Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Palm Sunday in Santa Fe

It was about 10:30 a.m. when I heard an enthusiastic if not entirely accurate trumpet version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and a few faint voices singing along coming from the direction of the normally quiet street outside. That got my attention.

I opened the front door to see the end of a procession of perhaps twenty elderly women, each no taller than 5’2″, holding palm branches, trailed by one frail man who looked to be in his 90s aided by a younger man in his late 70s, all following the man blowing the trumpet.

I leaned against the wall to watch.

I guessed they had walked from the church less than a block away. When the church was built in the 1950s, this area was a barrio, a closely knit community of people who, on hearing the clarion call of the trumpet, would have emerged from their homes and happily joined the merry band of palm waivers.

They were five houses down from me when they all stopped. The leader announced, “I guess we can’t wake them up. No one is coming out.” Just as he completed that sentence, his eyes met mine and he bellowed, “Except for her!” All eyes turned to look at me. With big smiles on their faces, the group did a slow pivot, held those palms high, and sang a rousing, “Alle alle luuuuuia! Alle alle luuuuuia”  as they converged around me. Several handed me their palms. When the song was over, we exchanged greetings and hugs for a happy Palm Sunday. Then the leader fired up another round of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and they were off toward the church with renewed energy.

I wish the people in the neighborhood had flung open their doors and joined in the spirit of the procession. I truly do. But I was graced with all the smiles and love they hoped to give to many that Palm Sunday, and I was moved.


Older, Not Old

I teach a writing group at  a retirement community in Santa Fe chock full of retired professors, scientists from Los Alamos Lab, architects, lawyers, artists, entrepreneurs, you name it. The members of the group are picking up a pen later in life, full of rich stories of World War II, life in Dallas before it was a big city, Santa Fe before the roads were paved and  riding across the country in a 1930s car long before the interstates were built.

They are teaching me more than I am teaching them. The biggest lesson I have learned is not to listen to our cultural narrative about aging. For one, these folks, who range in age from their late 70s to 94, are vibrant and curious, attending lectures, the Opera, plays around town, movies, volunteering as a business mentor. And they are out exercising right up to the limit of their abilities. The 94 year old came in with a bandage on his left hand one day. I assumed he had blood work done. “So what’s with the bandage?” I asked. “Ah, I was playing doubles squash and my partner, a retired doctor, hit me with his racket. He smashed my hand, then fixed it up.”

The group was all a buzz last week. A woman had approached one member and asked him about joining our group. After he welcomed her, she said she might be there that week or the next. By way of introducing her, he handed me a blurb from one of her books which reads:  ”Mozelle Richardson is a best selling novelist who received her BA in Journalism in 2004 at the ripe age of 90 from the University of Oklahoma. She raised four children in Oklahoma City with her late husband, W.T. Dub  Richardson. She now lives and writes in Santa Fe, New Mexico.”  You do the math.

We will get older, if we are lucky, but we need not get old voluntarily.



36 Hours in Santa Fe


Last Sunday’s New York Times ran 36 Hours in Santa Fe. Fine picks but the usual suspects.

Here are a few suggestions from a local that may not pop up in the guide books. And locals, feel free to let me know your suggestions.

1.  Go for a walk. Anywhere. The town has no industry, which is possibly the reason we are in an economic bind, but the upside is no pollution and breath taking blue skies 300 days a year, give or take. Absolutely do take that guide book recommended walk down Canyon Road with all the art galleries, but walk south on Garcia Street off Canyon, find a book at Garcia Street Books, walk next door for a chile mocha at Downtown Subscriptions, rest your feet a bit and read. Then take Acequia Madre Street east and walk along the Acequia Madre ( the Mother Ditch) built a few hundred years ago to irrigate the farms that were replaced long ago by adobe homes. Meander around the little residential streets. Or drive up Hyde Park Road to the ski basin area and take a little walk on one of the trails. Gorgeous views of the mountains.

2.  Head to the Railyard area a few blocks south of the Plaza. If you are there on a Saturday morning, peruse the Farmers’ Market. Little gift items abound this time of year: soaps, ristras, little horse-like items made with sage, hand knit caps, pottery. GRAB A PACKAGE OF BISCOCHITOS!  Then walk next door to The Flea, a large market filled with antiques, collectables, stuff,  the odd and the interesting. Walk north. You will see a sign on the left for The Ark. It is full of books and cds and jewelry and rocks. Head north again to Sanbusco Market and buy a snazzy sweater for your puppy at Teca Tu or a sweater for yourself at Bodhi Bazaar or a book at Op Cit. Walk out the front entrance of Sanbusco and check out George (just call me King of Thrones) R.R. Martin’s newly renovated Jean Cocteau Cinema. Better yet, plan ahead and catch a movie. The lobby has a bar and fresh popcorn with real butter. Heaven.

3. Need some pampering? Sure the hotels have some great spas and 10,000 Waves is a mecca, but there is also a little place called Mist, a serene space that uses heavenly products and gives take-all-the-tension-out-of-your-entire-being-including-your-hair-follicles facials and massages. Call ahead.

4. Want to take a yoga class to unwind from your flight? Call Body or contact Shibana and see if she is offering a class that day. Shibana is a treasure on this earth.

5.  Take a drive up Museum Hill. The Folk Art Museum is a treasure, too. An even bigger treasure is the view from the top of the steps. That view goes on forever.

6.  For dinner, come back toward the Railyard area. Have the best margarita and enchilladas at Tomasita’s or La Choza.

7.  For breakfast, Tia Sophia downtown, one of those places that has been here forever. Can you say sopapilla with honey?

8.  If you come to Santa Fe in the winter, you must find a fireplace, perhaps the one at La Fonda Hotel, beg them to throw a pinon log on the fire, order a beverage and get comfy. I swear, I would die happy if that was the last thing I smelled—a burning pinon log.

9.  Todos Santos Chocolates tucked away at Sena Plaza off the Plaza gets my vote for the best place to buy chocolates. The place is enchanting and whimsical and edgy all at the same time. Killer handmade chocolates. Just go.

10.  If you are around the Plaza area, walk down Grant Street or East Palace and see the Victorian houses built before the PR people in the early 1900s decided adobe was the way to go to bring in tourists on the train from the east. Just charming. Find  Antiques and Interiors on Grant housed in one of the old Victorian homes. Look closely. The adobe is painted to look like brick.

11.  As for a place to stay, La Posada may not be the most luxurious, opulent place in town, but it is a artsy funky lovely adobe Santa Fe hotel,  unlike any place you will find in any other place.

12.  Oh, and one more suggestion. Want to watch a movie and stay snuggled under your comforter? Stop by the Video Library. First, you will find movies you will not find online or offline in the chain stores. Second and even better, you will meet the lovely and knowledgeable owner Lisa who will help you find the perfect movie to fit your mood. The Vid is one of the heart beats of Santa Fe.

(Apologies for the funky type. I think the blog is annoyed with me for staying away so long, or perhaps annoyed I returned.)

Santa Feans: Viola Fisher

Saturday brought summer to the Northern Hemisphere and lured me back to the blog. My thanks to the nice people who asked whether I am alive and well. I am, thank you, and I hope you are, too.

At the moment I am thinking about my one year anniversary of  teaching writing at a local retirement community filled with physicists, architects, doctors, senior managers, artists, lawyers, published authors and would be writers picking up a pen in their 70s and beyond for the first time. I could write a book about the last year: Thursdays at The Castle.

Of the original group who walked in the door a year ago, two extraordinary women passed away. When I took the job, I had not factored in the probability of falling in love with my students and losing some of them.

I told you about ninety plus year old Susie. Remember her? On the first day of class, I asked what advice they would give their younger selves and Susie yelled, yelled since she had no idea how to control the volume on her hearing aid or her voice: “First, I would tell her I LOVE YOU. Then I would tell her, DON’T BE AFRAID! JUST GET OUT THERE AND LIVE YOUR LIFE FROM YOUR HEART. AND ONLY GET OLD WHEN YOU HAVE NO OTHER OPTION.” That was a show stopper.

And then there was Viola. Viola walked in the second week of class pushing her cart, stooped over with her head poking out like a turtle with a fluff of white hair and a big smile.  She always came a little early to class to park her cart and take her seat before the others arrived. So I started coming earlier, too, just to chat with her. You see, Viola, at 94, was just about the same age my Mother would have been had Mother not died at 46. I looked at Viola with curiosity and wonder. Curiosity because I envisioned my Mother’s face in hers, and wonder because Viola lived a bodacious  life in an era when that was not an option for women.

Over the weeks I learned from our talks and her writing that she was raised on an apple farm in Post Falls, Idaho, attended a two room school house, walked over three miles to high school and graduated from college with a major in dietetics. During World War II she became a Lieutenant in the Army. After the War, she earned a masters degree from Columbia in public health, and that made all the difference.

In the mid 1950s she went to work in Iran where she set up a dietary department in a hospital. She wrote of one midnight walk through ancient ruins by moonlight.

She worked in East Africa in the 1960s to bolster children’s health. Her next stop was India where she worked with UNICEF to save children from malnutrition. And on and on, until she fell in love with Santa Fe. settled down and worked for the NM Department of Health from 1971-1982. As it turns out, she lived a few  blocks from me at one point. I wish I had known. 

She skied well into her 80s, rafted in North and South America,  loved gardening, and rescued dogs.  And she traveled all over the world on her own. In her last story, Viola told us about the trip to the Himalayans she took with a small group of women. They hired sherpas and trekked the mountain, eating the same food as the sherpas with the exception of the granola they brought with them for breakfast. She wrote of the pure joy she felt when they gathered around the campfire each night, all bundled up in sheep skin coats, sipping Yak butter tea, telling stories.  When I think of her, and I think of her often, she is high in the Himalayans, holding a cup of hot tea, laughing with a toss of that white hair, eyes sparkling with the wonder of it all.

Viola at 77
©Joanne Rijmes 1997

Memoir Monday: “The Power of -ish” by Lisa S. Harris

“-ish” changed my life. It sounds a bit overstated, but it’s true.

In the early days of Video Library, I tried hard to get the store open on time. But as Yoda says, “There is no try, there is only do or do not.” Unless I am up against an immovable deadline, like catching a flight or making a movie on time or else, I only can do or do not, but generally, I’m afraid, it’s do not.

Being on time is tough for me, since I have been running late since five minutes after the dawn of time. This is a fact. For I was supposed to be born at the end of June, but kept my parents-to-be waiting and didn’t manage to arrive until six laborious weeks later, on August 7th.

I haven’t been on time since.

True, it’s not always my fault to be exiting the house later than I should to get the store open on time. People who know me realize I have always lived with many animals, and I mean many. So, with feeding, cleaning, playing, and dealing with the frequent artful escape, I’m almost always running behind schedule.

I have to admit, it’s not always the animals. The other morning I was in the driveway, car running, almost gone, and when I glanced in the rearview mirror and, to my utter horror, I saw I’d forgotten to put on my mascara. That’s like going out naked! So naturally I had to run back inside, apply the precious stuff, and run get back into the car, making me four minutes tardy, when for once it actually had looked as if I were going to make it on time.


For a long time, I tried to make up for lost time by being an observant and opportunistic driver. Not aggressive, oh no, not me. Since I have driven the same route to work for decades, I well know the one current ultimate set of directions that quickly will get me through traffic. Those driving directions include: Take Cerrillos only in the morning, never at noon; Avoid the Plaza, too many pedestrians; Evade the RailRunner wherever it crosses the road; Remember the efficient UPS drivers’ mantra of “Right turns only”; Be open to opportunity; And always have one eye scouting for a new, shorter back alley route that gets me to work quicker. On a good day, like a Sunday morning when all the lights are with me, the drive can take eleven or twelve minutes. A bad day, like one with a downtown Special Event Ahead!, or with encountering some jam-up due to road construction or a detour, it can be twenty.

Still, my husband Casey says my philosophy of motoring always reminds him of that Stephen King story “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut,” based on King’s wife Tabitha, about a woman eternally obsessed with finding the fastest way from one point to another, but it sure costs her. I do not necessarily count myself in that category, but that’s what Casey says.

Man, I really do remember this one particular morning, as I was characteristically running behind. There I was maneuvering through traffic as usual, when suddenly a bicyclist comes out of nowhere, and I mean nowhere, like out of another dimension, causing all the cars to slam on their brakes simultaneously. In about two seconds, we all went from doing forty to going zero. I was surrounded by, and immersed in, screeching tires, fishtailing autos, and panicked lane-changing. I rose out of my seat as far as the seatbelt allowed and literally stood on the brake pedal, shuddering to a halt after several            l-o-n-g seconds.

I recall so many details. The scared face of the driver in front of me as reflected in her rearview mirror. The terrified pedestrian who had appeared seemingly out of thin air. The huge truck behind me that was drew closer without apparent slowing. Then, at last, the adrenaline jolt that flooded me as I realized it was over and that nothing had happened. Astoundingly, no one had hit anything! No sickening crunch of steel to hear eternally, no horrifying splattered person to haunt my three a.m.’s forevermore. A total escape, accomplished only by timing and/or fate.

Traffic flow resumed haltingly. Deeply nerve-rattled, I continued to wend my way to The Vid, despite a now-nauseous gut and the familiar metallic taste of fear in my mouth.

As I pulled into the Vid’s parking lot, I saw a woman waiting for me. When I stopped, she hurried up to my driver’s side open window, thrusting her rental in my face, belligerently saying, “This didn’t work. So you owe me.” At that moment, I realized I had raced, risking my life and others’, simply to get to my store so that somebody could yell at me, first thing.

Not worth it.

Never again.

That same morning, after unlocking the door and getting ready for the day’s business, I collected all three of the signs displaying our business hours, erased the hours, and re-wrote our opening time as “9:30-ish.” Every day. The near-miss changed my driving habits and helped cure that ulcer I was working on.

So I never set a new record getting to the store any more.

Reassuringly, most of my customers have embraced “-ish.” A few have brought their out-of-town guests by just to see the signs. Sometimes in summer I see tourists walk up to the window and take photographs.  Personally, I have to say, I like the unforeseen way that “-ish” resembles my initials “lsh” in lower case, like it’s fate, like it began at birth. Like I have always been right on time.

©Lisa S. Harris 2014

In 1981 Lisa S. Harris opened the first video rental store in New Mexico. She has been behind the counter of Video Library dispensing movies, recommendations and therapy ever since. She loves Casey, cats, movies and bacon.

Ray Wylie Hubbard: Sunday, January 26 in Santa Fe

When Drew Scott, the author of Memoir Monday’s “Me, Dale and Buttermilk,” first walked into my writing class many months ago, he brought with him a copy of a cd  he compiled and  titled “Poets.” The disc includes music sung by Guy Clark, Patty Griffin, Sam Baker, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, and Ray Wylie Hubbard. As it turns out, fellow Texan Ray Wylie Hubbard is a friend of Drew’s as is seemingly half of Texas, but that is another story.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the cuts on Drew’s cd, but was particularly taken by Hubbard’s “Dallas After Midnight” and “Snake Farm,” which according to Drew was inspired by a real snake farm Hubbard drove past on a regular basis.

The reason I am bringing this up is Ray Wylie Hubbard is playing this Sunday at the St. Francis Auditorium at 7:30 P.M.  How fun is that.

I called Drew to ask for his description of Hubbard and his music. He first offered that Texas Music Magazine recently had him on the cover, dressed in a saffron colored robe with the caption “Wylie Lama.” So evidently Hubbard has a sense of humor and wit.

Drew describes him as a cross between Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, but ultimately unlike anyone he has ever known: “He can extract so much color from something that seems colorless.”

Ray Wylie Hubbard must be a poet.

For ticket information, click here.

Ellen Goodman: The Conversation Project

When I opened my law office here under Santa Fe skies, my intention was to focus solely on business and entertainment law. Then my friends Estelle and Marie asked, “Will you be doing Wills and healthcare directives? We don’t have them.” They were in their late seventies. “No,” I said, “I have avoided trusts and estates like the plague. The firm I first worked at as a lawyer stuck all the women lawyers in the trusts and estate section.”

But I was horrified, so as a result I learned everything I could about estate planning, and they were my first clients. I focused on business law as well, but I learned the most about people through working with them on their estate documents. The discussions concerning the disposition of property or the power of attorney over economic matters are matter of fact. When we come to the Disposition of Remains, things start to get real. There is no escaping we are talking about their death.

Then we hit  the healthcare directive which deals both with the client’s wishes with regard to care when they are expected to live as well as their end of life wishes. I ask specific questions of them: Organ donor?  One client responded he wanted “to go to med school,” and I thought his wife would kill him then and there. Your wish if you are in a coma? Food tube? Water? Tough stuff most have never considered and would rather avoid, but I continue.

When all the documents are signed and the client tells me he now feels like a grown up, I tell him to have a discussion with his agents as well as family members concerning end of life wishes so everyone hears it from him. The written document provides the legal authority. The person’s words provide comfort and certainty as the difficult decisions are made.

I was pleased to read award winning journalist Ellen Goodman recently established The Conversation Project to promote those very discussions. The website includes a Starter Kit with a questionnaire you answer before you have the conversation with loved ones. I suggest you pick a beautiful blue sky day to have that discussion. Then pile in the car or go for a walk and stop for ice cream, just because you can.

Lynn Cobb

In 2007 I was working on a feature length documentary titled “Women’s Wars: A Primer” focusing on sexual assault and rape in the military. At that time few people understood the extent of the issue. What I did not know was whether or not people would care.

I made a short to use for fundraising. Many people offered financial support for the film, but the  reaction at fundraisers was all too often that the women brought on the issue themselves by volunteering for the military or that the problem was too big to take on.

I was in that bloodied but unbowed frame of mind when I visited the Santa Fe Photo Cooperative on Cerrillos Road for the first time to make copies of my dvd for distribution to potential funders. I walked in the small space to see every inch filled with used still and movie cameras of every vintage and type, lenses, lighting equipment, binoculars, stuff and more stuff. Behind the counter was the tall, lanky owner Lynn Cobb. I told him what I needed and he asked about the documentary. We exchanged information and I was on my way.

A few days later I returned for my copies. As I was getting into my car, Lynn came out the front door saying in his gentle drawl, “Wait a minute. I need to tell you something.” Lynn said he was sorry, that he normally never did this, but that he and his wife had watched my short. Then he said this: “We knew nothing about this issue. We were blown away by your short and want to support your film. Here’s what I want you to know. My wife and I are dyed in the wool Republicans. This is not a political issue. It is a human issue. Just try to keep politics out of this and you will make a difference.” Then he gave me a hug and said thank you.

Since then I have seen Lynn a few times year. I shelved the movie in the fall of 2008 when the recession presented what I considered an insurmountable obstacle to completing the full length doc. Every visit Lynn said, “Now, don’t you think it’s time to try again?”

I went to the shop this morning. Another man was behind the counter. I said, “Hi, where’s Lynn today?” The man’s face fell as he said, “Oh God, you didn’t hear? Lynn died last October in a terrible car crash in Santa Fe.”

He went on to give me the details for several minutes, few of which I remember because all I could hear was that kind man saying with a smile, “Now, don’t you think it’s time to try again?”

Lynn was 71 and one good man. Rest in peace, Lynn.

Life Is Not A Bowl of Cherries for New Mexico Children

Not even Mississippi could save New Mexico. According to the 2013 Kids Count Data Book issued by the nonprofit Annie E. Casey Foundation this week, New Mexico ranks last in the country on the economic well-being, health, education, and family and community support of children. Dead last.


Some depressing statistics for New Mexico:

about 31% of children are living in poverty;

approximately 11% of teens neither attend school nor work;

nearly 80% of fourth grade students are not reading at their grade level;

more than 75% of eighth graders are not proficient in math;

43% of children live in single parent families;

22% of children live in families in which the head of household lacks a high school



A study issued last week ranked the states for child hunger. Where was New Mexico? Dead last. One out of three of New Mexico’s children wake up not knowing if they will have food to eat that day.


In addition and not surprisingly New Mexico has one of the highest unemployment rates. Albuquerque was recently ranked the lowest city in the country for job growth.


When will the powers that be in New Mexico support parents and all New Mexicans on the path to economic success and enhance the development of children in all areas? When will all the children of New Mexico have a chance for a productive, fulfilling life? Who wants to look them in the eyes and say never? Who wants to look them in the eyes and say we will plant the seeds today?

A Note to My Unborn Nephew

Dear Little One,

This is your Great Aunt Susie. I know it is warm and cozy in there, but it is seriously time for you to emerge ever so gently, smoothly and efficiently from your Mother. Many people are awaiting your arrival, excited to hold you and look into your eyes and tell you we love you. Imagine. You are not yet born and you are loved unconditionally by so many. I should add you could not have chosen better parents. They even come with dogs.

As a bit of encouragement for you to take your first big journey, I offer this poem called “Wean Yourself” by the great poet Rumi:

Little by little, wean yourself.

This is the gist of what I have to say. 

From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,

move to an enfant drinking milk,

to a child on solid food,

to a searcher after wisdom,

to a hunter of more invisible game. 

Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.

You might say, “The world is vast and intricate.

There are wheat fields and mountain passes, and orchards in bloom. 

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight

the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.”

You ask the embryo why he or she stays cooped up in the dark with eyes closed.

Listen to the answer:

“There is no other world. I only know what I have experienced.

You must be hallucinating.” 

So, my Great Nephew, come join us. You have wonders to see and a grand life to live surrounded by love. And you have much to teach us. 


Aunt Susie