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.