New Book Launch!


Let there be no more mud forever

Hah! Big enough for you? I don’t have a page for it here yet, but you can grab it now at Amazon. It’s also at the iBooks Store and was approved but later put under review because of an overlooked link to an Amazon page—big no-no! I’ve fixed all that, and now we have to wait. This is a gorgeous digital book. It displays beautifully on Kindle devices and the free Kindle app itself (on any computer or device). My favorite way to read this is the iBooks app on iPads and iPhones, because of the optional scrolling view. If you have one of those, you might want to wait (a few hours? a few days?) for the already-uploaded iBooks version to go live at the iBooks Store.

Here’s the official blurb. It should sound familiar to longtime readers of this blog, which provided most of the heavily reworked content. (Think of it as a thematically grouped curated collection with better photos.) I expect Another Day in Paradise: Notes from Taos will be the last of the original series (Buffalo Lights, Taos Soul) covering life at our current location in this charming but funky old adobe in Llano Quemado in Ranchos de Taos.

John and his wife moved to the high desert of Taos, New Mexico seventeen years ago from Maryland. These very personal notes from Taos cover the last six years. From the introduction: “The floor is hand-smoothed adobe mud spread directly on the roughly leveled earth. The internet cable comes in through a hole at my feet drilled through eighteen inches of adobe bricks. There’s a wood stove and a gas wall heater. No ceiling lights or closets. The oldest washing machine I’ve ever used empties into the kitchen sink unless you forget to hook up the hose. Once I found a baby scorpion on the counter. Black widows thrive in nooks and corners. We’ve had coyotes, foxes, and stray cattle ten feet from the back door. There’s a ninety-mile view from the mailbox. Northern New Mexico (El Norte) is one of the most compelling places I’ve ever lived, with impossible vistas, extremes of climate, mountains, deserts, wildlife, and extraordinary people. It’s also ancient, isolated, and harsh. We came here from established lives in Maryland in 1999, neither of us young or wealthy. Speaking for myself, it was the most outrageous, dangerous, and necessary thing I’ve ever done.”

43,000 words, 82 chapters, 85 beautiful high-resolution photographs. Sections include A Certain Edge, Llano Quemado, Mystery Train, Garden of Eden, and Amor y Muerte. ISBN: 978-0-9830838-4-9. Just $5.99.

To get things rolling, I finally activated the JHF✫NEWS. This was originally conceived of as a new releases newsletter. Given my erratic output up to now, however, I’m probably going to make it monthly for a stronger connection with readers and subscribers. For example, there are works-in-progress to talk about, and I’d like embed a monthly video report. There will also be rewards for current and new subscribers to be announced next month. In any event, you can easily sign up or unsubscribe as often as you like. Give it a try. Just one email per month.

I’ll let you know when Apple relents. Onward through the fog.

Brushwhacker Jesus

old Taos adobe

Rotting vigas serve as wildlike corridors for chipmunks, pack rats, and the mighty puma

On the third day, it arose, or rather, sputtered. But I will take what I can get. The alternative is scary, like not shaving or buying new clothes because you never go out, or training yourself not to see the cobwebs and the dust gators. (No bunnies here.)

When I put away the high-rent gas powered Craftsman Brushwhacker™ last fall—you know, one of those noisey gadgets for whacking weeds—it was running better than ever, though not without a struggle. After having the fuel line replaced by an otherwise useless Taos repair shop (“We did that, but it still won’t run.”), I’d resorted to the internet. My hunch was that it simply wasn’t getting enough gas. Internal combustion engines are funny like that, and it’s the first thing smart guys look for. The thing has an actual carburetor, Zoroaster be praised, which means there’s a tiny screw to adjust for the fuel-air mixture and another to confuse you. Imagine my joy, however, when I discovered that unlike the case of the last carbureted automobile I owned, a ’67 Saab V-4, touching that screw was now against the law. That’s right. Only an authorized repair facility like the one that had just failed me possessed the special tool needed to get a grip on the modified screw was allowed to do the work, according to the EPA. The rationale is that millions of people tinkering with their tiny little engines, all of which had been perfectly adjusted for life at the factory, would pollute the atmosphere and kill us all—this after mandating adding ethanol to gasoline in sufficient quantities to make a lot of them run quite badly. This being America, however, I found a workaround online.

It couldn’t have been simpler. All I needed was a certain size of the kind of wire connectors you crimp tight with a pair of pliers, and I was good to go without the “special tool.” A few degrees of counter-clockwise nudging on the screw, and the little two-stroke screamed like a banshee. Success! I tidied up our rented estate, drained the remaining fuel, and stored it in the back of my pickup truck for the winter.

Somehow it got to be spring and then June. I hauled the Brushwhacker out of the truck, put freshly doctored gas in the tank, and yanked ten minutes on the starter cord. Nary a pop. The thing was as inert as a Monty Python parrot. It would have made a good redneck bass boat anchor. But here’s where I got clever. Namely, I did nothing but let it sit under a tarp behind the house for two whole days. Maybe there was a tiny spider in the fuel line and it would dissolve, but I was really trying to keep from going postal.

On the morning of the third day, I remembered an old carburetor trick for starting dead cars: to see if the motor’s getting any gas, just pull the air cleaner off and drip a little down its throat. On the evening of the third day—yes, I purposefully waited—that’s exactly what I did, and it fired right up! I don’t know how long it would have run, since I shut it down immediately, but the prognosis is good, and now I can pretend to clean this place up outdoors.

I’m proud, though. I know stuff the kids don’t know, like what a carburetor is, or how to catch a chicken with a chicken hook. Both of these would stand me in good stead in Cuba, say, where I am not, but hope to visit before Yangqui car freaks buy up all the vintage wheels. Plus, I’m glad I waited: the symbolism of the three day interval is important! Wait before you roll away the stone, then wait some more.

Otherwise, you have to work.

Catching Up

old Taos adobe

Another iPhone 6s Plus shot, straight from the camera

We found a house for sale we simply loved, 2,100 square feet sitting on two acres of beautiful hillside with staggering views. You’d wake up every morning there and feel like you were on vacation. It was that impressive. There was even a gate and a flagpole. Although a Fannie Mae HomePath foreclosure, the house was in perfect condition. We could have moved in right away. There was a wonderful room for my honey’s pianos and a master bedroom large enough to park four cars. It was the first house we’d seen in several years of looking hard that instantly appealed to each of us. I was completely fine with it as soon as I walked in the door.

Didn’t get it. The details aren’t important. That was about a week ago. I still think about it and it makes me happy, even though we couldn’t make an offer. This is new for me and takes me to a different place.

Wild One

cactus blossom

Ne pick pas

It’s a good year for cactus flowers. You pretty much don’t see them unless you’re on foot in the sagebrush or messing around in someone’s vacant lot, blooming cholla being an extravagant exception, wherever it may be. The most prevalent cactus appears to be a ground-hugging miniature prickly pear-looking thing with plentiful spines. [Above] These right here, about five inches tall, are just across the road. There are definitely others, often found nearby, with brilliant red flowers. And sometimes, if you know where to look, a tiny cactus the size of a quarter puts out amazing multi-colored blossoms a quarter inch across that only last a day or two. I carry my iPhone now. The next one won’t get away.

Smudge That Sucker

smoky light in old Taos adobe

“Come in!”

“It smells in here…” Too long, too long. So smudge, and smudge again. Light the stump of that bundle of white sage we bought years ago. Stuff lasts forever, you know. Took me a long time to work out how to light it over the gas burner and extinguish it in the sink. Now sacred sage smoke in all the rooms as I walk around holding a plate underneath so the ashes and bits of charred leaves from the disintegrating sacrament don’t burn the carpet. Johnny’s off the hook, I realize. Three days off to practice saying that and then we roll away the stone.

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