Tag Archives: friends

Amazing quilting

Hi readers.

During the coldest months of last winter a friend from one of my previous lifetimes heard about my situation here and sent me a fantastic, warm, welcome gift. Judy Van Hooser was so long ago I’d have thought she had forgotten I exist.

judy quilt1
Beautiful work and it all appears to be hand-stitched.

judy quilt3
Every year Judy makes one of these and gives it to a veteran somewhere.

judy quilt2
Last year she contacted my ex-wife, Caroline, and said she’d like to give this one to me.

judy quilt flipside

I was both dumbfounded and ecstatic. It’s almost too fine to use as a quilt. But these winter nights don’t leave a lot of room for the luxury of using a warm quilt for a showpiece. This one does what quilts and blankets were always supposed to do.

Thank you Judy. You’ve earned a place in my gratitude affirmations. And every time I use that quilt I remember.

Old Jules

Wilderness Threats

A man I went to grammar school, junior high and some high school with, then several decades later became reacquainted and huff-puffed a lot of up and down mountain canyons recently began visiting this blog.  If no other reader enjoys the tale, at least he will, because he was there:

The following is copyrighted material from a book I wrote once.  I give myself permission to use it here. [ Crazy Lost Gold Mine-ism]

I’ve never concerned myself much with the dangers of wild animals during my extensive time in the woods.  Mostly they’ll mind their own business if a person takes reasonable precautions and doesn’t go out of his way to provoke them.  In New Mexico backlands of the late 20th century the real threats usually come in the form of humans.  When those happen they usually come as suddenly and unexpectedly as finding one’s self in the middle of a herd of elk.

Grasshopper Canyon and Stinking Springs are on the northern end of the Zunis below Oso Ridge on the west face of the mesa.  Two canyons run north and south, parallel to the face, half a mile apart, separated from one another by steep, narrow walls several hundred feet high.  These two walls consist of coral reef from some ancient time when Oso Ridge was an island.  The canyons aren’t easily accessible, so I prospected there a while.

The land below Oso Ridge around Grasshopper Canyon is checker-boarded in ownership.  Grasshopper is all National Forest, but immediately south is a section of Navajo tribal land.  Adjacent to the Navajo section is a section belonging to the Zuni tribe.  Fences between these sections allow a person to always know whether he’s on public land or tribal land.

I was working Grasshopper Canyon with my friend Keith, a stockbroker from Santa Fe. We separated and worked the arroyos southward parallel to one another, gradually moving toward the fence delineating the Navajo section.  Occasionally we’d call out through the woods to make certain we weren’t out-distancing one another.  The last thing either of us expected was an encounter with another human in those woods.

I was bent over taking samples from the bed of a shallow arroyo, just deep enough so when I straightened I could view the small meadow around me.  I stood getting my breath and stretching the kinks out of my back when I saw a man dressed in cammies backing out of the woods at the edge of the meadow.  He was being stealthy, carrying a .22 rifle in a ready position.  He had twenty to thirty colorful birds hanging on a string around his neck the way a fisherman carries a stringer of fish.  As I watched, almost invisible to him with only the top of my head showing above the arroyo, his eyes searched the woods to his right where Keith was working.  Keith had called out from there a few moments previously.

Still watching Keith’s direction the man backed toward me until he was only a few feet away from me.  “Nice string of birds.”  I scrambled up the bank while he spun and pointed the .22 in my general direction.

My partner’s in the woods back behind you.  You don’t want to be firing in that direction.”  We studied one another.  He eyed the shoulder rig I was wearing and the butt of the 9 mm automatic showing from the bottom.  “’You out here killing songbirds?”

Mister Songbird was a young man and from appearances, a Zuni.  He stared a moment longer before answering.  My impression was that he was considering whether I was a game warden or other law enforcement official.  “I’m getting them for Zuni New Year.  They let us do that.”

We talked for a few minutes, me accepting what he said at face value, and the tension gradually dissolved.  He agreed to get the hell out of the canyon because we were working there and wouldn’t want any shooting.  Besides, we’d probably messed up his hunt with our yelling and bustling around the woods.  I watched him back into the meadow to the south and allowed myself to sigh with relief.

Back in Santa Fe I called the US Fish and Game Department.  I thought there was a remote chance the feds were really allowing Zunis to kill protected species birds on National Forest land.  If so, I was prepared to be indignant.

When I told my story the fed was silent a moment.  “You are a lucky man,” he observed.  “You confronted an armed man committing multiple Federal felonies and he didn’t shoot you.”

*     The following didn’t make it into the final draft of the manuscript: The fed also observed the Zuni lad would have spent a lot more years in prison for killing those songbirds than he would have for killing me.  I drew a good bit of comfort from knowing that.

Eventually logic won out over the other appeals of the Zuni Mountains as a location for the lost gold mine I was searching for.  Although the Zunis were handy for me, being only a few hours drive from Santa Fe, they were too far from Tucson.

Also, too many prominent landmarks in the area would have immediately brought the original survivors back.  The route I imagined them following would have taken them within sight of Los Gigantes and enough other one-of-a-kind eccentricities to make the location unmistakable.

Even the Big Notch and Little Notch in the Continental Divide can be seen from miles to the west.  There’s nothing else similar to it in North America.

Marty Robbins – Little Green Valley


A Strange Way of Thinking

I’ve encountered this other places, but the first time was several years ago from the man in the picture.

Dean Kindsvater.  Deano.  A man who never saw $50,000 free and clear in his sixty-four years of life.  He played the lottery, but he’d scoff when the prizes weren’t in the high millions.  He’d buy tickets for the big jackpots and wouldn’t even check them if nobody won.  “Hell,” he’d say, “those small prizes aren’t even worth the trouble!”

Here’s a guy, never finished high school, left home in his low-teen years, bounced around as a dish washer and short-order cook for years.  Finally got into the HeeChee jewelry manufacturing business in the early `70s.  Bought an old railroad hotel in Belen, NM, ran a team of illegal aliens out of the top floor until someone discovered Heechee  could be made cheaper in Southeast Asia.

Deano rode through, living in one room of the bottom floor of that hotel the remainder of his life.  Windows all boarded up, top floor a vacant ruin of pigeon droppings and the debris of the life of the man.  He opened a junk shop and sold odds and ends and made up the difference moving a little jade on the side.  Lived downstairs with a propane bottle for heat, extension cords running all over the place from the one outlet, keeping the TV going, the microwave oven for coffee, refrigerator for TV dinners. Cold water sink to wash his utensils.

Three mongrel dogs living there with him.

The only book Dean ever read in his entire life convinced him he could make a living playing Blackjack, which he couldn’t.  Visiting him in that hotel the first time, knocking on that door, hearing him coming from the interior coughing, reminded me of a Frankenstein movie, him as Igor.

I was with him once when someone asked him what religion he was.  “Christian.”…. “No… I mean what denomination?  Catholic?  Baptist?”

Deano thought about it before he answered.  “Catholic.”  But the conversation afterward suggested Deano didn’t know the difference between a Catholic and a Baptist.  He’d never stopped to think about it.  To him those churches he never went into were all alike, all the same bunch of folks.  Never entered his mind that it might be something worth thinking about.  Never been in a church in 64 years of life, never paused to wonder anything at all about anything at all, so far as I could tell.  A unique man.

But Deano thought the prizes too small to bother with if the jackpot was just $10 million.  Never even bothered to check if he’d won  the $100K someone had a ticket for in NM, but had never claimed.  He had, in common with a lot of other people, that scorn for the smaller prizes that could have changed his life.  He’d probably be shyly flattered, knowing his picture was up here for strangers to see.  Flattered and a little suspicious.  “How’s this going to make anyone any money?” he’d ask the universe.

RIP Deano.

Hope the prizes are bigger wherever the heck you are these days.

Old Jules

The Great Speckled Bird: Respecting our Betters

We humans cross paths with nobility so rarely, the surprise is in the fact we recognize there’s something akin to reality behind the concept.  Instead of looking for it we make heroes of celebrities, preachers, soldiers, cops, politicians, popular science personalities and any gender capable of making our genitals tingle.

We need heroes too badly to hold out for anything worthy of admiration in our fellow humans.  Far better to have a fat, power-drunken political radio rhetorician, an angry, strutting songster shouting a drumbeat of communal self-pity,  a tribe of pierced, tattoo–branded cattle, anyone who can catch a football  to represent the best we can find as objects of our veneration,  than to have nothing at all.

But I’ve digressed.

Probably Christendom runs amok with people who share their lives with creatures they believe are noble, worthy of a higher level of respect than the fantasy masturbation indulged in when they consider their favorite preacher, guru, rock star, or pleasing features.  A cat, a horse, a dog– anything capable of out-doing a human being when it comes to loyalty and the ability to do well what nature gave it the means of doing.  Most settle for less, knowing it doesn’t require perfection to trump any competition the human species is likely to put forward.

I’ve known a good many cats, and share my life with some now I’d stack up against the great majority of humans I’ve met in 6.8 decades of life.  They were good, each in ways we measure felines.

But the Great Speckled Bird is in a class all his own.

He was given to me as a discard, a crippled leg, a wing that hung low from some past injury.  I took him, but I wasn’t glad.  Not until a few days later when I saw him trying to convince a hen that a particular spot was okay for laying eggs.  Not until he snuggled himself into the spot while she looked on, hen-like.  Not until he stood guard at the entry while she did her business.

That was my first hint there was something special going on here.  I’ve admired roosters for conspicuous courage, smiled at their pride and posturing, cursed their wrong-headedness, acknowledged over time that traits of average roosters bear a lot of similarity to those of human heroes, celebrities, and the common run of mankind, only the roosters are more consistent, better at  it.

Learning to respect the Great Speckled Bird required me to suspend disbelief.  I had to learn to believe my eyes and forget the expectations acquired by long acquaintance with roosters.

Over time I watched him deprive himself as a matter of ritual, calling the hens to any food he found, picking it up showing it to them, dropping the morsel for them to fight over.  Refusing to go into the chicken-house at night until all the hens were safely inside.  A few months after his arrival I’d lost seven hens to some predator within a couple of days.  I was indoors when I heard the cacophony of flock alarm somewhere out back, took up a long gun and hurried to see what was wrong.  The Great Speckled Bird took flank position and we trekked in the direction of loose feathers up the hill.  I knew I’d lost another chicken, but I saw no sign of what got her.

Suddenly TGSB spread his wings and made a run for a cedar about 40 yards away.  When he was a few yards away a fox darted from beneath, crosswise to both our paths.  I fired and the fox chose to visit the place where chickens don’t have roosters and men with guns to guard them, or whatever place fox-folk think they go when they die.

Last winter was a tough one for the Great Speckled Bird.  Younger roosters were maturing and a long cold spell weakened him enough so the beta birds discovered they could beat him out in a fight.  I caged them so they couldn’t follow through, and he recovered.

But I’ve just pulled a brooding hen off nine eggs she sat for 25 days, none of them fertile.  The winter must have done more damage than his frost-bitten comb and the beatings from the other roosters.  No more chicks around here until he’s gone, but I doubt he’ll make it through another winter.

One morning I’ll go out there, see him lying beneath the roosting hens and whisper, the king is dead.  Long live the king.

Old Jules