Twenty years ago Saturday, Betsy Huntington died. She accompanied me from Boston to New Mexico, where we made a home,and where I still live. She was the first person I knew to use the word “querencia”, and she is the single biggest influence on who I am today.
I am not sure how much I can add to the many words I have written about her. The book Querencia– here, — is her memorial, as is the kind of life I live.
The summer after her death, Tom McIntyre wrote a memorial essay in Gray’s Sporting Journal. I can’t improve on it.
“As much as she wanted to – and as fiercely as she tried – Betsy couldn’t be here this summer.
“You know Betsy Huntington. If you’ve ever read Steve Bodio, you know her. For nearly a decade she and Steve were friends, partners, accomplices, secret sharers. On the Plains of St. Augustin they kept a blue adobe house that was home to them, as well as itinerant friends, hawks, bird dogs, gazehounds, pigeons, insect collections, books, shotguns, rifles, fishing tackle, riding tack, typewriters, a bulletin board posted with crazed memos, a telephone for making and receiving of midnight calls, the echoes of sporting-writing-living conversations that were never conducted at a level below a howl, wreaths of dried chilis, a Cape buffalo skull…in short, the bare necessities of life. Whenever you read Steve, those words are a direct result of Betsy’s life with him, and his with her.
“If you want “facts” about Betsy, she came from a family of soldiers, divines and farmers. Born in China to an Episcopal bishop, she and her family were forced to flee the country ahead of the invading Japanese. She was schooled in the Northeast, traveled through Europe like the women who both intimidated and allured Hemingway, lost no small amount of money without ever feeling the least bitterness or rancor, became a journalist, then a breeder of rare margay cats, then met Steve and lived, as a matter of fact, happily after.
“Those are the facts. But you already know Betsy.
“In the late fall of last year, when there was snow to push elk out of the high country, and after her hard fight, Betsy Huntington died, in sleep. She was buried in the East with a thick coyote pelt to keep her warm, and Steve carried a lock of her hair back to the New Mexico she loved. And now because of all she meant to so many people, it is time to say goodbye to her here and to tell her how much she will be missed this summer, and after. She enjoyed summer, as she enjoyed all the seasons, and no doubt she would have liked this one, too, very much.”
Annie Davidson, frequent commentor here and old friend, introduced us. She adds:
“I liked being with Betsy. She had been on great adventures but
somehow managed to make everyday, boring, mundane stuff feel like
adventures too. She saw potential, expanse, and details everywhere.
And she liked me.
“When I wanted a maroon cableknit sweater, we’d walk in the store, and
there it was. On sale. Ditto, when I said I needed a wingback chair
to make my life complete–she’d seen an ad, and we went and got it,
and it was perfect.
“In my mind she is tall, taller than me, but in inches she was much
smaller. We couldn’t trade clothes. I wanted so much to look like
she did in her French whore dress, but just looked silly.
“Before they were illegal, Betsy had (nearly unheard of) breeding pairs
of margays. I met her when one mother refused to allow her baby to
nurse, so it needed to be bottle raised. She impressed me by how
keenly she intimately knew and understood each animal. I realized
that ‘I need to know everything’ approach reflected very much who
Betsy was. She lived in her interests, and she was interested in
“I never actually met her bobcat, who allegedly socked anybody new just
once in the face. But I don’t like to get socked. And Betsy didn’t
insist, and she still liked me.
“I liked her approach to life, of ‘Let’s try it’ ‘Want to go?’ ‘Might
be interesting’, and I still try to emulate that.
“Maybe I was an interest. Becoming friends stretched me. And
comforted at times I needed it. I still miss her.”
Sleep, Bets. We remember you well.