Sunday, February 28, 2021

Fixated and Disconnected


The cliffs on the Lower Hondo above the John Dunn Bridge

More of same

The images in this post are connected by absolutely nothing. There’s some experimental work where I’m playing with Spot Color, two straight- ahead landscapes along the Lower Hondo and finally two bleak statements from the West Rim where some fried tagger has issues with wealth and privilege. Maybe it was the plus 8 degrees at four in the afternoon, but the barrens of the West Rim felt like a one way trip to the gulag. I’m projecting Kill Jeff Bezos and Eat the Rich as a diptych for Immel² the two-person show that Peggy and I will have starting Friday, May 27 and running through June 18 at Wilder Nightingale Fine Art. Immel² is our fourth biennial show at the gallery.

Behind the Green Door
 
The corner of Valerio Road and Dead End


Kill Jeff Bezos

Eat the Rich

This is the shortest post in years. I’m completely fixated on getting my COVID booster shot and minor surgery on Friday. 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Simply Monumental

Los Cordovas toward the Rio Grande and Rio Pueblo

A week ago, I headed south to Santa Fe for an appointment. The great expanse of the Rift Valley glistened. Fresh snow spread as far as the eye could see. When I reached Tierra Blanca, and appropriate moniker on this day, the deep blue sky was filled with puffs of Cumulus clouds and my chest filled. It was 8am and minus 9. I called Peggy and told her, “It’s unbelievable. It’s unimaginably spectacular. You need to get dressed right now and get out there so you don’t miss it. This is why we moved here!” Later that day she told she hadn’t heard me that excited in very long time. She was touched by my exhilaration. 

Looking west across the sage and snow

Huge vistas and forever skies are the top two reasons we’re here. That’s the answer I give every time I’m asked why we chose Taos. Or why I did.

Heading west toward the rim


Into the clouds

The gorge, the West Rim and Mount San Antonio

Wednesday the sky that wowed me on Monday morning made a curtain call. So, we drove south on Los Cordovas Road toward the junction of the Rio Grande and Rio Pueblo where you’re literally standing on the rim of the Big River's canyon. All the way we were teased by a cloud show that stopped us a dozen times. As we turned west toward the Junction it felt like we were driving into the clouds. We could see from O’Keefe Country to the slope shouldered form of San Antonio Mountain at the Colorado Border some 40 miles away as a crow flies. It was stunning.

The Rio Grande Gorge pierces the earth and seems to point to Colorado


A Himalayan vista right next door

As we ascended out of the Horseshoe Curve on the return trip the gorge stretched into the distance and cloud shrouded Mount San Antonio greeted us. Finally, not to be outdone the mountains beyond Taos had their say. They were simply monumental.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Snow Days

Somewhere beyond those crags lies Taos Ski Valley

Winter has many guises. Blustery and gray, sunlit and bright, falling snow and its aftermath. It’s a treasure and sometimes a menace. It’s the last thing you want if you’ll be driving through torturous Taos Canyon on your way to a doctor’s appointment in Albuquerque Monday morning. That’s my plight and I’ll live with it. We woke up Sunday to three inches of wet snow. It will be the same story through Tuesday, so we’ll embrace its beauty and relish a photo jaunt later in the day. If I get some worthwhile photographs, they’ll be part of today’s compendium of recent winter wonders.

The mountain calls

I’m taken back to the first snow that I remember. It was also the occasion of my first ski experience at Sugar Bowl on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. My mom and I lived in San Leandro, California. She rented a whole ski kit for me, wooden skis, bamboo poles and leather boots. She bought me the ski clothing. White Stag comes to mind, but I’m probably wrong. One’s memory can be questioned when it’s been 70 years. The fact is that she indulged the hell out of me. What she didn’t do in parenting was papered over with that kind of indulgence.

Flurries at dusk

We took a bus to Sugar Bowl. We didn’t own a car till I was in the eighth grade and we were living in Arizona. The Sierra, you usually hear “Sierras”, can enjoy epic snowstorms and the ski resort had been blessed with an epic dump. The drifts were ten feet high. The snow reached the eves of the lodge, a circumstance I put to good use. Mom had scarcely put on her skis when she discovered her eight-year-old playing on the roof. That was the highlight of my first ski trip. I recall zero about the skiing or lack thereof. 

Notably I didn’t ski again until the late sixties when Rudy Serar took us the top of Mammoth Mountain and told us to point our skis down the mountain and go for it. I had to fall to stop and after a dozen attempts to control my skis took them off and walked down the bunny slope. Rudy was an alpha male drill sargent who turned me off to skiing till we moved to Boston for the first time in 1973. 

In 1974 we moved into the Dennis-Dodge House, a 1740 Gambrel Colonial in historic Ipswich. We were a short block from the Ipswich River which wound its way to Plum Island Sound. Those were heady times full of discoveries and reveling in the history that surrounded us. There were summer days at Crane Beach, one of Americas finest. Our first fried Little Neck clams at Woodman’s in Essex where the treatment was invented. That along with steamed lobster and frosty beer is a fond memory that must be revisited. Then, true to the subject at hand there was skiing at Gunstock in southern New Hampshire followed by the clam chowder at The Grog in Newburyport on the way back. We were blessed to have lived in some of the charmed places in the country, Ipswich among them.

A winter's eve at Casa Immel

In 1976 after our first professionally taught ski week at Killington we were completely hooked and drove Highway 7 from our house in toney New Canaan, Connecticut to Killington every single Saturday and Sunday to ski. On the way back we’d gorge on Cheetos which painted our hands and faces as orange as Donald Trump. Then we’d have pizza at My Pie in Norwalk, two towns over from New Canaan. The best of times.

That first Killington ski week turned me into Rudy Serar heaven forbid. On day one it was blowing a gale. The wind was so strong it was blowing poor nine-year-old Garrett off his feet. Yet I insisted that we ski. “We paid for a damn ski week. We’re going to ski, period.” I am mortified and ashamed to this day. I wasn’t a bad dad very often but that was one of the times.

When we departed to Louisville from Connecticut in 1978, we still hungered to ski and the closest ski mountain was a 300-foot-high hillock in southern Indiana. I think back then there was lift, a rope tow. It took all of 30 seconds to sweep down the alleged slope. There was one run.

Thankfully, we were back in Boston by 1980 and rid of the Mid-south. Returning to the Bay State brought us back to a real city, one of the top four in the States according to me. And it  reintroduced us to the myriad ski resorts in New England. Within three hours were dozens of ski mountains and our lust for great skiing bent toward New Hampshire and away from Vermont. Vermont, we soon discovered, was a distant suburb of New York City and New Hampshire was annexed by folks from Massachusetts. We followed the natural path and by the early 1990s had bought a ski and climbing house in North Conway where we could ski Cranmore, Wildcat, Attitash within 15 minutes. Breton Woods was 30 minutes. Beyond the lift served terrain was unlimited backcountry skiing most notably on Mt. Washington’s daunting Tuckerman’s Ravine. Steep and deep describes it perfectly.

When I retired in 2002, we sold our idyll in Lincoln, a move that seemed right at the time, and moved to our cabin the Mount Washington Valley. That lasted two years before one of us wanted to put icy winters behind us and to move to an honest to goodness art town. For awhile I thought I’d be relocating alone. When Peggy relented, we found ourselves in an extraordinary art colony with world class skiing at our door. At our door meaning 20 miles, 2,000 feet and 40 gripped minutes through a winding canyon. We had just about given up skiing on boilerplate New England snow, read ice, and were reborn skiers on the nearly vertical but powder covered ski runs at Taos Ski Valley. We raised our games in one of the best ski schools in the country and became advanced intermediate skiers under the tutelage of Christine Lowry, the definition of a great chick. Peggy decidedly became more advanced than I.

Too bad I don’t have any ski pics to prove my point. It was 8 degrees at 4 yesterday afternoon. To think I promised that New Mexico would be warmer.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

To your health

Peggy at the junior high for shot #1

Conversations over the last week, usually in the form of emails, have been dominated by questions about getting the Covid-19 vaccination. Some of us elders have. Others haven’t and there’s no rhyme or reason to who or when a person is blessed. Thursday morning around 7am Peggy got a text and an email from the New Mexico Department of Health, NM DOH for purposes of brevity, telling her that she was scheduled for her first injection at 3pm that very day. That’s not a whole lot of notice but I can tell you she was giddy. She rousted me immediately. She told me, “Get up right now! You’d better check your phone. Maybe you got yours, too. I hadn’t. Hopes dashed.

Peggy suggested that I join her at the vaccination site in the junior high gym. We’d get there 30 minutes early just be sure. She suggested that it might be possible to grab an unclaimed dose. That, alas, did not occur either. Not only were there no leftovers but giving them to strays was expressly forbidden. Unused doses would be afforded to the next persons in line who would be called and asked to come in immediately. It seemed sensible enough to me though my attempt to cut line came to nothing.

Happily, we picked up some encouraging beta. It turns out that the vast majority of injections over the last few sessions (8am to 4pm, Wednesday and Thursday) were second injections. For example, 1,000 of 1,200 shots Thursday were second doses. But shortly, whatever shortly means, all of the pending second doses will have been completed and all of the 1,200 daily doses will go to those happy customers receiving their first injection. Do you follow that logic?

Hope so. Some of the folks in my Friday Spanish group struggled with the concept. Or said another way, soon 1,200 first doses will be delivered each day. I submit that’s more than 200 first doses delivered Thursday.

Beyond that the beautifully choreographed vaccination operation at the junior high, the operation is structured to give 2,500 injections a day. One of the volunteers was excited by my prospects. He told me, “Pretty soon this process is going to be moving like wildfire. You’ll get yours soon.”

As if by magic Thursday night at 8 I got a text and an email telling me that I could register for my first shot. The message included a confirmation number and directed me to sign into my NM DOH account, enter my confirmation number and I’d be able to schedule my vaccination. I did as instructed and found that my vaccination site was going to be in Angel Fire next Thursday, February 11. Since the whole day was available, I opted for 11:30am. I’m a late sleeper. Angel Fire, NM for the uninitiated is 25 tortuous mountain miles above Taos. It’s an absolute horror show in a snowstorm and that’s a distinct possibility in mid-winter. Fair weather would be appreciated.

I’m a voracious reader of the online news each morning. As such I get headlines and news accounts from New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. Saturday the LA headlines cried out “Insufficient Supplies Plague Vaccination blitz.” As always, I embellish to make the point or because I forgot the actual headline.

The point is that California’s rollout has been a logistical disaster and the vaccination effort in lightly populated New Mexico has been a model of execution. While I was gnashing teeth to get vaccinated our, (meaning New Mexico’s) effort has moved smoothly. It’s one more reason I’m glad I live in the sticks where health care is personal and manageable. It’s not the disconnected monolith that it appears to be in urban centers like L.A.

Since December 24, 2019 I’ve been immersed in the health care labyrinth. First it was the Christmas eve faceplant that tore my left rotator cuff. Then was the May 10, 2020 swan dive off my road bike that broke my right hip. After that Dr. Auerbach discovered melanoma on my right tricep. Dr. Davis successfully excised the in-situ offender leaving a 2-1/2-inch scar. At some point in October, I did something else stupid that triggered an unruly bout of sciatica. Refer to the above examples. It could have been caused by running or a result of the broken hip. I was back at my regular 27 mile running routine a month after I discarded my walker. But, more likely it was caused by lifting. Anyway, in October I developed searing pain down my hip, into my hamstring, behind my knee and into my calf and foot. While the pain has ebbed and flowed, and I’ve had good and bad days the sciatica has been far more debilitating than the shoulder or the hip.  Saturday was the worst morning yet after four months of PT, a cortisone injection, acupuncture, and a course of oral steroids. This post, believe it or not, was not supposed to be a laundry list of maladies but a doff of the hat to the many medical professionals I’ve met over the past 14 months.

The care I’ve received has been caring and skilled throughout. As much as Peggy and I tell ourselves that we’ll never have surgery in New Mexico I find myself on the cusp of just that. Wednesday we’ll have a Zoom appointment with Dr. Philip Smucker to ask a handful of questions and to schedule minor spine surgery as soon as possible. Thursday would be lovely. No wait. That’s when I get my first Covid-19 shot. I’ll settle for Friday.

I’m approaching four months without any cardio-vascular exercise or upper body work. That ties the longest such period since the spring of 1976. I now sport a dough boy midriff. My fitness has fallen into the abyss of decrepitude. It has declined by every known metric. I don’t know if I can get it back.

The thing about New Mexico doctors, this is my hypothesis, is that top practitioners who would have found fame and fortune in the Big Leagues of Boston, New York or Los Angeles have chosen Santa Fe, Albuquerque or even Taos for lifestyle reasons. My contention is that we do not sacrifice expertise and quality of care in New Mexico. I pray, if I did pray, that Dr. Smucker is an exemplar of my theory; that he’s a good as the surgeon I’d get at Mass General in Boston. I’m doing this thing as soon as I can.

I have dreams of being the man I was 14 months ago. I dream of running unfettered by pain or climbing Wheeler Peak. I hunger for the seven pull-ups or 80 push-ups I could do little more than a year ago. Instead, I’m sitting at the computer with an ache from my lower back to my calf. I need to stand every 15 minutes for the pain to abate.

Yesterday I risked a brisk 40-minute walk. You need to test your capabilities here and there. The simple walk worsened my condition. Two Friday ago, I did 45 easy minutes on my stationary bike with the same bad result. I have to accept that I’ll be a couch potato unless the surgery works.

Without a successful surgery I will be the old man I fear.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Mountain Magic

Looking north from Salazar Road

We got an overdue dose of snow last week. And while it was only five inches in town, the mountain received three times that. The welcome dump gave us an epic alpine view. I was driving north on Salazar Road and saw the sight above. Being in town with a clear shot of the snow laden Sangres leant some perspective to the scene. I came to realize that we live in a real mountain town. Because the town of Taos is removed from the high peaks by a dozen miles or so I’ve come to see it as just a high desert location and haven’t given the mountains their due. This image of the snowy 12,000-foot peaks to our northeast as seen from an intown street jolted me into the realization that Taos is a bona fide mountain town, too. It’s way more than desert. It was a moment that filled my chest; one that renewed my excitement at living in such a miraculous place.

Heart of Stone from Valverde Common

Eastbound on the Taos Plateau

Because we’re twenty miles from the Taos Ski Valley we don’t fit the mold of the typical western ski town. At Aspen, Vail, Telluride or Whistler when you’re in town you’re at the base of the mountain. The same in Europe. Look up from Main Street and you see the slopes soaring above you, the lifts just steps away. In Taos you’re looking at a half hour drive. That’s a blessing and a curse. We don’t have ski town ambience in Taos but, we don’t suffer ski town kitsch and tourist hordes. And you can afford to live Taos. It's not dirt cheap but real estate costs a third of Telluride where $1,500,000 will get you 850 square feet. Here you’ll get a mansion. Taos is a working town not a confection created for the rich and famous. In Jackson, Wyoming workers have to live in Idaho. In Taos they live in, well, Taos.

Taos Ski Valley is rated among the toughest mountains in the United States. In fact, it’s been named the sixth hardest, just below Kirkwood and above Telluride. I’ve skied all of them and concur. I couldn’t ski the waist deep powder at Kirkwood and had to fall to stop. It wasn’t my finest moment. The gladed steeps at Taos still scare the bejeezus out of me. 

Not to mention that Taos is one of America’s great art towns, an art colony dating back to the turn of the last century. With only 6,000 people we boast more than fifty galleries, three art museums and a lively music scene. We have more live music than Santa Fe with 70,000 happy inhabitants. It’s a bona fide art mecca. I’ve never felt an artistic vibe that I do here. That's the primary reason we chose the place. That and the forever vistas. For that matter, the State of New Mexico is said to have more artists and artisans than any other state. About 30% of the population creates some kind of art. 

Taos Pueblo

The buttresses of Ranchos Church

And Taos is steeped in history. The multi-story dwellings at Taos Pueblo have been inhabited for more than 1,000 years and the Pueblo is a World Heritage Site. Taos was first visited by a small party of Coronado’s Conquistadors in 1540. The much photographed Mission Church, San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos was completed in 1772.

There are lots of reasons to love this special place.
T

Sunday, January 24, 2021

One old wino to another

100 years of corked wine

Vestiges of late midlife in the age of COVID 19

You’ve been wondering how I survived the dark and dread of 2020. These still lifes tell you all you need to know. These jars of corks represent the hard work of staying above ground between November 20, 2020 and January 6.

The images are a by-product of patching and painting our water damaged master bedroom. Which is to say Peggy patched and painted and I inventoried our wine. In the process of emptying the bedroom to patch and paint, I had to remove a hundred or so bottles of wine from the rack so it could be moved. During that task I was forced to confront a dozen or so bottles that I knew were long past their drink date. And, though hope springs eternal, the wine in each of the blighted vessels had turned into brown sluice and the corks into muesli. I posted the three-bottle image above on Instagram and Facebook Saturday. In the post I declared that the trio of bottles represent 100 years of bad wine that I had just washed down the drain along with my tears. Thanks for your sympathies. I am disconsolate but not yet suicidal.

Much like getting rid of books you haven’t read and never will or discarding potboilers you’ve kept for no good reason, pouring out wine you’ve known to be dead for 20 years is somehow therapeutic. The books you can still read. The wine can water the basil plant.

The second oldest of the wines that I threw out was a 1975 Chateau Gruaud Larose, a Grand Cru Classé or a classified Bordeaux from St. Julian. I had already dumped a 1967 Lynch-Bages, a favorite which we first bought at the original Trader Joe’s in Pasadena in 1969. We drank the blessed elixir out of sterling silver goblets on New Years Eve of that year before going to the Rose Bowl Parade. Our ride was a 1927 Rolls Royce Woodie. True story. You cannot make this stuff up.

If you have the impression that wine has been our stalwart companion these fifty odd years, I will not disabuse you of the notion. The Lynch Bages and it's fellow Fifth Growth Pauillac, Grand Puy Lacoste, cost $5.00 in those heady days of discovery and promise. Every day was a revelation. First Boeuf Bourguignon. First Steak Tartar. First cilantro. First fresh squeezed margarita. When you're young there are too many firsts to remember.

When we moved to Minneapolis in 1971, we fell in with the wine crowd. We soon joined the local chapter of Les Amis du Vin and found ourselves on the committee that selected wines for our quarterly wine tastings. We had 300 members. That was in the days of the stringent 20-point rating scale not today’s liberally measured 100-point scale in which almost every wine seems to earn a 90 and plonk gets an 88. Our pre-tastings degenerated into boozy affairs capped by comedic efforts to craft our own blends; One third Mayacamas cabernet, two thirds Heitz sauvignon blanc and, voila, a sprightly rosé. The things we did to award winning wines were tragic. I still laugh about it.

Saturday I was at an appropriately distanced and double masked get-together with the erudite and cultured Carol and David Farmer in their living room overlooking the Sangre de Cristos. We were pondering late stage cabin fever and how we were craving travel and new experiences. The following nugget for which I take complete credit relates in an obscure way to that topic and the great Bordeaux revelation of 1969. And the Rolls Woodie.

As we were winding down after 90 minutes of snappy repartee I mused that, “I don’t want all of my adventures to be in the past.” David’s ears pricked up and he responded, “I may have to use that.” To which I answered, “Knock yourself out. I expect attribution."

Here’s to making new memories, my friends.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

This and that and not much else

 

Chaos Theory

There’s not much to report this week. It’s been a week of medical stuff and patching and painting our abode to get ready for an appraisal and a refi. Not the seven gauzy days of creative pursuits and navel gazing I would prefer.

Blanket of Snow, Ranchos Church

Blanket of Snow, Framed

Lenny's Fedora from Men in Hats, in the January-February issue of Shadow and Light

Bill Davis, the Dean of Taos Photographers. This was my Instagram entry Sunday.

On the meager creative front I did deliver my photograph, Blanket of Snow, to the Millicent Rogers Museum for its 19th annual Miniatures Show. And I approved the final edit of my article, Men in Hats, for Shadow and Light Magazine. Men in Hats, as I disclosed throughout December, is a compiled and edited story based on the six-part blog series of the same name that ended 2020.

I just topped 750 weekly posts. Even I am amazed. One year is a 4" 3-ring binder of pages. That counts for something doesn't it? Other than shelf space and trees.

The online Miniatures Show at the Millicent Rogers opens Saturday, February 6 and closes Sunday, February 28. To learn more go to www.millicentrogers.org. 



Sunday, January 10, 2021

And the winners are

Adobe at Ranchos Plaza

Here in order are your selections as the best images of 2020. Thanks for your invaluable input. Unlike 2019 when the top votes getters were evenly split between images taken with professional cameras and those from my ever-present iphone, the top five of 2020 were all made with a DSLR. Which isn’t to say there weren’t worthy smart phone images, but I don’t think they stood up to the images from my Canon 5D Mark lll.

Blanket of Snow, Ranchos Plaza

Cruz Blanca #2, La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

The Last Monsoon, Elizabethtown Cemetery

Moonrise, Arroyo Hondo

Thanks to those of you that gave me your top five photographs. There was more continuity this year as Adobe at Ranchos Plaza and Blanket of Snow were first and second in most of your lists. Notably, Adobe featured the technique called Spot Color that reserves the color in part of an image while rendering the balance in toned black and white. It’s a practice I’ve thought of as contrived in the past but felt appropriate this time. I had a hunch it would be well received. So much so that when I delivered a 16”x20” framed print to my gallery, Wilder Nightingale, I told owner Rob Nightingale that “I think this one will sell.” And, when he posted it to Facebook that day, two sold immediately. It was also my Christmas Card.

Eaves in Shadow, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

Ventana, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

I’ve observed that successful images often come in clusters. That was true in 2020 when the top two vote getters were made the same winter morning in Ranchos de Taos and two others among the eleven on my shortlist were taken on the same day in the tiny village of Placita, NM. Those shown above were studies of the shadows cast by a corrugated roof on La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. They did not make the top five but I'm drawn to completely black shadows and the shapes they create.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

One Helluva Year

 

Adobe at Ranchos Plaza

Blanket of Snow, San Francisco de Asis

This is a look back at the images that stood out in 2020 according to me. They may be well designed, be appealing or tell a story. Your favorites may hit all the notes. It would be grand if you’d tell me your top five.

Wooden Wagon, Martinez Hacienda

Moonrise, Arroyo Hondo

You've Got Mail, Nambé Pueblo

Plane Geometry, San Antonio de Padua

Ventana, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

Corrugated Roof and Shadow, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción

Cruz Blanca #2, La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

The Last Monsoon, Elizabethtown Cemetery

A friend told me that I posted too many images last year. There were 20. I’ll winnow my selections this time to lighten your load. Good luck and may the force be with you.

I hope you’ll take the two extra steps of, first, clicking on the title line you see above. That will take you to the actual blog. Then click on the first image which will display a full screen image. A full-size computer screen will show the images to their best advantage. And mine.

Please comment below with your choices or email your response. It's  steve@steveimmelphotography.com.

Glowing Willows, The Immel Homestead

Please excuse the color photograph of the willows on our back forty. Couldn’t help myself.

Gracias y Feliz Nuevo Año.