and little black doggy jeans. Later, I went to a showing of Nosferatu, the black-and-white silent vampire movie, at Rio Bravo Fine Art. Three classically-trained musicians improvised an amazing, intense and spooky score live. (Surrounded by great art, once again.) Some of the audience members were masked or painted. One was, of course, entirely black and white. I stopped by another dance and costume event on my way home, but I didn’t stay. A writer has to go home and write. But last night, there was more good music to go out and dance to. I call it research. My protagonist likes to dance, too, after all.