What City is This?

September 17, 2014

Funny thing.  I’ve lived in Albuquerque since December, 1995, and I keep encountering versions of the city that certainly aren’t the one I live in.  Now, if I lived in New York City or Los Angeles or one of the huge megalopolises I could understand the disconnect but, when you compare those cities by size, Albuquerque doesn’t come close to measuring up.

Open Spaces Center

Open Spaces Center

The 2012 Census put Albuquerque’s population figure at 555,417 and rising.  Still, even when all the surrounding residential areas (many of which aren’t particularly proximate) are lumped in, the entire population is smaller than many of the boroughs of New York City.  Manhattan, for example, has a population of 1,626,159 (2013 Census) – almost as large as the entire state of New Mexico, which, based on the 2012 Census, is just barely over two million.

So, what are some of the Albuquerques I’ve encountered recently?

The first was when I picked up a copy of Albuquerque: The Magazine when I was in the waiting room at my vet’s.  In this glossy publication, I read about nightclubs, boutiques, and restaurants I’ve never even seen.  I read an article about how hard some restaurants strive to ensure that the seafood they serve is fresh – a major challenge in our landlocked, hot and dry state.  I’d always assumed that, when I went to El Mariscos Altimar for their lovely “Seven Seas” soup or seafood chimichangas, the ingredients were frozen.  Apparently, not – or at least not always.  (That dish wasn’t one of the ones examined in detail.)

I also read about the struggles of a local boutique to supply cutting-edge fashion at “Albuquerque prices.”  (Are there really places where “regular” people pay $400.00 for a blouse without a second thought?)

I’m a jeans and tee shirt person.  I haven’t been to a nightclub for about twenty years – and that was for a promotional event, so I wasn’t really surprised that I didn’t know much about these aspects of the city.  I’m more likely to go hiking or to a museum than to a spa or boutique.

This past weekend, Jim and I went to the State Fair.  One of the things that had startled me about that issue of Albuquerque: The Magazine was how many of the things it focused on had little to do with the rich, multicultural fabric that influences Albuquerque the city, as well as the state of New Mexico as a whole.

In the Hispanic Arts building, I was drawn to a dramatic, unsettling painting on display in one corner.  It depicted various scenes of dissipation and violence.  A man snorted cocaine.  Another was indulging in some drug I couldn’t identify.  At the bottom, a burly man with a wolf’s paw on his hat was backed by two howling wolves – one of which appeared to be weeping.  Almost hidden amid this was a little girl with three sheep. The words “Prey” and “Pray” were written between the wolves and the little girl.  What fascinated me were the spirit figures near each human, stylized and seeming to blend Indian and Spanish influences.

The painting was called “Chronicles of Burque.”  This was an Albuquerque as alien to the one of Albuquerque: The Magazine as could be.  I suspect it might be familiar to viewers of the popular television show Breaking Bad, which was set and filmed here.  But once again, this wasn’t my Albuquerque.

So what is my Albuquerque?  I live on the Westside, which – at least as I must judge by the snide comments of one fellow I encountered at a meeting a couple weeks ago – is still considered by many of those who live on the east side of the Rio Grande River to be a barren wasteland, filled with nothing but tract homes and chain shops.  That’s true to a point, but it’s not the whole picture by far.

Jim and I don’t eat out often but, if we do, we have a wide selection of locally-owned restaurants from which to choose from – many of which have been in place since before I moved here and which continue to do thriving business, even as new chains – attracted by the 2012 Census figures – mushroom up.

Ours isn’t a rich area.  It does have its share of crime but, when we ride our bikes through the streets of interlocking residential neighborhoods, we are frequently greeted by our neighbors.  I still chuckle over the fellow who said: “If you’re out biking, it must be Spring!”  If I bike alone, I’m often asked where Jim is…

When we go to the grocery store, we’re greeted warmly.  Charley, the greengrocer, has been known to cut a slice from some newly-arrived fruit and say, “Try this.  It’s really good!”   We can count on being told how hot the green chile is this year – and often are offered a bit to take home and test.  These aren’t the sterile samples offered by latex-gloved professionals with frozen smiles, but examples of small town friendliness.  At another store, our usual checkout clerk will say, “You’re early today,” or “Running a little late, eh?”  Anywhere, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger.

We live within walking distance of Petroglyph National Monument and a short drive from the Open Spaces Center, both of which offer good hiking and history combined – hardly the image that those east of the river seem to hold of a culturally-sterile void.  Our local library branch is bustling and busy.  Kids play soccer in the flanking fields and dogs socialize in the dog park.  I could go on, but I hope you get the point…

My Albuquerque may not be fashionable, but neither is it creepily criminal.  It’s a friendly and relaxing place to live.  I wonder if every city has as many faces?

Friday Fragment Feature

September 12, 2014

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

Pretty Cover, but far too tranquil for the contents

Pretty Cover, but far too tranquil for the contents


Recently Completed:

Lord Demon by Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold.  It was weird.  I really got into this book and found myself forgetting that I was one of the authors.

Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich.  Audiobook.  Fun and fast-moving.  Lean, Mean Thirteen was more serious and I had the distinct impression the author wanted to have more opportunity to be silly.  I now have an urge to play Minion Fire.  Does it exist?

Someone Else’s Fairytale by E.M. Tippetts.  I started this one because it was by a local N.M. author whose work I wanted to try.  I finished because I really got into it.   The set-up sounds like a light rom-com.  Serious college student finds herself courted by popular movie star.  What won me were the complexities – many of which had nothing to do with romance.  Is there such a thing as a “relationship novel”?

In Progress:

The Adventures of English: The Biography of a Language by Melvyn Bragg.  Jim read this first and really enjoyed.  I’m only a couple chapters in and expect to stretch the read out over a couple very enjoyable weeks.

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton.  Audiobook.

Within the Last Couple Months:

I’ve also been reading scatterings of mythology and bits from assorted craft books.

TT: Monumental Step

September 11, 2014

Choosing change is a lot easier than having it forced upon you, but even chosen transformation is a big thing, as Alan is about to reveal…

JANE: So, Alan, you’ve just taken a monumental step.  You’ve retired.  Aren’t you a bit young for that?

Bobcat of Leisure

Bobcat of Leisure

ALAN: Well, that depends on what you mean by “young.” The official age of retirement here is 65 and I haven’t (quite) reached that yet. So in a strictly pedantic sense, yes, I am too young. On the other hand, ever since my very first day at work, my ambition has always been to retire. Once I confessed that ambition in a job interview. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

I’ve always regarded work as an irritating intrusion into my real life. So now that I’ve finally fulfilled my ambition, I actually feel quite happy about it. So in that sense, no – I don’t think I’m too young to retire.

JANE: There isn’t really an “official age” here.  It used to be that Social Security paid out the full amount at 65, but I believe that was changed recently to 67.  So, I guess you could say the retirement age used to be 65, but now it’s 67.

ALAN: One of the political parties in our upcoming election has a policy of raising the age of pension entitlement to 67. But at the moment that’s just a pipe-dream.

Of course, there’s no compulsion on anyone to retire at any age. You can carry on working as long as you want to (and as long as someone is willing to employ you!). But every New Zealander is eligible for a government pension from age 65. It won’t make you filthy rich and you might have to moderate your lifestyle a bit. But at least you have a regular, though fixed, income and you can budget around it.

JANE: Everybody?

ALAN: Yes, everybody. Rich man, poor man, beggarman or thief. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your circumstances are, when you reach 65, the pension is there for you.

JANE: That’s nice.  I’m not really sure how the fine details work out here – especially for people who haven’t contributed to Social Security.  Here in the U.S., what each person gets from Social Security is based on what he or she paid in during the time he or she was employed.

Is it the same there?  Does Peter Jackson get the same pension as you?  Do you get the same as that hypothetical “beggarman or thief”?

ALAN: Yes, he does, and, yes, I do. The pension is the same for everybody. It isn’t a contributory scheme in any sense.

JANE: Interesting.

There is an exception to the “get out based on what you paid in” formula.  Women who are married and didn’t earn an income can claim a Social Security pension based on their husband’s earnings.  (This is to cover for the fact that they were unpaid workers, raising children and maintaining the household.)

Again, I have no idea how this is worked out or if a married couple needs to file for it.  All I know is that the provisions exists.

I have been my own wage earner all my working life, so I never bothered to figure this out.  Probably one of our readers can fill you in.

ALAN: We don’t have any equivalent of that because our scheme makes no such distinctions, though the pension amount does increase slightly if you claim it for a couple. However, I am a little uncertain about Robin’s position because she is three years younger than me so, when I reach the magic age in a few months’ time, it may well be that we will have to live on a single person’s pension until she comes of age. But for the moment the point is moot since, now that I’ve retired, I’ll have no income at all until the pension kicks in next year. So for the next several months Robin, the cats and I will be living on savings.

JANE: No income?  Your job doesn’t pay a pension?

ALAN: It’s very rare for private companies to have a pension scheme for their employees. Certainly I’ve never had a job that had one, and neither have any of my friends. The general feeling seems to be that the provision of pensions is something best left to the government.

JANE: That’s interesting.  Many types of employment here offer a company pension as one of the benefits.  This pension is in addition to whatever government-based Social Security the person may draw.

Additionally, a person can set up an IRA (individual retirement account) in which they can save dollars to be drawn out after retirement.  There are several types of these.  Unless you really, really want, I’ll spare you the particulars.

ALAN: No – the devil is in the details, so you can spare me those. We do have a government-run scheme called Kiwi-Saver which is structured similarly to your IRA. I’m not a member. It was only introduced about five years ago and I never bothered joining. I was too close to the end of my working life to make it worthwhile.

JANE:  Ah, but IRAs are not government-run.  They’re run by private investment companies.

Let me give you a personal example: when I taught college, I was offered the option of participating in the college’s pension plan.  It was a good program, so I did.  When I left, I could no longer contribute, but I’d been there long enough to be “vested” so that money has sat there, pretty much always earning interest, and will be waiting for me to start drawing out when I choose to retire.

When I left teaching and started writing, I didn’t have a lot of extra income.  However, once I’d built up savings, I started investing in a SEP (an IRA for self-employed people).  I’ve done this for many years now, so that money is also waiting for me.

Additionally, when Jim retires, I can mooch off of his retirement pension from the State of New Mexico.  In fact, we can opt for a provision that, if he pre-deceases me, I can still draw on his pension.

I won’t be wealthy, but I won’t just be relying on what I have in the bank either.

ALAN: We have similar private superannuation schemes in which you invest during your working life and then draw on when you retire. I used to be in one, but I soon came to regard it as a gigantic rip-off. I made regular contributions, but the final total never seemed to grow much beyond the contributions I was making. All the interest it earned seemed to vanish into something called “fees.” So eventually I bit the bullet and pulled out of it. It cost me about $12,000 to leave the scheme, but I felt that was worthwhile. I invested the capital I took out of the scheme in long-term bank deposits and, even at today’s derisory interest rates, I still seemed to make more money than the so-called investment scheme earned. So yah, boo, sucks!

JANE:  So why did you retire early – especially since you wouldn’t have your pension?

ALAN: I was always planning on retiring at the end of the year, but circumstances at work changed and so I decided to leave a few months earlier than I had originally planned. If I’d stayed on at work, I would have had to do a lot of quite serious study and, by the time I came to the end of it, there would only have been a short time left for me to use my new knowledge and skills in my job. It all seemed a bit pointless; too much effort for too little return. So I decided to call it a day.

JANE: Isn’t it a bit of a shock, suddenly not having to go to work in the morning?

ALAN: No, not really. For the last few years I’ve only been working part time, so I am quite used to having days at home, days when I don’t have to go into the office. Retirement is just more of the same, really. The worst part is when pay day rolls around and nobody pays me any money! Now that’s a very weird feeling I’ve never had before.

In some ways I’ve been very lucky – I got my first job after I left university, and I’ve never been out of work since. There are not many people who can say that in this day and age. So of course a regular salary has always been part of my life. I’m going to miss that…

JANE: I’ve also worked pretty much steadily since I finished college.  Well, if one calls being a fulltime writer for the last twenty years “steady.”

In fact, I should get back to my work.  I’ll save asking you about what you plan to do with your acres of free time for later.

The Mysterious Puma

September 10, 2014

Do you say “poo-ma” or “pew-ma”?

This last week, I learned that Joe Barrett, who read the audio book of Artemis Awakening, chose to pronounce “puma” as “pew-ma.”  I have always said “poo-ma.”  To make things even more interesting, both pronunciations are absolutely correct.  I’m sure that’s why Mr. Barrett, who made a point of contacting me and going over pronunciations for character names, place names, and created words like “seegnur” never thought to ask.  He already knew…

Puma: Rio Grande Zoo

Puma: Rio Grande Zoo

Actually, how to pronounce “puma” was the least of my difficulties when I decided to have Adara’s demiurge be that particular type of feline.  My first challenge was which word to use when referring to the creature.  This was never a problem I faced when writing about Firekeeper and the wolves!

According to various sources, there are something like forty words in English alone for Puma concolor.  The creature apparently holds the Guinness world record for the animal with the most names.  The large number of names probably developed because of Puma concolor’s wide range across the Americas.  This meant that many different languages, indigenous and imported alike, took their turns giving the critter a name.

In fact, the puma’s adaptability was one of the reasons that it appealed to me for Adara’s companion.  I liked the idea of an animal that could be equally at home in jungles or deep snows.  It’s a strong swimmer, a good climber, and, although small compared to some of the “great cats,” amazingly strong.

(Aside: Even today, there is argument as to whether the puma is the smallest “great cat” or the largest “small cat.”  I’ll save the details but, oddly enough, purring has a lot to do with it!)

The most popular names for Puma concolor are puma, cougar, and mountain lion.  “Catamount” – likely a contraction of “cat of the mountains” – has been used, although, these days, it belongs more to dialect than to common speech.  The puma is also often called a “panther.”  This is a designation it shares with the melanistic (or black-coated) variants of the jaguar and leopard.  To differentiate, it’s often called a Florida panther (Puma concolor coryi), although the term “panther” has been used in other places than Florida.

The term “panther” has been corrupted to “painter” in the upper-Southern U.S. region, although, like “catamount,” you’re more likely these days to find the word used in a historical document, rather than in daily use.

I’ll spare you a list of different names and instead take you along the route I traveled when deciding what to call the creature on the planet Artemis.  Wanting to avoid both confusion and terms that had fallen out of general use, I focused in on the big four: puma, cougar, mountain lion, and panther.  I discarded “panther” pretty quickly because of the ease of confusion with the melanistic jaguars and leopards.  I might want to use them later, after all…

Next under consideration came “mountain lion.”  This had a lot going for it.  For one, the term “lion” immediately summoned up a feline.  However, I wasn’t crazy about “mountain” because these creatures are found in many of other types of terrain – including swamps and islands in rivers.  Since one reason I wanted to use this particular feline was its adaptability, why fix on a designation that would mean Adara would continually need to explain that it was only called a “mountain” lion?

That narrowed choices down to “puma” and “cougar.”  “Puma” offered the difficulty that many people were unsure how to pronounce it.  However, “cougar” offered an even bigger problem.

In recent years, “cougar” has become a slang expression for older women who choose to form sexual liaisons with younger men.  I knew that in time the slang expression would cease to be common currency.  However, I knew it would still be in use when Artemis Awakening was released.  Unintentional humor is always to be avoided.  Therefore, despite my fond memories of reading Charlie the Lonesome Cougar when I was in grammar school, I dropped “cougar” from the running.

I was quite happy to choose the word “puma.”  My first housecat had been a big golden tomcat formally named Gwydion, but affectionately called “Joe Stinky Puma.”  (Those of you who have read Changer and Changer’s Daughter may recall a cat called “Stinky Joe.”)  I’d always liked the word “puma” and, other than encountering some confusion as to how to pronounce it, most people seemed familiar with it.  Puma had the added benefit of only being four letters long – something that had a certain appeal given how many times I’d be typing it!

So that’s how Sand Shadow became a puma, and a little window into the convolutions of one author’s mind.

FF: Another Fragment

September 5, 2014

The Friday Fragments feature lists of what I’ve read over the past week.  They are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.

What's in Your Book Bag?

What’s in Your Book Bag?


Recently Completed:

Border Ambush by Melody Groves.  Excellent setting details.  The Colton Brothers, Trace and James, reminded me of the brothers from the film Silverado.  James is the annoying one.  The really annoying one.

Light Thickens by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  This turned out to be a sort of sequel to a Marsh novel set twenty years earlier.  Once again murder haunts the Dolphin Theater – this time tangled up with the curse associated with the play Macbeth.  If you like theater (I do), you’ll enjoy the opening sections.  If you don’t, they may drive you crazy.

Recast by Seung Hui Kye.  Volumes 3-6.  I read the first three issues of this Korean manga a couple weeks ago and liked enough to order the rest from my library.  Some parts are great, but the author doesn’t seem to know where to focus.  Ending is far too sudden, making me suspect a cancellation.

Tied Up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  A Christmas murder set in a house where the owner has gotten around the servant problem by hiring “oncer” murderers.  I like quirky characters, so I very much enjoyed.

When in Rome.  Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.  Roderick Alleyn in Rome in quest of a key element in an on-going drug smuggling investigation.  Murder crops up before long.

In Progress:

Lord Demon by Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold.  Yes.  You read that right.  I’m re-reading my own novel.  Since I haven’t read any of it since soon after its release in 1999, it’s almost like reading something written by someone else – a feeling enhanced because of Roger’s contribution.  Ask me why I’m re-reading it now!

Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich.

Within the Last Couple Months:

El Malpais, Mount Taylor, and Zuni Mountains: a Hiking Guide and History by Sherri Robinson.  I got this from the library as a resource when I was writing “The Hermit and the Jackalopes” for the forthcoming anthology The Change, edited by S.M. Stirling.  It was so fantastically written that I read the whole thing.

TT: Reserves vs Reservations

September 4, 2014

This week I’m challenging Alan…  Looking for something tranquil?  The Wednesday Wandering invites you to stroll with me in the tangled mass that is my garden.

JANE: Now, even though you’ve been very clear, I must admit, other things I’ve read about New Zealand don’t quite fit the picture you’ve given me.   I recently listened to a Ngaio Marsh novel, Colour Scheme.  It’s set during WWII in New Zealand.

Maori Myths and Weapons

Maori Myths and Weapons

There have been several references to “native reserves” with the implication (to my American ears) that these are lands upon which (or within the borders thereof) the Maori run the show or administer it or something.

This doesn’t quite fit with what you said last time.   Or at least my understanding thereof, which was that the Maori had no lands that were their own, except as individual landowners might own land.

Can you clarify?

ALAN: I really don’t know what Ngaio Marsh means by “native reserves.”  We simply don’t have reservations in the sense that you have described them. So I’m very puzzled as to what she might mean. Can you provide some context for me?

JANE: Okay, the area involved is Rangi Peak.  I’m not sure if this is a real place or one invented for the book.

ALAN: Yes, it really exists. Its Maori name is Te Peke o te Rangi Hekeiho and it’s 159 metres tall. Interestingly, it has never been climbed, so nobody knows what exciting things may lurk at the top…

JANE:  That’s neat.  Okay, in the novel, Rangi Peak is referred to as having been a Maori burial ground, apparently an extinct volcano into which they placed their dead.

When some of the pakeha characters go into the reserve, one notices a sign indicating that “curios” – what I think my archeologically-minded household would refer to as “artifacts” – cannot be removed from the area.

In the novel, there’s a really annoying man who wants to turn the area into a second Rotorua-like tourist attraction. He wants to do tours (with Maori guides if possible) of these sacred areas.  Several times, people (both Maori and pakeha) say “but it’s a native reserve…” The implication being that this man is pushing some sort of boundary.

Does that help?

ALAN: Ah! That makes a lot more sense. There are many areas that are sacred to Maori and which are regarded as reserves in the same way that a nature reserve is regarded as a reserve. The purpose, in the case of the Maori, is to guard and protect something that has enormous spiritual value to them. In some cases, for very sacred areas, general access is restricted or forbidden because of “tapu”, and the Maori consider themselves to be the place’s spiritual guardians.

JANE: Tapu?  Is that the same as taboo?

ALAN: Well, it’s very similar. In English, “taboo” simply means “forbidden” and I always assumed that tapu meant the same thing. Certainly tapu things can be forbidden. But when I started looking more closely at it, I discovered that there is rather more to it than that – it is closely related to the idea of mana (respect, authority, charisma) and tapu can be thought of as mana associated with the gods.

JANE: Great!  That makes it a lot more clear.  Please, go on…

ALAN: Everything in existence has an intrinsic tapu derived directly from the gods. Elaborate rules of behaviour maintain the sanctity of tapu. Disregarding the rules of tapu insults the mana of the gods and can lead to disaster, demonic possession or death.

Areas of spiritual significance, burial grounds, ceremonial sites, carved houses, and waka (canoes) all have their own tapu and, depending on the degree, may be sacrosanct and best avoided or at the very least approached with respect and caution.

JANE: I’m with you.  Can you give an example?

ALAN: A good example would be the popular tourist destination of Cape Reinga. It is the point from where spirits of the dead leave for their journey back to the ancestral homeland. It is a hauntingly beautiful and very spiritual place and Maori ask that respect for tapu be shown by all visitors.

Fresh water has the power to neutralise tapu to levels that are no longer dangerous to people and spiritual ceremonies will often involve sprinkling water over people, objects and the land.

JANE: I think I now understand what Ngaio Marsh meant.  Rangi Peak is not land owned by the Maori in the way reservation land here is owned by various tribes.  However, Maori traditions are respected to the point that, for some entrepreneur to get a business going, he’d need to have the cooperation of the locals.  That explains why the character in Marsh’s novel is busy courting the younger – presumably less conservative – members of the local Maori community.  Even so, he’s definitely pushing boundaries – of respect, if not of law.

ALAN: That’s exactly right. The cooperation of the local Maori is absolutely vital and their wishes are always respected. And sometimes working closely with the local iwi (tribes) can be very productive for everybody involved.

Here’s a lovely story that illustrates that. In a forest in the far north, there is a giant kauri tree known as Tane Mahuta – the largest tree in the country. In Maori mythology, Tane is the son of the sky father and the earth mother and the birds and trees of the forest are regarded as Tane’s children for whom he is responsible. So Tane Mahuta, the tree, is obviously very close to the gods themselves; perhaps even a manifestation of the god.

During a drought in 2013, 10,000 litres of water were diverted from a nearby stream to Tane Mahuta, which (who?) was showing signs of dehydration…

Everybody wins.

JANE: I have to ask…  Did this influx of fresh water have the side effect of reducing the tapu of Tana Mahuta?

ALAN: No, not at all. That would require a proper ceremony conducted by a tohunga (a wise man, or priest). The rehydration of Tane Mahuta was not ceremonial, it was simply a pragmatic act conducted by the Department of Conservation (DOC) with the full cooperation of the local iwi, of course.

JANE:  That’s a relief.  It would be a shame to save the tree but reduce its tapu.

What happens when there is an area that the Maori deem sacred or important, that isn’t within a designated “native reserve”?

ALAN: I’m not sure there’s any such thing. If there is an area that Maori deem sacred or important, then by definition it is a “native reserve.” The only exception might be land about which nothing is known but which later proves to be significant because of archeological evidence. In such cases, the land will always be purified in a ceremony conducted by a tohunga. What happens after that is moot.

How does it work in the United States?

JANE: First, I need to draw a few lines.  Within the United States, land ownership becomes complex.  There is Federal land (some of this is called BLM land, because it is administered by the Bureau of Land Management).  There is state land.  Counties, cities, or towns may also own land.  Finally, there is privately owned land.

ALAN: We don’t have a federal system, so it’s much simpler here. Land may be owned privately or by the government. Cities and towns may own land which contains infrastructure such as roads, and amenities such as parks.

JANE: Yes.  That is much simpler.  It’s not nearly as simple here.  If a location important to one of the tribes is on Federal land, then it can be designated a “culturally significant property.”  Interestingly, these may include shrines, burial areas, and natural resources, including plants, minerals, even clay.  This gives the area protection from development.

ALAN: We have similar designations for similar reasons and purposes.

JANE: I can’t speak for the other forty-nine states but, in New Mexico, the guidelines for designating a culturally significant property parallel Federal guidelines.

However, if the land is privately owned, cultural resources are unprotected.  Sometimes social pressure can be brought to bear.  I know of at least one instance where a group was speaking to some real estate developers about preserving a traditional shrine within land that was to be turned into a residential subdivision.

For this reason, organizations like The Archeological Conservancy have become important.  This is a private, non-government foundation that buys land containing significant archeological sites with the promise that they will not be developed.  Many times land owners donate such areas or sell at a reduced price.

ALAN:  We don’t have any organisations that would buy such land, though the same social pressures can be applied. Certainly all development would stop while the site was investigated. But eventually development would continue.

JANE: I guess I’m going into this is such detail because, since Jim’s an archeologist, we run into misunderstandings all the time.  One of the most common is that, if land contains artifacts or ruins, it’s automatically protected from use or development.  In fact, this is far from true.  One of the most important parts of Jim’s job is preserving the information in sites before they are either destroyed or buried.

ALAN: I find myself nodding at every point you make. We may organise things a little differently but I think we both get to the same place in the end.

JANE: That’s a relief!  I’m sure some of our readers will have questions, so I’d like to open the discussion to them.  Meanwhile, you’re at a significant point in your life.  I’d love to talk about how that’s going next time.

Backyard Habitat

September 3, 2014

It’s almost impossible to walk through my backyard right now.  The asters are chest-high and beginning to flower.  The globe mallow is higher than my head and showing off orange flowers.  We weave through, clipping only what we must and enjoying the greenery.

Asters and Mallow

Asters and Mallow

To understand how wonderful this is, I need to take you back to my first Spring into Summer in this house.  This was 1996.  I’d moved into the house in December of 1995, helped by a crew of people that read like the staff of a major SF convention.  Melinda Snodgrass loaned her horse trailer and labor.  Walter Jon Williams, George R.R. Martin, Pati Nagle, and a host of spouses and just plain nice people helped move boxes and beds and my life-sized reproduction carousel horse, Goliath.

A fellow I knew from gaming, one “Jim” (I only vaguely knew his last name was “Moore”), was  among these nice people.  He offered to come back and fix a cabinet door that had gotten broken in the moving.  I’d marry him something over thirteen months later…

But that’s another story.

My house was built before real estate on the west side of Albuquerque was worth anything.  So my yard is fairly large – not acres or anything – but sizeable.  When that first Spring came, I set about discovering what was growing in it.  The answer was a discouraging “not much.”  There were two rose bushes and one juniper, all in the process of dying.  A few cedars near the house.  One tree out front.

Otherwise, there was a lot of a low ground-cover that looked pretty nice, especially when it broke out into tiny yellow flowers.  Less nice was discovering that this was a plant known locally as “goat’s head,” because of the caltrop-like seed heads that are designed so that at least one thorn is always up and ready to poke the unwary.

(“Goat’s head” is also known as puncture vine, tackweed, or ground bur-nut.  Its formal name is tribulus terrestis, which it completely deserves.)

My dad went on a vendetta against the goat’s heads, filling no fewer than eight thirty-gallon trash bags with the plants.  For years after, Jim and I would weed them out every Spring until, finally, it became possible to walk in the yard in our bare feet.  We did a lot more with the yard as well.

In addition to our beloved garden beds, we planted a trees and shrubs, opting mostly for types that don’t need a lot of water.  We learned which native plants and grasses didn’t produce thorns and encouraged these, while weeding out those with prickles.  We put in a tiny pond, bird feeders, and a couple of bird baths.

Over time, we developed a crop we hadn’t anticipated: wild life.  First were the lizards.  These mostly fall into two groups, the fence lizards and the blue-tailed lizards.  Neither are very large – though the blue-tails grow very long tails, often longer than the rest of their bodies.

As soon as we put up bird-feeders and water sources, we got the usual sparrows and finches.  Not long after, we began to get mourning doves, ring-necked doves, and rock doves.  Robins discovered our garden beds.  We now have at least a couple robins year-round and have, apparently, become a scheduled stop along the migration route.  Quail regularly parade through, as do roadrunners.  Hummingbirds.  Scrub jays.  Grackles.  And a wide variety of migrators, including some very showy oriels.  One cloudy afternoon I even saw a very confused night heron at our pond.

Then came the toads.  And this year we’ve had a desert box turtle make periodic visits.

As each type of creature has come through, we’ve done what we can to make them welcome.  We noticed that the finches and sparrows really liked the seeds of the spectacle pod, so, instead of weeding these out once the pretty white flowers were done, we left some to go to seed.  We did the same with Indian rice grass and other seed-bearing grasses.

At first we put up hummingbird feeders but, as we learned what plants we could get to grow, we eliminated the “soda pop” in favor of planting what the hummers naturally eat.  Now they buzz around our desert willow, cardinal vine, and trumpet vine.  What’s really interesting is finding out that they also like zinnias and hollyhocks.  The other night, I went out to pick some cinnamon basil for a salad and found a hummingbird sampling the tiny purple flowers.

For the toads, we let the Virginia creeper along the fence get bushy, so they have a cool, comparatively damp place to shelter during the day.  Many times on a summer evening, when we’ve gone to bring in the guinea pigs from their outside hutch, we’ve encountered a toad hopping slowly on its way to take a quick dip in the pond before beginning its evening rounds.

When the turtle showed up, we dug a shallow bowl – hardly more than a tray – into the ground so that it could get water or take a bath.  We’d love for it to become a full-time resident.

Right now we have some amazing wild sunflowers.  They’re easily twelve to fifteen feet tall, with small blossoms that are just opening up.  However, even when they are done with their dramatic flowers, we’ll leave them up so that the birds can forage.  In past years, we’ve had thrashers and small woodpeckers busily hammering away at the woody stems.  Goldfinches love the seeds and look like tiny ornaments as they flutter from branchlet to branchlet.

We don’t live in the country…  We have a good-sized yard, but not a huge one.  However, what we’ve learned is that if you let Nature in, she’ll accept the invitation, bringing you wonders never to be seen in your more typical neatly-planted, tidily-mowed yard.

Third Friday Fragment

August 29, 2014

Hi!  A brief introduction to newcomers to this feature…  This Friday Fragment is a list of what I’ve read over the past week.  It is not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive list, you can look on my website.

Watch're you reading, Cowboy?

What you reading, Cowboy?

This is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a few opinions tossed in.


Recently Completed:

Got A Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane by Jeff Tamarkin.  Very well-written.  An ambitious effort to look at the interactions of a wildly creative group of people over the course of several decades of interaction.

First half of Days of Blood And Starlight by Laini Taylor.  Audiobook.

In Progress:

Border Ambush by Melody Groves.

Light Thickens.  Ngaio Marsh.  Audiobook.

Within the Last Couple Months:

Scream for Jeeves: A Parody by P.H. Cannon.  P.G. Wodehouse meets H.P. Lovecraft.  The author put a lot of work into fitting his stories into the established Wodehouse storyline so, for example, we now know the source of the mysterious flu that derailed one of Bertie’s engagements.  Recommended only for those familiar with the works of both authors.

TT: Pakeha and Pueblos

August 28, 2014

Looking for the Wednesday Wanderings?  Page back one and find out how an Idea became a Story.  Then join me and Alan as we take a look at some elements at modern New Zealand and New Mexico – including the mysterious figure of the pakeha.

ALAN: Last time I told you a little about how the Maori have become part of modern New Zealand.  How are things in New Mexico? What are the pueblos like today?

Courtesy of AAA

Hillerman Country, Courtesy of AAA

JANE: Today, many of the pueblos still exist.  Like all the remaining indigenous peoples, they are recognized as semi-sovereign nations within the United States

ALAN: Wait!  I thought “pueblo” was just another word for Native Americans or American Indians or whatever you call them.  I think I’m missing something.

JANE: “Pueblo” is actually a Spanish word meaning “town.”  The Spanish applied it to those Indian groups they encountered that lived in villages and cultivated farms.   There were many such groups, as I mentioned when we were discussing the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, encompassing multiple languages and a wide variety of customs.  Still, they had more in common with each other than they did with the more nomadic groups, such as the Apache, Navajo, and Comanche.

Does that help?

ALAN: Thank you – that helps a lot. I hadn’t realised that distinction existed.

JANE: Honestly, I’m not certain how much I realized before I moved to New Mexico.  Now it’s more or less second nature.

As I’ve mentioned, the first European-based group to come into the lands now called New Mexico were the Spanish.  However, in 1846, the Spanish turned over New Mexico to the United States.  In a process far, far too complex for me to go into here, agreements were worked out over time with each group.  These agreements included reserving land for the exclusive use of each group.  This reserved land became known as “reservations.”  With me so far?

ALAN: Yes. But what are the practical implications of that? Doesn’t it imply that there could be several administratively separate semi-sovereign (to use your term) “nations within a nation” as it were? That must lead to some horribly complex legal problems when the two systems interact and overlap.

JANE: Yep!  Exactly.  New Mexico has within its borders something like twenty reservations.  These vary in size from the sprawling Navajo reservation that has territory in both New Mexico and Arizona, to much smaller pueblo holdings.  However, even a small reservation encompasses many thousands of acres.  The larger tribes – like the Navajo – even have their own police force.

This makes life in New Mexico interesting, because there are large areas that are technically both part of and not part of the state.   Planning a road or rail line can become a nightmare, because each reservation must be negotiated with separately – and each tribal government will want concessions, equal to or exceeding those already granted to the other tribes.

ALAN: I just knew it was going to get complicated!

JANE: The thing that is often overlooked when people talk about “Indians” or “Native Americans” is that they are no more one group than Europeans are one group.

ALAN: And here, on the other hand, the Maori really are one group in the same sense that the English are a group or the French are a group.

JANE: That must be convenient!  Though, now that I think about it, I’d miss all the different cultures.  It’s one of the things I like about New Mexico.

Anyhow, a good way to get a feel for these nations within the nation is to read Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee.  Leaphorn and Chee are both Navajo, but the stories touch on many of the tribes and their interactions both with each other and the Anglo world.  Jim Chee’s best friend, Cowboy Dashee, is a Hopi.  (Despite the nickname “Cowboy,” Dashee is an Indian.)  He and Jim frequently tease each other about cultural differences – much as someone from Italy might tease someone from France.

ALAN: We don’t have that degree of separation or of isolation (though some Maori activists do campaign for it). The population of New Zealand is just the population of New Zealand and ethnic heritage gives no special rights or privileges. Though having said that, the country does have three official languages – English, Maori and Sign Language. So, if a Maori is charged with an offence and goes to trial, he can insist that the trial be conducted in Maori, even if none of the court staff speak it! And of course there are social programmes aimed exclusively at Maori in a kind of left-handed, positive discrimination sort of way.

JANE:  I love that Sign Language is included…  But I’ll resist a tangent and stay on the point.

Certainly the reservation system can lead to isolation, if that is what the residents prefer.  However, many Native Americans live and work within the general population.  Two of Jim’s and my neighbors are Indians.  Jim works with several other Indians.  On his last project, his crew included one Comanche/Santa Clara and one Navajo/Zuni.  As this shows, the tribes frequently intermarry both within themselves and with non-Indians.

Although this has led to some sharing of cultural traditions, it hasn’t eliminated the sense of distinct nations any more than a French woman marrying an Italian man would dissolve their cultural identities.

ALAN: That’s just as true here – intermarriage between Maori and pakeha is very common and both share many cultural traditions. Nevertheless, Maori retain a distinct cultural and spiritual heritage of their own. Obviously it is based on the language that all Maori share (Te Reo) but many other aspects are also alive and well and positively encouraged and respected by all sides.

JANE: I don’t see what’s “obvious” about it being based in the language.  Reason I say this is that my mother is part Italian.  She doesn’t speak a word of the language, but that doesn’t keep her from identifying with Italian culture, to the point that she recently fulfilled a lifelong hope to visit Italy and including the area her grandparents came from.

ALAN: Maori regard Te Reo as something that identifies and defines them. Without it, they are diminished. In the mid-twentieth century, Maori children were punished at school if they were caught speaking the language. As a direct result of this, both the language and the culture almost died out. Each requires and depends upon the other. They really are seen as two sides of exactly the same coin.

These days the pendulum has swung almost to the other extreme. In the 1970’s, Maori language pre-schools started to appear. They are known as kohanga reo (there’s that word again) and have been very successful. However, when the pre-schoolers entered the mainstream educational system, they often started to forget their language…

So in the 1980s, total language immersion schools started to appear. They are known as kura kaupapa maori and are designed specifically to promote and revitalize the language and culture. There’s even a TV channel  (also called Te Reo) that broadcasts exclusively in Maori and presents shows based firmly in Maori cultural ideas.

JANE: Wow!  That’s interesting.  We had similar problems with native languages being lost.  However, since there are so many more indigenous people here, a program such as the one you mention would not be practical.

I think we need to step back and define the term “pakeha.”  As I recall, that’s what the Maori call people of European extraction, right?  I did some research on New Zealand for a short story (“Pakeha,” published in Freedom, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Mark Tier) and I learned that much, but I don’t think I ever found out what the word means.

ALAN: It’s an odd word, and there is still some argument about what it means.  It has been in use since at least the early nineteenth century and possibly before. Nobody really knows where it comes from, but Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand – suggests that it might derive from pakepakeha (imaginary spiritual beings resembling men) or pakehakeha (one of the sea gods). Both terms might easily be applied to the original European explorers who, I imagine, took the Maori rather by surprise when they first appeared.

JANE: No kidding!  Go on…

ALAN: On the other hand, Te Ara also suggests that the word might be related to keha (a flea) or poaka (a pig). The article goes on to say, rather drily, that use of the work pakeha is “in no way derogatory”.

Many New Zealanders of European ancestry have adopted the term enthusiastically. I’m very proud and happy to refer to myself as a pakeha. But some people do object to its use. The census asks people to identify their ethnicity, and the word pakeha is noticeably absent from the list of choices it presents. The word was used in one census but there were so many complaints that it has been replaced with the phrase “New Zealand European.”

JANE: Interesting…  Again, in the U.S., we don’t have any similar word.  Here in New Mexico, those who are neither Indian nor Spanish tend to be clumped together as “Anglos” – never mind that many of those “Anglos” have no tie to England at all.  I’ve even heard people of African extraction referred to as “Anglos” or “black Anglos.”

ALAN: That’s a bit mind boggling!

JANE: That’s New Mexico in a nutshell.  Boggling!

What Came From an Idea

August 27, 2014

Last week I did my best to give an answer to that perennial question: “Where do you get your ideas?”  At that point, I was still seeing if the idea would become a story and I promised to give you folks an honest report.

Inspiration and story

Inspiration and story

Well, I’m happy to say that the process was a productive one.  As you may recall, I actively wrote right up until Friday evening.  Then I decided to use the weekend to think my way through a few elements that hadn’t quite jelled.  Now, some of you may be thinking that this is in violation of my claim not to outline.  It isn’t.  I was musing, not outlining.

Also, this story had rather special circumstances.  Perhaps you may remember that for several months I was involved with an art contest my friend Scot Noel decided to sponsor on his website.  (See WW 1-29-14, “Cover Art Contest,” if you want to refresh your memory.)

My contributions involved contributing the second place prize and promising to write a short story based on one of the winning pieces.  The story would be made available as a free download through Scot’s site.  I also ended up participating in a series of chats with Scot about the contest itself.  Our emphasis in these chats was on how we, as writers, reacted in a different fashion to the judges (all of whom were visual artists).  You can see the art and our discussions at www.SFFcontest.com

Anyhow, the picture I chose to write my story around was the first place winner, “Apocalypse Book” by Hugh Edby.  A lot of the musing I did over that intervening weekend involved going over the picture with the mental equivalent of a magnifying glass, seeking small details that I might work into the story.  When I settled down to write again, the story moved along quite briskly for several pages, then I found myself slowing down.

Shutting off my computer, I wandered off and started reading about the various members of the first version of the psychedelic rock group, Jefferson Airplane.  I learned a long time ago that trying to force a story is about as useful as banging my head against a wall and just about as painful.  (See WW 8-11-10, “Walking Away From It” if you’d like a bit more about this.)  What I have found is that if I distract myself – by reading or doing routine chores – often I come up with an answer.

This time the answer came pretty promptly.  I was moving into a sad part of the story and I didn’t feel like going there.  I meditated, but felt the story would lose its heart if I came up with different material.  So I kept on writing.  The Muse rewarded me for my perseverance, coming up with an ending I didn’t expect at all…

I’ll leave it there.  No spoilers.

I’ll be sure to let you know when the story – its working title is “Born From Memory” – is available.

Now what next?  Well, Wanderings on Writing needs a final go-over, then it’s off to be converted into an e-book.  When that’s done?  I have a few plans…  Now, however, the garden produce is taking over my countertops.  Time to go fuss with it.  Doubtlessly while I do so, I’ll be thinking about stories.

I’m curious…  What do you other creative people do between projects to recharge?  How do you court inspiration when you’re just a little stuck?


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