Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Close encounters of the critter kind

Aug. 28, 2016
Aug. 28, 2016
LAS CRUCES – Just about any human being’s day can be improved by a CECK (Close Encounter of the Critter Kind).
A recent week included colleagues and sources being felled by a virulent stomach flu, and three –yep, count’ em: three!- concussions. Two amigos were rear-ended while driving in northern New Mexico and Sun-News Anayssa Vasquez was knocked out and concussed while shooting a local football practice.
By comparison, a long hot wait in a sizzling asphalt parking lot, was nothing much to complain about. Still, by the time La Luz de la Luna, my vintage Sonata, was on the road again, I was addled and crabby. I managed to screw up perfectly clear instructions and drive by the clear-as-day lane of blooming desert willows and Rockin’ Horse Ranch pillars not once but twice.
I was not a happy camper, but I was amazed how quickly my attitude changed when I met up with the ranch’s therapy horses and enjoyed a quick series of CECKs. I was greeted by a friendly dog named Zippy, which instantly transported me to a happy place of memories of my grandfather’s Brittany Spaniel with the same name.
From my overheated car, I salvaged a bag of still-cool carrots just large enough to establish profound bonds with horses Coco, Karma, Bear and Rio.
I paused for a gracias a Dios moment, grateful for a job that involves CECKs with dogs and horses. (The humans were terrific, too. Check out their inspired plans to bring healing horse experiences to kids, vets with PTSD, and assault victims at www.rockinghorse.com )
It continued to be a long, hot, tough week, full of strange, weird, disconcerting and sometimes downright bad news for the world in general and many of those close to me in particular.
Still, after meeting the horses and the people they’ve helped, I was more aware of the CECKS that brighten my life every week.
A group of crows often greet me early in the morning at the back door of the Sun-News. Most of my downtown CECKs are a little less wild. Usually, brown-and-white Arrow is wagging his tail and expecting a cookie bone when I start my rounds at the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market, and there are a lot more wagging tails to be rewarded. The market’s CECK doggy parade is a big perk for getting out of bed early on a Saturday, I feel. In addition to regulars like Arrow and macho golden doodle Tex at Patina Home, market CHEK ops always include a vast and diverse group of loveable canines, from adoptable puppies to beloved old pampered pooches getting rides in strollers. There are Chihuahuas, St. Bernards, greyhounds, poodles, corgis, afghans, pit bulls, several sorts of hounds, terriers, pointers, retrievers and spaniels and many, many heretofore barely imaginable combinations of all of the above.
I know secret gathering places of cats looking for good homes in Mesilla and where big birds of prey hang out at NMSU, T or C, and quiet neighborhoods.
In fact, for some of my favorite CECKs, there’s no place like home. I’ve watched two comely kitties grow into cats next door, and on the other side, chocolate lab Porter is always ready to jump high or go long for a cookie bone.
My own tiny premises are surprisingly rich in wildlife. I’ve found big turtles, tiny bunnies and humungous jackrabbits, and a bevy of bats, taking a break between my front porch and the juniper bushes. On the back patio, I watch ravens and an amazing variety of bird species perched in the pine trees, the neighborhood roadrunner making his rounds and often,  an eagle or two circling overhead.
This time of year, with the neighborhood cats confined to inside quarters, I usually see a few kinds of lizards, too. Right about now, I’m expecting a CECK with a gecko.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, dmoore@lcsun-news.com or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.

Dancing in the desert rain

Aug. 21, 2016

LAS CRUCES – This is the time of year when our thoughts turn to rain in all its glorious forms.
It seems like everywhere I go, people are talking about it.
Rie Palkovic, a recent artist of the week, who now in Moses Lake, Washington, told me how much she was looking forward to some desert monsoon thunderstorms when she returns to her former home for her August one-woman show at Unsettled Gallery in Las Cruces.

As an erstwhile Oregonian, I could sympathize. People have visions of lush Pacific Northwest rainforests, but as veterans of the real deal, Rie and I shared stories about arid high desert landscapes in both Washington and Oregon, and the demoralizing quality of the gray skies and long drizzly seasons, with no redeeming celestial pyrotechnics, on the coastal sides of both states.
“I do miss those Las Cruces rainstorms and the smell of the desert after rain. I lived downtown on Court Street and I used to go out and sit on front porch and the lightning was so spectacular,” Rie said.
Maybe we should have names for all the kinds of rain in our lives, like that fragrant, vaguely spicy and flowery rain in the desert after a long drought. If gratitude has an aroma, that could be it, I’ve often thought. So let’s call it gratitude rain.
Though it was a little off this year, most of the quarter of a century I’ve lived in New Mexico, we could count on dramatic rainstorms on the Fourth of July, with thunder and lightning special effects that out-class the most spectacular human fireworks displays. Let’s call that Mother Nature’s fireworks rain.
Less dramatic, and sometimes downright irritating, is what I’ve christened polka-dot rain, when those barely discernible droplets of moisture, in cahoots with dust storms, leave dirty little spots all over our cars and windows and patios.
“I call that adobe rain,” Annette Tombaugh Sitze told me recently. We reminisced about adobe mud, which I got stuck in several times during my first rainy summer in Santa Fe, before the rain discussions took a cosmic turn.
Annette and I discussed the 2015 arrival of the New Horizons probe at Pluto, carrying the ashes of the dwarf planet’s discoverer, her dad, Clyde Tombaugh, who spent most of his remarkable life in Las Cruces.
 “The New Horizons downloads show there is so much interesting geology on Pluto … frozen nitrogen fields and high ice mountains. Certainly, it’s helping us rethink how things behave in various types of environments,” Annette said.
Will we discover a substance we could think of as Pluto rain?
Meanwhile, back in our corner of planet Earth, sometimes, in any season, some just-right, refreshing showers can inspire and rejuvenate us, showing up as a surprise blessing that seems to spring out of a clear blue sky. Other times, the soul-quenching showers come after a long, teasing siege of cloudy days and oppressive humidity that renders our swamp coolers ineffectual and our tempers sticky and strained.
What such showers have in common is that they lift our spirits and make us feel like singing and dancing. Let’s name this Nacio Herb Brown rain, after the composer of “Singing in the Rain.”
It delighted, but did not surprise me, when I moved here and learned that Brown was a native of nearby Deming, New Mexico.
In our high desert territory, I’ve actually seen people sing and dance when long-awaited rains arrive. I’ve done it myself and I’ll bet most of you have, too.
If we find ourselves in Nacio Herb Brown rain (and we know it when we see it), may I have the pleasure of this dance?
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at  575-5450, dmoore@lcsun-news.com or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.


We were glampers, ahead of our time

Aug. 14, 2016
LAS CRUCES – I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I realize now that my parents were ahead-of-their-time glampers.
I’ve never been shy about sharing my aversion to camping. Though I was a pretty cheerful child otherwise, I grumbled from earliest memory through late adolescence about having to go camping with the family nearly every weekend that weather permitted (and many with weather that would have driven any sane soul to sturdier shelter). I was sadly outnumbered and outvoted in my family of five, or six, if you counted our Brittany spaniel, who loved camping as much as my parents and brother and sister.
It could have been a lot worse.
Now, with the benefit of hindsight and research for today’s glamping feature, I realize that my relatives, especially mom, tried their best to glamp, adding glamorous touches to wilderness life and camping experiences, long before it was a “thing.”
Mom had the breeding for it. Her dad was a retired physician who seemed happiest at the stern of a canoe or the end of a fly-fishing rod. Grandma, on the other hand, was a sophisticated urbanite who never let her subscription to VOGUE lapse.
They were a devoted couple who loved each other deeply. When Grandpa decided to retire early and, with his physician brother, create a rustic resort with log cabins in northern Michigan, Grandma reluctantly agreed. But she and Grandpa lived in what was more a lodge of the manor than a cabin, with a deep-carpeted great room big enough for Mom’s baby grand piano and cabinets for Grandma’s good crystal, china and silver, easily accessible for dinner parties and everyday use.
Dad and Mom started with a tent on state park campgrounds, but quickly began to add creature comforts. My aircraft engineer father managed to rig up barrels with fresh water for drinking and showers. Later, when they acquired 15 acres of their own prime campgrounds on the middle branch of Michigan’s Pere Marquette River, he constructed a pump, a water system and eventually an electric generator. There were always apologies from Dad about disturbing the peace of nature, when he fired up that generator, but we all appreciated electricity and hot water.
“Doris, you’re taking the whole house with us,” Dad would complain on camping weekends, as Mom rushed back for just one more down pillow, or few pretty dishes and a vase for wildflowers, to stash in  the back of the station wagon.
They acquired a little trailer and later, a large mobile home with three bedrooms and (hooray!) indoor bathroom facilities. My mom, who was an art and American history teacher, chose an Early American theme for the décor, with warm earth tones, samplers and interesting artifacts. Though she was normally very casual about housekeeping, she was adamant about keeping everything neat and in its place in her wilderness abode, which eventually became much nicer than our city home.
By that time, I was away at college, so I missed most of the glamping-before-its-time phase of our family wilderness adventures.
But when I think of what I loved most about our family time in the great outdoors, my memory is unclouded by nostalgia.
Those long walks in the pine and birch forest, those kayak voyages and and floats in an icy river were all made more wonderful by a nearby hot bath or shower afterwards.
A breakfast of just-caught rainbow trout was okay, cooked in a cast-iron flying pan over a campfire in a muddy campground. It was downright delicious served in at an Ethan Allen dining table in Mom’s pretty kitchen with modern appliances and artfully arranged Early American accoutrements.  

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, dmoore@lcsun-news.com or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.

Pondering the future of museums

Aug. 7, 2016
LAS CRUCES – Lately, I’ve been thinking about museums. And not just in the line of journalistic duty, on the arts and entertainment beat.
Recently, I was one of several locals asked to meet with consultants for a brainstorming session about a new permanent exhibit for the Branigan Cultural Center. Our spirited discussion tackled everything from the role of museums in a community, to educational and entertainment expectations of visitors. We digressed into a critique of museum websites (which most of us liked and found helpful) and local government and university websites, which garnered less-than- stellar reviews.
I kept thinking about museums, and all the museums I’ve covered and visited, and all the consultant panels and groups I’ve been part of over the last several decades.
The pondering didn’t stop during my vacation, which turned into a busman’s holiday. In addition to the regulars on Museum Hill in Santa Fe, we hit some of our favorite public and private museums in and around the Santa Fe Plaza.
Dr. Roger had been reading about the Manhattan Project and decided we should also go visit the Bradbury Museum in Los Alamos. He went off to check out some exhibits focusing on the scientists who’d lived a few blocks from the museum and changed all our lives by developing the first atomic bomb.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when I felt arms grasping me and leading me off in another direction. I’d been chosen, friendly voices informed me, to test some new interactive exhibits.
I protested that I was on vacation, and am known to generations of long-suffering Information Technology (IT) guys as someone who had an unerring instinct for screwing up their most carefully plotted, best-laid and allegedly user- friendly plans.
They were delighted. And amazingly, their delight grew as we went through panel after interactive panel, and I tapped when I was expected to swipe (and vice versa) and found many new and exciting ways to misconstrue and misinterpret what they’d thought were crystal clear instructions.
I was delighted too, to finally find an appreciate audience. I’ve always felt my ability to think outside the box, make unexpected choices (and creatively confound computer design guys’ ideas about “logical” and “intuitive” human behaviors) was a talent that should be harnessed for the good of mankind.
“Hey, look what she did here,” the nice Bradbury team tester exclaimed, encouraging her colleagues to make note. “That was surprising! Gee, none of us expected anyone to do THAT!” (Hear that, IT guys? Not “wrong,” not “frustrating,” but “surprising” and “unexpected.”)
We had fun, and I hope I didn’t create a monster, or an otherwise imaginative, educational and entertaining interactive game/exhibit that no one but me can figure out how to play.
I’m convinced they were on the right track, however. And I’m confident that I do know what people like and want after years as a consumer myself, making endless museum runs with colleagues, friends, and multiple generations of kids and grandkids. I’ve also had the inside track as someone with friends, and a former spouse, who’ve designed interactive museum exhibits.
And I’ve covered museums, and fiestas and special events at museums that range from the monthly downtown Ramble to music, science and arts extravaganzas and city-wide, multicultural celebrations, as well as the brand new, multimedia darling of Millennials, Meow Wolf in Santa Fe.
I’ll always treasure the opportunity to spend an hour or two quietly savoring miracles and milestones of art, science, history and even pop culture in a thoughtfully designed, special environment. But I’m also convinced that to thrive and survive in the future, most museums will have to find their own fusions of significant content and fiesta ambience through interactive and online exhibits and special events.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, dmoore@lcsun-news.com or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.


Mark Medoff plans another full-tilt year

July 31, 2016
LAS CRUCES – While researching today’s upcoming theater season story, I learned that the Las Cruces Community Theatre will be resuming its one-act play festival (March 30 through April 4), but Mark Medoff won’t be choosing and directing a winning entry this time.
He got a really good excuse. Or make that excuses.
As of this writing, he’s in the process of casting a big-name star to portray Marilyn Monroe in “Marilee and Baby Lamb: The Assassination of an American Goddess.” The play is slated to premiere on Broadway next spring.
But many of us saw it here first, in its out-of-town, off-Broadway (way off: about 2,120 miles) performances last October.
The Tony Award-winning, Academy Award-nominated Medoff, who wrote and directs the play, has described the story is a “reimagining of the relationship between Marilyn Monroe (Marilee) and ‘Baby Lamb,’ Monroe’s nickname for Lena Pepitone, who began as Marilyn’s seamstress and over the last six years of the icon’s life became her confidant, her best friend, and her secret.”
The play was inspired by three years of interviews with Pepitone by Dennis D’Amico, a New York-based producer, musician and former Las Crucen, who was a student of Medoff’s at New Mexico State University in the 1970s.
Which brings us to more of those really good excuses for Medoff’s absence from involvement in theater projects in his longtime Las Cruces home this season.
“I have five directing jobs,” he mused.
“Johnny Cash,” is a touring piece he’s written and cast, with D’Amico producing, about the musical legend.
He’s working on a piece called “Decades of Divas” with Franke Previte, the musician and songwriter who won an Academy Award for Best Song, for “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” with co-composers John DeNicola and Donald Markowitz for the soundtrack of the iconic 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing.”
Medoff will also direct “DelikateSSen,” a new work by prolific veteran playwright Richard Atkins.
“It’s about a family that survived the Holocaust and opened a delicatessen in New York,” Medoff reports. “It will open at Centre Stage in Greenville, South Carolina.”
He’ll direct his own new play, “Time and Chance,” slated for a July opening at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal, New Jersey.
In his spare time, he’s working on project dear to his heart, a book, “Hope Full: A Reckoning With the Universe,” about his granddaughter, Hope Harrison, who was born with Trisomy 18, a severe chromosomal anomaly.
In summary, over the next year, that adds up to a book, several writing and co-writing projects and five directing gigs at sites from South Carolina to New York and New Jersey. There’s a chance that one of the projects might have some rehearsals here, but it’s a long shot.  
 Las Cruces’ “Broadway of the Southwest” nickname and reputation owe much to Mark, a cofounder of American Southwest Theatre Company, founder of Creative Media Institute and long-time teacher at NMSU and area workshops. For decades, he’s been an enthusiastic participant in all of our major theater companies, as playwright, director, producer and sometime actor, as well as an award-winning filmmaker who’s chosen Las Cruces and New Mexico for several of his projects. He has a cameo role in Rod McCall’s “Rose,” starring Cybill Shepherd and James Brolin, shooting in Truth or Consequences this September.
To refresh your memory, Medoff’s “Children of a Lesser God,” one of 16 Medoff productions launched in Las Cruces, went on to win a Tony Award for Best Play. Other Medoff plays first seen in Las Cruces that ended up on New York stages include “When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder,” “The Wager,” “The Hand of Its Enemy,” “The  Heart Outright,” “The Majestic Kid” and “Prymate.”
And “Marilee and Little Lamb” will become No. 8.
After hearing about his current and future projects-in-the-works, I’d be willing to bet there are more Medoff plays bound for New York stages in his future. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark, who’s only 76, is shooting for an even dozen.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, dmoore@lcsun-news.com or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.


The Pokemon revolutiion

July 24, 2016
LAS CRUCES – By the time you read this, it may be too late.
We may already be one Pokémon nation, under Pikachu and at least 151 other Poképersons, firmly locked and loaded and ready for world domination and the new Pokémon world order.
I can’t say we didn’t see it coming.
I first became aware of the Pokémon menace at the dawn of the new Millennium, when grandson Alexander the Great, then a dashing three-year-old, moved to Las Cruces.
Over the next decade, we had many adventures, developed profound bonds, took several hikes, played at lots of parks, went to many movies, parties and art openings, danced and sang and spent way too much time shopping. And through it all, I realize now, too late, there was a constant theme: Pokémon. There were Pokémon games, TV shows, movies, books and parties, posters, medallions and action figures.
And cards. So many Pokémon cards. Almost two decades later, I have a hard time passing the sections of local superstores where the cards were on display. For many years, I tried to take evasive maneuvers,  and find alternate routes so that my grandson’s Poké addiction would not be triggered.
He’s always been a wily lad, and I rarely succeeded. I would find myself in a queue with other daunted parents and grandparents waiting for our little loved ones to get their fix and compare notes. Would this deck of cards finally contain the illusive Pokémon they were seeking?
It went on at school, too, though I seem to remember at least one of Alex’s teachers banning any talk or trading of the creatures in her realm. I wish I’d learned her secret. Alex seemed powerless to resist the siren call of Poképersons (he hated it when I called them that: “NOT PokéPERSONS! It’s PokéMON!” he would shout) and I was powerless to curb his insatiable Poké cravings.
During trips to deliver or pick up Alex, I used to commiserate with other parents and grandparents. It seemed that all of our children were hopelessly addicted, totally in the thrall of the ubiquitous Pokécritters. (I was not allowed to call them that, either.)
It was at one of those school playground gatherings that a group of us decided a conspiracy of monumental proportions was in the works. Something subliminal was going on. Being conscientious and involved adults, we’d watched the cartoons and played the games with our kids. We agreed there was nothing in the simple (and frankly rather unimaginative, even boring) plotlines about Pokémasters training and having adventures with the little creatures that could possibly command such attention and devotion from our otherwise brilliant kids. It had to be something subliminal, something that evil masterminds had devised to appeal and attach only to the brains of young Millennials.
“Someday, when we least expect it, something will trigger in their brains and there will be a world coup, the fulfillment of a nefarious plot,” one of us said. (I won’t say who; not even a Pikachu Thunderstone-enhanced double lightning bolt attack will get me to reveal my source.)
After a while, it seemed the Pokémon were waning, Maybe it was just a fad that would die away, I hoped.
But during a recent visit, Alex, who turns 20 this year, responded a little too eagerly when I asked him if I should throw out a bunch of gold Pokémon medallions I’d found in a box in the hall closet. He grasped them tightly and put them in his suitcase.
This month, I wondered if we’d triggered something. I’ve watched the Pokémon Go feeding frenzy envelop millions, then tens of millions, breaking long-held records for downloads and participation in apps and games, far exceeding Tinder or Candy Crush. The Pokémon Go app craving is more powerful than sex or sugar!
Except it’s more that an app, of course. The conspiracy, the takeover of a generation, has been triggered and the coup is underway.
Last week, an editor who always displayed a maturity and gravitas far beyond his years loudly lamented that there are no virtual Pokémon to be found on the Sun-News premises. When we ran into each other at the supermarket, a world-renowned playwright gloated that he has two Pokémon in his pasture.
It’s begun.
Last weekend, I looked for my first aid kit and emergency provisions in the hall closet and found a Pokémon Pikachu medallion that must have fallen (or bolted) from Alex’s luggage.
I’m keeping it with me. Maybe, in an encounter with our new Pokémon overlords, flashing it will give me just enough time to make good my escape and connect with the resistance.
I hate to caution you not to trust anyone under 30, but until we figure out how to break the Poké spell, stay alert, avoid lightning storms, and may the Force be with you.  
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, dmoore@lcsun-news.com or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

We have the right stuff for artistic success

LAS CRUCES – When I walked into the House of Eternal Return, Meow Wolf’s Santa Fe sensation that’s attracting international raves and enthusiastic crowds, there was a sense of déjà vu.
It was a unique experience (read more about it in today’s SunLife section) but I couldn’t shake the notion that I’d had very similar surrealistic adventures back home in Las Cruces.
Later, I realized that I’d visited and written about another Meow Wolf installation called “Glitteropolis” that ran from late 2010 to early 2011 at the NMSU Art Gallery.
And my memories drifted back to earlier times, at imaginative, interactive Las Cruces experiences with sophisticated multimedia storytelling adventures, mazes and participatory mystery dramas and  assorted weird and wonderful Alma d’arte and NMSU art student antics.
I thought about our Broadway-caliber costume and set designers, playwrights, and actors, award-winning filmmakers, fiestas and museum reenactments, brilliant conceptual performance artists, dancers, and musicians, all right here in my own querencia.
When I interviewed artist Noah MacDonald, July 10 Artist of the Week, I remembered his creative installations in Santa Fe, and his project with an old adobe in Mesilla, a kind of ruin-preservation, resurrection-through-artistic-documentation project.
And my mind leapfrogged back to the 1990s, when I first met Georjeanna Feltha. She recreated her childhood home, in an otherworldly, richly-textured version incorporating tattered fabrics and molten wax, in evocative rooms at an installation at the NMSU Art Gallery.
My first such experience came even earlier, when Myriam Lozada-Jarvis, Kelley Hestir and other imaginative regional artists created ArtForms (a nonprofit artists’ organization that spawned February For the Love of Art Month). Artistic adventures abounded in the group’s early years, from an art car parade to multimedia banquets and what strikes me now as a mother of a Meow Wolf experience. In what was then called a “happening,” artists transformed an old house somewhere on the Lohmador corridor into a sophisticated interactive art experience accessible for just one night.
Over the last month, I’ve been pondering Meow Wolf’s phenomenal success story and wondering if it could happen here, and why it didn’t happen here first. Actually it did, in many forms, as already noted. Las Cruces is a kind of moveable Meow Wolf feast, and has been, for a long time.
So what does Santa Fe have that we don’t have? Meow Wolf was clearly in the right place at the right time. The name value of “Game of Thornes” creator George R.R. Martin, who reportedly kicked in $3.8 million to buy an old bowling alley and fund the project, the support of businesses and other investors and the city of Santa Fe, were crucial factors, of course, along with international media attention focused on Santa Fe’s rep as an art mecca.
In the end, was it the passion of the young artists who experimented and hung together?
“A lot of artists’ collectives get in fights and a lot of collectives burn out,” long-time Meow Wolf member Golda Blaise-Pickett told me. “But no matter how tiffy we got, we always came back to our vision for a special world. Santa Fe needs us and we stuck together.”
We have passionate, energetic young artists, too, who’ve founded their own galleries and enterprises. And passionate, high-energy, middle-aged and downright vintage artists, who’ve kept the faith for many decades and accomplished remarkable things.
We have the talent and the visionaries. Could we find the right place, the funding, the investors, the celebrity name(s), the city backing and the persistent, artistic souls to create our own enduring, interactive, innovative, artistic phenomenon that would both employ and attract millennials and art lovers of all ages?
If we built it, would they come, and keep coming and stay awhile to appreciate the other wonders of our territory?
What do you think? Let me know, and I’ll do my best to unite our creative collaborators with like-minded souls.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450, dmoore@lcsun-news.com or @derricksonmoore on Twitter.