Breakfast Club

Recently– last winter- an odd mix of ranchers, cowboys, artists, medical workers, teachers, and even less classifiable types started having Sunday brunch at Tita Dixon’s brief version of the Bear Mountain Cafe. It was so much fun that when Linda Rael Mansell and Kelly Kent opened a good cafe at the old Magdalena Hotel it migrated there, and is now an necessary weekly stop.

My IPhoto DOES NOT WORK;  my upgrade to “Yosemite” has damn near killed my computer– but here are a couple of trial shots. Biggest thing that bothers me other than the computer industry’s insistence on leaving users out in the cold is: GOD, what a bunch of old farts. No one here is more than three years older than I am (well, maybe Ed adds another year) and some are younger. Degrees in medicine and biology and archaeology, ranches and farms bought and sold and managed, children brilliant and difficult, travels to Mongolia and Yemen and Everest Base Camp and the back country of China, as pioneers or guides, hunting in Africa, wild romances, secrets, harrowing work in the third  world and the rubble of the World Trade Center*–  and here we are saying “Kelly, you KNOW I take MILK in my coffee!”

We are missing many I wanted to get– Ken Cason running off to meet a semi full of incoming calves,  a whole lot of friends being weenies about the breeze and sitting inside, ones who fly medical emergency planes or restore stained glass in cathedrals; they were moving fast, and I, knowing I probably couldn’t edit any photo I took, didn’t try very hard. But I have a duty to depict my odd little community of thirty— four?– years. (Big  question today: how many came here intentionally? Even those that sorta wanted to say yes –all of two– wanted to qualify it)…

“Golden girls and boys all must/ As chimney sweepers/ Come to dust…” Click double or right to embiggen, as always.

Above: Libby, me, Mark Cortner; and Vincent’s Pepe, ambassador, and greeter to all. Mark is probably my oldest friend of the bunch– he knew Betsy, and we have traded guns and books and a whole lot of meat and a horse.

Mary Anne Maddy, L, Mark, Vincent DiMarco, Ed Erickson. Pepe is under the table demanding his tithe. And below… the ambassador himself, with Vince.

* It is MAGDALENA. It is the best traveler’s town, at least of its size,  I have ever known– since 1895 or thereabouts we have been everywhere, especially if you count our rural neighbors who come to Magdalena for necessities and socializing. For years they stayed at the old Magdalena Hotel where we are sitting today, (our last cattle drive was in ’72!), right up to the missile tests in the fifties and sixties, when they shot them from White Sands to Fort Wingate; that is, over the ranches. They would pay for the ranchers to stay here, the first place to stay outside of their evacuation zone,  and I bet they covered some serious bar bills…

A few travelers in and out, randomly: Montague Stevens, high- born Englishman, riding with one arm, having lost his other in a hunting accident; rancher, grizzly hunter, finally grizzly protector. Aldo Leopold, of Wisconsin, speaking to a crowd here in 1914, bigger
than today’s whole town population, and taking a local bride back to the
north. Norman Cleaveland,  born a few miles west and off to Stanford and Indonesia. The late Louis Nalda, who used to use his plane to herd his cows and played polo in England after graduating from New Mexico Military Institute; we also spent some good nights in the Bar, and one night (I may tell it someday), he left with us to criticize a painting, with a full glass of Jack Daniels balanced in his pocket. Floyd Mansell from Arkansas, my mentor, self- described (half- Lebanese) hillbilly, houndsman and cocker, who went to college on the GI Bill, and in his words “got a master’s, married an Indian, became a liberal and a Catholic, moved to New Mexico and had nine kids. My family doesn’t know what to think of me!” (He kept his hounds and fighting chickens til he died). From Oklahoma he hired Leonard Parker, my other mentor, Comanche aristocracy, Quanah’s grandson, teacher and trickster…

Our own Ed, born in New York but in this area since he was a child, now a travel agent who will try anywhere himself.  Mark, who grew up in the Canal Zone, whose first wingshooting quarry was
a Toucan; then to Sul Ross, cowboying, a biology degree… poet James Nance, raised off- pavement on the Field Ranch by parents whose brand is 2XS, and who house the Juan Tomas Foxhound pack; a cowboy,  a sherriff’s deputy, but also the youngest Master of Hounds in the US; young enough to be my grandson, published as I have been in the Atlantic (twice),  going to Sweden to help raise his kids…

This footnote grew, didn’t it? Stories, stories… as Ian sings in his song about Charley Russell, “get ‘er all down, before she goes..”


Mark Cortner, old friend and variously biologist, cowboy, rancher, farmer, and fine gun nut– (we have traded various things including guns, books, and horses since Betsy was alive) stopped by just before sundown with Harry the Peruvian paso, one of the nicest horses I know. I still get jealous every time I see a gaited horse, and Harry is a sweetheart besides. He is not just a pet either; Mark used to rope off him routinely.

Like me and Steve Grayson, and one other friend I know in town, Mark is a 1950 baby. We feel the mortal breeze on the back of our necks. And I was and am the oldest…

Steve Grayson, 1950- 2014

My friend Steve Grayson died two nights ago. He owned the Golden Spur for over thirty years, and made it into THE community center for Magdalena and the surrounding ranches. Betsy Huntington and I met most of the people I still know there, not to mention the increasing number we have lost. He makes an appearance near the end of Querencia- the book, when Betsy’s sister Jane comes out to take her back to Boston to be buried; he recognizes her, and gives her a shot of Jack Daniel’s on the rocks, something I doubt that she ever drank except here. My dark joke that everybody in the book but me is dead is coming close to the truth.

Steve’s good cheer, warmth, and good sense made it impossible for anyone to do anything more than START trouble there. In all those years, no one ever pulled a gun or knife or swung more than a single punch. His good nature did not mean he was any kind of wimp, but his authority was always gracious. For along time his Missouri- born mother Mildred (“I have two sons, a Baptist preacher and a tavern owner”) worked in the bar; until she was 89 I think. When I didn’t have a phone she took my messages, including the one that eventually got me to Asia,

He and his wife Colleen (they were a perfect pair– you rarely saw one without the other), were sports fans, and Steve and his two kids all had been serious basketball players. They followed everything , especially football, and played killer pool. Anyone who knows me knows I am not. Steve knew me. On the eve of the Superbowl, about ten years ago, Steve was talking to two strangers at the end of the bar. He came to refill my drink and asked me, casually, if I knew what teams were playing. I looked at him in disbelief and said “How the hell would I know? You’ve known me for twenty years and I’ve never known when anybody is playing– not once!”

He grinned like the Cheshire cat, walked down the bar to the strangers, and said “Pay up!” I drank free for the rest of the night.

He is survived by Colleen (who in the antedeluvian days before computers typed several of my books), son Phil, who is a writer, teacher, and editor in New York city and sometimes appears here, and daughter Denise, who does high- end computer work near Washington DC.

We will miss you, Steve.

Magdalena Old Timers Fiesta

Good week with the hawk and with guest Annie Hocker; bad week with my right hip, and not very productive. But once a year, local patriotism demands I pay some attention to Magdalena’s only event that brings out of towners in. Yeah, it’s hokey and country and so what? We missed it when water worries  cancelled it last year, and I always see unexpected people, especially but not always from the ranches.  As always right or double click to enlarge.

A cowboy bunch– Wade Dixon, Vida Trujillo (widow of Viejo, who you can search up), Shonda and Darryl Welty. The Welty ranch is 60 plus dirt road miles away, and Wade works in Catron county, so we don’t see them every day.

… in our bar

We have a parade- candidates…


…  unclassifiable New Mexican oddities…

Dead animals (yes, that oryx has one horn pointing up and one down)

The mayor (in the back, playing)

Wonderful old cars (I long for when they drove wild cows through town ahead of the cars, but I am beginning to sound like I was born in 18 not 1950)

Our  reporter (and beer maker) John Larson, and him shooting the float with Paul Pino’s band, who in one incarnation or other have provided a soundtrack for my last, what, 34 years? Paul’s stepson Rudy was one of the dedicatees of my pigeon book Aloft.

Dogs enjoy OT in their own way

I’m backing my friend Ed for sheriff. There is a persistent rumor that a popular TV series mined a period in his life for its first season. I’ll never tell…

Two women I love: Sylvia Troy and Hilda Kelly, Tom’s wife. Hilda: “Take those three and call it three Magdalena hookers!” Me: “No Hilda, not unless you get in too.” She did, immediately. Unfortunately that one didn’t come out. She has been married to Tom, below, with Jeannie and Tita, who makes an appearance in Hibben’s Hunting American Lions as a “young cowboy”,  for longer than I have been alive or than there has been a paved road to Magdalena. He is 86. I won’t presume to ask a lady her age.

Local Color

Bar owner Darryl Pettis, new mayor Diego Montoya, and some library donations from Darryl — because I can, and because I support both. (I am on the library board).

Not a secret, but I bet Libby and I are the only Magdalenians who have been there other than her: Diego’s mother came from Waltham, Mass. Montoyas? I live in one of the oldest houses in town, dating to the 1870’s. I am the first non- Montoya to own it,  albeit I have had it for more than a few years, and my electric bill address is still “Montoya Rock House”. Though this may be the first time Dieguito ever heard it!

(Albuquerque Journal photo)

Christmas 2013

 Over the desert and up in the range, to Muleshoe ranch we go. Right click for big…

Twelve miles of sometimes atrocious dirt and rock track, up to above 8000 feet, with the  astronomical telescope on the 10,000 foot ridge above glinting in reflected afternoon light from the west…

No art or essays or anything of import here, other than my old story of a place and those who by intent or accident belong there, that odd bunch who come to fit, who become part of an older community…

We have done Christmas at the Lassez for almost ten years now– they born in France and here almost as long as me, hosting natives and newcomers and visitors with warmth and hospitality in a hundred year old ranch house with a bit of the style of the old Swiss Italians who were an uncelebrated but substantial percentage of the European- American settlers here after the Civil War, as well as my New England paternal ancestors. And how likely is that convergence?

John and Carolyn Wilson, retired from Ohio where John ran an Audubon sanctuary, (though she has local roots), listen to our hostess describe the latest Lassez Asian odyssey, a month in Nepal; many footsteps where Libby blazed trails in the seventies, when she guided treks to Everest Base Camp. And Catherine and Libby comparing notes, backed by the window with the best view in the county.

Jean Louis explains economics to John…

(Economics also informs Jean Louis’ painting parodies, but we will deal with this later…)

Sarah Lassez, in from SoCal, and her dogs.

 Dolly Dawson,  Magdalena native and former Old- Timer’s Queen :

I did not get good enough pics of: Dominique, in from Paris (Domi, sorry, maybe before you go);  Donna Dawson, Mag native, daughter of Dolly and old fire crew friend of Betsy Huntington; the bonfire; Rolf Magener, my peripatetic e- mag travel editor, whose namesake uncle escaped British internment with Heinrich Harrer, but who then went to Burma; his book is as good as Harrer’s, but Myanmar has never been as popular as Tibet in the West.  Nor GUNS: my .410 ,which against odds I got back, and brought to show off– wait, here’s one from yesterday, so much smaller than my 12 that it makes that slim game gun look like a ponderous pigeon piece…

But finally, sated, headed home in the gloaming. And to all a good night!