Under Santa Fe Skies

by Susan Tungate

Honey Harris of KBAC Radio 98.1 Interviews….Me


Honey Harris, KBAC Radio 98.1 ©Hutton Broadcasting

Honey Harris of KBAC Radio Free Santa Fe 98.1 and I had a fun chat on Thursday. How did that come about? The radio station is owned by Hutton Broadcasting which also publishes a website of all things Santa Fe at santafe.com.  Under Santa Fe Skies is posted here and there.

In any event, Honey and I talked about my CNN days, my memoir writing classes, my blog, my memoir Macon: A Memoir, A Murder and a whole lot of other nonsense. If you are interested in hearing the interview or need a little help falling asleep tonight, just click here.

Have a safe Memorial Day weekend.


A Piece of Cake

It has never been a piece of cake earning a good living in Santa Fe by national standards. It has been possible to build a rich life here, though, with sufficient income, a sense of community and history, art, pollution free skies and mountains to explore. Since the recession hit five years ago, earning even a sufficient income is impossible for many. Not even Mississippi has saved New Mexico from the bottom of the list for economic recovery. Forget job growth. New Mexico is still losing jobs, and our elected officials don’t have a plan to change things.

So there is a lot of grim talk and tough choices. Yesterday at the Farmers’ Market I heard more grim talk. The hard freeze in April destroyed the fruit tree crop for many of them.

Two weeks before at the Market I spoke with a woman I have known for 15 years who makes ristras and dolls from corn husks. After the usual exchange of pleasantries when we both say we are doing just fine, the veil dropped and she said,” Susan, I am an animal in a cage.  I don’t know what to do. I pray and pray and I work hard but I can’t earn enough money. I think death is better.”

We have a long talk. I say everything you would have said to encourage and support. Then she says, “You know what, Susan? I want to give you this doll. Thank you. Thank you.” Despite my protests, she wraps up a beautiful little doll wearing a white lace blouse and a flowered skirt, holding a bouquet of dried flowers. We hug and I continue down the aisle.

At the end of the aisle three women dressed in fairy costumes are handing out cake in celebration of May Day and the first Saturday the Market has moved outside. Actual kids and adults who turn into kids at the sight of cake are laughing and taking the biggest piece of cake they can find.  I take a piece of cake and walk back down the aisle. As I approach my friend, I see she is speaking with two women as she wraps their new purchases. We smile at each other. I hand her the piece of cake and walk home.

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to one and all, especially those who have mothered me, touched my heart and lifted me up.

Spring Flowers and Cinnamon Coffee Cake

I made a cinnamon coffee cake last Saturday, prompted I suspect by the spring flowers in Santa Fe.


My Mother loved flowers. She wanted me to know the names of flowers. It was important to her.


When we lived in Georgia, at the first hint of spring we began our hunt for green leaves and buds. Mother and I toured the yard after dinner, wandering from spot to spot as she pointed and said, “These leaves will be purple iris. Look, the red and yellow parrot tulips made it through the winter.  These are the purple crocus. White snow drops. Daffodils. Cherry blossoms.”


She would have loved spring in Santa Fe. Georgia and I walked to the Plaza last weekend and along the way I saw all of the flowers I met with Mother: iris blossoms, red tulips, forsythia, pussy willows, cherry blossoms, apricot blossoms.


“Flowers are for the living,” Mother would say. I am the one living to see them and remember her, which brings me to the coffee cake. Mother had many wonderful qualities and skills but cooking wasn’t one of them with a few exceptions. One exception was her cinnamon coffee cake.

On occasion she made one for Sunday breakfast. The fragrance drew me to the table and the cinnamon and butter and brown sugar melted into the warm cake kept me there until the last crumb. That coffee cake was love.


So after Georgia and I toured the flowers, I went to the grocery store. A few hours later a friend of mine and I sat at my table with a vase filled with daffodils and ate warm cinnamon coffee cake at 3 P.M.  Flowers and cinnamon coffee cake are for the living and for remembering those who loved us and taught us all we ever needed to know.

Forrest Fenn Yet Again


The Chest! photograph by Forrest Fenn


Today I bring you a harmonic conversion of several prior posts. 

I have told you about descansos, those road side memorials so prevalent in New Mexico that are placed where someone has died: crosses decorated with flowers, teddy bears, photographs, Christmas decorations. By law in New Mexico it is illegal to knowingly or willfully deface or destroy “a memorial placed alongside a public road or right of way to memorialize the death of one or more persons.” Descansos may be removed by the state under certain circumstances, but it would be a rare occurrence. Descansos are sacred here. In New Mexico even when roads are under repair, the descansos are treated with great respect by construction crews. 

Enter Forrest Fenn’s treasure. Forrest is the man who has gained national publicity of late for (allegedly) burying an antique bronze chest (allegedly) chock full of gold and jewels and treasures (allegedly) valued at $2 million. In his book The Thrill of the Chase, Forrest offers clues to where he buried the box. Collected Works bookstore in Santa Fe is the only place you can purchase the book, and they have sold a whole lot of copies. 

In early March I told you about a woman from Texas who, in searching for the treasure, got lost and spent a freezing night lost in the mountains north of Santa Fe. 

In today’s episode, the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game warden discovered a man digging with a hand tool under one of those sacred descansos. When they spotted him he had reached about 18″ under a 12″ by 12″ concrete base supporting an iron cross on state land along the upper Pecos River.

When asked what he was up to the guy volunteered that he was in search of…drum roll..Forrest Fenn’s treasure chest. The guy was told to restore the spot, and he did. He will now be charged under state law which makes it a misdemeanor to “excavate, injure, destroy or remove any cultural resources or artifacts” on State Game Commission land.

We have not been told the guy’s name or place of origin but my hunch is he is not from around these here parts. First we know you do not mess around with a descanso. Second most of us know by now that even if you find the treasure, if you find it on state or federal land you are not allowed to keep it.

So dear readers, in addition to the clues to the location of the (alleged) treasure box offered by Forrest in his book, I offer you these clues: Do not go wandering out looking for treasure without telling someone where you are and be sure to bring warm clothes. Do not dig on federal or state land. Above all else never ever ever touch a descanso.

Stay tuned…



Deluxe 1950 Plymouth Turtle Back Business Sedan

A very long time ago, I lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. There was not too much going on in Carlisle at that time despite the fact the town was home to the Army War College, Dickinson College and Dickinson School of Law. The natives pretty much chose to keep life simple. Growing white asparagus was the highlight, with one notable exception: The Carlisle Auto Fair.

Every year the muddy Carlisle Fairgrounds was over taken by miles of muddy men selling hubcaps for Oldsmobiles made in 1954-1962, tires for Fords from the 1960s, Corvette hood ornaments, Tbird steering wheels, you name it. Quite the subculture. My Pittsburgh brother, a corporate lawyer, was into restoring vintage cars as a hobby. Once a year he would trade in his dress shoes for boots and drive on over to Carlisle to peruse the hubcaps. I went with him.

“Not original paint on that Ford,” he would whisper to me with a hint of distain.

“How much for that trim?” he’d ask a guy in dirty jeans smoking a cigarette hovering over odd shaped pieces of steel. On hearing the answer my brother would shake his head and say, “Nahhhhh, you’re kidding me! That’s way too much.” Then after about 15 minutes of faux haggling Brother would walk away holding some curvy chrome item purchased at the price they both had in mind at the beginning of negotiations.

One year we were walking around when we spotted a group of tough looking dudes all in black sitting up on the hill. They spotted us first. “How much for the woman?” one guy asked my brother. I pretty much put my feet into 5th gear. Brother had spent a lot of money that day and might want to off set costs.

I thought of all this today when I took my car to the New Old Santa Fe Trail Garage for a new brake light. Ranger and Joe have been praying over my car, that would be the same car, for 15 years. After Joe quickly popped in the new light, I looked over at the garage and saw a very shiny black vintage car.

“Was that car made in about 1950?” I asked. Joe about fell to the ground. He knows I do not know how to add windshield wiper fluid.

“YES! I restored it. It’s a 1950 Plymouth Business Sedan, Turtle Back Deluxe model. Very rare.”

So here you go Brother, complete with dice and cherries:




Pilgrimage to Chimayo


Last Friday I saw one lone man with a cane making the annual Easter pilgrimage to the small adobe chapel known as the “Lourdes of America” in Chimayo, New Mexico. By Sunday, the numbers will swell to as many as 50,000 people.

Some will walk the 90 miles from Albuquerque, the 14 miles from Chupadero, the 40 miles from Taos or the 25 miles from Santa Fe. They will line the highways bearing crosses and carrying photographs of  loved ones who are ill or who have departed. Some will walk from Espanola as their parents and grandparents did before them, pushing baby strollers and holding statues of saints. Some will park their cars along the highway and join the others as they walk the last few miles on the winding two lane highway that leads to the Santuario de Chimayo. That’s what I did last year.

People of all religions make the pilgrimage. They walk as an act of gratitude or in memory of a loved one or as a prayer to end wars. I am sure some people make the walk just to be a part of what is called the nation’s largest public display of devotion, a tradition that goes back to the early 1800s.

The safety of all is overseen by members of 26 organizations who have joined together as part of a  ”catastrophic incident management plan.” Law enforcement will place orange barrels on a section of  U.S. 84/285 to mark the walking path and erect electronic signs to caution drivers.

When they arrive at the Santuario, they will likely scoop up the “holy dirt” thought to bring forth miracles. They will walk through the grounds or sit for a few minutes in the Chapel. Leona’s, which stopped serving food a few years ago, will be open this weekend to serve drinks, tomales and frito pies.

I leave you with a few photographs of the grounds. For a glimpse of the Easter walk of pilgrims, click here. Happy Easter. Happy Passover. Happy Spring to all.



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

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.

My General Schwarzkopf Story

At the end of May 1991, sometime after the first Gulf War, I spent a long weekend vacation in New Mexico, traveling from my home in Atlanta where I worked for CNN. I had no agenda. I meandered. On the High Road to Taos I saw a sign that said something like “Oviedo Carvings & Bronze.” I turned right and up the hill.

There I met Marco Oviedo. After I admired his beautiful carvings, he introduced me to his enormous Andalucian Mammoth Jacks. At that moment I knew what had to be done when I returned home. It was my mission to let General Schwarzkopf know what I had discovered in the mountains of New Mexico. This is the letter I wrote to the General, who I heard had a great sense of humor:

This is the letter the General wrote to me in response:

As it turns out, the General traveled to New Mexico on vacation where he met both Marco and his namesake Stormy Norman. Marco said they had a great chat. The General much admired Stormy. Marco explained to the General that Stormy’s main job these days was providing stud service. In a spur of the moment decision and in tribute to the General, Marco vowed to contribute a percentage of Stormy’s next stud fee to the General’s favorite charity. And he did.

Rest in peace, General.