Monday, May 29, 2017

"For the Vivid Dreamer": Notes from my Workshop on Nature and Travel Writing in the Glorious Guadalupe Mountains National Park

El Capitan from the Pine Springs Station,
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas
This past weekend for my workshops as artist-in-residence at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park I offered this handout which includes three brief, fun, easy-peasy and yet powerfully effective exercises to rev up your writerly perceptions.

We can think of the best writing about nature and travel, whether fiction or nonfiction, as instructions for the reader to form in his or her mind a "vivid dream," an experience of the world. How do we, whether as readers, or as any human being (say, folding laundry or maybe digging for worms with a stick), experience anything? Of course, we experience the world through our bodies, that is to say, through our senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing-- and I would add a "gut" or intuitive sense as well... CONTINUE READING

P.S. Loads more resources for writers on my workshop page.

> Some of my travel writing is here, here, and here.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.







Monday, May 22, 2017

Q & A with Mary S. Black About Her New Book, "From the Frio to Del Rio"

Amazon or
IndieBound
One of my very favorite places not just in Texas but in the galaxy is the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, so I was delighted to see that Texas A & M Press has published Mary S. Black's splendid and much-needed guidebook, From the Frio to Del Rio: Travel Guide to the Western Hill Country and Lower Pecos Canyonlands

From the catalog:
"Each year, more than two million visitors enjoy the attractions of the Western Hill Country, with Uvalde as its portal, and the lower Pecos River canyonlands, which stretch roughly along US 90 from Brackettville, through Del Rio, and on to the west. Amistad National Recreation Area, the Judge Roy Bean Visitors’ Center and Botanical Garden, Seminole Canyon State Park, and the Briscoe-Garner Museum in Uvalde, along with ghost towns, ancient rock art, sweeping vistas, and unique flora and fauna, are just a few of the features that make this distinctive section of the Lone Star State an enticing destination.
"Now, veteran writer, blogger, and educator Mary S. Black serves up the best of this region’s special adventures and secret treasures. From the Frio to Del Rio is chock-full of helpful maps, colorful photography, and tips on where to stay, what to do, and how to get there. In addition there are details for 10 scenic routes, 3 historic forts and 7 state parks and other recreation areas."

Herewith an interview with the author:

Mary S. Black
Author of Peyote Fire
and
From the Frio to Del Rio
C.M. MAYO: What inspired you to write this book? 

MARY S. BLACK: I think what inspired me was the land itself, and the history. The Lower Pecos Canyonlands are not well known by most people, but the landscape is incredibly majestic and unexpected. You can be driving 70 miles per hour down the highway through the desert, when, wham, a huge canyon veers off to the left like a sudden tear in the earth. 

These canyons were inhabited by human beings for thousands of years. They lived off the land and made paintings on the canyon walls that illustrate their gods and belief systems. Over 300 of these paintings still exist, and you can visit some of them. They are a treasure of human culture, and I hope more people will learn to value them as something important for us to save. The people who settled this area historically were a diverse bunch with a lot of gumption. Do people know that word anymore? I guess in modern language, we might say they had a lot of guts. 

C.M. MAYO: In your view, what is the most underrated place in this region?  

Las Moras Springs
MARY S. BLACK: If I have to pick only one, I’ll say Las Moras Springs Pool at Ft. Clark in Brackettville.  I’m always looking for great swimming holes. Las Moras Springs Pool is the third largest spring-fed swimming pool in Texas. Crystal clear water at a year-round temperature of about 70 degrees comes into the pool from a strongly flowing spring, yet very few people swim there because they don’t know how to get access. 

The pool is located on Ft. Clark, and old U.S. Army fort originally built in 1849. You can get a day-pass for $5.00 at the guard house to enter the fort, enjoy the pool or play golf on either of two gold courses, and look at all the old stone buildings that remain from when the place was an active Army fort. There is also a really interesting museum there that is open on Saturdays.

C.M. MAYO: What is your favorite place? 

MARY S. BLACK: Hands down, the White Shaman Preserve. The best studied of all the ancient murals is located there.  This is a polychrome painting about 25 feet long and 13 feet high done on a rock wall overlooking the Pecos River. This painting tells a story about creation and how the sun was born, according to Dr. Carolyn Boyd. You can visit the preserve on Saturdays at noon if you make a reservation online through the Witte Museum.  Tours are two-three hours long, and require a fairly strenuous hike down a canyon to a rockshelter, then back up.  But to be up there, to see the mural up close and in person, to look out over the river and imagine the people who made this painting, can change your whole perspective. It’s that powerful. 

C.M. MAYO: Your favorite seasonal or annual event? 

MARY S. BLACK: I have two: autumn color near Lost Maples State Natural Area near Vanderpool, and tubing in the cold Frio river in summer. Both are unique experiences in Texas and shouldn’t be missed. An isolated stand of bigtooth maple turns orange and red in Sabinal Canyon in late November. And swimming in the Frio at Garner State Park is like heaven on a hot day. 

C.M. MAYO: What surprised you in researching this book? 

MARY S. BLACK: How fascinating the area really is. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.  The region has seven state parks and natural areas, nine ghost towns, three historic Army forts, and many scenic drives. But the coolest part was reading about all the crazy things that have happened there, like train robberies and early airplane adventures. And Indian battles. When settlers from the US and Mexico started coming in after the Civil War, the native Apaches and Comanches were fighting for their lives. And of course the U.S. Army was trying to drive them out. It gets complicated, but there were many interesting people involved in all this, like the Black Seminole Indian Scouts at Ft. Clark, and others. One of the first settlers in the Nueces River valley was a woman named Jerusha Sanchez, who came in the 1860s. Later a widow named Elizabeth Hill and her three sons also pioneered in the area. Blacks, women, immigrants from Italy, Mexico, Germany, and other places, and Native Americans made the history what it is. 

C.M. MAYO: You offer an excellent bibliography for further reading. If you could recommend only three of these books, which would they be?  

MARY S. BLACK: Hmm, they are so different, let me see.  First I think Carolyn Boyd’s new book, which is called simply The White Shaman Mural, just published by University of Texas Press in 2016.  She details her 25 years of research on the painting in this book and explains how she cracked the code on what it means, an amazing accomplishment.

Then I nominate Judge Roy Bean Country by Jack Skiles, published in 1996, which is a compilation of local stories of life in the Lower Pecos. The Skiles family has been ranching in the area for over 75 years and can tell stories about mountain lions and smugglers that will make you faint. 

Finally, one I found fascinating was The Newton Boys: Portrait of an Outlaw Gang by Willis and Joe Newton as told to Claude Stanush, published in 1994. It tells how they became train robbers and learned to blow bank safes with nitroglycerin, which they did in Texas and the Midwest all through the 1920s. By the time they were captured, they had stolen more money than all other outlaws at the time combined. 



> From the Frio to Del Rio is available from amazon.com or your independent bookseller.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.


P.S. As artist-in-residence I will be giving a free travel and nature writing workshop at the Guadalupe Mounatins National Park over this Memorial Day weekend, details to be announced shortly on my events page



(Marfa Mondays podcast with transcript)


My guest-blog for Mary S. Black:

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Glimpse of "México Profundo" in a Visit to La Santa Madero in Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila

Having written a book about the leader of Mexico's 1910 Revolution, Francisco I. Madero--Mexico's "Apostle of Democracy"--I am often asked if I have visited his native town, Parras de la Fuente. As of two weeks ago, thanks to an invitation to give talk about my book there, I can now answer, with the easiest of shrugs, why, of course. 

An oasis of a mission-and-farm-town in the arid border state of Coahuila, Parras de la Fuente is one of Mexico's 111 officially-designated "pueblos mágicos," or "magical towns." Apart from its historical importance and its charming downtown, Parras de la Fuente's biggest draw is Casa Madero, the oldest winery in the Americas--at one time run by Francisco I. Madero.

 If you're interested in visiting Parras de la Fuente--and for anyone at all interested in Mexican history and culture I warmly recommend it--check out Tripadvisor for information galore. (If you read Spanish, there is a very informative article about the town in the magazine Mexico Desconocido.) I won't aim to cover the gamut here, just one of several worthy attractions, La Santa Madero.

View of La Santa Madero
from the parking lot
LA SANTA MADERO 

It's impossible to talk about Parras de la Fuente without making some reference to the Madero family. Not only was native-born son Francisco I. Madero (1873-1913) the leader of the 1910 Revolution, but he served as president of Mexico from 1911 until his assassination in 1913. Moreover, there was his grandfather, industrialist Evaristo Madero (1828-1911), founder of a veritable dynasty. In many ways, Parras de la Fuente is, if you will excuse my anglosajonismo, Maderotown.

Speaking of looming, perched above the little town on a bulbous hulk of rock sits La Santa Madero.

Perhaps you wonder, is that a misspelling? (Shouldn't it be El Santo Madero?) Was there a Saint Madero? Or could this be a sanctuary of some sort donated by the Madero family?

La Santa Madero, it turns out, refers to the Holy Cross, a purported splinter of which is enshrined in the early 19th-century chapel at the top of that craggy overlook.

Ring-a-ling to Dr. Jung! In the Names Department, La Santo Madero overlooking "Maderotown," this is quite the bodacious synchronicity... And this does bring new texture to a quote in my book:

As even his great admirer, Isidro Favela put it, Madero was a Don Quixote with “the fury for freedom.” Others who loved him said Madero was “made of wood for the cross.”


Starting up the hill to La Santa Madero



About half way up... sun setting through a cloud
Parras de la Fuente below

Nearing the top, about to go around the curve...





Final staircase to the top...

Pug Puppy Alert!
c
Close up of pug puppy at La Santa Madero


This Chapel of the Holy Cross...
Alas, the chapel was locked.
But you can view photos of the interior on Tripadvisor

On the way back down the hill:
Sunset over Parras de la Fuente
from La Santa Madero

On the way down we passed a girl in a huge poppy-red quinceañera dress (15th birthday celebration) and her photographers-- probably brothers, cousins and friends. One of my companions on this hike, an eminent Mexican scholar, gravely remarked that with this--the girl in her fabulous dress, as much as La Santa Madero--we'd had a glimpse of México profundo.

More anon.

> The webpage for my book about Francisco I. Madero is here.

> Your comments are always very welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Dispatch from Mexico City: On the "Relación" of Cabeza de Vaca

La Relacion
de Cabeza de Vaca
The latest issue of Scoundrel Time, a new literary magazine edited by Paula Whyman, includes my piece for the "Dispatches" section (mine being from Coyoacán, Mexico City), "On the Relación of Cabeza de Vaca."

> Read it here

This is an excerpt from a long essay about the Mexican literary landscape and the power of books, "Dispatch from the Sister Republic or, Papelito Habla" which is forthcoming in Kindle from Dancing Chiva next month.

P.S. You can view the Spanish text of the Relación of Cabeza de Vaca here.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.






Monday, May 01, 2017

Cyberflanerie: Granola Shotgun on "The Springfield Strategy," Kunstler Interviews Orlov, Rachel Laudan on the Mexico-Islamic Connection, RALPH Mag & More

Granola Shotgun on "The Springfield Strategy"
A few months back I started following Granola Shotgun by "Johnny," a self-described "amateur architecture buff a with a passionate interest in how we all live and occupy the landscape."  So far his posts have been consistently informative and thought-provoking. This recent one on what Johnny terms "The Springfield Strategy" struck my gong on multiple levels: the examples of taking major life-enhancing opportunities others miss; pattern integrity versus pattern corruption / decay; and finally the views of Springfield, Massachusetts itself. (Believe it or not, Springfield makes a cameo in my book in-progress on Far West Texas. Back in ye olde day, Springfield, sprung from the Agawam Plantation on the Connecticut River, pioneer settlement of my just-missed-the-Mayflower ancestor, was the original bleeding edge of the Wild West.)


amazon
A fascinating podcast: James Howard Kunstler interviews Dmitry Orlov on his book, Shrinking the Technosphere.

Orlov's Shrinking the Technosphere is brilliant... but I remain mystified as to why he makes no mention of the works of Kevin Kelly--who also discusses the Unabomber at length in the also brilliant What Technology Wants-- nor any reference to the ideas of psychonaut John C. Lilly.

Orlov now blogs his lengthy, occasionally consternating, always surprising, information rich, often hilarious, and beautifully written essays behind a Patreon paywall-- not a Trumpesque impediment; a buck a month gets you in. But caveat emptor: Orlov can get waaaaay-out metaphysical-- albeit not as far into outer asteroid-belt orbits as John C. Lilly--or, not yet, anyway.


Food historian Rachael Laudan delves deeper into the Mexico-Islamic Connection
(Having blasted apart the story of mole, which my Mexican husband is still recovering from, she's now talking about chicken.)

> See also Laudan's post on When Is the Easter Bunny Not a Bunny? (most assuredly not for vegetarians).


So having spotted the review of Dr. Thoman Cowan's Human Heart, Cosmic Heart, I dashed off an email to Lolita Lark, editor of RALPH mag and by response, ended up with a whole page there, including links to RALPH mag's reviews of my books. Good thing my ego has a tether! P.S. I haven't scrounged up any emu oil pills yet, but yes, I am rereading Cowan. And I'm all for Dr. Cowan's vegetable powders.

Artist and travel writer Jim Johnston looks at the Pinta la Revolución show at Bellas Artes for his Mexico City blog.
(I saw that show myself back in March, highly recommended.)

Not far from my recent stomping grounds in El Paso, landscape architect David Cristiani hikes Tortugas Mountain looking for cacti.

Poet and translator Patricia Dubrava on The Little Engine That Could.

David Allen's GTD blog on Making Use of Weird Windows of Time

How Tim Ferriss Became the Oprah of Audio. An insightful interview with the maestro of mass by Ryan Holiday for the Observer.

(And what of my podcasts, you might be wondering? Stay tuned. Marfa Mondays Podcast #21, which goes to Bracketville, Texas, will be posted shortly. I guess I could call it-- taking inspiritation from Greg Gibson's upcoming "bookectomy"--a podcastectomy. I have been working on it for too ridiculously long a time.)

And finally, just because, here in Mexico City is my writing assistant, Uli Quetzalpugtl, lifting his nose to the glory of the last of the jacaranda blossoms for this year.

Uli Quetzalpugtl with the Jacaranda, Mexico City, 2017.
Photo: C.M. Mayo

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.