Monday, September 21, 2009


It was six a.m. on September 7 in Santa Fe New Mexico. Mars and I were in bed, eyes closed but ears open, trying not to hear the high-pitched chorus of coyotes that seemingly surrounded our temporary abode in the hills just north of the "City Different".

Audrey the dog, whose care was the raison d'etre for our southwestern vacation and whose own raison d'etre is to "Guard the house -- good girl!" slumbered silently on the floor beneath us.

The castrato sounding yelps came randomly and stacked themselves one upon the other -- sometimes overlapping, sometimes freestanding -- like the man-made stone cairns that decoratively demark the hiking trails in the nearby wilderness areas. Or the way unexpected and unrelated events are stacked together to create a vacation

This sabbatical began at Acoma Sky City, the nine hundred year old pueblo village located atop a 370-foot tall sandstone bluff one hour west of Albuquerque. It was Mars and my second visit there -- the prior one several years ago. As one might expect in a deliberately isolated area -- insurmountable heights discourage walk-in traffic -- little has changed since 2005. Or from the middle of the Twelfth Century.

The oral heritage of the pueblo says that the Acoma people came to the high rock in search of HaK'u -- "a place ready to occupy", or "the right place". They called out "HaK'u!" as they wandered, and when this land echoed the word back they stayed -- adapting their farming habits to the climatological vagaries of the area, and their religious beliefs to the "forced conversion" by Catholic missionaries.

Later that afternoon we visited the "Bubonicon" sci-fi convention at an Albuquerque hotel to see Monica and Bram (our daughter-in-law and son) who were there selling comic books/graphic novels produced by their "indy" publishing company. It was our first such experience although we had seen similar gatherings satirized or at best presented with tongue-in-cheek seriousness by the mass media.

There were strangely costumed people -- from Goth characters to large furry animals to less heavily attired wenches -- as well as those more conventionally dressed. The artwork was aptly described by an eight-year old attendee as "disturbing". However the convention-goers, some of whom might not have seemed sociable in another setting, were clearly comfortable with each other and their surrounding milieu.

The next day in Santa Fe we visited with Aga, my favorite New Mexican jewelry maker

As described previously Aga is a thirty-something Polish emigre who creates necklaces, earrings, and bracelets made of amber and turquoise. Her designs and craftsmanship are very good. But her marketing is excellent. She remembers all of her customers, or very convincingly pretends to. She tells her female customers, in this case Mars who happened to have on an Aga creation, "You make the necklace look beautiful." And she toys with the guys, "I like it for men to remember me", she told me one time.

Bram, who was equally impressed by her "marketing", introduced us to Aga several years ago and Mars and I regularly visit her shop on the town plaza. This encounter was unexpected. We came upon her selling from one of a set of tables at a market in a small park in the downtown area.

"Do you still have your store?" I asked.

"Oh yes. Thank you very much for asking. My sister is there today. I like it out here. I am a geeep-sy." she replied -- tilting her head and drawing every ounce of romantic Romany possible from that normally pejorative appellation.

Mars bought some necklaces and earrings as gifts. Another return customer purchased a $450 piece. I watched in amazement.

Every day in Santa Fe we went for a hike with Audrey the dog in the arroyo near her house. Audrey runs unfettered outside. She stands guard all day and vigorously protects the property from any interlopers, whether long eared rabbits or coyotes. On walks she wanders off-road into the underbrush and climbs up the surrounding hills while simultaneously keeping tracking of her companions whereabouts in order to join up with them periodically -- a good free-range example of what canine trainer Barbara Woodhouse calls "following up front".

Her tan and white coloring blends in with the high desert land over which she roams, as does her personality and lifestyle. A fortunate life for a former rescue dog.

We spent less time with our Greyhound "grand-dog" Cheyenne, with whom unfortunately Audrey does not get along. (Add dogs to Audrey's list of unwelcome intruders).

Cheyenne is also a "rescue dog" -- in her case from a dog-racing track near Tucson, Arizona. She has lived with Monica and Bram since last Christmas.

We were able to go for one hike with the three of them. Bred, born and trained to run, Cheyenne can never be off-leash in an unfenced area lest she spot some small, fast-moving, furry thing, take off after it, and keep going.

However, on a tether and on a hiking trail she is a heads-down, serious trekker. At least until the roll of thunder is heard. Then she is equally dedicated to leaving the immediate area.

The two-legged ones of us also went for a second walk in the woods at the "no dogs allowed" Audubon Nature Center in Santa Fe. The trail was well marked and easy at the start, then converted to an uneven, less clear-cut path as we climbed higher. This portion of the hike was delineated by small hand-built rock cairns. Most were simple piles of stones designed to look manmade so as to be distinguishable as trail markers. Some were more ornate than necessary having been added on to by previous art-minded travelers. Monica, Bram and Mars contributed additional rocks.

At what would become our turning around point, we came upon a virtual gallery of purely decorative stone structures located off to the side of the passageway -- an exemplar of the main reasons that people are attracted to Santa Fe: art and the outdoors. We went off trail and wandered among them.

There were six or seven constructs -- none with less than ten rocks, several with more than I could count. The exhibition was located down a small hill alongside what appeared to be one of the perpetually dry riverbeds that exist in this part of the country -- a safe location and a space that would be enhanced by the primitive works of sculpture without losing its identity to them. (Disturbing nature to make it look better is allowed out here.)

Mars decided to construct a similar mound of stones at the starting point of our daily arroyo walk with Audrey. Over several days we selected the building blocks from various places along the arid steep-sided gully and carried them back to the construction site, halfway up one of the surrounding walls. It seems like a good location to us -- away from the minimal amount traffic that passes through. Time will tell, but many things do last.

Mars and I initially vacationed in New Mexico seventeen years ago to celebrate twenty-five years of marriage. We knew not much about the area other than (what we thought at the time were) the abstract paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe. The colors, lighting, and scenery turned out to be more realistic than not. And we both felt totally at home in these totally unfamiliar surroundings. We have returned just about every year since then.

This time we marked our forty-second anniversary with Monica and Bram at a quiet dinner of Vietnamese food and pieces of dark chocolate that they brought over to Audrey's house.

Mars and I will be back again -- ultimately to stay. HaK'u.

Photos by Mars
For photo-essays of our latest trip to New Mexico and other things please visit
For more on the adventures of Cheyenne the Greyhound and other things please visit

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