Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why the Hate?

I was talking to a friend of mine who related something that made me decide to delay a discussion of THE BISTI BUSINES in order to cover something that is both amazing and frightening. In order to do so, I’d like to speak in his voice:


A post by my nephew, who lives in east Texas, on my Facebook page caught my attention the other day. The gist of the item was that he didn’t care where Obama was born; his concern was where he lived right now. Okay, that’s his honest opinion, and he’s entitled to it.

Simply to give another view and perhaps provide a gentle chiding, I commented that apparently the President was living in the house where 51% of the American public wanted him.

I was totally unprepared for the vitriol that came back at me. Not from my nephew, but others who had “liked” his post. The absolute hate was like a slap in the face. Fool, idiot, and stupid were some of the milder epitaphs. How can a reasonable, inoffensive comment draw such hatred?


My friend’s question is a legitimate one. The easy answer is racial bigotry or a deterioration of common etiquette promoted by the anonymity of social media or a combination of many things. You can come up with a dozen answers of your own.
But I believe it’s prompted by fear. The world is changing, and that is frightening for all of us. But some are less prepared for it than others. Just as Israel is facing the problem of remaining a Jewish state while holding to its democratic heritage, we are confronting the reality of demographics. Many feel their privileged positions threatened. Rather than reaching out to build new relationships to deal with what is coming, too many of us are retreating into a siege mentality. That's a shame…worse, a possible tragedy.

Not a deep assessment of the problem…just my superficial thoughts.

Next week: We’ll get to Farmington as it is seen in THE BISTI BUSINESS.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Rio Grande Gorge (or The Rio Grande Rift)

The Rio Grande Rift
On page 31 of THE BISTI BUSINESS, BJ Vinson views the Rio Grande Gorge from a Cessna airplane and notes that “over the eons, gravity and friction and the sheer power of water molecules have carved a deep crevasse through the hard basalt of the Taos Plateau.”

He is only partially correct. While it is true that friction and gravity and water have done their part in creating this spectacular phenomenon of nature, the valley appeared first, and the river came second. The Rio Grande Rift isn’t just any old canyon holding a river, but rather a separation of the earth’s crust caused by faulting and volcanic action when the North American and Pacific Plates rubbed noses millions of years ago. The rift encompasses 160,000 square miles from central Colorado almost to the Big Bend country in Texas. The Taos Plateau, which is a part of the rift system, makes up a portion of the San Luis Basin created by this geologic activity.

Grabens, depressed blocks of land bordered by parallel faults, formed when rock was pulled apart by tectonic forces, thereby creating the rift. Collapsing stone, volcanic lava, and ash partially filled the grabens (German for ditch or trench), leaving what we now know as the Rio Grande Rift. The canyon reaches depths of 800 feet somewhere below the Taos Bridge. Some of the earliest Pueblos may have experienced earthquakes as the rift developed. Very ancient ones, such as the Clovis people probably witnessed active volcanoes some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. This geologic activity forced gold and silver and many other valuable metals and minerals to the surface throughout the area.

The Rio Grande Gorge as Viewed from the Taos Bridge
The gorge is the site of many ancient petroglyphs. At the bottom of the Gorge, the shores of the Rio Grande are dotted with hot springs and aboriginal ruins. The Gorge has Class II to Class V white water rapids managed by the Bureau of Land Management. In New Mexico, the river has two main sections for rafting near Taos: The Taos Box and the Racecourse Run. The Box is a dramatic, deep canyon run famous for it is big Class IV rapids. The Racecourse Run is better suited for first-time rafters and families.

According to, some of the best places to view the Rio Grande Rift are as follow:

·         The Overlook on NM Highway 68 about eight miles south of the Ranchos de Taos post office

·         The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge on US Highway 64 about thirteen miles northwest of Taos

·         The Wild Rivers Recreation Area about thirty-five miles north of Taos

This is magnificent country well worth a visit. While you’re at it, stop for a dip in one of the hot springs at Ojo Caliente.

Next week:The Farmington area as seen in THE BISTI BUSINESS.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Mighty Rio Grande (or Rio del Norte or Rio Bravo, or…)

One river, a myriad of names:

·         Big River to the Keresan, Tewa, and Tiwa peoples (in their own tongues)

·         Female River to the Navajo in their own tongue (South denotes “female” to the Dine)

·         Rio Bravo del Norte to the Spanish and Mexicans, meaning the “Wild” or “Brave River of the North

·         Rio del Norte, or the North River to the Spanish to denote the upper reaches of the river

·         Rio Grande, or Big River on the north side of the Mexican border in modern times

·         Rio Grande River to many Anglos

The Rio Grande at Albuquerque
during International
Balloon Fiesta
To say the Rio Grande River is to revel in redundancy. Translated into English, the three words say the Big River River. However one calls it, the Rio Grande is the fourth or fifth longest river in North America and the 20th longest in the world. It rises as a snow-fed stream in the Rockies in Hinsdale County in southern Colorado. Just under 1,900 miles downstream, it empties into the Gulf of New Mexico. A portion of the river serves as the border between the United States and Mexico (more specifically, the great state of Texas on one side and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas on the other). Shifts in the channel have led to border disputes between the two nations from time to time, and some of the more unstable areas have been converted into canals. A century-old dispute over the location of the border at El Paso, Texas wasn’t settled until 1968 when the water was diverted into just such a channel.

Cochiti Dam on the Rio Grande
The Rio Grande was declared a Wild and Scenic River, which it truly was until dams were constructed for irrigation, flood control, and river flow purposes. Elephant Butte Dam (1916) and Caballo Dam (1938) create large reservoirs in New Mexico. Amistad and Falcon Dams downstream do the same in Texas. With the addition of the Cochiti, Abiquiu, Galisteo, and Jemez Canyon Dams in New Mexico, the Rio is truly a dammed river. Only two portions of it remain a wild and scenic: The chasm country around Taos, New Mexico and the Big Bend area in Texas.

A source of drinking, irrigation, and recreational water for many competing societal and cultural groups (in both Mexico and the United States), the Rio Grande is over-appropriated. Translation: People demand more water from the river than there is water in the river.

European accounts of the river begin with a survey expedition sent by the Spanish crown in 1519. The famous (or infamous, depending upon your viewpoint) explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado journeyed up the Rio Bravo in 1540 in search of rumored riches but encountered only various Pueblo Indian communities in the Middle Rio Grande Valley. Americans Zebulon Pike (1807) and John C. Fremont (1848-49) explored the upper Rio Grande Area. Long before any of these Interlopers appeared on the scene, the river’s nurturing banks were home to a host of Aboriginal peoples.

In Chapter 5 of The Bisti Business, our intrepid hero, BJ Vinson, learns from GPS readings that the bright orange Porsche Boxter he’s been hunting is in Taos. He charter’s Jim Gray’s Cessna Skycatcher for the 132-mile trip north (less than that as the crow—or Cessna—flies). As is often the case in New Mexico in August, weather hangs off to the west, threatening to ground them. Jim is an ex-military fixed wing and helicopter pilot who got out of the service and went into the flying business for himself.

As they take off from Albuquerque’s Double Eagle Airport, the Rio Grande becomes visible almost immediately. Allow me to cite a few paragraphs from the book as BJ looks down from an eagle’s viewpoint on the river:
BJ: “It’s really amazing how the Rio Grande changes character. In Albuquerque, it roams around in a broad channel made for a bigger river.”

JIM: “You can blame that on the dams. When the Rio Grande was declared a wild and scenic river, it flooded regularly. Then they put in all the dams. The way I look at it, they put an end to the flooding all right, but the river and the Bosque are paying the price. They’re both slowly dying.” The Bosque was a 200-mile swath of cottonwood forest lining both banks of the Rio.

Above Santa Fe, the water flowing beneath the plane picked up energy, shimmering in the sunlight as it rushed over rocks on its fall from the high country. The farther north we traveled, the wilder the river became. Soon it was white water rafting country. A few miles below Taos, the true might and determination of the river became apparent as it raced down long boulder gardens to spill out of the black volcanic canyons of the Taos Box. From above, the river appeared to sink, but in reality, the terrain rose on its climb north toward Colorado.

Over the eons, gravity and friction and the sheer power of water molecules had carved a deep crevasse through the hard basalt of the Taos Plateau. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge spanned that spectacular canyon ten miles west-northwest of Taos. We circled over the awesome 500-foot cantilevered steel and concrete marvel of modern engineering as we lined up for a landing at the town’s small strip.

The Taos Bridge
over the Rio Grande Gorge

I hope that gives the reader a pretty good picture of the mighty Rio Grande, at least the portion flowing through New Mexico.

Next week: Maybe some more from THE BISTI BUSINESS.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I Can’t Remember Her Walk


Caught in an invisible envelope between the anniversary of my late wife’s death (February 12) and her birthday (March 13), I am firmly in the grip of nostalgia. Aside from the more intimate memories, there are things such as her voice, her laugh, and countless little mannerisms. Betty was a natural redhead with a temper to match. I remember telling our two boys many times: “You know your mother. She has to vent.” She would react to things quickly, and then the moment would be forgotten. Me, I have to stew over perceived slights and wrongs, which means I hold onto them longer.

Betty was shy around strangers, which made the social events required of my work literally hell for her. But she soldiered on and did her part. We soon got a reputation as the last to arrive at a gathering and the first to leave. She had one great redeeming quality (from my perspective), she could roll up her sleeves and dive into the innards of a washing machine or a toaster or virtually any household appliance to make repairs…something I wouldn’t even attempt. It was a testimony to her skill that when she died, our washing machine was an old Montgomery Ward model for which they no longer made replacement parts. The matching dryer died while she was in the hospital, but I am still using the washer. When it goes bad, I’ll just shoot it in the head and get a replacement.

My wife never looked more attractive, more alive than when she carried our two sons. Pregnancy did something to her—for her—that nothing else in life did. She shone…she glowed. She was so alive. She was also quite often nauseous. When we went grocery shopping she would stand in the soap department, where she could tolerate the aromas, and send me to other sections of the store to fetch items on her list.

Betty’s red hair, as I’ve said, was natural. The strands were like fine, glittering copper wires catching the sunlight and reflecting it back. She did not indulge herself lavishly, but she did enjoy going to the hairdresser occasionally. She had a favorite whom she reluctantly abandoned because the woman continually asked what she used to tint her hair. Betty could never convince her she did not—and never had—used dyes or tints.

She was a good sport. Always tolerant of my inability to do anything constructive with my hands, she was willing to pitch in to help. When I couldn’t get the plug out of the swamp cooler on the roof, she obligingly sucked on the end of a hose to start the water draining…and ended up with a mouthful of a foul, sediment laden soup from the bottom of the cooler. When I ineptly tried to fix a leaky faucet and lost a wad of bubblegum down the pipe (please don’t ask), she hovered over the pipe ready to snatch the gum as I cleverly lifted it on a cushion of water. Well, I screwed the goose on that one, too. She ended up with another dousing. At least this time it was clean water. To this day, if you draw from the cold water tap in that house, it is flavored by a piece of used bubblegum.

As I was sitting in the parking lot of a big box store the other day waiting for a friend and observing passersby, I began to notice that the way some of them walked reminded me of one of my sons or this friend or that acquaintance. Then it came to me that while I recalled so many things about Betty, I couldn’t remember her walk.

And that made me sad.

Next week: I’ll be over my bout of nostalgia, so maybe we’ll get back to some of the scenery in THE BISTI BUSINESS.

New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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