Sunday, August 09, 2020

Use it or lose it

Photographing San Antonio de Padua Church in Dixon, NM.

The results thereof
As you can imagine I’ve given a good deal of thought to physical health, fitness, and longevity over the past seven months. And, in the midst of the Covid-19 onslaught, these contemplations have taken a more expansive turn. I’m seeing the confluence of my own setbacks with that of an entire nation and world. It’s been instructive to say the least.

Entering Elizabethtown Cemetery during a photo safari on The Enchanted Circle.
Since December 24, 2019 I’ve had two falls, each of which resulted in a serious injury. When I did a face plant while running in LA, I tore my rotator cuff. When I crashed my road bike on June 10, I broke my hip. As my osteoporosis doctor told me “I can’t wrap you in bubble wrap.” This from the guy who told me “Don’t fall” six years ago. That was Tuesday. Then Thursday our dermatologist asked my naked self, “What the heck happened to you?” I gave him the sad story of my self-inflicted, back to back injuries and he warned. “Maybe your body is trying to tell you something.” I scoff in your general direction, Dr. Auerbach.

In the case of the rotator cuff, which like the hip did not require surgery, I am doubly blessed by that good fortune, I really didn’t skip a beat. I never stopped running and was lifting weights and doing push-ups and pull-ups inside two weeks. The fractured hip has been more of an impediment. I sure the hell haven’t been running. But I was back to lifting from the seated position in a couple of weeks. That and the roster of leg exercises prescribed by my physical therapist have kept me connected to my corporeal self and have left me with a modicum of fitness. Except for cardiovascular exercise which has been nil. When I complete my 12-week sentence on September 10, I will have had no cardio for three months, marking the second longest dry spell in 44 years. My spare tire bears witness.

Last Wednesday at PT I performed a battery of tests. Katherine, my therapist, exclaimed, “I can’t believe how you’ve maintained muscle mass in your quadricep. Most people have a really hard time bouncing back from a broken hip.” It made me remember Peggy’s dire report at the beginning of this ordeal, the one that said 30% of old people who break a hip die from it or a related condition. I filed that in the hidden reaches of my mind. It's not something you want to dwell on.Then last week I read that 40% of geriatrics die within two years of the injury. Jesus. It’s chilling statistic than mutes my self-congratulations. Besides if I pat myself on the back too hard, I’ll probably break my arm.

Slightly embarrassed by Katharine’s accolades but not a little proud, I explained, “It’s because I’ve faithfully done the exercises you gave me.” Simple as that.

She replied “Yes. I’m sure that helped, but it’s really because you were strong when the injury happened.”

Which leads me to the gospel of taking care of the body which is allegedly our temple. We are drowning in news about the preexisting conditions that lead to serious Covid-19 related illnesses and deaths. First among those preexisting conditions is obesity, this in a nation where 42% of the population is overweight and 30% is obese. It’s obscene. And we’re led by a yellow haired doughboy that thinks McDonalds serves gourmet cuisine.

Almost everybody follows this blog is north of 65. I don’t know what that says about my posts. But I do know how important it is to protect your physical health, to maintain a strong heart and lungs, to stay trim and to maintain muscle mass. Do you know that after 60 we cannot build new muscle? The best we can do is to keep and strengthen the muscle we already have. “Use it or lose it” is the timeworn but most apt adage.

I’ve been considered compulsive by some for my commitment to fitness. After this episode that commitment has only strengthened. Whether I’m able to run again, and I think I will, or must choose another pursuit I will attack it with even more vigor than before. I’m standing on two legs today because I paid my dues yesterday.

Katharine instructed me to bring hiking poles to PT Wednesday. I think there may be an fully loaded walking step in store.

My three-month orthopedic follow-up with Dr. Marvil is September 2.

She said, “You’ll be walking into that meeting.”

I asked, “Without a walker?”

She nodded, “Yup.”

So, please take care of your body so that your loved ones don’t have to take care of you too soon. Keep on doing what you do. Many years ago, the writer Jeff Jerome wrote that, “We exercise to preserve function.” He was right.

I told Katharine, “Americans are so willful. Why don’t we take care of ourselves? Why do we die so young? We have the only declining life expectancy in the First World. Infant mortality is about 30th in the world. We have 4% of the world’s population and 30% of its COVID cases. Is that the American exceptionalism we’re so proud of?

We have a strain of independence that’s says that no one can tell us what to do. And we don’t have enough respect for the common good. Some have called that a “frontier mentality.” I appreciate individual liberties as much as the next guy, but where does caring about the others enter the equation?

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Rainy Day

It’s fitting to share a bevy of rainy-day shots since we’ve finally been blessed by a late monsoon season the last the last couple of weeks. Not only are the summer rains a gift to the earth but a much-needed tonic for a flagging spirit. I could wax rhapsodic about these torrents but will let the images tell the tale. I don’t claim that all of these are from recent days, but each captures the thick, sound dampening atmosphere of a hard rain.

The first paragraph and the words “rainy day” led to a distant memory, one that’s almost 61 years in the making. When I began writing the post and I had no inkling that I’d be reflecting on the lyrics of the song Rainy Day that I wrote in 1959. It was written across from the socked in beach in Santa Barbara during Christmas while on vacation from college. This was a classic case of the story leading me where it wanted me to go. My sophomoric ballad was a misty miss my girlfriend ode to Toby Hager who had captured my 18-year-old heart in the first semester of my freshman year at the University of Arizona. Toby, it should be stressed, was out of my league in every conceivable way so my pining was more about the idea of Toby Hager than for her flesh and blonde self. Though there was some of that, too. Coming out of high school I was absolutely retarded when it came to women. To use a sports analogy, I should have been redshirted so my body and mind could catch up with my chronological age. I was a boy on a man’s errand. Awestruck, gob smacked and head over heels for an unattainable creature from another planet.
I wrote this, my newly purchased Martin 000-18 guitar in my hands.

Rainy day, Cold outside
Rainy day, it’s almost snowing
Rainy day. It always rains when your lover has gone away

It’s only been half a year
And I still have to shed a tear
‘cause when you’re lost and all alone
It’s a rainy, rainy day

There’s more but you get the idea. It may not have been good, but it was heartfelt.
One time Toby came to a gig my singing partner John Ellsworth and I were doing at a small theatre on North 6th Avenue. After the performance we strolled back to campus hand in hand. I spent the whole time trying to impress her with my glib repartee. Finally, she put her index finger to my lips and told me. “You don’t need to talk to be with somebody.” She was telling me not to try so hard.
Another time we were at a house party. We were slow dancing to Dream by the Everly Brothers. I’m sure I sang it in her ear since John and I covered all the Everly’s songs. Boy, we could harmonize. As we held each other Toby looked me in the eyes and kissed me lightly. She whispered, “Why dance, Steve?” I did not consider my options.
Toby transferred to UC Berkeley for the spring semester. We spoke once, threatened to get together. And didn’t.
Meanwhile John, who has since become a best-selling novelist, wrote real lyrics.  This is Once Upon a Time.

One upon a time, as the tale begins
Flowers bloomed and trees sang, touched by the wind
Time stood still, not passing by
We wandered beneath an azure sky
In our timeless paradise
Once upon a time

Faster ticks the clock
Our love begins to fade
Surely as the twilight’s end comes to a leafy glade

If I could forget her,
If the book would close
Each day would bring a new love
With the spark of you.

Eternity, infinity
Where time is never known
Slips away at the break of day
And I am left alone
With emptiness and pages bare

Once upon a time

The guy was 18 going on 30 when he wrote those lyrics. I was 18 going on 14. Forgive me, John, if I muffed a word or two. I'm doing this from memory.
Blogger had changed its posting mechanism and it not publishing the images fully or in the correct aspect ratio. It's a good thing this post is about the story and the photographs are just to support the text. I'll try to get it sorted about. But not tonight.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Dump Day

Leaving the Taos Landfill 

Water heaters, refrigerators and metal objects of all kinds, 2020

Tres Montañas, 2010
When we moved to tony Wellesley, Massachusetts in 1973 I got hooked on the taking our trash to the town dump or the Recycling and Disposal Facility as it’s called in polite company. From our rental house on Mayo Road I’d join the tightly coiffed and pearl draped matrons in white gloves exiting their Mercedes sedans. The dump was, after all, the place to be seen and New Englanders are proud to show they’re not above delivering their own rubbish. It’s a badge of honor like the hubby’s leather elbowed Harris tweed from his undergraduate days at Harvard in 1949.

The Wellesley dump was a scene. As befitting a bastion of good citizenship, recycling was de rigueur as was donating your hand-me-downs, your out of date Encyclopedia Britannica or lightly used Harman Kardon stereo to your lessers. I can attest to the efficacy of the Wellesley dump's wealth redistribution model. We both gave and took from the little shed that was brimming with the perfectly good used items. On one occasion our early 1960s World Book Encyclopedia was gone before we had recycled our bin of Mateus bottles.

And so began my adult lifetime of taking the trash myself. While the bourgeoisie delegate the job to dark-skinned essential workers from Waste Management I demonstrate the self-reliance and frugality I learned in New England. I’m wicked proud.

In 2002 we rented an earth ship in the Upper Los Colonias neighborhood of Taos. The little cave of a house was tucked into a hillside and built of used tires and hay bales. It was in that tiny two room dwelling that we fell in love with Taos. We fell so hard we bought a vacation house in Taos the next year. And the year after that we had moved here permanently. The first time I took the trash to the dump from the rental in Los Colonias they weighed my trash filled Ford Explorer when I entered the facility and again after I had emptied the containers. The clerk said, “That’ll be 35 cents.” I paid in cash.

When I got back to the earth ship, I was giggling when I told Peggy how much I’d just paid for the pleasure of taking our refuse to the dump. “I love this place!"

And going to the dump isn’t it’s just about enjoying the mundane. Sometimes it’s who you see there. Friday we were fifth in line to exit and right in front of us was the back of a burly Native American gent with his gray hair in a ponytail and a blue bandanna around his head. I said to Peggy, “I think that’s Marcus.” She looked perplexed. I explained, “Marcus Eagleheart.” She replied, “You’re right. It is.”

She promptly opened her door, got out and yelled, “Marcus.”

The one and only Marcus Eagleheart
He smiled broadly and walked back to the Pilot. He was not sporting a mask but kept himself well away from our vehicle. I’m pretty sure Marcus doesn’t remember our names. At least he’s never used them. Not that it matters. We first met him, quite naturally, through Lindsey Enderby who is the best friend of everybody in the known world. Much has been written about that magnetic character.

A portrait carved from the shot above. The rare crop you'll see from me.

The man and the camera
Marcus Eagleheart is a two-stepping marvel who’s a habitue of the bar at the Sagebrush Inn on Ladies Night. Imagine a Stetson on his handsome self and you’ll know why he is or was a big time chick magnet. Fact is I never saw Marcus without a blonde on his arm. I exaggerate ever so slightly to make my point.

He told us he was helping his buddy Keith move after 20 years in the same apartment. Keith, a fine western jeweler who had a stroke a couple of years back, was riding shotgun in Marcus’s pick-up as we spoke. Peggy asked how Keith was doing and Marcus said, “Just okay. He's really nervous about the move.” Keith is a gentle soul.

I saw Marcus framed by the driver’s side window and asked him if I could take his picture. He laughed, “My favorite subject. Me.”

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Divine Light

Verticality, San José de Gracia, Trampas, NM

Elegy, San José de Gracia, Trampas, NM
To live in northern New Mexico is to be cloaked in the presence of the Catholic Church. Brought by the Conquistadors to New Mexico the Church became the center of the rural life in communities strewn across the desert and mountains of El Norte.  Nothing is more emblematic of this profound Catholic influence than the churches and moradas that dot our stark landscape. A person could spend a lifetime exploring and photographing the ones within 100 miles of my home in Taos. To capture the most iconic of them, the ones painted by Georgia O’Keefe and photographed by Ansel Adams and Paul Strand, is a fraught task. Getting a unique shot of buildings that have been photographed millions of times is a noble challenge. The soft shouldered adobe structures for which New Mexico is known are so compelling that you have to try. Some like San Francisco de Asis Francis Church in Ranchos de Taos or Santuario de Chimayo are among the most photographed in the North America. Less well known and just as worthy are San José de Gracia in Las Trampas and La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe that abuts Taos Pueblo. 

Eaves, Santuario de Chimayo, Chimayo, NM

Rock of Ages, Santuario de Chimayo, Chimayo, NM
The first Europeans to visit Taos were the soldiers of Vasquez de Coronado’s expedition who were searching for the mythic Seven Cities of Gold. It was in September of 1540 that a small detachment of Coronado’s army reached Taos. As was common practice the forward party was accompanied by a Catholic chaplain. Converting the faithless was an integral part of the plan. In 1598 Don Juan de Oñate, the Spanish governor of what would become New Spain, asked representatives of the Indian pueblos to pledge allegiance to the crown in return for military protection and the spiritual guidance of the Catholic missionaries. It was a pattern repeated through the Americas. Documents were drawn to affect this pledge and they were signed by each Chief. Father Alonzo Martinez asked the chiefs if they wanted to be saved. With reservations the Chiefs signed the agreement. Fray Martinez directed a Franciscan missionary to travel with each band as it returned to its pueblo and to begin converting the tribe to Catholicism. Fray Francisco de Zamora was deployed to Taos and the first mission church, San Geronimo on Taos Pueblo, was consecrated around 1617.

Oñate was a brutal overseer who subjugated the indigenous population with the complicity of the Catholic Church. In one episode he had the right foot of 24 Acoma braves amputated when his nephew was killed. Deep resentments festered over the Church’s harsh attempts to quash native religious beliefs. Stemming from the 1598 pact the Indians were indentured to Spanish landholders in a practice called Encomienda wherein the Patron was responsible for their protection and spiritual nourishment and in return he would own all of the work performed and crops produced on the land. In other words, slavery. The Catholic Church in fact owned slaves. In 1680 the Pueblos commanded by Popé, a member of San Juan now Okay Owingeh Pueblo, revolted. In Taos where Popé had been hiding 70 settlers including the priests were massacred. The Spanish were driven out of New Mexico until 1692 when Don Diego de Vargas completed the Re-Conquista and Taos Pueblo surrendered.

Buttress, San Francisco de Asis Ranchos de Taos, NM

Steeple and Crosses, San Francisco de Asis, Ranchos de Taos, NM

The most prominent churches on the High Road from Santa Fe to Taos and those near the town were built around 1800. Famed San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos was constructed between 1772 and 1816 when New Mexico was part of the Vice Royalty of New Spain. Hence the term Viceroy. Saint Francis, as it’s called, is the best known of the Spanish mission churches in the state. San José de Gracia in Las Trampas was built between 1760 and 1776 by twelve families that had grown to 63 by the time of the church’s consecration. Owing to its remote location San José is considered the most original of the mission churches. San José along and San Francis were declared National Historic Landmarks in 1970.

Cruz Negro, La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe,Taos, NM

Cruz Blanca, La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. Taos, NM
In 1798 Taos Pueblo granted Los Hermanos Penitentes land for morada, or lay chapel, adjacent to the pueblo. It was completed in 1834. Led by Father Antonio José Martinez it was the center for the practice of severe religious devotionals brought from Spain. These demonstrations of faith and guilt included self-flagellation and all too real reenactments of the crucifixion. According to an agreement with the Catholic Church the Morada grounds have been open to public since 2013 when the property was sold to the Santa Fe Diocese by the Taos Historic Museums. But the conservative and insular penitente brothers have posted a sign asking that no photographs videos or other depictions of the chapel be made. Hermanos have been known to challenge visitors who ignore their request. I rehearse my response to the challenge every time I visit the glorious site. Do you stand your ground knowing you have the right to photograph or paint the morada or do you respect the Hermanos’ wishes?

It occurs to me that one way to photograph an iconic subject to capture its details so that image is not instantly identifiable as Saint Francis Church or Santuario de Chimayo. The details of these famous churches are rich, textured and organic as befits the hand applied earth, straw and water porridge that covers their sensuous lines. Their rounded shapes and inside corners are extraordinary foils for the play of light and shadow and for the volume they suggest.

This is a lightly edited version of my article Telling Stories:Divine Light in the July-August issue of Shadow and Light Magazine. Right click on the web address to order your online or print copy.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The top of the world at the end of the road

At the top of a dusty track in Lama, New Mexico is a cluster of ramshackle dwellings that mix abject poverty and sublime physical beauty. On a two-hour photo safari we drove north on NM Hwy 522 as if we were heading to Colorado. We live just 40 miles south of the Colorado state line. But on this occasion our destination was a wandering path through San Cristobal and to the end of a dirt road in Lama. It was not our first foray into these sparsely populated and very mixed communities. For every sprawling rancho there are ten double-wides and hippy-built shacks.  The contrast speaks to the vast disparity between the haves and have nots in the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico with 19.7% of its population below the poverty line ties Mississippi for that sad statistic. And Taos County leads New Mexico at 21%. These are not proud numbers.

Still the countryside where the high desert meets the mountains is undeniably spectacular and the reasons that northern New Mexico has been an artist's mecca for 120 years reveal themselves at every turn.

The hodgepodge of decaying adobe and stick built buildings give off a vibe that says you are not welcome. Some places exude danger. I feel it rarely but feel it every time we reach the back of beyond in Lama. But the setting on the sloping shoulder of the Sangre de Cristos brings us back again and again. There’s mystery to the spot, a heady menace in the vast nowhere.

The falling sun cast a glow on the buildings and bathed the hillside in gold. In these images the forest is flecked with light that seems like a dusting of snow. From our perch above Lama the walking rain spread across the Taos Plateau to our west.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

I'll always have 2010

Found Art , Rinconada, NM, March 29, 2005. Still Life as Subject, Photoplace Gallery, Middlebury, VT. The Arrangement, Vermont Photo Place, Essex Junction, VT.  It's Still Life, Rayko Gallery, San Francisco. Point of View, Edgecliff  Press. Single Image Issue, Black and White Magazine.
I peaked too soon. 2010 was the apex of my sleepy photographic career, if not qualitatively certainly quantitatively. Since I need to add past events to my new website, I've just reviewed my roster of shows over the years. The difference between 2010 and the years since is stark. 2010 is the year when my photographs were in galleries all over the country. That and $4.00 will buy you a latte. It was the year in which I lost $10,000 pursuing the glories of fine art photography, whatever fine art means. My businessman's sensibility was destroyed. So, in 2011 I trimmed my sails. I stopped advertising and entering juried exhibitions. Each show was several hundred dollars in submission fees, framing and shipping costs. It adds up. Not to mention I've had nary a sale from a juried show. The predictable result of reducing costs was that sales cratered. But at least I cut my losses to a couple of grand a year. $2,000, I figured, that was tolerable for what had become a hobby. I have yet to speak the word hobby in polite company, but I’m self-aware enough to recognize that reality.

Salt Marsh, Moody Beach, ME, September 27 2007. The Masters Cup, the International Award for Color Photography

Book of Solemnity, Ranchos de Taos, NM, March 18, 2005. The Humble Masterpiece. Taos Center for the Arts.
Lines of Defence, US 64, NM. March 19, 2008. Open Shutter Gallery, Durango, CO.
As I looked back at the plenitude of 2010 I found myself looking at critically the work I submitted that year, work that was shown in galleries and museums in Vermont (2), Texas (2), Colorado (2), Ohio, California (2) New Mexico (2), and London. During one period in 2010 my work was in five concurrent shows. There was so much action that I don't remember the images in some of the shows.

Bridge to Nowhere, San Francisco, August 8, 2009. National Juried Exhibition, Museum of the Southwest, Midland, TX.
Until this review If you’d asked me what have been my most successful images of my digital age that started in 2002 I’d have said Good Luck, Vanishing Point and Lines of Defence, the ‘c’ is intentional, I would have been very wrong. Based the on the ultra-active 2010 Found Art wins by a landslide. It tallied three shows and two books, something Good Luck, Vanishing Point and Lines of Defence never accomplished.

The review raised the musical question, how does your newer work stack up to the pearls of the past?

I'll get back to you on that.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

San José de Gracia

San José de Gracia, Las Trampas, NM

For two weeks I’ve done nothing but whine about my broken hip. But now something different.  Photographs. A week ago Saturday Peggy drug my aching butt to Santa Fe to trade a couple of paintings and to pick up BBQ from our beloved Whole Hog on Guadalupe Street. We ordered ahead and picked up $56 of smoky goodness which we figured was just enough for two hungry elders. It was our first take-out meal in three months if you don’t count a couple of supermarket chickens and a loaf of bread from Flour in Durango.

Mailboxes on SR 113A in Nambé, NM
We had already planned to return to Taos on the High Road through Chimayo, Truchas and Peñasco. It was my first outing since my infernal crash. We intended to photograph along the way. We took a side road in Nambé, one we’d never tried. We discovered a remarkably upscale neighborhood replete with ranchos on wooded acreage. A total surprise to both of us. There was a cluster of mailboxes and a stately church, Sagrado Corazon, at the top of the hill. All new to our eyes and all reaffirming that you need to take the random path to who knows where whenever you have the chance.

San José de Gracia

Detail of San José de Gracia with white cross against the diagonal shadow bottom center
The real jewel of our meander however and to some extent our goal was San José de Gracia, the Catholic mission church built in the village of Las Trampas (the traps) between 1761 and 1776. When Las Trampas was established by 12 Spanish families in 1751 northern New Mexico was not settled. Juan de Arguello who was 74 at the time led the founding families from Santa Fe to build a community in this unlikely location in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains for reasons that are lost in history. Remote villages like Trampas struggled with arid conditions, savage winters and the threat of raids by the Apache, Ute and Comanche. Yet by 1776 when San José was consecrated the community had grown to 63 families and a population of 279.

I have often proclaimed San José as a better example of Spanish Mission design and construction than the better-known San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos which was built between 1772 and 1816. And, for what it's worth, I find it more imposing and fortress like. In research for my July-August article in Shadow and Light Magazine I learned that the church is thought to be the most original and best-preserved example of Spanish Colonial church architecture in New Mexico. The operating theory is that it has stayed “original” because of its remote location at 8,000 feet on the High Road to Taos and because its traditional Hispano community has been little influenced by the outside world. Certainly, the sleepy village of Las Trampas feels like you’ve taken a time machine back to the mid-1800s. May it remain so.