creative non fiction, Desert, memoir, new mexico, southwest

Penultimate: Fire or Nice

During the first few months following my return to Albuquerque, I frequently drove Central Avenue, old Route 66, the Mother Road.  I still loved the thoroughfare’s life, color, laughter, multi-culture, and relatively leisurely pace.  I still loved observing the human ripples and echoes of the continent’s first inhabitants, although this distinction was still granting them no obvious perks.

But then there were the times when I’d gasped as reckless drivers darted all around me; witness the homeless, filthy sleeping bags over their shoulders, trailing luggage with plastic wheels worn nearly to the axel; stiffen with the piercing sirens of police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks; stare in disbelief at the mentally-ill young men of all races and ethnicities, shirtless, sun-burned, wild of hair and eye, ranting and raving; see the boarded-up restaurants and the empty lots filled with trash, dead trees, and broken cinder blocks. 

A quarter-century earlier, I would have likely dismissed all of this with an I’m-young-and-in-love-and-in-New-Mexico-for-the-first-time “That’s cool.”

But now these things often just angered and depressed me.

Still, there was that old remedy: Once again, I’d glance upward . . . and be reminded that no matter how intense and dispiriting things got at ground-level Albuquerque, I’d always have the soothing company of that remarkable New Mexico sky.  A sky that, banking off the Sandia Mountains, exploded for a hundred miles in three different directions, suspending mountain, mesa, and plain.  A sky with a blue so deep it could, in the words of Annie Proulx, drown you.  A sky untouched, unsullied, by the hands and machinations of mortals.    

And, with this heaven in mind, I’d take comfort in the words of writer Edward Hoagland, who, in 1989, observed that the sky “is left after every environmental mistake, roiling in perpetuity.  We can squint up at that.  Can’t chain-saw or bulldoze it, or buy and sell the clouds, pave them over or dig them up.”

Today, however, a mere seven years after returning to New Mexico, I question, as I suspect Hoagland now questions, the shelf life of his assertion.  For today, I believe, we are, in Hoagland’s figurative sense, chain-sawing and bulldozing the sky, and in so doing threatening everything below it.  And this haunts everything I’ve so far written.

To review: Our centuries-long burning of fossil fuels has pumped greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere, which is trapping some of the planet’s heat, which is warming the planet.  Dangerously.  Average global temperatures since 1880 have increased by 2.2 degrees.  The Earth is hotter today than it has been in one thousand years.  As a result, around the globe, ice sheets and glaciers are shrinking; arctic sea ice is disappearing; droughts, wildfires, and floods have gotten more extreme.  Seeking cooler conditions, wildlife are migrating to higher elevations.

The Southwest has not escaped this massive threat.  New Mexico journalist Laura Paskus, in her 2020 book At the Precipice, has made this case compellingly, basing many of her conclusions, as I have some of mine, on the 2018 “Fourth National Climate Assessment” of the United States Global Change Program. 

The Southwest’s average annual temperature has increased by 1.6 degrees since 1901.  Since the 1970’s, the average annual temperature of New Mexico has increased by 2 degrees.  New Mexico is the sixth-fastest-warming state in the nation. 

Then, there’s drought.  Droughts, thought to be largely caused by water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean, are normal in the Southwest (meet “La Niña”).  However, since 2000, the Southwest has been in a whopper of a drought, one of the worst in 1,200 years.  Researchers are concluding that global warming is accounting for about 50 percent of this drought; or, rather, what scientists are now calling this “megadrought.”  Drought of any scale, of course, means less water in our rivers, streams, and soils.  

And drought means an increased threat of wildfires.  Already in this century New Mexico has had four devastating forest fires: the Las Conchas fire in the Santa Fe National Forest in 2011―156,000 acres burned; the Little Bear fire in the Lincoln National Forest in 2012―44,330 acres burned; the Whitewater Baldy fire in southwestern New Mexico in 2012―300,000 acres burned; and the Silver fire in the Gila National Forest in 2013―138,000 acres burned.

Fire season in the West has lengthened by two months.  The week during which I wrote this, hotshots were battling a blaze in the Lincoln National Forest . . . in a snowfall, this weird combination likely a result of New Mexico springtimes becoming warmer earlier.  Thus, snowmelt is peaking in February and March, instead of May and June, when farmers in central and southern New Mexico are needing it to water their crops.

Water tables are dropping across the Southwest, threatening farms and homes.

High-intensity fires due to fuel build-up due to a century of wildfire-suppression are, in Paskus’s words, “cook[ing] the soils,” preventing trees of any kind from returning.

Clearly, Mr. Hoagland, we’re chain-sawing and bulldozing our Southwestern sky.

Paskus gives civilization about a decade to reverse this.  To stop burning fossil fuels.  To stop me from driving three times a week 50 highway miles one way―and burning more than a gallon of regular―in order to pedal my bicycle for 16 miles on a remote stretch of highway because I like the space, light, peace, and rare sight of the lone, loping, wayfaring coyote.  Again, no one is immune.

A tall order?  As poet James Merrill observed: “Always that same old story― / Father Time and Mother Earth, / A marriage on the rocks.”

But if we don’t reverse?

In A Great Aridness, William deBuys paints a bleak picture of the world, including the Southwest, should global warming not be rigorously addressed.  “If present trends of carbon pollution hold steady,” he warns, the temperature increase for parts of the Southwest “could amount to 8°F . . . by the end of the century.”  Paskus, only slightly less gloomy, estimates a 4- to 6-degree increase.  Generally speaking, observes deBuys, across the planet, unless we put the brakes on climate change, “wet places will become wetter; dry places, like the Southwest, drier.”  Thus, referring to the findings of Jonathan Overpeck, today a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, deBuys writes, “Climate change . . . will produce winners and losers.”  Then, he quotes Overpeck himself: “[I]n the Southwest we’re going to be losers.  There’s no doubt.”

If we don’t cease global warming, our high-elevation forests of conifer, spruce, and aspen, and our lower-elevation woodlands of piñon and juniper―the floors of both now clogged with dead wood, grass, and brush; that is, fuel―will experience more, and more severe, wildfires that will cook more soils.  If the burned forests regenerate at all, due to a warming climate they will not return as we have known them.  The tall, dark conifers that today sough in the wind―in Frank Waters’s words, “that immemorial sound of solitude which is as comforting to the mountain-born as the murmur of sea to the seafolk”―will be replaced by Gambel oak, locust, and aspen.  The piñon and juniper woodlands, meanwhile, will be replaced by oak, mountain mahogany, and brush.  Shade, is that you?

More charred landscapes will mean more erosion and flooding.

The Rio Grande―in Paskus’s words “already a climate casualty in New Mexico”―will have a snow supply reduced by 67 percent, which will in turn reduce a spring and summer supply of water to New Mexico’s farms and homes by 95 to 100 percent.  The Colorado River will likely see a 30 percent decrease in flow by 2050 and a 50 percent decrease by 2100.  What threatens the Colorado also threatens the San Juan River, a Colorado tributary.  Water is piped from the San Juan to New Mexico’s Rio Chama, which empties into the Rio Grande.  Deny the Great River liquid and its water table will drop.  Should it drop to more than 10 feet below its surface, the cottonwoods cushioning its banks that I so admired when I first moved to Albuquerque will wither and die.

Increased warming and drought will affect the Indigenous nations of the Southwest, threatening their forests and grasslands with wildfire, and threatening the conditions necessary for them to grow their traditional foods.

Risks to health will increase.  Those who cannot afford air-conditioning may die of heat prostration.  Dust increased by drought will imperil those with respiratory ailments.

Vanishing surface and groundwater will mean no more agriculture along the Rio Grande.  Will you trust a chile pepper grown in Saskatchewan?

New Mexico, historically afflicted with poverty, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, child abuse, teenage pregnancy, teenage failure to take responsibility for teenage pregnancy, and political corruption, may find that climate change worsens these scourges.

And, of course, there’s desertification.  Sand, and more sand.  On this topic, I e-mailed David Gutzler, a professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico.  With my years in the Chihuahuan Desert in mind, I asked him:  If we fail to address climate change, will Albuquerque and its surroundings look like the Chihuahuan Desert city of El Paso and its arid, harsh Franklin Mountains?  Gutzler’s reply was: “In fact, if we extrapolate the sort of century-scale trends in climate projected by models out to 2100, it turns out that the average temperature and precipitation in Albuquerque becomes very similar to present-day El Paso.  I’ve made this point in public presentations by showing photos of the Franklin Mountains above El Paso, which really are very nice for hiking . . .  But there are no trees to speak of in the Franklins [my italics].”  I took this as a “yes,” and imagined the Sandia and Manzano mountains sun-blasted and covered with creosote, prickly pear, mesquite, an occasional decaying Huggie (New Mexico is always New Mexico), and an occasional desert willow.  That is, desertificated.  

It boggles the sensibilities.  Will central and northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, their forests and woodlands wiped out by wildfires, one day look like Yuma, Arizona; Death Valley; or the Gran Desierto of northern Mexico?  (Mexico, too―85 percent of it―is currently grappling with drought.)

Will New Mexicans face crop failure, civil unrest, famine, new diseases?  Will they, if they can afford it, migrate en masse to the northern parts of the United States, desperately seeking that region’s modest economic gains as a result of climate change, not to mention a cool breeze?  Will the United States withstand such a migration?

Pebbles in my boot.

And here’s another pebble: the “Anthropocene.”  In her preface to her biography of Thoreau, Laura Dassow Walls defined it for me: an epoch in which human beings have become “a geological force changing the planet itself.”  Scientists are now suggesting, or perhaps confirming, we have entered it. 

Uhh, we have. 

Speaking of Thoreau, how would he have regarded an “Anthropocene”?  In Walden, he wrote: “At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable.” 

Methinks we abandoned that “requirement” some time ago, Henry.  We’ve dammed the rivers.  We’ve wiped out thousands, perhaps millions, of species.  With atomic weapons, we’ve unlocked the secret of the stars.  In the Pacific, we’ve produced a raft of garbage and errant plastic twice the area of Texas.   Twenty thousand pieces of Earthly space junk gaily orbit our tiny planet at 17,000 miles-per-hour.  Global “cactus traffickers” are cleaning out the deserts.  Now we’re goosing the weather of the entire planet.  The weather! 

Is there not a speck of mystery and the “unfathomable” left?  Is there no aspect of the physical world, of nature, that has not escaped our clutches?

Now, thinking locally:  I don’t want a Southwest that is desertificated and devoid of humans and wildlife.  Or, if not devoid of humans, home to only those curmudgeons, desert mystics, and desert rats who can afford solar-powered air-conditioning (and imagine that colossal irony) and private wells a mile deep.  And I’m guessing future generations don’t want that, either.  

I want a Southwest in which higher-elevation forests complement lower-elevation deserts, plateaus, and prairies―as satisfying as the Southwest’s complements of mountain and plain, refuge and prospect, and city and country.  A Southwest where people can continue to look forward to traveling vertically as well as horizontally, going up to escape the heat and down to escape the cold. 

I want a Southwest that has, even if only intermittently, the sound of running water in its mountains and deserts, water that will maintain this land’s tradition of limited but clever and enduring agriculture.  I want a Southwest steep with snow and deep with burning sand.

I want a Southwest alive with birds, snakes, insects, fish, and furry quadrupeds, and a Southwest that can sustain a reasonable number of humans.  I want a Southwest where people can enjoy companionship―and solitude. 

I want a Southwestern climate whose fate largely depends not on the tailpipe of a pickup truck on Central Avenue, but rather on the whims of a distant El Niño or La Niña, or even a solar-dictated epoch of planetary fire or ice.  I want natural, damn the consequences.

Let’s keep this in perspective.  Earth is not threatened.  Earth will survive.  It has survived five mass extinctions, oxygen starvation, deadly cold, sweltering heat. 

Civilization is threatened.  And the estimate by science that there are ten billion trillion habitable planets in the universe does not give us the right to trash this one.  Got that, Bezos and Branson?

The choice is ours.

creative non fiction, Desert, memoir, New Mexico, southwest

Full Circle

During my first few months back in New Mexico I returned to some of my old haunts. 

I visited a mom-and-pop restaurant in downtown Albuquerque, and discovered that it had been renovated and was now serving more costly food and a variety of “specialty” beers.  Although it retained its name, largely gone, it seemed to me, was the breed of customers with whom I once dined, including the many bacon-and-eggs viejos of Albuquerque’s oldest neighborhoods, replaced now by a new generation of young people who were patronizing the many new nightclubs and venues for live music downtown.  Downtown now also included a titty bar.  (Feeling the power now, Albuquerque?)  

On the campus of the University of New Mexico, I visited Mitchell Hall, where I first taught composition.  However, my classroom was gone, replaced by a spacious lounge with a refreshment stand.  Had my classroom been so equipped on that anxious morning two decades earlier, I might have entered it with considerably less paralysis.  On the main floor of the campus’s Zimmerman Library, where once there stood the long wooden banks of a card catalog, students now lounged upon comfortable chairs and sofas, their noses buried in handheld electronic devices.  Index cards cataloging books had now been digitized, the digital information accessed by computer terminals scattered throughout the library.  

Elsewhere in the city, I tightened my sphincter as, dodging reckless motorists, I negotiated the intersection of Interstate highways 40 and 25.  No more cloverleafs, the intersection was now an Udon noodle soup of ramps and overpasses, an engineering feat I had to admire.  Meanwhile, 40 and 25―in fact, thoroughfares all over the city and state―bristled with giant billboards for personal-injury lawyers.  You’d think New Mexico was a very dangerous place to live.

Well?

Easter week, in my truck in a light snowfall, I once again passed a dozen of the Christian faithful walking south of the town of Tijeras along a remote stretch of highway 337―to where, I’d no idea. 

I returned to the Rio Puerco basin west of Los Lunas to watch the freight trains of the BNSF railroad, once again fantasizing hobodom. 

I plunged back into the outdoors, spending days and nights hiking and packing, among other places, the slopes and summits of New Mexico’s Manzano, San Mateo, and Gallinas mountains.  To my surprise and delight, they continued to be lightly visited. 

Still, I was an urban dweller once again, and now for the duration. 



 

creative non fiction, Desert, memoir, new mexico, southwest, Uncategorized

Perdido

One day during the second week of September, Buddy didn’t return to our house within a couple hours of his ramble, as he always did.  I simply attributed this to his independence.  However, when he had not shown up by noon of the following day, and had thus skipped two meals, I began to worry.  Of course, I recalled the many dead dogs we’d seen along Doña Ana County roads and highways. 

Rapidly mounting dread began to couple with anger at my naiveté.  Then I became angry at my fellow Doña Ana County residents.  Aware of all the empty beer cans and wine and liquor bottles along county thoroughfares, I cursed their drunken driving.  And I cursed their careless driving when they were sober.

However, while I was coming apart, preparing to write Buddy’s obituary in absentia, my wife, still composed and, as always, practical, decided we should gather up a photo of Buddy, some colored highlighters, and push pins, and head to the nearest copy shop to create some lost-dog posters.  A fool’s errand, I thought sadly: In one of the poorest counties in New Mexico, when there are fields to be harvested and children readied for another year of school, who’ll stop and read a sun-faded poster tacked to a tree trunk or telephone pole?  But I glumly went along. 

At an El Paso copy shop we ran off 15 posters, which, owing to Linda’s recollection of her high school Spanish, wisely included the words “perdido” and “recompensa.”  Driving around in my truck, we paused to tack the posters along the country roads roughly within a mile radius of our house.  Throughout, Linda periodically called out “Buhhhhhh-deeee!”―a wail into the indifferent fields, woods, and ditches that pierced my heart.  Later that afternoon Linda phoned the classifieds department of the El Paso Times, which was delivered throughout the Mesilla Valley, and dictated a lost-dog announcement.  That night I slept miserably.

The following morning, a Sunday, while I happened to be on our side patio, a dog appeared, limping down our driveway.  He was mud-caked and scraped.  Despite his sluggish arrival, he was panting rapidly.  His penis was oozing pus. 

We immediately phoned a veterinary clinic in Las Cruces, and the on-call veterinarian told us to bring Buddy in right away.  X-rays revealed that he had a torn diaphragm and two pelvic fractures.  Surely he had been struck by a motor vehicle.  We left the clinic while the vet prepared to perform “major surgery.” 

Despite Buddy’s obviously serious injuries, I was hugely relieved and, ignorantly perhaps, hopeful about the surgery.  After all, I told myself, he was still young, and he’d made it to our house from wherever he had been. 

The first thing I did when we arrived home was head out in my truck to take down all of the posters, not for practical reasons, but for the sheer relief, joy, and gratitude.  Never had our section of the valley―the roads, ditches, fields, homes both solid and sadly ramshackle, tractors, farmworkers, children, cats, dogs, blossoming alfalfa, seven-foot-high weeds―looked so lovely.  I savored the removal of every poster, while, with some shame, acknowledging the wisdom, not to mention the simple humanity, of tacking them up in the first place.  I thanked the fair skies that had occurred over the previous three days and the muddy ditch that may have cradled Buddy while, broken and torn, he mustered the strength to return.  Acknowledging once again my own carelessness, I apologized to the desert skies for my blanket condemnation of my neighbors.  Finally, I blessed my calm and compassionate wife.

That evening, we returned to the clinic and saw Buddy: sedated, an IV line in his forepaw, under several layers of warmed blankets, and breathing regularly.  He had survived the surgery, which revealed that his liver and intestines had partially entered his chest cavity through the ruptured diaphragm.  Beholding him, I was so grateful that, if he had not survived the trauma, at least he did not die slowly, in agony, filthy, forgotten, in a ditch, beneath a gathering whirlpool of soaring vultures. 

The following morning, remarkably, the veterinarian informed us that Buddy was ready to go home.  I’ve never forgotten that vet, her training, and her hands of an angel.

Over the next six weeks, as fall in the Mesilla Valley arrived, Buddy mended.  In the evenings, he reclined at my feet as I sat in the portal.  Never again did I let him out of my sight and voice control, at least not in our developed part of the Valley.  In the undeveloped desert, I continued to make an exception, for I knew he was safe there.  

Once again, in pink and lavender evenings, we sat together at Vevay on our knoll above the Southern Pacific track.  We watched the lights of El Paso and Juárez blossom in the east.  In boots and packing a rucksack, Jack Kerouac spent a winter night just east of here―“a beautiful night and the most beautiful sleep of my life”―as he Dharma-Bummed his way to a job as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak in Washington State. 

With the approach of a freight train, I held Buddy firmly.  Sometimes, obeying the red light of a block signal, the train came to a halt right beside us, and in so doing seemed to become a black hole into which was sucked not only the clamor of the train, but the noise of the entire world, creating a vast and deep silence underscored by a mile or more of dark and brooding steel on wheels.  

Buddy, meanwhile, attended to every point in space, gazing, sniffing, in my gentle control, yet reveling in the independence of his senses.

creative non fiction, Desert, memoir, new mexico, southwest, Uncategorized

The Roots of My Woodsy Solitude

I continued my exploration of the Southwest that existed beyond the cities and towns.  My goal was always to get far beyond, among other things, artificial light and the sight and sound of motor vehicles of any kind. 

However, to do so safely and comfortably, some new equipment was in order.  So I replaced my flimsy footwear designed for concrete and asphalt with my first pair of boots manufactured specifically for hiking; my foam rubber mattress with a compact inflatable mattress; my Sears cloth sleeping bag with a down-filled mummy bag; and my little plastic tarp with a one-person backpacking tent with a rain fly.  I purchased a water filter and a container to hold four eggs.  However, my Svea stove still served me well, and I retained my Kelty backpack, which would now no longer be a mere storage locker.  Like me, it would be a sojourner!

Loading my Kelty―its features by today’s standards laughably rudimentary―I experienced an unprecedented feeling of independence.  From my freeze-dried food to my first-aid kit; from my remarkably lightweight tent and sleeping bag to my “candle lantern”; from my pocket-sized The Sierra Club Trailside Reader to my “snakebite kit”; from the fundamentally physiological to the loftily self-actualizing, I had psychologist Abraham Maslow’s complete “hierarchy of needs” ready to ride comfortably on my back for days and nights well beyond civilization.  United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management maps, as well as guidebooks by various authors, rounded out my equipment. 

 My preferred companion in the Southwest forests and deserts was simply myself.  This way of doing things had several deep roots.  At 12, I took my first long solo walk in the outdoors:  While vacationing with my family in the Berkshire Hills of Connecticut and Massachusetts, I slogged eight miles along country roads and a lightly-used railroad track, through woods and swamplands.  Although I was tormented by mosquitoes and deerflies and miserable with dew-soaked socks and Keds sneakers, never once during the trek was I lonely. 

When I was a teenager in New Jersey, I frequently walked alone in the outdoors, not for adventure, but rather for psychic defense.  At the age of 15, I stressfully ended a destructive relationship with a boy who for five years I regarded as my best friend.  Although I tried, I couldn’t establish another close friendship with a peer for the remainder of my high school years.  So I was now completely on my own. 

To hide from my classmates my shameful solitude―teenagers, of course, want and need to bond with their peers―I avoided as best I could the streets and sidewalks between my house and my high school, often walking a stretch of railroad line bounded on both sides by a slender margin of trees and brush, which, for me at least, doubled as a kind of suburban “wilderness” experience.  I was comfortable walking along the railroad tracks.  I was similarly at ease walking our dog alone in some woods near our house.  Undeveloped wooded areas meant safety and relief.

Although I graduated from my senior high school after the customary three years, I was an unexceptional student who failed to gain entrance to any of the collegesmodest, in my opinionto which I applied.  My parents therefore enrolled me in a distant boarding school for a year of remedial educationand, perhaps in their minds, re-socialization, for they must have been aware of my solitude. 

I understood the boarding school’s necessity.  Still, I found the experience humiliating, tormenting.  I despised the school’s regulations, including regular haircuts, coats and ties for classes and meals, and the prohibition of smoking.  (I had been a clandestine tobacco smoker for four years.)  It was 1968, I was going on 18, and I was eager to grow my hair long and identify, at least superficially, with the growing “counterculture.”  Most of all, now a hardened loner, I hated the boarding school’s clamorous beehive existence of studying, eating, sleeping, recreating, relaxing, and worshipping together.  Although, as at high school, I felt shameful doing so, occasionally I had to get away from all of this to regain some sanity. 

Fortunately, the school was located in the Berkshire Hills.  In fact, not far from where I happily vacationed as a kid.  So after lacing up my Sears hiking boots (Sears, obviously, profited from my family), I’d leave the school property, briefly walk down a rural highway, and duck into the nearest woods.  After penetrating trees and brush for a quarter-mile, I’d sit on log and puff on a series of cigarettes smuggled to me by my sister through the mail―the sad sack luxuriating in the peace and solitude while a wet snow fell.[1]



With this nascent passion, I explored New Mexico’s wildlands.  Their variety and breadth astonished me.  Tempting photographs in my Audubon guide of the glowing Chihuahuan Desert in southernmost New Mexico led me to the fluted, harsh Organ Mountains.  In southeastern New Mexico, I escaped the heat of August by climbing into the Capitan Mountains, where, in the Lincoln National Forest, I caressed the head of a friendly, free-ranging horse and marveled at spiny cactus leaves nearly as big as a catcher’s mitt.  One winter night, I camped atop a bench of the Sacramento Mountains overlooking the Tularosa Valley, listening to the haunting conversations of great horned owls perched along cliff faces.  While camped on the Plains of San Agustin, a vast grassland in western New Mexico, I spent an afternoon and evening watching a succession of thunderstorms, compact iron-like curtains descending from the clouds, sweep across the appallingly vacant land.  In the Bisti of northwestern New Mexico, a colorless, sterile badland of soil and soft rock, I wandered among crusty hoodoos beneath a full moon fungus-white and blurry behind a cloudy sky. 

Not all of my initial expeditions were successful.  One February, determined to pitch my tent as close as possible to Mexico, I drove to the ghost town of Cloverdale, in New Mexico’s southwestern “bootheel” region, in the hopes of striking out west into the Coronado National Forest of the Guadalupe Mountains.  However, muddy, rutted roads halted my progress, and with disappointment I returned north through the Animas Valley.  Just south of the town of Animas, a Border Patrol agent, after undoubtedly noting the apron of mud on the sides of Little Red, pulled me over.  I complied with the burley Latino’s request to examine the contents of my backpack.  He merely glanced at the plastic baggies of granulated white sugar and Countrytime instant lemonade.  However, he opened a third baggie and gently wafted the scent of its contents, powdered milk, in the direction of his quivering nostrils.  Then, he thanked me and was gone, my brush with the War on Drugs over.  My experience in la frontera aborted, I spent the night in a cheap motel in the desert outpost of Lordsburg, New Mexico.


[1] Two decades later, I finally acknowledged my immense gratitude to the boarding school, for, despite yet more average grades, the institution forced me to be a joiner whether I liked it or not, and got me into a college beyond my wildest dreams, where I made friendships that have lasted to this day.  I’ve regularly made modest contributions to the school ever since.



creative non fiction, Desert, memoir, new mexico, southwest

Southwest Kitsch, Southwest Authentic, Southwest Everything in Between

During our first two years in the classic Southwest, Linda and I, like so many other new arrivals to this land, surrendered to its numerous cultural attractions, from, in the words of Albuquerque-born Southwest scholar Robert Gish, “the lowbrow, curio kitsch” to the clearly authentic. 

The “kitsch” was primarily my weakness.  To friends, I enthusiastically fired off postcards bearing the obviously-doctored image of the New Mexico hybrid known as the “jackalope,” a giant, rearing rabbit crowned with the massive rack of a bull elk.  In Albuquerque’s Old Town, I snapped up mini bricks of piñon incense and small, cylindrical bundles of sage smudge.  Soon my apartment was smelling like a Navajo sweat lodge, and the inside of my Mercury Christmas Eve on the Taos Pueblo plaza. 

Linda, meanwhile, purchased a popular New Mexico curio: a carved wooden coyote in full-throated howling pose.  However, she drew the line at the equally popular mini-bandana about its neck.  In Santa Fe, she purchased hand-painted Mexican tiles, which we hung in the kitchen of our rented townhouse, our first dwelling together.   

In the patio area of the townhouse, we hung a ristra.  A venerable symbol of fall in New Mexico, the ristra was a mass of red chile peppers intricately strung together in a lengthy bundle.  When available for sale, the peppers of the ristra were freshly-harvested and thus scarlet, plump, and rubbery.  However, when hung outdoors, they dried, shriveled, and darkened to burgundy as they swayed en masse in New Mexico’s winter winds.  Artificial “peppers” were available in New Mexico as well: we purchased and shipped red, green, and yellow electric “chile lights” to my sister and brother-in-law in New Hampshire.  

We purchased Native American artifacts: pottery from the Acoma, Jemez, San Felipe, and Zia pueblos; a delicate and detailed wooden “eagle dancer” figurine from Albuquerque’s Indian Pueblo Cultural Center; a Navajo rug at a University of New Mexico auction; and, also from the auction, a “vegetal chart” explaining the origin of Native American dyes.  Linda gave me my first ring: a turquoise set in silver from the pueblo of Sandia.  

Gracing the walls of our townhouse were framed photographs of iconic Southwestern locales, places such as Laguna Pueblo and Monument Valley, by Ansel Adams and others.  Of course, we also purchased paintings of Southwestern landscapes.

On a rented VCR (those were the days), we watched Robert Redford’s 1988 film adaptation of John Nichols’s novel The Milagro Beanfield War.  Set in a thinly-disguised Taos, the movie was filmed largely in the northern New Mexico village of Truchas.

Books with Southwestern settings and themes quickly became my passion.  I purchased them at Albuquerque’s independent and chain bookstores, as well as at the gift shops of Albuquerque and Santa Fe art museums and Santa Fe’s famous La Fonda Hotel.  The hotel displayed titles by Willa Cather, Frank Waters, Rudolfo Anaya, Tony Hillerman, T.M. Pearce, Richard Bradford, and John Nichols.  At a used book store on Central Avenue I purchased the aforementioned Southwest Classics by Lawrence Clark Powell: sketches, critical and biographical, of respected authors of fiction and non-fiction who were among the first to chronicle life in the Southwest.  At the same store I purchased Erna Fergusson’s 1940 non-fiction work Our Southwest, which remains my favorite book about this land.

And we often enjoyed much of this while listening to the music of “nouveau flamenco” guitarist and Santa Fe resident Ottmar Liebert.

Frivolous or authentic, we loved these acquisitions. 

    

creative non fiction, Desert, memoir, new mexico, southwest, Uncategorized

Four Corners, Part 3

The Valley of the Gods, a vast landscape of sandstone mesas, buttes, and monuments, spread from the base of a 700-foot-high rampart that ran from northeast to southwest.  I parked Red at the entrance to a dirt road that looped through the valley.  Cars and trucks trickled onto the road.  Preferring solitude, I decided to distance myself from it.  I reloaded my backpack, including the ridiculously bulky Sears sleeping bag and wide foam rubber pad, hoisted it onto my back, and, after negotiating a barbed wire fence, struck off in the opposite direction, a roadless swale devoid of prominent formations, yet no less lovely. 

In addition to shrubs and juniper, the land was dotted with tufts of tall grass on which some two dozen Hereford and Angus cattle grazed.  Their piles of manure―dark, rippling, and glistening when obviously fresh, gray and crusty when aged―were not infrequent.  But neither the smothering manure nor the destructive footprints of these huge, lumbering beasts bothered me.  So charmed by the myth of the American cowboy was I that I accepted these things as tolerable elements of this landscape of jarring beauty.  Depending upon the landscape, however, this sentiment would soon change.       

I hiked for a couple miles. After making a campsite beside a tall, broad juniper, I spent much of that afternoon sheltering from rain squalls, my plastic ground cover doubling as an awning.  The purchase of a small tent prior to my departure didn’t occur to me.  After all, my two previous visits to Utah’s canyon country involving camping took place in July, when the weather was sunny and 104 degrees, and September, when the weather was considerably cooler but equally dry.  Thus, I had concluded that it rarely rained in southeast Utah.  Whatever, I considered myself tough enough to handle any weather condition.  So, in the shelter of the awning, I looked around and around, marveling not only at the distant formations on the valley floor, but also at the fabulous sandstone bulwark at my back.  

This was the fulfillment of a dream: the Pawnee Buttes multiplied beyond imagining.  The landscape fascinated me for a number of reasons, beginning with its geometry, a result of its sedimentary nature.  Except for the Pawnee Buttes, the natural world I’d known up to now―the Berkshire hills and mountains of Massachusetts; the Catskill mountains of New York; the hills, mountains, and valleys of central Colorado―appeared more or less fashioned with a waving, cupping hand.  Curves―often crude, of course―characterized these landscapes.  Utah’s canyon country, however, with its millions of predominantly rectangular and triangular formations, appeared to be the work of T-squares, meat cleavers, guillotines, and circular saws.  It didn’t flow.  It chomped. 

Meanwhile, as with the Pawnee Buttes, this angular landscape had a charming familiarity.  I loved it for its natural qualities, yet also for the artificial constructs these natural formations recalled: tables, temples, battleships, edifices, pyramids, butcher blocks, all in various stages of silent, mysterious, melancholy ruin.  And what curves there were in the land had a striking ability to evoke parts of the human anatomy such as breasts, nipples, and crowns of phalli. 

It was as well a naked land.  Before witnessing the Four Corners country, I’d become accustomed to a landscape cloaked not only with grasses, trees, and shrubs, but with soils.  The Colorado Plateau was often paved with nothing but bare, lifeless rock―the very bones of the Earth. 

Space in the canyon country looked and felt different.  All of these right angles, these vertical rock faces, seemed to arrest the flow of gargantuan quantities of space; trap, concentrate, and fortify them.  I could almost hear and feel space colliding with the massive rock wall that stood behind me. 

Within all of this, a uterine security, the trance of entrance.

By late afternoon, the skies had cleared.  Anticipating a long, cold, lonely night, I decided to create a warm, colorful, lively companion until sleep overcame me.  Wandering near and far, I gathered juniper limbs and branches that I found scattered, gray and fundamentally arid, upon the red earth, and piled them at my campsite.  After scouring the ground, I reluctantly took to breaking branches and limbs from nearby junipers dead but still standing.  Although still reaching for the sky, that leafless wood was equally gray and parched.  Yet when I ripped a limb from a trunk, producing a sharp report that echoed faintly off the stone rampart, a reddish inner pulp, like the marrow of a bone and faintly aromatic, was revealed. 

That night, after a meal of beans and apricots, I sat on a boulder and fed juniper into a fire for three hours, studying the distant lights of Bluff, watching a particular star progress across the sky at the pace of an hour hand, and thoroughly smoking myself with the spice of burning juniper, that unfailing fragrance through my ongoing Southwestern years.  

The following morning, I awoke―as I often would for years to come―to the croak of a solitary raven winging through the vast stillness in the direction of nearby Monument Valley.[1]  

Before leaving, I investigated, simply out of geological interest, a nearby cluster of boulders, some as big as storage sheds, at the base of the cliff.  After rounding the corner of one, I was stunned.  The side of the boulder was not belly-round, but rather planed perfectly flat, as if sliced with a giant diamond wheel.  Pecked into its surface, which was darkened as if with years of accumulated soot (later I would identify this “soot” as a geological/chemical phenomenon known as desert varnish), was a collection of obviously human-made figures. 

Several figures clearly depicted humans, or, rather, abstracted humans.   One was armless with stubby legs and an elongated trunk with a large rectangle in its center.  Another possessed all its limbs, although it, too, had an elongated trunk.  A third had an elongated neck and stubby legs and was accompanied by a circle―a primitive, if empty, “dialogue balloon”? I wondered―immediately to the right of its head.  There was a figure that recalled a snake, or perhaps a river, or perhaps a mountain range.  There was another that clearly resembled a scorpion. 

I knew immediately the figures were not the work of modern man or woman.  Any newcomer to Albuquerque with the slightest bit of curiosity quickly learned of the petroglyphs―human-made etchings―in the volcanic rock of the vast lava field on the western edge of the city.  Indeed, Linda and I had already visited the field that would, within two years, become Petroglyph National Monument.  There we saw etchings, some perhaps 700 years old―created well before Coronado’s arrival in today’s North America―that prepared me for the ones I now beheld in southeast Utah.  The idea that these lonely etchings near Bluff, Utah, had survived possibly seven centuries of wind, rain, heat, cold, and dust, murmuring their presence to virtually no one throughout nearly all of those years, stirred my guts.  I entertained the possibility―absurd but stirring nonetheless―that I was the first to witness them after such time, but then the knowledge of the paved road two miles to the east more or less affirmed otherwise. 

The petroglyphs stayed with me all that day as I returned to Albuquerque.

(“Eh,” dismissed Ricki, a Navajo I met in Carrizozo, New Mexico, long ago. “Old love letters.”)


[1] Years later, while consulting a map, I would learn that this camping experience occurred just below a place called Muley Point.  And I would read, in an October, 1982 entry of Edward Abbey’s published journal, his description of the point: “It’s as marvelous as ever up here.  The tremendous stillness.  The tremendous infinity of sky.  One raven croaking.  The inevitable raven, guardian spirit of this place.  Sunlight on the beaches down in the Goosenecks of the San Juan River.”


creative non fiction, Desert, memoir, new mexico, southwest, Uncategorized

Albuquerque’s Slavery Row

Within several weeks of my arrival in Albuquerque, I was living in an apartment a block down Madeira Drive from Linda’s, which was the way we initially wanted it.  Today, the names of our respective apartment complexes back then might raise red flags in a marketing department of any residential development company in New Mexico, if not all of the United States.  Back then, however, they were presumably acceptable, and, in my view at least, they interestingly mirrored one another. 

My complex was called The Plantation.  However, I failed to see the New Mexico connection in the name.  As far as I knew, the state had no history of large-scale tobacco, sugar, or rice farming (although I would eventually realize that cotton is farmed in southern New Mexico, though hardly on the scale of the 19th-century South).  Since my arrival in the state, I’d not seen any Georgian and French Creole architecture, any mansions encircled by 12-foot balustrade galleries.  Therefore, all I could do was assume the name was simply meant to recall the bounty, leisure, and Gable/Leigh romance of . . . what?  The antebellum South?  The postbellum South?  Yet hearing the name, I couldn’t quash images of whips, chains, manacles, welts, auction blocks, and pints of salt.  And I had to wonder how Albuquerque’s Black community, which at the time comprised 3 percent of the city’s population, regarded the name. 

In any event, The Plantation was indeed a pleasant place.  It was quiet at night.  I thrilled to the spring winds that occasionally shook my apartment door.  On warm spring days, I’d occasionally and discreetly watch, through my front window, the female tenants sunbathe by the empty swimming pool in the complex’s courtyard.  And nearly every evening I’d relax to the moody serenade, through my living room wall, of my neighbor as she practiced her cello.

Linda’s apartment, meanwhile, was named The Conquistador.  It was obviously named to acknowledge, if not honor, the first Spanish explorers, Francisco Vasquez Coronado premier among them, to arrive in today’s North America.  Shortly after my arrival in New Mexico, I developed an intense interest in the state’s history, and, among many other things, I learned that many contemporary New Mexicans of Spanish and even mixed-Spanish blood revered these adventurers.  They were conquistadores: “conquerors.”  They conquered lands―loosely speaking, that is: they “claimed lands for Spain”; they were neither pioneers nor settlers. 

However, with lands they conquered peoples, and not always in a gentle manner.  This was periodically brought to my attention in the pages of Albuquerque’s newspapers.  In various articles, the Pueblo people reminded New Mexicans that these 16th- and 17th-century conquistadoreswere responsible for forced labor, familial breakup, punitive amputations, rape, religious persecution, and the spread, unintentional yet deadly, of infectious diseases among the Pueblans’ ancestors.  Thus, I was soon joking―sort of―that I was living on a two-block stretch of Madiera Drive known as “Slavery Row.”[1] 


[1] In 2018, the Spanish and Catholic organizers of an annual Santa Fe reenactment of the 1692 “reoccupation” of the city by the Spanish, the “entrada pageant,” agreed, after increasing pressure by New Mexico’s Pueblans, to end the event.  Today, my former apartment complex is no longer The Plantation.  Linda’s former dwelling, however, has kept its name.)   


creative non fiction, Desert, memoir, new mexico, southwest, Uncategorized

I’m a Kid Again

Shortly after I came aboard, Carlos, a forester, and I journeyed north in a “company car,” a plush Detroit sedan, to tour, largely for my benefit, the mill in Española. 

Before arriving at the mill, we stopped for lunch at Anthony’s, an Española restaurant.  It is there that I beheld my first fajita.  A Tex-Mex invention, the fajita was a mélange of thinly sliced beef flank, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and spices delivered to a table sizzling, sputtering, and smoking on a metal platter, and then loaded by the diner into the fold of a flour tortilla.  In my many years of sampling Denver’s Mexican restaurants I’d never encountered one. 

On this occasion, fajitas was Carlos’s selection.  I went with my usual cheese enchiladas.  The forester, enchiladas de pollo.  As I commenced to eating, I watched Carlos fork a generous helping of the savory mixture into a tortilla and then deftly clasp the package as he delivered it to his mouth.  The load, however, was a bit too generous: upon Carlos’s initial bite at one end of the cradling tortilla, a large dollop of the mixture blossomed out of the other―the forester and I looking on with discreet alarm―threatening to plummet to a plate and spatter the vice-president’s dress shirt and tie.  However, experienced fajitaista that Carlos no doubt was, he quickly and cleanly snapped up the wayward dollop with his mouth, consuming it before the possibility of any indignity, and continued his discussion of the cost/benefit of recycled sawdust.    

The Española mill, the company’s largest, stood on a barren, arroyo-slashed plateau at the base of the snow-capped Jemez Mountains, nearly hidden from Highway 84 and just south of the settlement of Hernandez, the moonlit subject of a famous 1941 Ansel Adams photograph.  The mill was a classic picture of American industry, albeit on a modest scale: large sheds; horizontal pipes briefly challenging the skyline before tapering down into huge metal bins and funnels; mountains of neatly-stacked logs; elegant temples of sawdust; neat, tight bundles of freshly-milled lumber; idling logging trucks and 18-wheeled flatbed trucks; scurrying forklifts. 

Escorted through the mill by its manager, a fellow whose extroversion bordered on the annoying, I was once again the goggled-eyed kid my proud father, a layout designer for a medical-industry magazine, led on a tour of the magazine’s printing plant in Rutherford, New Jersey.  As with the printing plant, the mill’s automation fascinated me.  I watched a huge ponderosa pine log “de-bark” as it passed through a giant, slowly-revolving toothed ring.  In a shed where the initial milling occurred, I watched a “sawyer” (now no longer just a character in one of my Twain novels) seated behind a safety window of some kind, bundled against the chill, and busily at work.  His hands―and, for all I knew, his feet―on a mess of levers, he flipped and sliced, with the ease of a seasoned backyard chef grilling franks, one raw log after another, preparing them for their final expression as lumber.  Elsewhere, I watched the completely milled lumber, now requiring only drying, roll steadily past an employee who, after eyeballing each piece, stamped a grade on it in ink.  Much of this was obviously monotonous work, but work that likely paid a good wage for largely impoverished northern New Mexico.  (That said, I was certain no union represented any workers at the mill.) 

From the grading station, I was escorted to the mill office, where I met the office manager, the only female I saw at the mill, and the lone IBM 38 computer terminal and keyboard, which communicated by a modem and telephone line with the computer in Albuquerque.  On the terminal display, in the familiar glowing green letters and numbers, I saw the inventory application that was now solely under my care.  At 37, I was no longer doing “manly” work like that I had done in the tire factory and mine.  Yet my work now was as specialized and skilled as that of a sawyer, and of that I was proud. 

creative non fiction, Desert, memoir, new mexico, southwest, Uncategorized

Welcome to My Job

Weekday mornings, I wended my way northwest in Little Red to the lumber company, often driving past the Clover Club potato chip factory with the broad stack belching steam.  A lover of potato chips since childhood, the sight made my mouth water even at the breakfast hour.  

The lumber company’s headquarters was considerably less glamorous than those of the two previous companies for which I had processed data.  The building was located on a broad, windswept, and dusty side street that contained no sidewalks.  The street’s asphalt ran right up to the company’s doorstep, and parking spaces were indicated merely by a few concrete chocks arranged diagonally. 

The front of the old, boxy, two-story building consisted of white brick with patches of wood paneling.  It had a single, unsheltered glass door.  The bottom floor of the headquarters contained a reception area―small and, due to the floor’s split-level architecture, totally isolated―the offices of the president, the vice-president of finance, and the vice-president of sales; and a large, wood-paneled room with cubicles for the company’s several salespersons. 

A narrow, angled staircase with a small landing led to the top floor, except for the glassed-in computer room containing the System 38―my third 38―a largely open area where inventory, accounting, and computer programming occurred.  The floor’s large windows overlooked the lumber and shipping yards.  The floor had worn carpeting in some places and cracked linoleum in others.  The men’s restroom was cold, bleak, functional. 

Yet after the swank of the Denver companies, I rather liked all this grittiness.  Given the nature of the business, it seemed as appropriate as the rugged mountains and mesas framed in the floor’s windows.  (It was my understanding that the 38 was, with a forklift, delivered to the floor through one of those windows.  I would not have wanted to have been responsible for that procedure.)

I worked with seven others on the floor, a nearly even mixture of Latinos and Anglos.  The person in charge of computer operations was a young and easygoing Latina.  She and her husband, an auto mechanic, were originally from the northern New Mexico hamlet of Questa. 

In the cubicle next door to mine sat the accounts receivable clerk.  She was middle-aged and lived on what she called a “hobby farm” close to the Rio Grande in the sleepy village of Corrales, just northwest of Albuquerque.  (“Drive slow, see our village,” read a street sign in Corrales.  “Drive fast, see our judge.”)  Ordinarily quiet and focused on her work, when prompted she loved to discuss her farm, particularly her beloved goats.  Proud of her pastoral life-style, she could hold forth about the tastiness of horse meat. 

Sharing her cubicle was a fellow named Steve, also middle-aged, who daily updated the company’s inventory.  He always addressed me as “Mr. Davis,” although with the warmest informality.  Whether by necessity or choice, he was always the first to arrive at the second floor, at 7:00 A.M., an hour before my appearance.  Thus, his natural warmth notwithstanding, I associated him with the mauve skies and chill of the New Mexico dawn.  He was always in good humor.  At lunchtime, I’d poke fun at some mysterious glop he’d just heated in the second-floor microwave and was enjoying at his desk.  “You were expecting The Galloping Gourmet?” he’d respond.  His home was the Shalako Apartments complex on east Central Avenue.  The name was perhaps some marketing director’s idea of attracting tenants by invoking the hallowed winter ceremonies of western New Mexico’s Zuni Indians.  Apparently unimpressed with this ploy, Steve always referred to his residence as “The Shacko.”  

Nearly every day employees from the first floor and the lumber yard paid visits to the second floor for one purpose or another.  The visitors included Carlos, the vice-president of finance, the middle-aged Latino who hired me.  Although he was not a programmer, I got the impression he was responsible for the purchase of the 38 and was thus most invested in its successful day-to-day functioning.  He was relaxed, often with his tie loosened and collar unbuttoned, but businesslike, rarely in the mood for levity.  Early on in my employment, observing my frustration with one of the company’s software applications, he offered, “The challenge is not the mountain, Phil, it’s the pebble in the boot.”  At this point in his life, he did not look like a mountain climber, rather like someone who would have been content to surround himself with his extended family, enjoying their respect, at a picnic at a National Forest campground at the base of a central New Mexico mountain.  In any event, especially as a hiker, I liked the ring of this homily.  It struck me somehow as uniquely Hispanic, uniquely New Mexican. 

One of the company’s shipping clerks, Ray, a young, slim, handsome, and soft-spoken Latino, appeared with his coffee mug first thing every morning to get java from the second-floor coffeemaker and jaw in a relaxed manner.  Like many Albuquerque Latinos, he had a beautifully constructed pompadour.  Yet how he managed to maintain its shape and stature apparently without so much as a dab of styling mousse, I couldn’t figure.  (This as my own hair was thinning.)

Other visitors to the second floor throughout the day often included the Albuquerque mill manager and the company’s several area foresters, two of whom lived in Albuquerque and one who lived in the northern New Mexico town of Española.  I envied the foresters, pumped them for impressions of their latest sylvan rambles, for I knew they spent much of their workdays in the mountains up north, either in their trucks or on foot, among majestic ponderosa pines, the most coveted of the company’s raw material.

creative non fiction, Desert, memoir, new mexico, southwest, Uncategorized

The Soul of the New Man

After some basic research, I identified the two pillars of computing: “hardware” and “software.”  I learned that hardware was primarily about electrical engineering.  Having witnessed two people, one a dear friend and the other my brother-in-law, grapple with the study of “double-e,” and having an interest in electricity only insofar as it powered my refrigerator and stereo and was responsible for spectacular lightning shows over the Rockies, I knew that electrical engineering wasn’t for me.  Which left that mysterious, apparel-sounding phenomenon known as software.  What, I initially wondered in my abject ignorance, was “soft” about any aspect of metal computer? 

Well, I then read that software was essentially electrified instructions that could read electrified numbers and letters and electrically command simple or complex electrified arithmetic operations.  (All of which was a considerable part of the soul of that little Texas Instrument calculator I used at the instrument repair company, although I was unaware of this at the time.)  I read that writing software was known as “programming,” and that programming was extremely detailed, precise, and orderly, and commonly used in accounting and bookkeeping applications―in other words, I concluded, a glowing possibility for me. 

From a programmer acquaintance, I borrowed a book on “flowcharting”: the routing of those electrified numbers―“data”―toward a desired goal.  As I read the book, the detailed-oriented part of me became increasingly optimistic, and the English-major part of me increasingly imaginative.  I pictured each individual “datum” as a sleek automobile, its headlights aglow as it coursed over the perfectly gridded streets of, say, Manhattan at night, bound for its proper destination; turning north, south, east, or west; stopping and starting at perfectly calibrated traffic lights; respecting my junctions, intersections, loops, side streets, alleys, and dead ends; experiencing no unnecessary pauses, no time wasted, no flat tires, no rest stops―all under my flawless command, the traffic engineer at his desk upon which sat a coffee cup in its proper place.  Billions of cars, billions of lights, constant movement, not a single accident. 

Oh, such an awesome and beautiful rationality to all of it!  Yes, I could see myself as a successful programmer.  Thus, I decided to return to college, this one in downtown Denver, to pursue a major formally called by the college Computer Science and Accounting. 

Meanwhile, speaking of traffic, I hired on as a part-time driver at a Denver cab company, a job that, I was certain, would allow me to support myself, including paying for my education, while I pursued my studies.  Excited by my new career goal and satisfied with my new job now in its third week, I phoned my father and mother with the news.  My father applauded my latest academic pursuit, although not the new job.  “Only idiots drive cabs!” he spat, while no doubt recalling the thousands of dollars he spent toward my bachelor’s degree.  Swallowing, I tried to placate him, informing him, albeit with scant evidence, that demand for data processing professionals in Denver’s exploding economy was so great that I would have a job in the field long before I was awarded my second college diploma.  And this seemed to work.  

Lacking a car, I took a bus, or bicycled, or walked, or even ran―in running shoes and sweats―to the cab company in northwest Denver.  (I could have taken a cab, but I considered a cab too extravagant given my meager living as a part-time cab driver.)   

eyond my academic studies of FIFO, LIFO, central processing units, stocks, bonds, and “machine language,” I tried to engage with anything and everything in the day-to-day world that dealt with computers.  I read Megatrends.  I read Time magazine’s 1982 cover story about “the computer,” the magazine’s unprecedented “Machine of the Year.”  One afternoon I sat with rapt attention through a speech by a guest of the college, the distinguished Grace Hopper, a United States Navy Rear Admiral, computer programmer since the 1940’s, and pioneer in the development of COBOL, the first common programming language for business that I was at that very moment studying.  I slogged through Tracy Kidder’s Soul of the New Machine, a National Book Award winner about computer engineering.  At the same time, I sought any kind of work in the data processing field.

 

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