Category Archives: Dispatches

Tragedy’s Highway Décor

_MG_5654Rio Arriba County, NM – It wasn’t the first descano my eyes landed on that unsettled me. That came later, after I developed a sense of just how many descanos adorn the county’s highways, each one representing a life taken. Automobiles remain the most dangerous mode of transport so there’s nothing unusual about lives claimed on America’s roads. But unlike northern New Mexico, few places have descanos, which provide a visual tally for those numbers. If added up you’d have an approximate body count for a particular stretch of road. There is no escaping them. Even in the most… Continue Reading

Exercises in Self-Sufficiency

Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiú. Both places were made famous by artist Georgia O'Keefe, but by no means are known for Georgia O'Keefe.Abiquiú, NM – One of the most admirable qualities of Rio Arribans is their self-sufficiency, necessitated in many cases by extreme poverty and a climate and topography that are both inhospitable. Self-sufficiency has always been part of the cultural fabric of Rio Arriba. The area has slogged along the fringe of American society since 1848, just as it had as a backwater of the Spanish Empire from 1540 until 1821, the year Mexico won its independence. In many ways, northern New Mexico continues to be pioneered by frontiersman who’ve never fully embraced – or been embraced by – America’s capitalist system.… Continue Reading

Snapshots and National Security Breaches at Los Alamos

_MG_5066Los Alamos, NM – The birthplace of the atomic bomb is a mere 20-miles southwest of Española, yet the two cities are worlds apart. You won’t find in Española any million-dollar homes perched atop the mesas. I haven’t met any residents in Española who hold Ph.Ds. The foods sold at the grocery stores are of different qualities. And the roads and parks in Los Alamos are pristine and well maintained while the poverty of Española is inescapable. Residents of the two cities aren’t particularly fond of each other, but are linked by the 69-year-old Los Alamos National Laboratories, which has… Continue Reading

The Good Friday Pilgrimage

_MG_3144Chimayó, NM – After two weeks in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, I’m still fascinated daily with how different life is here. Were it not for the Post Offices and English-language road signs no one could fault you for wondering whether you hadn’t somehow slipped out of the United States without realizing it. Here, things like the Declaration of Independence or places like Philadelphia have little significance. The Mayflower and Jamestown mean nothing, either, because residents of this area have a very different origin story, one rooted firmly in Spanish and Native cultures. Española, the city in which I… Continue Reading

Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

SignEspañola, NM - Nested in northern New Mexico’s Rio Grande Valley, between the Jemez Mountains and Truchas Peaks, is a ramshackle town, just north of Santa Fe, called Española. Founded in 1598 by Spanish conquistadors, the city is one of North America’s oldest. But to call Española impressive stretches credulity. Big box stores with expansive parking lots, chain restaurants, and gas stations, call out from the roadside as lives unwind behind coyote fences, many  bearing little rectangular signs warning visitors to “KEEP OUT.” In my head I sing the verses of Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, as I… Continue Reading

With Help from the Scribe, a Lost Dog Tag Makes it Home

A dog tag found on a farm in EnglandA dog tag found on a farm in England A World War II-era dog tag found in Britain is making its way back to the states, concluding a decade-long search for the American soldier to whom it once belonged. The tag, found nearly 10 years ago in a field by treasure hunter David Bailey, sat for several years in a drawer where Bailey had tossed it after previous efforts to locate the soldier were unsuccessful. But rummaging through the drawer two weeks ago, Bailey re-discovered the tag and gave the search another shot – this time with different results. The… Continue Reading

Guest Post: Laurel Discovers the Fruits of Change

Laurel Wantuch  Phuket, Thailand – Last year, I decided to change what I ate, which unexpectedly led to even bigger life changes. I began a raw fruit and vegetable diet, avoiding as much processed and packaged foods as I could. Through this diet, along with undertaking hot yoga, I hoped to find the clarity to pursue the kind of life I sought for years. And so my adventure began. Shortly after, my boyfriend and I decided to seek a fresh start in Hawaii, where fresh fruit is abundant and the beaches are perfect for yoga. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to… Continue Reading

Anxieties of a Drug Trafficker

Photo by  Madison, WI – One recent afternoon at the Brass Ring – a billiards bar on Madison’s east side – “Buddy,” a Wisconsin-based marijuana trafficker, talked the pros and cons of his business. He suggested that a rash of heroin-related high jinks across Dane County over the last year has stifled its growth as authorities step-up their interdiction efforts. “Anytime you get into a period like this – and I’ve noticed waves of it happening in the past – people become a little more insular about who they work with,” he said, nursing a Bloody Mary. “There’s no new faces… Continue Reading

McKenna and Droogs Torment Private Citizen

Conservative talker Vicki McKenna (or a close likeness of her).Madison, WI – Every so often I’m blown away by an outstanding work of journalism. I love a well developed and thought provoking piece that enriches my understanding of the world I inhabit. I stumbled upon such journalism earlier this week, a work by Brian Sikma, an ambitious writer who pins down provocative issues with probing questions and unflinching fortitude. On Dec. 4, The Green Bay Press Gazette posted a story on its Facebook page about Wisconsin’s Department of Justice plan to slash funding for its Sexual Assault Victim Services program by 42.5 percent. The program, established in 1995,… Continue Reading

Recall Fever Sweeps Wisconsin

Wisconsin residents are working overtime to derail their governor.Madison, WI – Recall fever has struck Wisconsin, where a monumental effort is underway to oust Gov. Scott Walker less than a year after the radical conservative took office. After months of planning, the campaign began in earnest early last week when thousands of volunteers hit the streets to gather the 540,000 signatures necessary to force a recall election. Remarkably, in less than a week, more than 105,000 people have signed the petitions. That’s more than one-fifth of the total signatures needed, with more than 50 days to go before the statutory petition deadline. Though Walker is the main course,… Continue Reading
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