Thursday, January 30, 2014

Like the Scent of Honeysuckle

Think I’ll post a little character study I did this week. Let me know how you like it.


Like the Scent of Honeysuckle

     The scent of honeysuckle was so heavy he tasted it on his lips and imagined it was visible to the eye. The thud of a distant cataract almost overpowered the gentle murmur of the creek. Tranquility on the fringe of tumult. Most people would be drawn to the waterfall – and that’s all it was, water dropping from two stone tiers – but he preferred this shaded glade ringed by evergreens on the northern slope of the mountain. She preferred it, too; a like-mindedness that first drew him to her. He glanced at his wrist, forgetting momentarily he never wore a watch when he met her. The Rolex put too much of a demand on his time. He squinted up through gently nodding pine boughs and judged her late. But she often was. She paid little attention to time.
     They’d met by accident mere weeks ago at this very spot, which was likely why it was so dear to him. She wore such an ethereal, otherworldly quality he almost believed he had dreamed their encounter. He could have convinced himself of that had he not chanced upon her dining with friends at the country club. Elfin grin turned to enchantress smile. Wild, dark hair coiffed into a tight French roll. Honey brown breasts – lightly dappled with freckles – encased in a severe white blouse.
     They’d come together again in this sylvan glen the following weekend, pretending it was chance. Other meetings followed, sometimes in the city, but mostly in the glorious majesty of the mountain that rang with the endless music of the rushing brook.
     Sometimes he mentally shook himself. Why was he so taken with this woodland nymph? In truth, he’d had more beautiful women, but none had infected his soul so thoroughly. He was impatient to be with her, yet anytime they embraced, he fretted over her impending departure. She bore the odd first name of Wallace … Wally. Like that haughty American duchess who brought an English king to ground. Was that what this was? A brash interloper invading his sedate, settled, rarified world? She’d intruded on his thoughts to the point he’d thrown aside his responsibilities in order to be with her. At this very moment, some princeling was in his boardroom making decisions in his name.
     He sighed, admitting at last how thoroughly she’d unhinged him. No matter, she lifted the weight of his years and restored him to callow youth. Nothing was important except her soft mouth, careless caress, and sweet essence.
     Once he’d mounted the heights of hot-blooded passion and came crashing down on the other side, he’d been astounded her continued presence had been as precious as ever. He’d never experienced that with other women. Once the conquest was made, they were on the way out of his life. Maybe not immediately, but soon thereafter. Yet with her, he felt “conquested.” He grimaced. That ridiculous non word precisely described his feelings.
     Completely at ease, he sat amid fallen pine needles and stretched his legs in front of him like a teenager. A smile touched his lips as he recalled a Pickles cartoon wherein the old man’s grandson had referred to leaves as “tree poop.” He wouldn’t have discovered the joy of reading the strips had she not been so delighted by them.
     He grew drowsy listening to jays and sparrows and a robin or two play in the trees, occasionally dropping briefly to the ground to snatch a seed or insect. He woke with a start as something tickled the back of his hand. He grinned. She was teasing him. But when he opened his eyes a fuzzy caterpillar made his way across the flesh of his left hand and inched down onto the forest floor. She wasn’t here.
     He sat up. The shadows had lengthened. The mountain air held a chill. She’d been delayed. Not even Wally was this late, not without a reason. Any moment now, she’d show up, breathlessly spouting apologies and begging forgiveness. He’d be stern until he saw a shadow in her eyes and then he’d embrace her and say it was all right. He’d tell her he loved her for the first time. Well, not the first time. That had been in the flush of sexual release. But he’d make her understand he meant it this time. Then he’d surprise her with his grandmother’s diamond and sapphire ring presently locked in the glove box of his Caddy in the parking lot below.
     He stood and paced. Had she been in an accident? The road was winding but not difficult. And she didn’t have far to come, just from a little village no more than five miles to the west. Should he go searching for her? But if he went down the mountain one way, she might come from the other direction. And he’d miss her. He couldn’t miss her. Not today.
     The first flush of anger took him by surprise. He never waited on anyone. They waited on him. He should drive straight to the city and see what damage had been done by his minions while he’d played hooky. Let her call him for a change. He’d be cool at first, but he’d allow her pleadings to crack his famous “shell” and allow her back into his life. She needed to become a little less independent, so maybe this was a good thing.
     Still, he didn’t turn toward the trail that would take him to the car. He dawdled. He delayed. He fought his imagination until he realized something. The smell of honeysuckle no longer hung in the air. And then he knew.
     He’d been played for the old fool he was.


Thanks for granting me a few minutes of you time. Hope it was worth it.


Next week: I’ll surprise all of us … including me.

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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

City of Rocks –The Boot Heel Country

Last week, BJ Vinson left Albuquerque on his way to the M Lazy M Ranch in New Mexico’s Boot Heel Country (a piece of land acquired by the territory via the Gadsden Purchase signed by Mexico in June 1854). He made it as far as Columbus before I ran out of steam and ended the post. Columbus was actually one of the more interesting places we stopped because of the raid on the town by Pancho Villa’s forces on the morning of March 9, 1916.
Early the next day, our protagonist heads out for the Boot Heel and the ranch, as we’ll see in the scene that follows:
Ranchers, like farmers, generally rise with the sun, so I was on the road early Monday, breezing west along Highway 9 over a landscape dominated by creosote, locoweed, and wildflowers. The bright sky was spotted with scattered clouds. The blue silhouette of the Cedar Mountain Range shadowed the horizon.
The weathercast this morning had predicted a high of ninety-nine degrees, but the temperature had not yet climbed to that point as I drove into the country that had once sheltered the likes of Curly Bill, Old Man Clanton, and Dick Gray, desperados who hid out in the caves and canyons of the Boot Heel. Somewhere ahead of me was a black oak with large knotholes where the outlaws left messages for one another in what is still called Post Office Canyon.
I passed a sign noting I had crossed into Hidalgo County, a landmass of about 3,500 square miles populated by fewer than 6,000 residents; a place known for its large ranches. The Gray Ranch, which was now called by its original name of the Diamond A, was 321,000 acres—a staggering 500 square miles. Alongside that, the M Lazy M was a piker.
I turned south on Highway 81. The ranch was a fair drive from Hachita, the closest town, and as I had a considerable amount of work to do, I phoned Del to let him know I intended to take Bert Kurtz up on his offer to remain overnight. He wanted to clear it with the insurance company to make sure they wouldn’t consider it a conflict of interest should Mud Hen be involved in any sort of scam. He promised to call me back.
The M Lazy M lay hard against the Mexican state of Chihuahua just short of the Hatchet Mountains in the upper reaches of the Boot Heel. A cattle guard, flanked by a tall adobe arch bearing the ranch’s brand—two capital M’s, the second one lying on its side—marked the main gateway to the spread.
I paused to snap a photo of the entrance before heading down a well-graded gravel road toward what I assumed would eventually lead to the ranch house. I stopped several times to take pictures of the road and anything else of interest. Like crime scene investigators, PIs can’t function without loads of photos.
I traveled another ten miles with no sign of habitation; although white-faced cattle grazing in the distance identified this as a working ranch. At the end of the road, I encountered another fence, behind which loomed an odd-looking structure, one that appeared to have grown from a modest home into something of a monstrosity as succeeding generations of Muldrens left their stamp on the edifice, building first with wood, then with fieldstone and brick. The latest addition was in adobe.
The place was reminiscent of Gothic novel cover art, although the graceful cottonwoods and sycamores scattered about the broad yard softened the effect. Even so, their towering presence on this landscape of stunted bushes and twisted piñons was almost as bizarre as the building itself. They had obviously been carefully nurtured by the first M’s, possibly even the Lazy M, until they dwarfed every other living thing within sight.
I parked in the gravel circle before the house between a late model gray Lincoln and a vintage blue and white Corvette. Two big Dobermans trotted up to the car and regarded me solemnly. Just then, the front door opened. Bert stepped over the threshold and greeted me with a wave. I rolled down my car window a couple of inches.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Vinson. Bruno and Hilda won’t bother you unless I put them on guard. Now the ferocious beast in the house, I’m not so sure of.”
“Right.” I cast a wary eye at the large animals and stepped more briskly than usual toward the broad, shaded veranda. I offered Bert a hand. “Most people call me BJ.”
He accepted my shake with a smile, casting an indulgent eye on the dogs. “BJ, I hope you had a pleasant ride. Missed the hottest part of the day, anyway. Welcome to the M Lazy M Ranch, or as most folks call her…the Lazy M.”
That was BJ’s first view of the ranch and will be his first meeting with its owner, Millicent Muldren, called Mud Hen by just about everyone. After a rather contentious meeting, he prepares to take his leave of her and head back to Albuquerque. In the following scene, he learns of the City of Rocks for the first time … both “City of Rocks.”
“Do you have anything else to tell me?”
“No. I have to go now, BJ.” She glanced out of the window. “I see Luis has my gelding saddled. I have something to check out down at the City.”
“The City?”
“Have you been to the City of Rocks State Park north of Deming?” When I shook my head, she continued. “It’s something to see. As the name implies, it’s a city made of stone, complete with streets and alleys.”
At my doubtful look, she explained. “They say that about thirty-five million years ago, a big volcanic eruption called the Kneeling Nun spewed lava and ash and pumice for 150 miles. Over time, wind and rain and freezing and thawing have shaped it into what it is today, something that looks like a big damned city made out of solid rock sitting right out there in the middle of the desert.
“Well, when the Kneeling Nun blew, she threw some of that same stuff over on our patch of ground. It’s not as big as the one at the park, but when my grandpa first laid eyes on it, he said it looked like a damned city made out of rocks. It’s more the size of a village, of course, but Gramps always thought on a bigger scale, so he called it a city. The City of Rocks. When they made that place north of Deming a state park in 1952, my daddy thought about putting up a fuss since his family used the name first, but he never got around to it. So they’ve got their City of Rocks up there, and we’ve got our own down here. You should see it sometime.”
“I will, but right now I need to head back to Albuquerque. I’ve got to wrap this thing up. Good luck to you, Millicent.”
“Tell me something, cowboy. Do you think I had Quacky stolen because of the bet?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think, Millicent, but for whatever it’s worth—I don’t.”
I stood at the window in the cavernous living room and watched as she mounted and rode off toward the southeast. She and the big piebald named Rufus she rode looked as if they were a single unit. Before they passed out of my line of sight, I noticed she had a rifle scabbard strapped to the saddle forward of her right knee. The boss toted iron just like the hands.
I hope these short scenes make for interesting reading. It sure was fun writing them. Best of all, I get to show the reader some of this great State of New Mexico.

Thanks for visiting with me,


Next week: Time will tell.

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

Thursday, January 16, 2014

City of Rocks – On the Way to the Boot Heel Country

As a matter of historical interest, the Boot Heel part of New Mexico and a good portion of southern Arizona (including Tucson) was acquired from Mexico by the Gadsden Purchase signed by the US on December 30, 1853 and approved by Mexico (after some changes imposed by the US Senate) on June 8, 1854. The treaty settled a dispute over almost 30,000 square miles of territory following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War.

The third in the BJ Vinson mystery series takes place in the New Mexico portion of this acquisition. The as yet unpublished book is THE CITY OF ROCKS, a title suggested by a 1,280-acre New Mexico state park of the same name situated north of Deming near the small town of Faywood. Thirty million-year-old rocks create what look to be an ancient city situated in the middle of grasslands. Deming is not in New Mexico’s Boot Heel county, but the action in the book is centered on a ranch farther south and west in that part of the state. The following are some excerpts from the novel which show the reader portions of this beautiful state as BJ heads from Albuquerque to the M Lazy M Ranch. The hash tags indicate succeeding scenes from the novel.
Las Cruces, the county seat of Doña Ana County, was a city of around 75,000 perched on the Chihuahuan desert flats of the Mesilla Valley. This flood plain of the Rio Grande boasted pecan orchards, as well as onion, chili, and other vegetable fields. The city was also a rail center and the home of the state’s only Land Grant School, New Mexico State University. The stark, striking Organ Mountains rose abruptly to the east.
I parked in front of the East University Avenue headquarters of State Police District Four around 8:00 a.m. I wanted to follow protocol and have Dispatch let the officers on the scene know I was on the way.
Twenty minutes later, I pulled in behind a swarm of activity. Emergency flares blocked the westbound lanes of the highway. I pulled up to the uniformed patrolman diverting traffic to the eastbound lanes and identified myself. He used his shoulder unit to announce my arrival and then waved me over onto the verge. It looked as if the crime unit had about finished with their work. In the distance, I could see a banged up black Dodge Ram pickup upside down snug against the corridor fence. A man in civilian attire detached himself from a small group and started for me as soon as I got out of the car.
I headed for Deming, hoping to locate some of the dead man’s family or familiars who might be able to give me a lead before driving to the M Lazy M Ranch. The sixty-mile stretch between Las Cruces and Deming was relatively flat and dominated by creosote, honey mesquite, and yucca. An ungodly amount of cacti and spiked plants of every size and description lived among these anchors. Except, of course, the tall, stately saguaros the entire world associated with the American Southwest. To the best of my knowledge, those grew only in Arizona.
Road kill revealed the makeup of the local fauna: jackrabbits, desert terrapins, kangaroo rats, and the occasional rattlesnake. I even saw the desiccated carcass of a coyote hanging over the fence bordering the Interstate. Of course, in the Cooke’s Range to the north, there would be cougar and black bear and mule deer. The nearby Florida Mountains boasted ibex and mountain sheep with occasional unconfirmed sightings of the Mexican jaguar. I know this because I’m a confirmed history buff, especially the history of my native state.
The day was hot beneath a blue-flame sky, probably around a hundred degrees. But like we’re fond of saying down here, it’s a dry heat, so it doesn’t hurt much, especially at an altitude of three-quarters of a mile above sea level. Dark, menacing thunderheads hovered to the south over Mexico, but the monsoon hadn’t yet taken hold.
Deming, with a population of around 15,000, was the county seat and principal town of Luna County. It is also located in rockhound country. A good part of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona is a paradise for rock and mineral collecting. Most of the old mines are closed now, but on public land, it’s legal to collect bits and pieces of once-treasured rocks. Geodes. Fire agate. Jasper. Quartz. Azurite. Even turquoise chips can often be found in old dumps.
I sped down Highway 11 toward Columbus. It wasn’t the quickest route to the Boot Heel country, but the town had once played a dramatic part in a clash between two nations, and as a history buff, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to sop up some of that flavor. Besides, it was getting late in the day for a drive over into Hidalgo County where the M Lazy M was located. I planned on remaining overnight in the little village named for Christopher Columbus just north of the border across from Palomas, Mexico.
The Impala breezed south over a landscape reminiscent of the drive between Deming and Las Cruces: flat, high desert terrain broken by blue-shadowed mountains in the distance. Heat waves rising off the asphalt were pleasantly hypnotic.
Columbus is an official, twenty-four-hour POE—Point of Entry—between the two nations, although it sits about three miles north of the actual demarcation line. Border City is where the crossings actually occur. Its proximity to the Mexican State of Chihuahua is what gave the place its brush with history.
The actual story is long and convoluted, as well as highly controversial. Two Mexican revolutionaries, Venustiano Carranza and Francisco Villa, better known as Pancho, tossed out a dictator named Victoriano Huerta and then turned on one another. A Columbus merchant and arms dealer by the name of Ravel supposedly sold defective ammunition to Pancho Villa. When the guerrilla demanded a refund, the merchant reputedly told him the Ravels no longer dealt with Mexican bandits.
On the morning of March 9, 1916, one of Villa’s generals attacked Columbus with more than 500 men. The twenty-four-hour invasion burned down a significant portion of the town and killed fourteen American soldiers and ten residents. Another eighty or so revolutionaries were dead or mortally wounded. The raid led let to General John J. Pershing’s Punitive Expedition deep into Mexico.
My initial glimpse of Columbus was as a disruption astraddle the flat, monotonous highway. After entering the town of mostly one-storied adobe affairs—some painted in brash colors of green or pink—I found a bed and breakfast and registered for the night.
These scenes touch on just a bit of the rich history of our great state. Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

Thanks for reading,


Next week: The Boot Heel.

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

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Poetry Yet!

My goodness! Thursday already. This year is racing past at an alarming speed. Better start your Christmas shopping pretty soon.

That outburst, when examined closely, reveals it’s time to publish a new post, and I haven’t an idea in my head. Well, when it’s fourth down and ten, it’s time to punt. So that’s exactly what I’ll do. My alter ego has written a poem. (He calls it that with a straight face, and since I know nothing about poetry, I’ll go along with it.) With deepest apologies, here goes:



By Donald T. Morgan

I’m not a Tums kind of guy.
The belly may be round
And oft overstuffed,
But I’ve never been a Tums kind of guy.

Yet as the years go by
And the hair turns gray
(please, no snickers now),
Maybe I’m not the same kind of guy.

The knees start to go
And the first thing you know,
The joints say click and clack.
Definitely not the same kind of guy.

As things begin to sag,
My clothes become a bag
And worse … I don’t even care.
More changes to my kind of guy.

A shock sets me back
As the mirror reveals
How profound the changes have been.
What kind of a guy am I now?

Wind has gone chasing after stamina,
Which took off in search of energy.
Ambition has vanished, but I cannot say where.
Am I even a guy at all?

With gurgles and groans my stomach
Confirms what I crave no longer craves me.
What was tripe to my tongue is now daily fare.
Maybe I am a Tums kind of guy.


Well, there it is … for what it’s worth. (Not much in my opinion, but I’ve been accused of being jaded in my outlook on life.)

Thanks for putting up with it,

Don Travis  (Just so there’s no confusion between the two Dons)

Next week: I’ll try to do better.

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

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year’s Resolutions … I don’t believe in them. Well, not exactly.

What do you know, it’s January 2, 2014 already. I hope everyone had a good holiday season and survived all the parties, family dinners, and gatherings of friends – obligatory attendances and voluntary ones alike.

What does all of this mean? Well, it means another year has turned into history, never to be captured again. And each of us a year older than this time in 2013, which is now irretrievably gone and lost, lived and experienced.

There’s a difference in those sets of terms, isn’t there? Gone and lost imply something forfeit. Lived and experienced convey a sense of gain. And each of us will determine by the way he or she lives from this day forward which will represent that individual’s mindset … or philosophy, if you will.

My friend, J, whom I’ve mentioned in this blog (generally respectfully) from time to time, is a student of the human brain. She likes to glean facts and theories on how it works as we go about our daily lives. For example, she thinks in terms of System One and System Two.

The first, which dictates probably 80 percent of our actions and activities, is the subconscious. The second represents our cognizant selves, and is the way we make decisions not dictated by habit. In short, the thinking part of us, which she believes from her studies is finite, limited, and sometimes overwhelmed by the subconscious if we don’t take steps to prevent it. By this, I believe she means we don’t allow things about which we can do little or nothing to become obsessions, to take up too much “space” in our day.

I subscribe to this, I think, because of my daily routine. When I sit down at this computer to write, I’m using System Two. But I often find that after a while I’m sputtering along, not thinking clearly, spending too much time dithering over details. Then I’ll do something that lets System One take over, such as playing Free Cell or Computer Hearts. After a game or two of these simple diversions, I’m often much more efficient when I return to productive work.

But I digress (does that come as a shock?). While I do not believe in the Ritual of New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve decided I’m a victim of System One creep, and something needs to be done about it. I haven’t found any volunteers to correct the situation, so I guess I’ll have to do it myself.

Henceforth, I’m returning to my once-rigorous daily schedule of writing, learning about writing, teaching writing, promoting writing, and reading (“writing” is implied here). There. It’s said, ergo, it’s done! And the first beneficiary of the decision will be the novel I’m working on, whose birth has been oh so slow and painful. Come to think of it, I guess that makes me the primary beneficiary. And that’s the way it should be, right?

Happy New Year, everyone.



Next week: Whatever it is, let’s hope it’s a product of System Two.

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

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