Homage

Homage post image

At the bottom of the hill below our rented 120 year-old-adobe is the beloved and mysterious acequia. The white blossoms on the left are part of a large grove of wild cherry trees where each spring the western tanagers and Bullock’s orioles come to feast. (Some years they leave enough for me.) We also see them visiting at the house, resting high up in the elms or cheating at the hummingbird feeders. Their yearly appearance is miraculous and holy, and they stay around for weeks.

In the past we’ve hung our laundry down there and brought wine and tequila to drink beside the flowing water in the evening. Having this beautiful patch of Nature so close has brightened our days for over a dozen years. Each March or April the local acequia association sends a crew of men down the empty ditch to clean it out before the mayordomo opens the diversion gate upstream on the Rio Grande del Rancho and sends the water coursing through to irrigate alfalfa fields and orchards in the valley. It’s always a special time.

We haven’t been down there much in recent years. I used to hang a Mexican hammock from the apple tree on the bank until it fell apart. For some strange reason—climate change?—the “no-see-ums” have gotten worse and worse, to the point where you’d just as soon sit inside and have your drink. Despite the gorgeous location, the house itself is falling down (“adobe hell”) and we’ve wanted to move for several years. Call it Taos, call it the state of our resources, call it anything, most likely what I tell myself and which thoughts I latch onto, but nothing’s clicked hard enough to pull us away and into our new life. It’s beautiful here, of course. Even if months go by without walking down the cactus-cluttered path, at least the acequia is there to ground me…

Please go here to read the full post!

Don’t worry, it won’t bite. This is only a small excerpt. The complete post contains 14 photographs that simply don’t fit into the layout here at JHFARR.COM. This is the first story I’ve published initially at Substack, and it won’t be the last. Whenever I do, however, I’ll also post it here if possible or publish a post like this to guide you. Remember, this will always be my official author’s website. You don’t have to do a thing if you don’t want to, and you won’t miss any new stories I publish. But whether you subscribe to this blog or not, I urge you to subscribe to GODDAMN BUFFALO below. You won’t even have to visit the other website if you do, because the full posts will show up in your email. – JHF

New Toy

New Toy post image

Greetings! Yes, I’m still here, and nothing of consequence will change at this site. I do have a new venture, however, that will be unfolding alongside JHFARR.COM, namely the above at Substack.com. Substack is a minimalist digital publishing platform intended for “newsletters,” although a single essay qualifies. Photos work. Anything works, plus there’s an option for paid subscriptions when I choose to throw the switch. Everything is free for now, however, so get right on it. Each post pops into your email inbox formatted just the way you see it on the website. You can read the damn things on your phone, for godssake. Here’s more info.

Why am I doing this?

• It’s a great way to republish great material from here, updated with more photos, and present it to a whole new audience.

• I don’t have to think about design. Adding photos to posts is drag-and-drop. It’s fast.

• Substack manages the mailing list.

• I can actually get paid for writing.

I mean, I can even add audio to the posts from the composing interface. This thing will be a hoot. Don’t worry, though: you’re still good to go right here. New stories will end up in both places, except for audio and image-heavy posts for paid subscribers (later).

Hang in there. Big things a-comin’.

Nearer Than I Have Ever Been

San Antonio Mountain in snow

San Antonio Mountain, 10,908 ft of free-standing volcanic peak 42.5 miles away.

This is your secret message. Read it, wad it up, chew it well, and swallow. No need to tell you to forget you ever saw this, because you will. Maybe down the road, something will trigger an association. A synapse or two will fire, and you will find a thing you never had before.

My wife and I are healthy. We’ve done hardly any of the things that one’s “supposed” to do to prepare for our old age. We are old, in chronological years. It doesn’t seem to make a difference. We want the same things most people do. We hunger and thirst and thrill at a warm touch. The most important thing is how you feel.

I’ve always been the great disruptor, depressed and driven almost every day. Like my parents, I can wreck all loving expectations. I hate this, I hate that. There must be something wrong with me. What am I supposed to do?

In a word, nothing. You heard me.

This morning I walked outside to feed the birds. I hadn’t yet had any coffee or breakfast or even built a fire. The ground was damp and muddy, a raw wet wind was blowing, the sun was blocked by dark gray clouds. I focused on my breath and thought of nothing as I scooped the birdseed mix from a red enameled bucket. (The lad, surprised, was happy.) A sense of calm well-being radiated from the rotten boards, the half-dead elm, the old tarp flapping in the breeze, a faraway barking dog.

It comes from here, right now.

Some tinkering is involved. I woke up from a nap this afternoon and and felt a wave of awfulness and guilt. The ancient stuff, unreal, that comes from certain ugly thoughts that whirl and scatter in the light. Only thoughts, like hey, I wonder if he’s dead yet, maybe I should pee, or is it Saturday? Except these are likely ones connected to progenitors and friends, the preachers and the priests, gods of culture, history, unconscious pain and gore, people pushed from cliffs and babies drowned at sea. They ricochet like pinballs in a cave, ding-ding-ding, you’re dead. At least that’s how it is with me, or was. (I am the work of pros.)

Today I saw the cockroach and replaced it with a swan. Now the words come easily, with fire, and the fear is burned away.

Easier to Buy Heroin

Questa, NM scene

Questa, of course. Buy this photo!

There we were, leaving the Ranchos valley heading up Blueberry Hill [sic] on the way to Questa to drive by a house. It was one of those mostly sunny winter days with shifting layers of half-clouds against a deep blue sky. A thin coating of snow lay all about, already turned to mud along the rocky roads that passed by scattered brown houses in the sagebrush. Despite the latter, the view was splendid. I had no expectations for the listing and am usually wary of Questa. This quiet Sunday afternoon I felt more curious. The sunshine and lack of traffic likely helped.

“Instead of saying, oh no, we’ll never live there,” I said, “I’m going to think of good things about Questa. [clears throat] Okay, it’s closer to real wilderness, cheaper than Taos, and…um…oh, it’s easier to buy heroin there! Ha-ha.”

She paid me no mind and looked out the window.

“Hey, remember when we lived in San Cristobal and Bill Whaley wouldn’t hire me to be the Horse Fly reporter for Questa because he thought I was too naive and might get killed?”

[silence]

And then:

“The mountains…the sky…”

My default state of mind had won. She was living her appreciation, I was hosting a late night talk show.

The mountains were stupendous, and the road stretched on across the mesa, plunging through Arroyo Hondo, down the curve and across the valley where San Cristobal splayed out along the creek, up the steep half-mile to Garrapata Ridge, past Lama where Baba Ram Dass wrote Be Here Now, finally dropping down to Questa, a roller coaster 30-minute ride over the shoulders of snowy peaks, past miles of forest, distant dead volcanoes, views to sharp horizons all the way to Colorado.

“I can’t believe we live here,” someone said.

It could have been either one or both of us. There’s nothing like this anywhere I’ve ever lived, and I have been around. In my elevated state of mind, the lumpy, broken semi-pavement on Cabresto Road was just the way it was, and no one cursed. The house we’d come to “drive by” was way across a valley from a ridge that felt like darkest West Virginia, crammed with trailers, old adobes, and a few nice homes. The entrance to the lane was dark and rough and steep. I didn’t turn there since we weren’t expected. An old man in a flannel shirt came walking down the road. We passed him and explored a little more, circumnavigating the valley before retracing our entire route. No one else was out and I drove very slowly.

The thing was, neither one of us was judging. My wife is good like that. I can be an uptight jerk and on this afternoon, I wasn’t. On the way back down Cabresto Road, I saw a hand-painted wooden sign that simply read “CHURCH” with a great big arrow, so of course I did as I was told. We ended up behind a stunning large adobe building, San Antonio de Padua Catholic Church. I’d heard about the place for years and never ventured two blocks off the highway to investigate.

We were in a different dimension. That’s really all there is to say. Despite the mud, I got out and walked around. My wife was grooving, giving off vibrations like a tuning fork, and stayed put in the car. It was cold and gray by now, the air was still, and all around was utter quiet. In the courtyard by the entrance, I saw someone sitting on a bench. It was the same old man in the flannel shirt we’d seen before (probably younger than I am), leaning forward with his hands together. I thought he was looking at his phone, would you believe it. Of course, the man was praying. He stood up as I approached, we said hello, and he went slowly back the way he’d come. I located the visitor’s entrance and tried the door. Much to my surprise, it opened, and I entered.

The lights were off and there was little light coming through the windows, so I could hardly make out much more than the altar and the pews. The carpet underfoot was soft, the air perfumed with incense. I carefully turned around, took three steps out, and latched the door.

What on earth had happened?

The drive back home was just as wondrous. I was—we were—in this place. Twenty years, and it had always been here. Maybe I was not.

Dakota Saturday

truck in snow

Garages, man.

Friday morning looked like this. The stuff was roughly four inches deep and sticky-wet, like heavy cotton candy I imagined, as if I’ve ever tasted any. Instant snowball makings, anyway. I walked up to the top of the driveway, decided the Vibe would never make it out, and cleared the windshields of both vehicles so the sun would shine in, warm the interiors, and melt clean all the glass. I had an errand to run later and knew the Dakota 4WD would do the trick. The rest of the morning was for shoveling paths.

After lunch I headed out to take off for my trip to town. Not only was the glass completely clean all around on both machines, the roofs and sides were dry and shiny. Sunlight, baby, plenty hot at 7,000 feet even in the winter. I climbed into the Dodge. Everything was fine until I turned the key: the fuel pump powered up, or tried to, the starter solenoid did a little clickety-click tap dance thing, and that was it.

I knew exactly what this meant but had to test. No, the windows didn’t work, and the headlights were a little dim. Some juice, then, but not enough. I trudged down and back up through the snow with my trusty Radio Shack voltmeter (where do people buy such things today?) and got a reading of 10 volts. Well, hell. The Vibe would never make it and I was already shot. No way was I going to wait around for AAA to come jump-start the Dodge, and besides, the wind was picking up. Tomorrow was another day and that was fine. I’d see if O’Reilly’s had a battery, juggle some funds around, and call AAA as soon as I knew what I’d be facing.

Last night I researched batteries. My God the things had gone the way of insulin and houses. But O’Reilly’s had one that fit exactly (size group 27), was stronger than the one I had, and cost a semi-reasonable $139 plus tax and $18 for something called a core fee. That, it turned out, meant you got the fee back if you gave up your old battery, hey-hey. The fucking thing weighed 50 pounds but there were 4.9 liters of engine to spin. I paid for it on the website and went to bed in pretty good shape. All I had to do in the morning was call AAA, get the Dakota running, drive it to O’Reilly’s and fetch the battery.

This morning it was eight degrees and sunny. I put off going outdoors until noon. After examining the situation once again, I decided to try backing the Vibe through deep snow to the road. Who wants to talk to AAA anyway, especially when someone from Pakistan insists I have to give directions for the driver like they never use their phones. To my amazement, the little front-wheel drive fake Toyota pulled out fine because the snow was crunchy-frozen. (Once it starts to melt, there’s nothing doing.) All I had to do was go pick up the battery and install it here at home instead of in the auto parts store parking lot.

I pulled into O’Reilly’s, grabbed the battery, a terminal cleaning brush, and a packet of anti-corrosion goop and loaded up the Vibe. Before I could back out, a late-model Cadillac with a smashed-up front end missing some bits of trim pulled in beside me. The driver was a young Latina in a black leather jacket. Her daughter, about five, had on a pair of purple-colored mirror glasses, pink tights, and a turquoise jacket and looked like she was on her way. A huge decal that went all the way across the back window read “HARLEY DAVIDSON,” which I appreciated for the irony. The fine young man who sold me the battery came out to meet them and it all made sense.

Back here on the frontier, I took my own damn time and switched the batteries. Three whole hours, counting breaks. It took forever because I’m scared to death of batteries—one exploded on me once—and did I mention these weigh 50 pounds? I had to use a kitchen stool to stand on so I could lift the old one out and lower the new one in. There were clamps to clean and tools to find that someone dropped under the truck. Also the fine print on the anti-corrosion goop packet more or less said I’d die if any of it got on my skin, which it already had (how could it not), and much rubbing of hands with snow and paper towels ensued. My skin has not peeled off.

It all felt good, however. I was so confident of my work, I cleaned up all the trash and put away my tools before I even tried to start the Dodge. To my enormous satisfaction, the brand new battery spun that V-8 ten times faster than I’d ever heard it turn and a mighty roar was heard across the land. On the way home from dropping off the old battery for my 18 bucks, I stopped to buy $5 worth of lottery tickets from a Taos Pueblo grandmother at my favorite gas station. Three-hundred twenty-one million dollars would go a long way toward having a garage, you know, and maybe a new mattress.

The other thing is, I’ve decided I need a pro model Stratocaster before I die. This pleases me very much to think about and so I shall. Goodnight, and pleasant dreams.

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