After a long hiatus, I finally taught yoga. Not in a studio or a spa like I used to, though. Group fitness classes are specifically not allowed under current public health orders in New Mexico, a decision I support. But personal training is allowed. I taught a private outdoor class in a student’s carport, twelve feet apart so we could be unmasked even with deep breathing and with my voice projecting. A typical New Mexico carport is a detached shade structure, open on all sides, not part of the house, so the breeze blows through. Perfect for outdoor yoga. The cat walked through, giving us a humans-are-weird look. It was the first class I’d taught since early March, and she hadn’t taken a class since the end of February. I look forward to doing this weekly, the exchange of positive energy that is teacher and student.
It’s been stressful just to be a human and an American lately. Though my stresses are lower than many people’s—I’m Anglo; I can get by without my yoga teaching income; writing fiction is work I can do alone at home; I live in a state with a lower infection rate than its struggling neighbors; and I practice a lot of stress management skills—I feel the impact of what’s happening. You’d have to be numb not to. I’ve been feeling the grief of the whole country, the losses, the tragedies, and the outrages, as well as dealing with the necessary contraction of my social life. And then there was the stress of this Thursday’s errands: getting a mammogram during a pandemic, going grocery shopping during a pandemic. Getting ready to head home, I reached into the box in the back seat for music for the drive. My hand grasped the CD Walela from 1992. Beautiful choice by chance. Healing and uplifting.
Yes, this is another RAIN post. It’s the monsoon season. Rain is sacred in New Mexico. It’s a manifestation of spirit, not just the hydrologic cycle. One of those July magical moments appeared, rain in the distance as a curtain across the landscape, a few drops on my windshield, and then I was in it, smelling it, hearing it, my little car being washed with a blinding blast of it. Wind flung rain sideways across the road, and this song came on in the middle of the storm. Circle of Light. There are no images with the video, so you can close your eyes and imagine a New Mexico monsoon while you listen.
I’ve been disappointed in my fellow humans at times lately, yet most of them are kind, patient, considerate, and loving. And the people who go to work so others can eat or have medical screenings are also brave. The occasional jerks I encounter stand out, but they too have souls and hearts and are capable of love, though their public behavior might make me think otherwise for a moment.
The song blew through me like the storm, cleansing and powerful. All of us, all of us, are in the circle of light.
In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s classic on mindfulness, Full Catastrophe Living, he quotes an elderly woman reminiscing. I can’t find my copy of it to cite the passage precisely, but she says something along the lines of, “Oh, I’ve had my moments. And if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of them. Because that’s all we have, really. Moments.”
Writing this made me stop and perceive my apartment in a new way. There’s no sound but the faint hum of the humidifier gently battling the total dehydration that is April in New Mexico. I look at my furniture, the quality of early evening light—all beautiful for being so ordinary.
Despite the shrivelingly-low humidity and frequent high winds, the desert smells like flowers. I can’t figure out which ones produce the scent, but I run through it in delight. Tiny yellow flowers grow wherever they can, in hard soil, in dust, in pavement, between rocks. Creosote bushes and claret cup cacti are blooming.
One day on my run, I noticed a peculiar shadow in motion near me and looked up to see a trio of huge black shiny bees flying in a sloppy little V. Another day, another trio. A bee-o. My inner Dr. Seuss can’t help rhyming this: Big black bees/ fly in threes.
I took my car out for her weekly workout to keep her battery charged. I drove her to a trail just outside of Elephant Butte Lake State Park, as close to my beloved park as I could get while it’s closed, and took a walk to see if it was a potential running trail. It wasn’t—too much lose gravel and then extremely soft sand—but it was a lovely walk. The deep soft sandy part of the trail was partially overgrown with flowers I’ve never seen before, purple clusters that sometimes curl over like fiddlehead ferns. The unique landscape of Elephant Butte is quite different from Truth or Consequences, just a few miles away. More gray rocks than red. More twisted, shaggy-barked junipers, fewer creosote bushes. Greater earless lizards rather than checkered whiptails. Sand rather than dust and dirt. The trail dropped off sharply into a dry arroyo, and I turned around, content with my exploration
On the days I would normally teach yoga, I’ve been doing my practice as if teaching, talking to myself with the cues I would give students, treating my own need for alignment , relaxation, and engagement as those of a student I was observing. It sounds crazy, but it makes me pay full attention. I can’t think about anything but the moment, as my body and my words meet in my focused awareness.
After today’s yoga immersion, I gazed out my screen door at the waving, rustling green leaves at the top of the tree that invaded our water line back in February. It’s a beautiful tree. And I have water.
The entire Mae Martin Series is currently discounted. Book one, The Calling is free and will be through June 13. Shaman’s Blues is 99 cents through the end of April. The other books are $2.99, and when the promotions end, the first two books will be only $2.99 for the rest of the summer.
Generally, we humans don’t change our lifestyles unless staying the same is more painful. Change, after all, is uncomfortable and difficult. If nothing bad has happened yet as a result of what we do, we’re inclined to believe it never will. Delusional, yes, but that’s human nature.
I suspect that those of us who regularly do things others think of a disciplined actually have powerful imaginations, experiencing future consequences vividly in the present. If this, then that, and it will feel terrible. Or wonderful. Or conflicted.
I do some slightly disagreeable things because I’d feel worse if I didn’t do them. For example, every time I see plastic litter lying in the street or snagged on a thorny plant, I picture that piece of trash floating down the river, choking birds and fish and turtles, and I visualize the trash islands in the Atlantic and the Pacific. The problem is tangible and ugly. It’s also easy to act. All I have to do is pick the thing up and either recycle it or throw it in a trash can. A minor inconvenience.
It’s been different for me with climate change, though. I grasped it intellectually and as matter of principle, but I never felt personally responsible the way I do when it comes to keeping plastic out of the Rio Grande. I can’t see my CO2 output or instantly clean it up. Denial was easy. After all, I drive a fuel-efficient car, and live in a really small apartment. I’m not wasteful.
But I drive that little car a lot. Everyone in small towns in New Mexico does—if they have cars. We accept it as part of life that we have to drive one to three hours for specialty medical care and for a lot of our shopping. Truth or Consequences has plenty of music and art, but we don’t have sports medicine orthopedists or dermatologists. So we drive. And I never questioned it.
Until Australia started burning. People I knew were in the middle of a climate-related disaster. I saw pictures of the orange skies, heard news stories of people huddling on beaches, trapped between the fire and the ocean. And then there was the firefighter I heard on the radio describing how he had to take a break after six weeks on the fire line because he was so overwhelmed by hearing the screams of the koalas and finding their little dead bodies “curled up like babies.” I felt that. Deeply. I’m part of the problem. No excuses. Those are my koalas. It’s an emergency, and it’s today, not ten years down the road.
I can’t put out the fires. I can’t do a lot of things. Can’t make medical specialists move here, or alter our local retail offerings. But I can buy a modestly priced used electric car and cut my driving-related carbon footprint substantially, doing my small part.
I felt inspired, committed to participating in a positive future when I made that decision. New Mexico is headed for a clean energy transition. The process is complicated and flawed, but we’re making a start. We use enough clean energy now that an electric vehicle is the equivalent of a car that gets 60 miles per gallon. Even my 40 mpg Fiesta doesn’t match that. And as the energy mix gets cleaner and cleaner, EVs will contribute less and less to greenhouse gases. I’ve contacted people at all levels of state and local government about the need for better EV charging infrastructure. And I found my dream car online.
Working out the details of actually acquiring it and owning it is proving more challenging. Much more challenging. The car is long way off. More about that later, as I deal with RV parks, The Mexican Bus, all kinds of cords and plugs, and the possibility of having to cave in and get a smart phone. Yep. Change is uncomfortable. But so is staying the same. I have to do something. It may turn out to be an adventure.
The land of enchantment is full of ghosts. Some of them scare you; some are just showing up for work. This book starts off with Santa Fe, where apparently some of the scariest ghosts in the state reside. A few are bland, but many of them are hair-raising and bone-chilling. Other parts of the state have some dark and terrifying ghosts as well, but not in such concentration.
Hospitals are, as one might expect, often haunted, as are private homes. However businesses, especially restaurants, have a disproportionate share of ghosts. A frequent pattern in haunting emerges. The former proprietor or employee of a business, or the former resident of place that’s now a business, stays around and does innocuous but strange things. I’m sure these events are startling and even frightening when experienced individually, but after a while, I began to wonder why deceased women tend to haunt in white dresses and red dresses. And why female business owners in particular are most inclined to keep showing up for work after they die.
There are a few gentle, loving ghosts who come back to visit family, and even the ghost of a monkey who died on his way to be in a circus.
The author occasionally spends too much time, in my opinion, on background stories that aren’t ghost stories, but for readers unfamiliar with New Mexico, this is probably valuable material. His writing style can be clunky in places, and he overuses exclamation marks, but it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise rich and intriguing book. He collected the stories one by one through interviews with people who experienced each ghost, and his accounts of these meetings give depth to the tales.
Yes, I know this is not remotely holiday-themed, but I finished the book and wanted to review it. I wish all my readers the best of the holiday season, in whatever way you celebrate it.
The Seventh Mae Martin Psychic Mystery
An old flame, an old friend, and the ghost of an old enemy.
As the holidays approach, Mae Martin thinks the only challenge in her life is the choice between two men. Should she reunite with Hubert, her steady, reliable ex-husband? Or move forward with Jamie, her unpredictable not-quite-ex boyfriend? But then, two trespassers break into Hubert’s house on Christmas Eve to commit the oddest crime in the history of Tylerton, North Carolina.
Hubert needs to go home to Tylerton and asks Mae to go with him, though it’s the last place she wants to be. Reluctantly, she agrees, but before they can leave, a stranger shows up at her house in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico looking for her stepdaughters, bringing the first news of their birth mother in seven years—news of her death.
The girls are finally ready to learn about her, but she was a mystery, not only to the husband and children she walked away from, but also to the friends in her new life. Now her past throws its shadow on them all. Through psychic journeys, unplanned road trips, and risky decisions, Mae searches for the truth about the woman whose children she raised, determined to protect them from the dark side of their family.
The Mae Martin Series
No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.
Alone in a wild place, I gradually began to sense to earth as a living being, a relative. Like us, she breathes and has fluids and bones. We have our microbiome; she has us and our fellow creatures.
The wild place where I stood, the dirt dam road at Elephant Butte, isn’t entirely wild. The road is paved, though no vehicles have been allowed on it for years. You’re greeted by a sign that warns you to do no damage, because this is property of the United States. (It’s Bureau of Reclamation land.) People respect that sign. There’s no trash. Everywhere else around here, litter abounds, but those who walk the dirt dam road honor it. Maybe the sign reminds visitors that we the people are the owners. Or perhaps those who come there are a special breed, the seekers of silent, isolated places.
The earth along the road has a green tone, shifting from gray-green to yellow-green. The vegetation is sparse: tiny stubborn, ground-hugging white flowers, cacti with inch-long thorns, spiky shrubs, and brown grasses. The space between them looks alive because of the green dirt. Pink and purple rocks glow against it, pebbles that might look dull in another setting seeming as bright as jewels.
Tourists were cycling in shorts and sleeveless tank tops today. I could tell they were “from away” (a wonderful phrase I picked up in Maine) not only because they were clad for summer in January, but because they wore actual bike shorts—and helmets. A local cyclist is more likely to ride in jeans and have long gray hair flowing out from under a ball cap, while dangling a grocery bag from one hand or pulling some sort of wagon with his dog in it.
Another tourist I saw today, a man with cropped silver hair, was sunbathing shirtless outside his camper at the lake. No hat. No sunglasses. Getting a tan, of all things. I didn’t think anyone did that anymore, but if you’re from some snowbound Northern state, it might be hard to resist a sunny, fifty-seven degree day in the desert. Meanwhile, I was wearing long pants, two layers of shirts, gloves, a visor hat, wrap-around goggles, and sunscreen.
I enjoy winter here in southern New Mexico, but its beauty is familiar. If I imagine what this day would have felt like should I have been suddenly transported here the year I had a job in Maine, and the snowbanks were as tall as I was, I’d have thought I’d gone to heaven. Back then, I walked to work wrapped in a windproof snowsuit, taking cautious steps on perpetually icy sidewalks. I know I don’t live in paradise. Our community has its problems, and we need rain the way those half-naked Northerners need sun. It’s good to see them. They remind me to appreciate the ordinary and to realize it’s actually extraordinary.
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.
The Austin Art Factory, an outdoor performance venue accessed through an alley, is attached to a warehouse used by the New Mexico Film Office, full of lighting equipment and props ranging from ratty old chairs to enormous books and a variety of weathered signs, including a wall-sized one for the New Mexico State Prison that served as the backdrop on Sunday July 2nd for a traveling circus (all humans, no animals) from New Orleans. The audience was seated on rows of blue plastic chairs and a few wooden benches under a corrugated metal roof. Behind us was a stack of trunks about eight to ten feet high. To the right was the warehouse, where the performers had their backstage area and the audience could find rest rooms. To the left was a gravel-paved yard whose chain-link fence is decorated with art made from New Mexico license plates (the yellow ones). My favorite is a Volkswagen Beetle. An old tow truck sits in the yard, full of random objects, perhaps as a work of art, perhaps as storage.
The show opened at 6:00 p.m. with a guest performance by local acoustic duo Desert Milk. After that beautiful, mellow music came circus side-show acts such as knife-throwing, dancing barefoot on broken glass, and breaking a cinderblock on a man’s chest while he lay shirtless on a bed of nails. An acrobat squirmed her way in and out of a birdcage. The weirdest act was done by a woman who drove a long sharp nail up her nose with a sequined hammer and had an audience member pull it out with her teeth. A cowboy performer did rope tricks and pistol-twirling and whip-cracking, cutting a rose in half with a whip while he held the flower between his teeth. The emcee talked too much and used “exciting” and “excited” so many times she could have killed the excitement she was trying to rouse, but I had to forgive her because, after all, she did drive that nail up her nose.
The best part of the evening: the aerialists.
T or C’s Jeannie Ortiz floated with dancelike grace and power in fluid, seamless weavings of her body and supporting drapes of fabric. Without a break in her flow, she wrapped a limb or her pelvis in the silks and moved from backbends to splits to side arcs and inversions in perfect concentration. Her art was ethereal and meditative and yet awe-inspiring at the same time. As I watched her suspend herself with the silks attached only at the feet and ankles in a split, I knew what this was asking of her at the muscular and biomechanical level, probably her most impressive feat when it came to strength, though the audience expressed more enthusiasm for the aesthetically stunning moves. And there were many. This was not just athleticism but visual art, dreamlike and magical.
The circus aerialist was equally strong but performed at a higher speed in a spinning hoop. She did the near-impossible, hanging upside-down only from the edge of her heels or from the curve of her buttocks and then transitioning to a new pose without any loss of control or use of her hands. The style of her performance was showy, smiling and making eye contact and striking applaud-me poses. And applaud we did. She earned it. But I think the audience applauded Jeannie even more. Not only because she’s local, but because she never once demanded that we appreciate her. She simply gave her art with quiet grace.
This being T or C, the audience, of course, was almost as colorful as the show. And the sky, as I walked home, was filled with brush-stroke clouds in all directions, remnants of a failed attempt at a thunderstorm, streaking the horizon with gray silks of aerial rain.
Follow this link to a New Mexico Magazine feature on Twenty Things to Love About Truth or Consequences. The slide show at the end of the article includes, among other images, Jeannie Ortiz on aerial silks and some of license plate art.