Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

One Billion Rising: February 14

New Mexico’s Citizen Legislature

The New Mexico Legislature is a “citizen legislature.” What that means is the Legislators are not paid a salary.  As a consequence most Legislators are either wealthy, retired or have flexible jobs that allow them the time off during the Session. They are paid a modest per diem, but no salary. 

Some argue this is just fine since the Legislature only meets alternatively either 60 days a year or 30 starting in mid January. The reality is the conscientious  Legislators work hard and work year round, assisting their constituents, attending interim committee meetings or working the Session. I am mentioning all this because the 60 day 2013 Legislature is now in Session.

I worked as  media liason for the Majority Office of the House of  Representatives for several years. I had the opportunity to see the Legislators in action and some days in in-action. The 60 day Sessions are brutal. In addition to working on the state’s budget, any Legislator can introduce a bill on any topic, and they do. The 30 day Sessions are no day at the beach, even if we had a beach, but at least the topics of the bills are limited to the budget and whatever is on the Governor’s list.

Some days the bills debated are more on the light hearted side, but they still can take hours to pass a Chamber since everyone wants to put in his or her two cents.  For example, I was present when the House voted to make the hot air balloon the state aircraft, the bolo tie the state tie and the state cowboy song “Under New Mexico Skies.” Actually, my recollection is the cowboy song took several Sessions and several versions of the song to pass. All of these bills became law.

I took a look at the list of some of New Mexico’s other official state symbols. I am going to share them with you because I think, taken as a whole, they do tell you quite a bit about the Land of Enchantment. So here you go:

Fish: cutthroat trout

Motto: It grows as it goes.

Cookie: bizcochito

Amphibian: New Mexico spadefoot toad

Gem: turquoise

Animal: black bear

Flower: yucca

Bird: roadrunner

Vegetable…….refried beans with chile pepper

New Memoir Writing Classes Start in February

And now for a bit of shameless self promotion. I am now signing up future memoirists for the new February classes of Writing Your Memoir: One Vivid Story at a Time.

So often people feel called to write their memoir but have no idea how to begin. In these classes,  I will be your guide.

  • With compassion and humor, I will demystify the process of memoir writing.
  • Through writing exercises and discussion,  I will provide the simple tools you need to capture the stories of your life, one small vivid story at a time.
  • While the classes are specifically structured to teach memoir writing, participants will gain helpful information for writing informal family histories as well.
  • Both beginning and seasoned writers are welcome.
  • A sense of humor is mandatory.

We have great fun in the classes, no evil memoir competitors are allowed in the door. Participants begin writing their memoirs and leave the class with the tools they need to complete their manuscript.

For information about new workshops in February, please contact me at 505.577.8132 or email me at susan@susantungate.com.  Workshops meet for 90 minutes one day or evening a week for 6 consecutive weeks. Cost is $150 early bird, with  payment prior to first class,  and $165 thereafter.

Women’s Wars

On Wednesday we learned the ban on women serving in the military will be lifted. Good.

 I learned a lot about our women soldiers working on my documentary Women’s Wars: A Primer. The movie tells the compelling personal accounts of women soldiers who have served in modern global wars : their triumphs, fears, challenges and their strategies for surviving physical and emotional harm on two fronts.

While “no women in combat” has been and is now the written policy of the US, the reality of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was that women soldiers, for the first time in US history, were daily subjected to the same risks of war as those in the “male only” combat units.In a war without front lines, women routinely face death and injury: Women drive supply trucks on roads lined with buried bombs and open to ambush, fly aircraft, serve as medics and in the military police and military intelligence. Women operate gun turrets and stand patrol with weapons poised.While women face the same dangers as men, they have not been permitted to hold the official “combat positions” which would pay them more money and lead to higher advancement. 

One of the focuses of my documentary was the  harm and terror faced by women on a second front:  the prospect and reality of physical injury, rape and sexual trauma from their fellow soldiers.  The military calls it “military sexual trauma.” In  2011 about 3,200 women reported they were rape. And I assure you this is a grossly under reported crime. In 2008, approximately one in every ten soldiers in Iraq was female. I heard reports of women dying of dehydration rather than risk rape while using the latrine at night.  One veteran interviewed tells of a young female soldier heading for her second tour of duty in Iraq who has adopted a different “strategy” for the second tour:  this time she will pick the officer to “be with” during the tour in hopes of discouraging others from raping her.  When asked what she would tell her daughter if she wished to join the military, a Native American veteran states,” I would tell her to be careful.  The enemy standing next to you may be more dangerous than the enemy outside.”

 I completed the short in 2008. Just as a generous movie star funder had promised the money to complete the full length film, the recession hit and she decided the funds were better spent elsewhere. While I was disappointed not to complete my vision for the full length documentary, I was blessed to meet and honored to hear the stories of these amazing women warriors. I am pleased women in the military will be given the opportunity to hold the prestigious combat positions. I pray the issue of sexual assault in the military will finally be fully and fairly addressed as well.

The 1993 Inaugural: Dr. Maya Angelou’s Poem

In 1993, I served as the network pool attorney on behalf of CNN for Bill Clinton’s Inauguration ceremonies. What that meant was the wonderful CNN Washington Bureau Chief Bill Headline, who was predestined by his name to be a journalist,  and  I negotiated on behalf of all the networks and all media the agreements with the US Park Service and other such entities that permitted the media to park their trailers and trucks on the White House grounds, lay thousands of feet of cable along the parade route and all over the city, post cameras in every imaginable location, set up port-o-potties, build risers, you name it. I remember the Park Service Agreement included nearly a page of penalties for nicking one of those historic trees.

The day of the Inaugural was icy cold. I spent most of the morning keeping warm in the CNN trailer attending to the odd detail, but what I was really waiting for was the advance copy of the poem Dr. Maya Angelou had written specifically for the ceremonies. She would be only the second poet to read a poem at an Inaugural. As a kid I watched Robert Frost read his poem for the 1961 Inauguration of John Kennedy. I love poetry and admire Dr. Angelou, so this was a special moment for me.

I decided to take a walk for one last look at the setting for the Inaugural. I don’t care what your party affiliation or beliefs are, seeing the podium where the oath will be administered, watching as former leaders and the famous take their seats behind the podium, looking out at the sea of chairs where more dignitaries are being seated with thousands of people standing quietly waiting behind them, is simply awe inspiring.

As you face the podium, to the right  are the risers where media still photographers stand to take those photographs that will become ingrained in history. I saw someone I knew and walked over to say hello. Before I knew it, an official looking someone came through asking us all whether we were network photographers. It was time to stay or exit quickly. I rationalized that, yes, I am with CNN, and , yes, I take photos now and again, so I said yes I am a network photographer and stayed put.

I watched as  Bill Clinton and his family were seated. I watched the oath of office administered. As I was listening to now President Clinton’s address, I see a CNNer crouch down at the end of my riser, hand a piece of paper to the man at the end and point to me. I swear I thought I was about to receive a note saying, “Come quick! We killed a tree!” Instead, the paper was the advance copy of the poem, a poem Dr. Angelou titled “On the Pulse of Morning.”

A few minutes later, Dr. Angelou walked with her perfect posture in her dark blue coat and her mile wide smile to the podium. As I held my paper and read along,   she began in that distinctive voice:

“A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.”

I was mesmerized by her voice, her words, her outpouring heart. The end of the poem is no less inspiring today:

“The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.”

Some Times All We Need Is A Little Encouragement


Georgia the Dog here. Really my headline says it all. Every once in a while, all we need is a little encouragement to clear the next big hurdle. Watch as  puppy  Daisy gets a little support from her buddy.

Have a lovely day.

Forrest Fenn’s Treasure Chest Awaits You!

The Chest! photograph by Forrest Fenn

Santa Fe is the City Different for too many reasons to list, but I think one of the main reasons is our vast number of true characters. One of those characters is Forrest Fenn. Forrest has been a treasure hunter, some would say grave robber, for sixty years. Think a mummified falcon from King Tut’s tomb, Sitting Bull’s peace pipe, a 2,000 year old necklace.

For over twenty years he ran a famous and prestigious gallery selling art and antiquities near the Old Santa Fe Trail. He became famous for his Indiana Jones personae and rich lifestyle. His clients were famous, too,  like John Wayne, Jackie Kennedy, Ralph Lauren, and President Ford, just to name a few.

Forrest is now around 82 years old. The twinkle in his eye and love of life on a large stage remains. That he is alive is a bit of a surprise to him. Several years ago he was diagnosed with cancer. Like any true adventurer, he came up with a dramatic plan for his death. Rather than die in a hospital bed, he filled a chest full of gold, jewelry with rubies, sapphires and diamonds, and ancient treasures and planned to walk out into the desert to die. As fate would have it, his plan was curtailed when he up and lived.

So what to do? He had already filled the chest. If you are Forrest Fenn, you go up into the mountains north of Santa Fe and hide the chest chock full of nearly two million dollars worth of treasures. You also write a memoir “The Thrill of the Chase,” which, according to Forrest,  includes all the clues you need to find the chest. The memoir is only available for sale at Collected Works Bookstore. Forrest donated the books to the store. A percentage from the sale of each book goes to charity.

So come on out to Santa Fe, head to Collected Works for a copy of his book, dress warmly and start looking. A pot of gold is waiting for you in them there hills. Oh, and bring a copy of this  twenty-four line poem which Forrest says contains all the clues. It may not be a literary masterpiece but it is worth over two million dollars:

“As I have gone alone in there

And with my treasures bold,

I can keep my secret where,

And hint of riches new and old.


Begin it where warm waters halt

And take it in the canyon down,

Not far, but too far to walk.

Put in below the home of Brown.


From there it’s no place for the meek,

The end is ever drawing nigh;

There’ll be no paddle up your creek,

Just heavy loads and water high.


If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,

Look quickly down, your quest to cease,

But tarry scant with marvel gaze,

Just take the chest and go in peace.


So why is it that I must go

And leave my trove for all to seek?

The answers I already know,

I’ve done it tired and now I’m weak.


So hear me all and listen good,

Your efforts will be worth the cold.

If you are brave and in the wood

I give you title to the gold.


Footnote: Thanks to a reader in West Virginia for reminding me of the story of Forrest and his treasure chest.