December 31, 2014 Shangri-La La
I enjoyed eight days in sunny coastal southern California last week, there for the premiere of Skateboarding's First Wave but staying to enjoy my birthday and Christmas with family. I hiked six to eight miles each day, often with my daughter Darcy Day Keller and/or wife Christina Boyce. Walking from our home base in Rustic Canyon, a Pacific Palisades offshoot of Santa Monica Canyon, we hiked up to Will Rogers State Park and continued up the trails of the Santa Monica Mountains and Topanga State Park. One day, though, Christina and I walked to Santa Monica Pier and back via Palisades Park, pictured in an extreme panorama iPhone photo above. The path going off to left and right in the photo is actually a straight line paralleling the coastline and beach below, but bent into a U by the panorama feature of the phone.
Here along that path, the palm trees lean toward the ocean, a result of growing up in Santa Monica's persistent offshore winds. Those winds are gorgeous blowing through the tops of the green waves below, holding them up a little longer for surfers. They also keep the air clean: I don't remember ever seeing the skies so clear, with Catalina Island, Santa Barbara Island, and the snow-capped Angeles Crest Mountains crystal clear. Kudos, too, to air pollution emission controls that have dramatically reduced LA's smog.
To the left of those trees, across the street from the cliffs overlooking the beach, is Bella Mar, a wonderful Alzheimer's care facility that has been my mom's home for ten years now. We visit her every time we're in LA, although it's been years since she's known who we are. A tragic disease, and sad.
Along the same path, we met David James Baker, who said hello when he spotted Christina's New Mexico t-shirt. David's a filmmaker with homes in southern California and on the Turquoise Trail south of Santa Fe--a stone's throw from Christina's family home. Coincidences mounted, including David's familiarity with Raton and frequent trips to Trinidad and La Junta, Colorado, and other regular stomping grounds of ours. Christina and I paused in that small world to take a selfie over the Pacific, celebrating the end of a long and fascinating 2014 and the beginning of an exciting new 2015. To all, Happy New Year!
December 14, 2014 Bill Fegan & The Centennial Rose
As snow has fallen and turned the world outside white, I've been at this computer seven hours creating a 1000-word feature on Bill Fegan for the April issue of New Mexico Magazine on the occasion of the Shuler Theater's 100th birthday. The first show at the Shuler was a big musical, "The Red Rose," on April 27, 2015. Bill Fegan came to the Shuler in 1963 and is now producing a big musical variety show for April 25-27 called "The Centennial Rose." Among the photos I'm submitting with my manuscript are these two photos of Bill. I shot the left photo August 20 as Bill addressed a packed house on the centennial of the theater's groundbreaking. I interviewed Bill yesterday and took the portrait on the right, along with another in which he's looking straight at the camera. Bill will turn 88 the month before the centennial and he plans to continue spending his days (and many evenings) at the Shuler. I'm honored to tell his story.
December 7, 2014 Poetry Out Loud!
Thursday's Fourth Annual Poetry Out Loud recitation competition at Raton High School was among many activities lately that have made it hard for me to keep up with my blogs. Rachel Patty, fourth from left above, won our Poetry Out Loud for the second consecutive year and will represent Raton at the state competition in Santa Fe February 22.
My photo above shows the three judges with the seven contestants. From left are Bill Fegan, Ashley Neurauter, Cheyann Duran, Rachel Patty, Forrest McConnell, Billy Donati, Kristina Jansen, Ashley Atwater, Colette Village Center, and Christina Boyce. At left is Dr. Bruce Alan Noll from the University of New Mexico English Department. Bruce gave us a one-man show as Walt Whitman, a New Mexico Humanities Council Chautauqua performance that thrilled students and adults alike. My juniors study American literature and had just been immersed in Whitman's work. Forrest McConnell combined that study and Bruce Noll's performance to write a wonderful review of Noll's Whitman performance for the Raton Roar. It's an good example of how my students have kept me very busy and very proud.
November 22, 2014 Carrying On the Cattleman's Tradition
Landon Berry didn't waste time. When he graduated from Raton High School in May 2011, he'd already taken on 300 cow-calf pairs to tend through the summer atop Johnson Mesa and down into Bear Canyon. He's continued that each year even while helping his dad tend his own 300 pairs--and while studying for a mechanical engineering degree down south at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. In 2013, he decided that he was done with college and came home to be a full-time working cowboy.
In preparation for pitching Landon's story to Western Horseman, I spent last Saturday morning with Landon as he collected horses atop the mesa and then branded a final few calves down in the home corral at the last house before the gate that closes Highway 72 over the mesa when the winter snows get too deep for travel. The horses live above on open pasture year-round, with an all-year stream of good water, and somehow the Berrys get up there in mid-winter, too, right past the closed highway department gate.
Landon was pulling a long trailer so he jumped into my truck and directed me up the hill to gather horses (above) and chase them down to a corral where he could rope three for the morning's work. He introduced all 17 horses to me by name while I enjoyed photographing them all running close by as they avoided his loop.
Landon's 84-year-old grandfather, John Berry, drove up while we were at the horse corral. John's the fourth generation of Berrys ranching here; Landon is the sixth. Landon cited his grandpa's age as one reason he left college for the ranch life: he's savoring the time he gets to spend with him. Later that morning, John pitched in to help with the branding.
Few outsiders realize that most cattlemen now depend on 4-wheelers rather than horses--"Kawasaki Kowboys"--but the Berrys don't even own a 4-wheeler. Old school. It's going to make for a great story, and a winter story: it's snowing outside right now and I look forward to spending more time with Landon to get his story and photos that I hope will reflect the beauty and the work of winter.
P.S. Here's the photo album that I sent to Western Horseman with my story pitch.
November 16, 2014 "Death is potential to that Man who dies"
I was driving our 20-year-old pickup out Yankee Canyon to photograph a young working cowboy when a text message told me what I'd known was coming, what we'd all known, that Mark Jansen has died after a long struggle against cancer.
Typical of Mark, he was still out and about to the end. I'd seen him hiking up Climax Canyon in the autumn, and three weeks ago he'd come to parent conference day at school, where I've had the pleasure of teaching both of Mark's kids. I wish I had photos to share of Mark the man; instead, here are favorites from his many roles on the Shuler Theater stage. His final stage role was Jesus Costenzuela, top left, just six months ago in The Odd Couple. As brother to Clint Henson's Manolo Costenzuela, he brought tears of the most robust laughter I've had at the Shuler. The randy immigrant brothers "from Barthelona" were "bery, bery available" to their female odd-couple neighbors. Cracked me up. I thought someone should build a play around Clint and Mark in these roles.
But there wouldn't have been time. Mark was a great veterinarian. He was a compassionate and funny man, a family man. We've lost a good one.
November 1, 2014 Winter Springs Forward
Considering that Daylight Savings Time ends tonight as the year approaches its death "fall" into winter, life has sure been springing up all around us! Our friends Frank (above) and Paula Young spent last weekend with us on a weeklong vacation from their home outside Nashville. Our "brother" Peter Burg drove down the 90 minutes from his home in Rye, Colorado, to visit with Frank & Paula, play guitars with me and Frank (below), and see the latest revision to the skateboard film that features both of us. When Peter did an eastern tour with me in the autumn of 1990, we stayed at Frank & Paula's as we played around Nashville, so the meet-up here was a bit of a reunion.
I made the portrait of Frank above for next Tuesday's installment of my Over the Pass feature in The Chronicle-News. The image here at the right was an impromptu low-light iPhone photo taken the night before, long after dinner had turned into song sharing.
Peter will join me and Christina in Santa Monica next month for the invitation-only premiere screening of Skateboarding's First Wave, Don Burgess's exciting new film based on my Palisadian-Post feature of the same title. Don's agent is so excited about the film that he's submitting it to film festivals from Sundance to Berlin. There may be lots more travel in our near future.
Here at home, Christina and I are both enjoying the excitement of life changes. I've announced my decision to retire from teaching in May to devote my energies to writing and photography, enabling me to hustle up more magazine work and to travel. Christina has left the shenanigans of the Raton Chamber and is working to continue her work as Raton's Tourism Coordinator under the direct auspices of the city. That will take time, but she's turned down two job offers--to run a big museum in Trinidad and to be a full-time newspaper reporter/photographer in Raton--in order to continue working on it. Meantime, she's freelancing for the Raton Comet (I've been posting my own Comet work here), writing last week's cover story and hard at work this weekend producing four features for next week's paper.
Returning to my theme of winter and spring, death and life, we had to put our beloved red heeler Pearl to sleep last week as cancer made her life no longer bearable. We had her for 14 years. Early traumas and an irascible personality made her a terror to many, but underneath it all she was a tender soul--ferocity was her way of hiding fear. She had a rough last month. After our vet gave her the injection, she quickly relaxed into her final rest, and Christina used her iPhone to capture this final image of Pearl released from her burdens and finally at rest. We've buried her in the aspen grove outside our front windows and all is well.
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