★MATTRESS★ post image

The old one headed for the Taos County landfill

A CARING SOUL OFFERED ME A MATTRESS not two weeks ago and I said yes. Up in heaven, angels cheered while devils lost their bets. What makes us do the right damn things? I wasn’t looking for a mattress although I’d said I wanted a new bed. Like knowing how I’ll have to move eventually and needed new clothes yesterday. The might-as-well-be-brand-new Puffy memory foam was said to be in perfect shape. I knew they cost a fortune and I’d never tried one. All I had to do was haul the old one to the dump all by myself and drive 133 miles to Albuquerque for the other. In 23 years I’d never visited the Taos County landfill and had only moved another mattress once upon a time to a rental in Pomona south of Chestertown where the general store sold “mushrat” meat in season. That one flew out of the back of Mickey Dulin’s pickup on the curve beside the pond in front of the country club and landed partly in the water. It was probably high tide and everyone was drunk.

It’s been two years now. Almost every day since Kathy died I cried at least a little when I made the bed.1 The tears came when I tucked the sheet in on her side, looking down on where she slept. We’d used the same old mattress—a premium model made by Sealy, sold by Sears—for more than 30 years. There were unseen indentations where our bodies rested but I could feel them if I brushed my hand across the surface. I cried because I missed her and because I felt I’d let her down. What kind of cheap self-sabotaging jerk would let a beautiful, accomplished woman live this way, I thought. And yet she never wavered. “I’m so happy you’re my wife,” I’d say to her. “And I have the most wonderful husband,” she’d say right back, putting down her book to smile and look me in the eye.

Taking the mattress cover off that last time wasn’t easy. I tried to count how many times we’d made love on that bed and couldn’t guess. So many memories centered on a single piece of furniture. Looking out from the second floor in Still Pond to watch the hummingbirds among the maple leaves. Nights in Ranchos barely hearing the coyotes through the thick adobe walls. How warm I was at 7,000 feet because I always crawled in after. The terror of the last night she ever spent beside me when she had her stroke. The flashing lights I followed in the cold to Holy Cross. Oh Lord.

Final teardown. Note cherry dresser on the left.

Apparently I had to cover the load to visit the dump. This led to the discovery that “tarp” is now a verb. It took four phone calls before I found someone in the Solid Waste Department who said I was free to bring a single mattress in strapped down. I had a tarp that I keep handy in case the next gale sends an elm limb through the skylight. Before I got permission to ignore it, I’d wasted hours trying to fit it over the bed in my 2001 Dakota, so I was grateful. The high point of my preparation was visiting Ace Hardware to buy the ratchet straps. New tools, you know. So “manly.”

Getting the mattress off the platform bed, through three rooms, and out the front door to my lowered tailgate took half an hour working slowly. Moving a heavy object a little at a time, making sure that nothing breaks, and living to tell the tale, all of that was something to be proud of and the ratchet straps were fun. (The joy of domination, the clacking of the gears.) My emotions staggered back and forth like little Johnny in the 40 mph wind and snow but primal fierceness kept me going. I wanted to follow through and “bust out” so damn badly though from what was hard to pin down in a word. Unkept promises perhaps, guilt, old narratives, piles of wreckage in the house. This was much more than a mattress and I knew it. I needed to be happy in the Now.

Two of my creative friends. Roger Landes (L) & Chipper Thompson (R) with me on March 18th. Musicians, artists, teachers all. Nothing to do with mattresses except it shows a state of consciousness. You may safely read on now.

The dump run was successful. I know where it is now and there’s no excuse for not returning with a full load once I find a tarp that fits. The hardest thing I had to do was pry the old mattress out of my truck, where it hung on like a limpet. Make of that fact what you will. I managed to stand it vertical in the blasting wind and tip it over into “Bin A” (me so clever), but I also slipped and fell down backwards in the pickup bed. The episode was so damn strange. Physically there but also watching like a movie in my mind, I couldn’t tell if I’d survived an exorcism or robbed a bank and no one cared. That evening I tried to spend a whole night on the sofa but I was scared of falling off and only got a couple hours in before the phone went off. At that point I realized I’d been dreaming and felt altered in a way I wasn’t ready to articulate. This boiled down to “Kathy kissed me in a dream” and I hoped I might remember.

It was bitter cold although the sun was out and there had been a little snow. Naturally the first thing I did as soon as I was barely out of town was nearly kill myself. There was ice along the highway with what looked like clear tracks from the tires, here and there a little road salt or whatever the hell that red stuff is. I had the cruise on 65 in a 60 mph zone, rolled up behind a raggedy old truck doing 10 miles under that, swung hard left, and gunned it: Look out! The rear end fishtailed wildly three times and stabilized somehow… I was hanging in the other lane behind the slow guy with traffic coming up behind and either had to ease slowly back in line or risk passing straight ahead. There was no one else in sight but maybe more damn ice. I always gamble on a clear shot (?) so I did. The V-8 bellowed, I aimed the wheels at what I hoped was nice dry asphalt, and blasted up the road. Everyone else had seen what happened to me and just stayed put behind the beater truck. I slowed way down like a little old man until I dropped into the canyon and the ice was gone. Coffee time and turn the radio up. Beautiful New Mexico all the way to Albuquerque. Life is but a dream and look at where I was.

Taos Mountain from the road to Arroyo Seco, 3-18-2023

My benefactress stood outside the house and waved. I’d driven past so I could turn around and back up in the driveway from the other lane. I rolled the window down to see a little better and never hit a thing. “Nice job backing up without a back-up camera,” she said when I was almost done, glancing at the screen-free dashboard of my truck. “I’m a pro!” I said. “Well, pro yourself a little farther,” she replied and signaled when I had. Her own new mattress had just arrived. We went inside, I met her husband, the three of us wrapped the old one (new to me) in the oversized plastic “mattress bag” I’d bought the day before, and dragged it to my truck. Once again the Miracle of the Ratchet Straps. I couldn’t remember how to lock them but she reached over and slapped the handle down. After thanking her profusely, I said goodbye and headed for the freeway. It was warm enough to leave my window down.

A few miles east on I-40 looking for the Turquoise Trail exit, I almost killed myself again in heavy traffic. The road was crazy curvy going up the mountain. All the semis slowed but still pretended they could pass. There was only one lane open on the left to get around the jam and I was on it. So was the city slicker charging through my blind spot. He honked, I swerved, everybody lived, and I decided crawling along behind a pack of howling diesels with the mattress cover flapping in the breeze was dandy. A little later farther north on Route 14 and I was cruising up an empty highway through open country past Sandia Crest where I could stop to pee behind a tree or in Cerrillos. New Mexico is easy sometimes.

Another option in Cerrillos. Please do read the sign!

After all of this however, and remember there were two whole days of mattress moving, I nearly left this world a third time. Driving back to Taos through the canyon, my sleep-deprived exhausted body put me through the worst oh-my-God-I-just-dozed-off disaster I’ve survived unscathed. (Someday I will tell the story of the one I didn’t.) Slapping myself in the face, running the window up and down, head jerk, head jerk, almost running off the road—if my wheels crossed the center line in front of you, I apologize. It was inexcusable. Who knows how many I might have massacred? Not surprisingly, when I finally climbed out onto the plateau and saw the mountains gleaming in the sun, the drowsiness blew clean away. I even had the strength to unload and wrestle the mattress onto the bed with no assistance, glory hallelujah.

For the record, the memory foam is just extraordinary. I’ve never slept on anything like it. This may be the single most dramatic physical and psychological improvement of my life. I didn’t toss or turn at all that night. Waking up without the usual minor aches and stiffness was a joy. Making the bed is easier because the sheets aren’t wadded up and pulled asunder from flopping like a stranded fish all night. There’s a deep somatic kindness working here. It resonates and puts me in a better place. There isn’t any hurry, everything’s all right.

In the context of the last few days I thought about the dream again and get it now. After all I’ve thought and done and gone through, maybe now it’s time:

Kathy and I were sitting together in a beautiful spot outdoors like on a porch or picnic. I was showing her a photo of a river view in Iowa or Maryland with a long dark bluff that reminded me of the Rio Grande Gorge. The association between Iowa where she was born, Maryland where we’d met, and New Mexico where she died was there without a trace of sadness. I could see her face like it was yesterday. She turned to me all smiles and beaming, raised her head, and kissed me slowly like she did the first time we were alone together 45 years ago, sitting on my lap in her ‘65 VW at the edge of the woods above the river on a glorious spring day…

The message is our circle is complete. She’s telling me to celebrate and live.

A cracking day in April. Everyone be well.

Frozen Dead

Frozen Dead post image


FIVE DEER MICE IN SEVEN DAYS. Not too shabby. This was the first one. I named him (?) “Victor” after the trap and no I didn’t catch him in a tree but in the kitchen. I’ve caught all of them in the kitchen. There hasn’t been any mouse poop, nothing gnawed on, not a single solitary sign of any rodents until I happened to be in there late one night and saw him sneak behind the washing machine. Yes, there’s a washing machine in the kitchen. A water heater, too. (This is “old Taos.”) I hook the drain hose over the edge of the sink and anchor it in place with a big cast iron frying pan. Sometimes I forget and then the floor gets mopped so that’s okay. I don’t know why the mice are in the house if not to eat, stay warm, or raise a family, none of which I’ve seen. The species carries hantavirus, by the way. That’s cool too. Everybody dies.

As I write this on a Sunday night the wind is blowing hard outside. I can barely hear a thing but it is there. If you even catch a whisper from behind the thick mud walls you know the blast is major. Big-time. What would be a harbinger of spring if such existed here at 7,000 feet, but never mind. You really came for this, recorded roughly 40 years in quite a different place and time. Listen and read on and maybe understand.

Sometime back in the early to mid-80s I applied for and received a local Maryland Arts Council grant to write two sets worth of original songs and put on a rock and roll show. I use the term advisedly but we were loud. The venue was a basement performance space at the local college where Kathy (now my angel wife) toiled all day long with joy and zest. She has little connection to this story other than being there for me in those heady times when everyone we knew was still immortal and all you had to worry about was better sex and Ronald Reagan. If only we had known.

We lived then on a 70-acre property in a huge eclectic farmhouse built years before by a local self-taught artist and likely madman who lived out his last years 20 miles away in Millington building life-sized concrete dinosaurs on a hilltop. “Our” 70 acres was called Castle Hill Farm, cost $120 per month, and sat beside a wide primeval tidal creek where deer and foxes emerged from woods and marsh to lap the brackish water while I puttered with my boat. The surrounding forest was filled with impossibly huge deciduous trees, paw-paws, birds, and poison ivy. There was a fountain beside the house with a deep 12-ft diameter pool where multi-colored goldfish lived year round until the herons found them. The sandy lane was almost a mile in length and turned to quicksand in the rain. We saw Halley’s Comet late one night standing in a frozen field of corn stubble while sleepy Canada geese murmured and squawked. In summer we took the crabbing skiff to town to buy a Sunday paper, seven miles each way along the river just for kicks. There were abandoned dairy barns and even a gigantic silo which took me several years to find, all covered with kudzu in the wildest kingdom I had ever lived before we ended up at 8,000 feet in San Cristobal here in Taos County.

It was something of a paradise, all right. Kathy worked, I stayed home to write my songs, produce cassettes, and mail them off to bewildered record company execs in London and Los Angeles. As far as working remotely goes, I was ahead of my time and also doomed. You had to live there, obviously, and hang out with these people in the clubs and bars. But still I persevered, my goal for the upcoming gig being to obtain a live recording of all my songs performed in front of an actual audience that I could edit and send out. Maybe that would punch things up, who knew? I used the money from the grant to hire my friends to form a band for just one gig. The college wouldn’t let me charge admission at the free venue so I paid them each myself. We practiced in the big old house beside the creek and called ourselves the Zoo Pilots.

L to R: John Hansen, Kate Bennett, Dale Trusheim, Johnny McBride, and me

The gig went fairly well. A couple dozen people I knew clapped and yelled and seemed to have a fine time. Most of them had never heard anything like “You Have Been Blown Up in the Name of the Lord” and I was happy to bend some minds. The one-shot wonder of the Zoo Pilots was exciting for the band and there was talk of our next gig, but as for me I’d already been around and gravitated to the comfy life. I had a great job as a faculty spouse although the pay was lousy. No charm in hanging out in smoky bars and staying up till 3:00 a.m. but ain’t it crazy how late I stay up now. I wanted royalties from selling songs, not drudgery and stage fright. Freedom, baby!

My friend Kate Bennett [above] fronted a band you may have heard of called Cowboy Jazz that played mostly Western swing and whatever else she felt like singing. I sat in briefly with them (if not someone else) one night at a local dive to play a song or two, but hauling my amp out to the car past open doors that smelled of piss and stale beer sealed the deal for me. One delayed benefit of putting on the show with friends however was that given everyone’s propensity for jamming, we did have fun reliving highlights. At one memorable party in the middle of the little village of Still Pond, we set up amplifiers in the back yard and made so much noise the neighbors called the cops. Talk about validation. I felt like teenage Buddy Holley for a good half hour.

Famed Horned Obelisk in contemplation

Being of an age considered nearly dead (supposedly) is strange. I feel fine, if it comes to that, but oh the mind… Losing my life partner focuses me on questions I would never think of otherwise, like did I help to kill her even just a bit by taking such a long time to grow up? She loved me though and always said she knew right from the first I was the one. There’s a host of things I’d take back if I could but she got through them and moved on. Please note I didn’t say forgot—that isn’t how this works—but one examines things when picking broken pieces from the floor. It’s natural.

I only realized recently the consequences of a life of fear. Imagining the worst and trying to prevent it. It always seemed so sensible, too. What my parents wanted for me, absolutely. About six weeks ago, however, I was outside in the sun up on a stepladder tying something useless to a branch when I missed the last step coming down. I fell over backwards in slow motion totally amazed and hit my head quite hard against the ground. In these parts that means dried clay hard as concrete with a blanket on it. Nothing broke apparently and I was fine although the headache lasted several hours and I was shaky for a time. That last part bothered me the most because that’s how Kathy described herself a few times in her last five years. “A little shaky,” and she’d take my arm. These could have been the kind of quiet heart attacks that women have and no one pays attention, as suggested by the clot inside her heart they found after the stroke that cut her down two years ago. (30% ejection fraction, people.) More to the point this day however was the cantaloupe-sized rock just two feet from where my head had struck I saw when I stood up. We’re all walking tightropes. I’m always careful on a ladder and I fell.

When my father officially retired from the Federal Aviation Agency, he and my mother left Oklahoma City in a pickup pulling a large travel trailer to vagabond around America. They left their home precipitously, giving all the furniture to a lady across the street the day they hit the road. My sister Mary had already absconded to New York City to marry her Colombian boyfriend she’d met while learning Spanish down in Mexico. All this after refusing an offer of paid college expenses from our parents if she stayed. They recruited me to ply her with dire tales of what might befall her if she left. Useless, obviously. As it turned out, she and Alvaro eventually moved to Tucson to work for IBM, had two kids, and eventually got divorced. So what. There was another marriage, she went to nursing school (I may have the order wrong), had a fine career, and now lives with her daughter out in Phoenix. She has my medical power of attorney and I’d trust her with my life, so everything is fine, I hope.

My father thought unencumbered life on the road was glorious. They’d stay here or there, visit family, oh what a wonderful time. He got up at dawn, downed a tumbler of vodka, smoked unfiltered cigarettes, and rode his bike for hours. I don’t know what he did the rest of the day or what my mother ever did. Plotted, I would think. Eventually she made them stop and buy a home in Tucson. To this day I don’t know how or why that happened or the hold that Helen had on John. The house was a pleasant if unremarkable place in a normal neighborhood with silly lawns. Dad had the good sense to hire a crew of lesbian xeriscapers who Southwesternized the place right smartly but then he started worrying. What if it affected resale value? Word was he couldn’t sleep. Eventually he freaked out, had the ladies take out the cacti and the rocks, and somehow put a lawn back in. I think. They sold that place and moved to a double-wide in the desert that was better anyway and then he died of cancer.

What you feel is gonna get you. ‘Nuff said.

View east across the Talpa valley with more editing than God intended

So here I am in yet another paradise. Some people would sell their soul to move to Taos like we did—and then she died, but no one thinks about the second part or should. It’s Tuesday afternoon as I sit here now, freezing with a down jacket on inside and I haven’t caught another mouse since Sunday. The sky is mostly gray, the wind is picking up, a little snow is on the way. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life living where Kathy left for angel school. That said, a new home has to rise out of the ether. There isn’t any plan. I’ve been pretty down about that for a while but someone special set me straight by telling me I was too old to spend my remaining years “operating out of fear,” and it was like a match to tinder…

Immediately I felt more energy, and that’s still there. Shooting down bad thoughts is easier. I can let dilemmas be and not demand they fix themselves to save me worry. Something like a faith that “everything is fine” is growing in my heart. I have no plan for old age, either. Someday I’ll hit the rock, my heart will stop, and folks will cry. I’ll look down from the clouds unable to relieve their pain or save them from the chore of cleaning up. If I can do it, so can they. In the meantime here I am.

I get to be an artist all day long. I’m confident that dollars will flow into my bank account. I trust myself a little more. I’ve been writing, taking photographs, and playing music. Improvising, mostly. Yesterday I played about an hour on a hand drum and the worries went away. There’s a state of consciousness accessible this way that changes things. I have five (?) stringed instruments, two Native drums, some wooden flutes, and a piano in the storage unit. None of them however is a six-string electric guitar. I’ve always wondered what kind of sounds I’d get from something physically easier to play than my beloved 12-string ES-335. This thing crossed my gaze and wouldn’t go away. It’s me. I want it. Kathy would approve.

Neither my photo nor guitar but the exact same model

Long story short, the vintage cherry Epiphone SG Standard ’61 Maestro Vibrola is on the way. If I never picked it up and tried, I’d still be almost dead and never know. Instead of charging, I took cash right from precious savings, ordered a hardshell case besides, and added “pleking” for another three hundred bucks. If you know me at all you realize how radical this is although it’s still lots cheaper than the brakes and ball joints that my truck needs or whatever the hell is wrong with the Vibe. But I’m not worried about any of that or where I’ll live six months from now or who I’ll see or what. Those days are over. America will make it, too. As I tweeted out this morning:

There really isn’t any answer anywhere. Enjoy the Mystery, much love to all. – JHF

Magic Window in the old adobe

Into the Gila

Gila Wilderness

Oh my look out

WOKE UP AT 3:00 A.M because a female voice was saying, “Let me in,” but I was dreaming in the dream. Walked to my front door and opened it. All was pitch black, scary, no one there. Turned on the outside light and flung the screen door open. Something caught my eye off to the right, an odd thing at the far edge of the flower bed. Walked out, bent down, saw a raised bare lump with ants! Not a normal anthill mind you and in winter too but then again a dream. Came back in the house, this old adobe, this room, still inside the dream. Vivid colors, cold night air, humidity, and smells. Noticed that the hard adobe floor in the corner of the room was spongy like a forest and found a second place with ants. How peculiar, really, right there on the old gray carpet. I pushed down with my foot to feel for sure and yes there was some give like I was outside in the dirt and just a little damp. Nothing I could do about it then so I went back to bed inside the dream, at which point I woke up for real…

Room 303 in Silver City

I’m better these days. When Kathy died my purpose ended like I’d done it all but here I am again. I see connections, flail around, and try to love myself. Look too hard for meaning where there is none, hold myself together when I ought to swing from trees. I know I’ll love again but worry I’ll forget her or be cheating on an angel, even with permission. Everything I’m pulled toward feels like it’s my last chance and I’d better get it right. Nothing is ever finished, though. Tears of longing, tears of beauty. Air. I walk into the bathroom in the morning, see my face and say hello to John. Usually I smile. I also wear her gold chain now. It barely goes over my head. Drop it down inside whatever shirt I’m wearing, icy cold, and then it warms right up and comforts me. Not because she owned it, though. I think it’s mostly from the gold.

If only it were all as good as that. The house is still full of her things. There are piles of clothing, blankets, suitcases, plastic bags of half-sorted “stuff” that haven’t changed in 18 months. Every day I vow to tackle this or that but usually hurry to lash myself to the mast of making NFTs although I haven’t sold a one. Writing too and taking photos, editing. Oscillating between peace and fear. The two storage units are full of possessions we brought from Maryland in ‘99 as well as furniture, rugs, mementos from my mother’s double-wide in Tucson. The rental cost for the storage units has doubled in the months I’ve been alone. I’ve been telling myself I need to make some money before I deal with all of this. It has to end this spring, however. All of it, everything. The money can wait and it will come. I need the space to work. Someone told me I was on a hero’s journey. That comforts me as well. I realize anything is possible. The only way to fail is by abandoning myself which I will never do. I know I’m loved and meant to thrive connected to the Whole. My health is steady. I am free.

Gila Wilderness

The time for holding back is gone. There never was a reason. All I have to do is watch my thoughts and only keep the good ones. Last month I took a four-day trip. The 2007 Pontiac Vibe was ready to go but on the final afternoon before I left I noticed that the irregular slapping, ticking noise from the top of the engine never really went away when it got warmed up like I’d reassured myself it did. What if it were the timing chain? Drive all day and have the bloody thing explode was not the way to go and I knew I’d have to take the truck. Oh please don’t throw me in that briar patch. The 2001 Dodge Dakota 4×4 was smooth and solid. The overhead cam V-8 was bulletproof and rumbled gloriously through twin tailpipes. The interior was warm and comfy. If I got 18 miles per gallon I’d be lucky but at least I’d fucking get there.

It was meant to be. I got out of the way. The ride down south was better than I ever dreamed. In the twisties in the canyon I could pass like thunder just by pushing down my foot. I hummed along at 80 mph on the almost empty interstate. The Dodge was in a sweet spot where it felt like I could drive forever. I had plenty of food, stopped whenever I wanted to take a picture, filled the tank on credit, and rode up high where I could look around at beautiful New Mexico. I hardly listened to the radio or played CDs because the motor sounded so damn fine. On the steep roads in the mountains I locked the auto trans in second gear and gave it gas to rocket up the hills. I even needed four wheel drive on packed snow on the shady side of steep slopes in the Gila.

More Gila

I have to tell you, it was crazy. Four days after Christmas, almost no one there. The mountain road was paved and signed but often unmarked, really just one lane with 10 mph switchbacks, hairpin turns you couldn’t see around, sudden patches of ice. Few guardrails. Lots of little places to pull off, though. The purity and clarity was mesmerizing. I kept the window down and had the heater blasting. No way could I have a piece of glass between me and that air, the smell of nothing, oxygen and trees, the rumble of the twin pipes bouncing off the rocks.

The first time I stopped and stepped down from the cab, the wilderness hit me like a breaker at an ocean beach as the mountains rolled in all the way from the horizon. Standing right there all alone with everything so stunning, living, clean, and empty of the works of man (except the road of course), I was overcome with awe and started shaking. “It’s so beautiful,” I sobbed out loud while stumbling over rocks and taking pictures. This has only happened to me once before, in northern Taos County on a birthday trip with Kathy in the ‘90s several years before we moved from Maryland. That one sealed the deal. This one may have too, but I don’t know the plans or even the dimension. I doubt it’s geographic, though. The first one wasn’t either really.

Here are several photos you should see:

Pay attention!

Mimbres Cliff Dwellings

Gila up close

Looking east toward the Gila from Leopold Vista on US 180

The next day I came home. I really needed gas and figured I’d hit a station on the way out of town. To my great surprise, the street I chose climbed quickly through a jumble of funky neighborhoods and spit me right out on the lonesome highway. No suburbs, no nothing. No traffic, either. I checked the map and saw there was a town (?) some miles ahead. Everybody needs gas, right? But there wasn’t anything you’d call a town. On the left though was a little store with gas pumps, glory hallelujah. I might have stopped anyway because the place was named “CHUCK’S FOLLY.” The gas pumps (only two) had no card readers at all. No instructions, either. I walked inside to look for Chuck. He may have been the fine young bearded man who greeted me.

“About the gas, should I pay now or pay you later? I don’t know how much I need.”

“It’s entirely up to you…”

At least I thought that’s what he said. I wasn’t sure because I’d never heard such a thing before. My ears were also stopped up from the altitude changes along the way, so I made him say that twice again before I finally got it. The pumps just sat unlocked for anyone to get their gas and then presumably pay Chuck. One pump for regular and one for premium. No buttons to push either, just pick up the nozzle and squeeze. This made me so happy I bought a big ham and Swiss cheese sandwich I didn’t need when I was done. It kept me going all day long.

Road to Magdalena, Socorro, and I-25

I don’t know what the dream means. But I feel the trip has opened me up. The first thing I remembered after I turned on the light was how green the whole dream was. Grass and bushes outside, even in the dark, and here inside the house a sense of it. (The area around my desk returning to the Earth.) Did this have anything to do with death and giving up my body? And what was it that wanted in?

With every kind of art there is I’ve always felt a little guilty. As if I needed to make some money with it or explain. This won’t work, it isn’t serious, you don’t know what you’re doing. Study, practice every day, you lazy good-for-nothing bastard. Applied to music that meant barre chords, toughen up the muscles, learn some scales. But Johnny only wants to fly. I’ve always been that way, ever since the first time I bought a balsa glider at the five & dime, put tadpoles in a jar, drew space ships on my homework, built model airplanes, wore out all my 45s, tried to kiss the preacher’s daughter, and cried when Buddy Holly died. Still it’s like I’ve never done it, whatever “done it” means.

Would you believe I’ve hardly ever used a capo on the 12-string? Some people call them cheaters and I bet that’s why I haven’t. Never mind that blues guys do, folkies do, everybody does but me and barre chords are too hard so fuck it. Why on earth not though? A couple days ago I did. Clamped that sucker on the third fret of my ‘68 ES-335 TD12, rolled the master volume up to 10, whomped a jungle rhythm on a single chord for 30 minutes, and blew my mind. By the time I stopped I was rollin’. Heart rate in the 90s, oxygenated out the gazoot, high as hell without a drop or toke involved. Felt so good I jumped right in the truck, drove straight to Sonic, bought a goddamn double bacon cheeseburger with onion rings, ate the whole damn thing in one go and still felt 10 pounds lighter. ROCK AND ROLL, my people, and all I had to do was:

Later, everybody. Pay attention to what you tell yourselves. God bless from 7,000 feet.

New Work and Primal Icons

New Work and Primal Icons post image

Some of the best photography I have to share

NEW SOFTWARE SKILLS AND MY IPHONE 14 PRO MAX have helped me create hundreds of new images. The one above titled “Frozen in Time” is part of the FLAMING GOLDEN JESUS collection at OpenSea, for example. If that matters to you, fine. If physical art’s your thing, I’m setting up a special gallery at SmugMug in case anyone wants to buy a print of any photographs I post from here on out. All I want now is just for you to see these! The photo of Kathy napping 13 years ago above is a perfect one to start with. I miss her more than ever and discovering it was a shock. Before I fixed it, it was almost entirely black. I almost tossed it! Can you imagine? The NFT description reads:

“I see you there asleep right now as if alive…

The original image from my archives was so badly underexposed I couldn’t make out anything. Before I deleted it, I tried processing with the latest Photoshop and was completely stunned.

Ranchos de Taos, NM, August 14, 2009. 4188 x 2848, 300 ppi.

Morning Elk,” another one from my archives that you may have seen before but much improved. From now on, whenever any photos here are also NFTs, there’ll be a link like this, and I’ll also use the description from the listing page like you see below. For now I only want to share.

My wife came home from a Curves workout around 7:00 a.m. and said, “There’s something in the road…” There sure was.

This is very close to where we lived. I grabbed my camera and went to take a look. For so many reasons this says “Taos” to me loud and clear. I don’t know what it is about animal heads in northern NM. We once looked at a house for rent that had a fresh deer head securely wired inside a tree by the front door. Another time I found a dog’s head in a juniper on the nearby mesa—again, wired in place—and not long after that I found a steer skull with magnificent horns upside down in the branches of a piñon tree. My neighbor just around the corner from this shot currently (2022) has two elk skulls on posts in each corner of the yard and also some kind of small black birds (dead) stapled by the skulls!

Llano Quemado, Ranchos de Taos, NM. November 20, 2013. 4000 x 3000, 300 ppi.

I’m very pleased with this one. “New Mexico Soul” is what it’s called because that’s what it shows. I live beside the vacant house shown here which keeps things private, though I’d like to find another place to live. There is nothing like New Mexico. It just feels better than anywhere I’ve been. After my sister died in Austin, I drove home from the memorial get-together on a different route to lay my eyes on Palo Duro Canyon, second largest in the United States. Everyone should see it. Amarillo is a different matter, sadly. I spent the night there in a Quality Inn that was anything but and left before free breakfast, so you know the boy ain’t lyin’. Interstate 40 took me quickly to New Mexico. The landscape of the Texas portion of the route was chopped and broken with oil wells and ugly signs. As soon as I crossed the state line, it was like the land itself was happier… Less developed for sure. Hawks and bluebirds on the fences, much less advertising, peaceful. Starving to death from not standing in line for waffles and cold scrambled eggs in Amarillo, I hit the the New Mexico Welcome Center a few miles in to wolf down free cookies and hot coffee. Glory hallelujah I was saved.

“Man, it sure feels good to be back in New Mexico!” I told the lady at the counter.

“We get a lot of that around here…” she replied.

As I wrote in the introduction for another NFT collection, “New Mexico belongs to God. We just pass on through.” In New Mexico, the sky is an enormous living presence. The clarity of the air means visitors are blessed by every detail. Quintessential New Mexico, all the way. Photographed at 7,000 feet.

Llano Quemado, Ranchos de Taos, NM. October 6, 2022. 4032 x 3024, 300 ppi.

Believe it or not, “Selfie Saint” has more views than my other work at OpenSea. I like it for the color and the clarity. The picture is a reflection in an antique mirror we brought from Maryland, if you’re wondering where the spots come from. I painted the frame in yellow and red long ago, never realizing those were the colors of the New Mexico state flag! Everything that happens is connected and it takes my breath away.

Still here, baby. Missing you so much.

Shot looking into a dirty mirror over the kitchen sink in the old rented adobe in Llano Quemado. “Old school” to the max. The house was built in the 1890s. The walls are 18″ thick. It’s like living in a cave of mud. The last 20 years went by so fast… They always do in hindsight, don’t they. I like the dignity and strength here. I’m wearing my favorite worn-to-pieces shirt from the Harley dealer in Santa Fe where I took the motorcycle training course . Never did buy a bike but I’m still licensed. The big adventure is still on.

Llano Quemado, Ranchos de Taos, NM. June18, 2022. 4032 x 3024, 300 ppi.

Now we’re in new territory. “Saturday Night” will be an NFT, I just haven’t decided where to list it. Maybe with the photo at the top. I shot this just the other night as an experiment and love the way it came out. That’s a reflection of the saloon and living room behind me. The flowers are the last survivors from a hanging basket I left outside two years ago because I thought it was dead. The plant revived after I bought it inside last year (which blew my mind!) but now is running out of steam. The little light above runs off a solar cell and used to live inside a hanging fabric lantern. When the lantern fell apart, I hung the light in the kitchen window where it flickers now and then. As you can see, it decided to come on when I was ready to take the shot. No explanation for the blue light but I like it.

Also new and officially nameless, “Short Cut” or “Snow Over Picuris” is still in limbo like the one above. I shot this through the windshield on extended Salazar Road, an honest-to-God shortcut I take to drive to town and only recently discovered. Hardly anyone else has either. It only has two stop lights and avoids eternal repaving on the main drag with a blinking red light in heavy traffic near the courthouse, God help us all. The snow squalls in the process of spilling over Picuris Peak are just about to hit my neighborhood in this image. A 48 MP ProRAW shot originally, by the way. Blows up nicely, I could crop and zoom in closer.

I name ‘em as they come to me and what I heard was “Sacrifice.” The yellow t-shirt from the Santa Fe Harley dealer where I took the motorcycle safety course and got my (unused) license is basically my pajamas. You know how nice and cool on bare skin threadbare cotton feels, I hope. This one is quite tattered and won’t last long much longer. The scarf is one of Kathy’s, obviously, that I pulled out of a drawer in the cherry dresser on the left her grandmother gave us years ago. We hauled it back from Keota, Iowa—the same place I buried her ashes—to Maryland in a wonderful old VW bus I used to have that we could also sleep in. The “heater” was no match for Iowa so I rigged a single-burner propane camp thing hanging from the metal dash with a coffee can for a safety shield. Kathy’s retro raccoon coat still burned a little for a couple seconds. I won’t say “never do this” because it really worked and saved our lives though driving around deserted Farmer City, Illinois at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning at 0°F to find another propane cylinder was a homey kind of hell. Be careful, that’s all, and God bless old VWs.

I’ll leave the interpretation of the name to you. Making the bed has been hard for me for a long time but it’s getting easier. Someday I’ll have a new one.

I must have a thousand shots like “Backyard Taos Mountain” but this is recent and will show up as an NFT before long. A fitting place to stop, I think. The view is through the window from the desk where I am sitting now. Yes, I am a lucky man and know it. May you have a great day or night wherever you are, and thanks for stopping by!

Rio Grande Pivot

Rio Grande Pivot post image

Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado. Headwaters of the Rio Grande.

THE SHOES CAME FIRST, before the Colorado thing.

They’d been staring at me for over a year. There were piles of Kathy clothing in the bedroom I’d been sorting to help her manage after the 21-day stroke “rehab” that flew right past her. My baby never had a chance. After she died the piles turned into background lumps but oh those shoes. With a double Pisces, there will be shoes. Is anything we wear more adapted to our bodies than a pair of shoes? They bear our weight. Our bones and muscles make an imprint, stretch the sides, and cause the soles to wear a certain way. I’d lined them up a while ago to see just what was there and then abandoned them. Now they were dusty, full of cobwebs, scary. Some were caked with mud awaiting happy husband shoe revival like an awful dream. I thought about the ancients with their combs and mummy cats. There in case she needed them I guess, or bait.

But I knew she wouldn’t be coming back. Not the way it was. Not for the fleece-lined snow boots or the waterproof black leather “London boots” she’d bought forever ago to spend a week in the U.K with her niece and sister. Primo boots from a fancy store in Taos that’s no longer here.

She had so many shoes. Dress shoes, performance shoes, organ shoes, running shoes, snow boots, sandals, clogs, slippers, and flats. I’d already culled the ones you’d only wear because they’re yours. Most of the rest looked nearly new. It took me over a year to call the biggest place that sold donated goods to find out if they even took shoes. “Yes, we do, if they’re clean and in good shape.” I was disappointed, frankly, because that meant I’d have to clean them (especially the boots) but I googled how and set to work. And then I realized her DNA was in the shoes… All those years of skin on leather. Her own perfume. Suddenly I was angry to be cleaning them the way I had when she was here and now she wasn’t and I thought about the way the fleece was worn down by her heel and toes and how I knew each one. The truth was, I didn’t want anyone else to wear them. The whole thing was just silly. Even her pristine dress heels showed “footprints” if I squinted. Screw this.

It was the morning of the weekly garbage pickup.

I pushed them all down into the kitchen trash and tied it up.

An hour later they were gone. It still reverberates and makes me sad. Kind of brutal, but the world has many shoes. She wasn’t tied to anything except her music. I have her first piano tucked away in storage. It would fit well in a ranch house like we wanted.

And then came Colorado.

One of the first big vistas on the Million Dollar Highway north of Durango

After almost three years of COVID worries and my honey growing angel wings, I’d gotten way too good at holing up. Then a friend talked up the “Million Dollar Highway” to the point where I felt stupid that I hadn’t ever gone. Not until I gave in and tried it a couple weeks ago—having thrown away the shoes—did I remember that Kathy and I had been on that route (U.S. 550) some 40 years ago! I now recall the view down Silverton’s main street, lunch at a cafe in Ouray, and the night we camped outside Durango. In my mind the drive there from Pagosa Springs on U.S. 160 was a rural romp back in the ’80s, not the bumper-to-bumper traffic, strip malls, gun shops, and subdivisions of today. Memories conform to prejudice, of course. But it did take me half an hour to drive through Durango at noon, 10 minutes of which I spent trying to go around the block to reach a gas pump I’d gone past while tourists clogged the crosswalks hunting lunch and squinted in the sun.

Thankfully it was beautiful heading north to Silverton and I forgave Durango. I could stop at pull-offs and take photos, step behind a tree to pee. The Million Dollar Highway lived up to its reputation and I had to watch the road to keep from falling out of sight. When I got to Silverton I walked around downtown and marveled at the quiet. The two cannabis stores I saw were closed as if the town had changed its mind, but at a third one on the outskirts the owner explained, “It’s winter…” Oh.

Silverton, CO. Not as claustrophobic as Ouray (second image below).

Self-explanatory. Nice bench.

This is Ouray. Don’t get confused.

[Remember, all these photos are HUGE here.]

After arranging a reservation at yet another oddball local establishment like I’d said I’d never do again, I made to Montrose by late afternoon. Driving into Montrose was like arriving at any other ruined burg with every franchise in the world and forty red lights for the strip malls. Sidewalks with no one on them stretched for miles along the parking lots. And then I found the motel on the very edge of town.

The first thing I saw when I pulled into the parking lot was the torn curtain in the window of the nearest room. It was literally hanging there in shreds. I remember standing there in shock, holding the door open to reach in and grab a couple things as I watched the sun sink closer to the horizon and the air began to cool. All I had to do was close the car door, walk inside, talk my way out of the non-refundable room fee, and keep on going. Where, I wondered. There were only three other cars in the lot. The two sandwiches in my cooler—tuna and peanut butter and jelly—were talking to me. You could just treat it like an adventure, said the voice inside my head, and eat while you go doom-scrolling if you only give up now… So of course I caved, and there was nothing else to eat or drink on the entire premises. At check-in I’d even had to sign a document that gave them all my money if I snuck a pet inside or tried to open the window. Oh sure. The window had a perfectly good screen behind it and a screw-on lock to keep it closed. I didn’t have a wrench that fit but it popped off when I banged it with the screwdriver handle and I aired out all the COVID. Checked for bed bugs, slept on the top sheet, woke up early, ready to roll.

Climbing to Slumgullion Pass above Lake City. About 11,1150 ft (3400m) here.

U.S. 50 east climbed quickly after leaving the motel. I’d never seen terrain like this: huge hills, steep grades, swooping curves, and hardly any vegetation. It was like a different planet. By the time I got to the long construction zone I’d seen on Google maps I knew it was. There was only one lane with alternating streams of traffic. The road went deep into a vertical canyon with enormous cliffs and the pavement disappeared. I was creeping along in clouds of dust shot through with morning light shafts in the clefts like a scene from medieval hell. No place for my stupid one-hand iPhone trick while underway. Bulldozers and giant trucks hugged the rock face while traffic barely cleared and rattled over boulders.

At last the landscape opened up and I was driving along Blue Mesa Reservoir. All this time there’d been no towns or gas stations. I’d also been so anxious to get away from my motel, I never doubled back into Montrose to fuel up. The road I needed from U.S. 50 led to Slumgullion Pass and Creede. Aside from a smudge called Powderhorn and a dot named Lake City on the map, there was nothing else by way of civilization this side of the San Juans. I told myself, hey 35 miles per gallon, relax, turned south on CO 149 and then I really climbed… I could hardly believe it. New Mexico mountains are much older and worn down. These were monstrous, raw, intimidating. No traffic whatsoever. If anybody did live here, they’d still need gas, I reasoned, hoping Lake City would save me.

After descending into a long green valley, I drove past gorgeous ranches and came to what I’d call a village with tall trees on a winding road: “Lake City.” I was driving very slowly, looking for a gas station, when I came around a curve and found a snowmobile dealership with two battered pumps standing in a patch of muddy gravel. No cars or trucks or any sign of life as I tried each pump in turn. None of my credit cards would work. A message flashed to see the cashier, so I climbed a steep set of concrete steps to reach the office door. To my amazement I saw a woman inside behind a counter. The door was unlocked. “We’re closed for the winter!” she said (October 13!), but she was friendly, took my card, and let me fill my tank. After that I had to pee of course and walked back up the steps.

“Is there a restroom?”

She was now seated at a desk but smiled and pointed to another room stacked full of gear. “Around the corner,” she replied.

I have never seen a cleaner one.

Leaving Windy Point. Slumgullion Pass is left and up, up, up.

The ascent from Lake City was simply stunning (see two photos up). After stopping at Windy Point, I climbed the rest of the way to Slumgullion Pass at 11,530 feet (3,514 m) up a nine percent grade in second gear. The sun was out, the weather cold and perfect on the empty road. The calmness of pure Nature without people, even in such a rugged spot, was glorious. I didn’t want to leave but the bare trees told me that I had to.

Beyond the pass the landscape opened wide at the top of the world. From here I knew I’d go to Creede, then South Fork, Del Norte, Monte Vista, and Alamosa before heading on to Taos. What I didn’t know was that I wouldn’t be alone. I’d always read the Rio Grande started somewhere in these mountains but I swear I didn’t realize that was just a little farther down the road.

Behold the headwaters of the Rio Grande, third longest river in America.

Holy Mother of God

The mountains are the San Juans. The Weminuche Wilderness is on the left. The high peak in the background is the Rio Grande Pyramid at 13, 821 feet. (Silverton is due west on the other side.) Five foot snowfalls here are common. The temperature drops to 30 below. I stood there stunned in reverence and wonder knowing I was looking at a giant womb where the living Earth gives birth to a river running almost 1,900 miles. It’s absolutely perfect. A holy miracle. The mountains trap the snow, the water rolls down from the valleys, and it’s been flowing for three million years. Read that again: THREE MILLION YEARS. We lived together near the rio almost 20 here in Taos. It’s only a few miles away, at the bottom of an 800 foot deep gorge carved through ancient basalt in an active rift valley where impossible forces pull tectonic plates in different directions through a high desert landscape of volcanoes, lava flows, and sagebrush. The route I chose to get back home follows the Rio Grande the entire way…

When I started this trip, I had no idea. So look at what just happened. Eighteen months ago I lost the love of my life who lived with me for over 40 years. Losing Kathy broke my heart and tore me open top to bottom. It was massive, crushing, horrible. Who cares about the shoes. I don’t know who or what I am but whatever made this place sent me here to ground me. Lose love, find a bigger love that she was part of.





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