Thursday, December 29, 2011

A passing of the guard

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — The trend started from the first month of 2011 and continued to the end of the year. There was a sense of a passing of the guard in our cultural community, with losses of leaders in history, music, literature and the visual arts.
First to leave us, on Jan. 2, was Donna R. Eichstaedt, 72. The historian and educator was a leader of the Mesilla Valley Historical Society. She taught at Illinois State University and Lincoln College in Normal, where she served as the dean before moving to Las Cruces in 1992. Here, she taught history at UTEP and Doña Ana Community College.
She inspired Las Crucens neighbors Chuck Miles and Felix Pfaeffle to collaborate on “Once Enemies, Now Friends” after they met here and discovered they had been within shooting distance of one another on opposite sides of German front lines in 1944. She wrote about a legendary New Mexican hotel in her book, “Silver City’s Bear Mountain Lodge: The Untold Story.”
Versatile Donna was also an avid flamenco dancer and supporter of the NMSU dance program.
Two beloved Las Cruces-based poets, Beatlick Joe Speer and Wayne Crawford, both diagnosed with pancreatic cancer within a few months of one another, shared their final journeys with poetic blog entries in 2011.
With his longtime companion Pamela Hirst, Las Cruces-based poet Speer, 62, who died Jan. 25, traveled throughout the U.S., publishing “Beatlick News,” a print and online poetry journal. The final copies of his “Kameleon” magazines, published early in the ’70s and ’80s, will become part of the complete and permanent Beatlick Joe Speer library and archive at NMSU, curated by Laurence Creider. In his last weeks, he supervised the compilation of his writings, “Backpack Trekker: A 60s Flashback,” now available on
“I’m not upset,” Speer told me a week before his death. “It’s not really for me to decide when I come and go. Those decisions are made by some other forces and it’s out of my control. You never know how long you have, how many miles you’re going to log on this road trip. When you’re ripe, they pluck you.”
Wayne Crawford, who died March 12 at age 64, was a creative force in the local poetry scene, after he “retired” to Las Cruces in 2000, following a life-long career as an educator. He developed open mics and the online journal “Lunarosity,” gathered and distributed lists of literary events, created the concept of an annual Las Cruces Poetry Day and hosted readings and co-edited “Sin Fronteras.” With his partner, award-winning musician and composer Randy Granger, he established an informal artists’ salon and nurtured a poetry community that welcomed NMSU students and poetry lovers of all ages. He worked with local organizations — from Branigan Library and the executive board of Doña Ana Arts Council to For the Love of Arts Month coordinators — to share his love of poetry with others.
Las Cruces Community Theatre’s guiding light Art Haggerton, who died Oct. 3 at age 65, produced, directed and performed in scores of theatrical productions and taught for four decades, ending his career at White Sands Middle School.
“Art was a wonderful mentor, director and friend and I was always in awe of his talents and enthusiasm for the theater. Art could do it all: sing, dance, act, direct, choreograph, construct sets, build props — and he did it all with an effortless grace and style. Art will be missed dearly, but will be remembered for years to come for the great works of entertainment that he gifted to all of us over the past 45 years," said Janet Mazdra, who worked in several productions with him.
It was a very good day, if you had the chance to visit her sunny Las Cruces studio and share the vivid paintings and enthusiasm of Susan Connelly, who died Nov. 2 at age 74. She was a well-known designer and boutique owner in Santa Fe where her shop, The Sign of the Pampered Maiden, sold the City Different’s first mini dresses. In 1992, she moved here and was finally able to devote time to her first love: making art. She had shows in several leading regional galleries and her paintings are in private and corporate collections in the United States, Mexico and Europe.
“I paint because, for the life of me, I really cannot think of anything I would rather do,” she said.
A Southwest cultural icon and the father of personal and regional musical families, Oscar Butler, died Nov. 27 at age 94. The music maestro arrived in Las Cruces in 1953, joined string quartets and created a chorale ensemble and was a central figure in the development of what is now New Mexico’s largest symphony orchestra, the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra at NMSU. He was cellist in the orchestra and also founded the New Horizons Symphony, which gave amateur musicians of all ages a chance to learn music and perform. Butler was still conducting and encouraging budding and professional musicians in his ninth and final decade.
Anyone who spent any time at the city’s museums would know the face of H. Edward Hunsburger, who died Nov. 28 at age 64. He was a familiar fixture on the Downtown Mall, helping out at the Branigan Cultural Center, Las Cruces Museum of Art and the Railroad Museum.
The native New Yorker, novelist and world traveler had a rich, productive life in the arts himself before moving here in 2002. He attended art school in Florida, was a researcher at Esquire Magazine, and served on the board of Mystery Writers of America. He wrote several books, including a book in the Nick Carter series, “Crossfire,” and “Death Signs,” and short fiction published in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
Though very different, all these artists had something in common: talents that they shared generously with others and an unselfish desire to help inspire and nurture other artists. We’ll miss them, but they left something wonderful behind as they worked to create the unique sense of camaraderie and cooperation that distinguishes the Las Cruces arts community today.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Treasuring Christmas in the Valley

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Whatever the rest of the year has been like, there’s something about Christmas in the Mesilla Valley that will always rejuvenate your spirit.
After two decades of New Mexico holidays, I’ve never been disappointed. Each year, there is always a special moment — sometimes a lot of special moments — worthy of the lifetime memory box.
This year, the big one has been a visit from my son Ryan, who finished up a job in California early and was able to make it here for our first extended holiday together in many years. Celebrating Christmas early or late is something we had to get used to during his showbiz years, first touring with his band and in recent years producing and managing a crew to put up spectacular holiday light shows in the Pacific Northwest.
Even the challenging moments are memorable. I got cold, wet and windblown during Winterfest 2011, which I was tempted to dub “la noche de several thousand soggy brown paper bags,” but I was amazed how many luminarias our dauntless volunteers managed to light and maintain in spite of it all.
I also enjoyed talking with some of those who’ve nurtured one of my favorite traditions: Christmas Eve on the Mesilla Plaza. Lalo Natividad talked about what it’s like this time of year to have a name that means “nativity” in Spanish.
Instead of the traditional holiday greeting, “Feliz Navidad,” friends sometimes wish him “Feliz Natividad,” he said, which he interprets as, “Happy me!”
Phone calls, cards, emails and letters recall heartwarming New Mexico holidays with people I’m missing this Christmas.
Grandson Alex the Great is in Idaho this year, but I have lots of fond recollections of holidays here with him, from his footed-pajama toddler years to preteen marathon present-unwrapping romps with his cousins.
I remember magical Mesilla Plaza celebrations with Cecilia Lewis and her husband, Alexis Bespaloff, in Alexis’ last years. One year, they both showed up wearing burgundy scarves I’d knitted for them and Cecilia had arranged to set up headquarters at a cozy table at the Double Eagle. We had dinner and went in and out to enjoy the plaza carolers and photograph the lights.
I’ve shared English crackers (filled with toys and silly paper hats) and flaming plum puddings with my British friends here, and sweet tamales and red chile mashed potatoes and green chile turkey enchiladas with inventive native New Mexican amigos.
I love checking out uniquely Southwestern ornaments and Christmas trees at shops, restaurants, hotel lobbies, art galleries, museums, markets and bazaars.
Christmas just doesn’t seem like Christmas to me without two crucial stops.
First is a visit to Tortugas Pueblo during Our Lady of Guadalupe Festival. The pilgrimage is a not-to-be-missed experience, I’ve found, and I have vivid, fond memories of their warm welcome to a newcomer my first year here. I’m always there to photograph days of dancing on Dec. 12 and Jan. 1, and this year loved seeing generations of the Fierro family working together to prepare the albondigas feast for the community.
The second “must” is a visit to Mesilla to see new decorations and old favorites, and it’s great having visitors to give me an excuse for return trips.
This year, I added some Josefina’s Gate portraits to the family Christmas album, and found my son shared my appreciation of some unique personal Mesilla favorites: the Nativity scene overlooking the image of our famed desperado at the Billy the Kid Gift Shop and the piranha swimming in his tank, surrounded by Borderland fiesta Christmas decor at La Posta.
There’s a lot to see and do and remember for many busy weeks, right up to Christmas Eve markets, caroling, plaza luminarias and midnight services at area churches.
Christmas itself is private family time for most Las Crucens, a wonderful day to close our ristra-decked doors, gather before our piñon-scented fires and enjoy a special celebration with those closest to us, and maybe some newcomer friends.
May your day be rich with love and memories of holidays past and present. Merry Christmas.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cherish moments of joy in tough times

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — I'm ready for a new year and more than eager to be done with this one.
Our 2011 woes started with the January Sun-News fire that kicked us out of a building where some of us had spent almost two decades. We moved, first to the Ramada Palms ballroom and then to interim digs at 715 E. Idaho Ave.
Usually January is my least favorite month, but February was brutal. The February freeze killed many of our favorite agaves, trees and bushes.
But the vegetative devastation turned out to be a mere harbinger of the human tragedy in my circle of loved ones this year.
A dear friend lost her only grandchild, a sweet and inquisitive lad just leaving his teens. I'll always remember the time we spent on the patio of his grandmother's Mesilla adobe, when he was about 10, experimenting with my new underwater camera. He decided our best bet was to drop things in a rain barrel and try our luck. He came up with an imaginative variety of stuff to chuck in the water, while we took turns photographing splashes and submerged action shots of rocks and chile peppers and other motley subjects. His grandmother cheerfully applauded while we made a watery mess of the patio and one another.
He was a bright soul, and I wish we could have seen the man he would have become.
It was the first personal agony of 2011, but not the last.
My nephew made it back from Afghanistan, but his wife lost the child they were eagerly awaiting, just before his bittersweet return.
In the space of a few months, Grandson Alex lost three of his Idaho classmates to suicide, and then came the news of an unimaginable disaster. Two teenage amigos from his San Diego days, so close that they had continued to visit regularly after Alex moved to the Pacific Northwest, were found dead in their California home, shot by their father, who then committed suicide.
The boys were very smart, funny, creative, popular teens. Their dad was the neighborhood parent everyone reportedly felt safe leaving their kids with, a man with degrees in law and psychology.
Alex and I have talked a lot, but how can you explain to a 15-year-old what cannot be explained? I've been proud and touched to see what his generation can do with social media sites, with original music and creative explorations of the mysteries of life and death.
There have been too many untimely deaths this year, a lot of transitions, a lot of frustrations with Congress and the economy, a sense that we have taken wrong paths, that it is time — past time — for serious evaluations of what we hold dear, for new approaches and concepts and directions.
There are been stumbles — globally and personally. I took a header onto a concrete patio while photographing a festival (celebrating, ironically, beautiful and soothing lavender) and spent months regaining mobility I’d taken for granted.
I have a time-tested philosophical credo for situations of loss: For everything we willingly give up, we get something better. We can always replace things or adjust to their loss. We’re on track to finish 2012 with a brand new Sun-News building, for instance. My knee seems mostly functional again and the physical bruises have long since faded.
But my credo does not cover all situations, like the untimely and violent loss of people we love. I think of my Mesilla amiga, the parents, the grandparents, the friends and loved ones of those bright boys … and I know that though time can ease the shock and pain, there are bruises of the soul, wounds too deep to forget on this plane of existence.
The holidays can be particularly tough for those who have experienced great losses and tragedies.
We hug each other. We check in and we carry on. My big sis Sally says she thinks one of the good things about getting older is that eventually we won't mind dying because we have so many questions for God.
I have a lot of questions about 2011, and I'm eager to move on to a new year in hopes that it will bring wisdom, faith, healing and creative ways to reach out to one another, to love and comfort those who mourn.
For all of us, I pray this holiday season for a time of peace, comfort … and remembrance that the joy of love, once found and experienced, can never really die.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A vote for Team Christmas

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — It has been said that the world is divided into two kinds of people.
One wag opined: “Yeah, the kinds who try to divide the world into two kinds of people and the kinds who know better.”
Normally, I’d agree, but the lines of demarcation seem to be very sharply drawn when it comes to the holidays.
There is Team Grinch-Scrooge.
And then there’s Team FTC (Full-Tilt Christmas).
That’s my team. I love this time of year. That this love has lasted through a long lifetime, I believe, can only be attributed to an appreciation of the real meaning of Christmas.
It’s a story of hope and promise, of faith and love and spiritual triumph.
Still, those of us who go to the original text know that the original Christmas story is not a tale of easy times. Jesus was born in an occupied land with corrupt rulers. Generations of the devout had prayed for a savior with a faith so fierce that speculation about fulfillment of their prayers struck fear in the heart of a mighty empire that dominated much of the world. King Herod ordered the brutal slaying of a generation of helpless babies and toddlers on what today we would term an unverified, speculative rumor.
Conditions were so oppressive that Mary and Joseph were denied the rudimentary comforts of a birth in their own home. Even very pregnant women were not exempt from bureaucratic regulations that forced a hard journey to Bethlehem, where, as we all know now, the child embraced as the savior of billions, was, at least temporarily, homeless, left to be born in what amounts to a hay-filled shed, among farm animals.
Those are parts of the story that are not emphasized much these days, but I always remember those aspects when I think about the homeless, the depressed, the needy and the oppressed.
And I wonder about the true inspiration for our generosity during this season. Was all this gift-giving really inspired by the presents of three enlightened Wise Men?
Or could some group consciousness be pondering a contemporary savior, a Second Coming? Could this era’s Savior be homeless, in a brutal oppressive land, a child who is just a heartbeat — a gunshot, a landmine step, a pogrom, an ethnic cleansing, a preventable disease — away from reaching toddlerhood?
Maybe the dark sides of the original story are manifested in the things I don’t like about this season: the Black Friday/Cyber Monday obsessive acquisitiveness, the arrogance and greed, the pressure to complete a zillion little meaningless tasks, the Yule-zillas who care more about status and lavish impressions than true substance.
But I love the lights and the camaraderie, the songs and the sharing, the efforts to bring beauty to a barren winter landscape, the creative ways we can devise to show how much we love and care about one another.
I think we veterans on Team FTC always find ways to dial back the darkness and focus on what really matters.
Christmas is a story of miracles and soul survival, of new beginnings, of promises that we know, from the rest of the story, can be spectacularly fulfilled.
One divine spark, prayed forth, carefully protected and lovingly nurtured, can change lives — can change the world.
It’s the season of prayers and miracles. A season that eventually transformed even Scrooge and the Grinch.
And whatever team you’re on, it’s never too late to ponder that story of miraculous new beginnings. Whoever you are, wherever you live, the life you change could be your own this year.
Have a merry, milago Christmas.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.

Rich traditions are affordable by all

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Ah, it’s that wonderful time of year when I finally regain my hall closets and guest bed surfaces and time to appreciate the joys of the holidays in New Mexico.
By the time Thanksgiving comes around, if not shortly before, I’ve wrapped all my presents and packed boxes to ship off to loved ones on both coasts and what my soulmate calls the “belly button” regions of the United States.
Unless I’m hosting a party or expecting out-of-town guests, my halls are minimally decked and I’m dreaming of a no-clutter, Zen Christmas.
In fact, this was the year I shipped off to the Pacific Northwest most of the Halloween and Christmas decorations I’d collected with son Ryan and grandson Alexander the Great, my erstwhile partners in artistic holiday crimes — or at least imaginative seasonal shenanigans.
It’s time for them to establish their own traditions with Peanuts character band members and exotic Southwestern chile ornaments.
My “little” grandson is 15, a head taller than I am, and, I hope, thoroughly infused with loving, sometimes thoroughly silly and touching holiday memories.
This Christmas, I’ll be remembering those times, from his homemade toddler cinnamon ornaments to his Christmas pageants at Hillrise Elementary and the impromptu two-guy guitar concert of holiday-inspired original compositions produced with his dad.
Here — in New Mexico in general and the Mesilla Valley in particular — you don’t really need a personal display of ornaments, lavish parties or an opulent show of gifts to enjoy a very happy holiday season that’s rich in meaning and traditions and affordable by all.
What imaginative soul first used paper bags, sand and candle stubs to create a magical winter wonderland? That great idea now lights our city streets and plazas, for festivals like Winterfest and Mesilla’s legendary Christmas Eve celebration.
The world has taken notice. I once helped the San Antonio branch of the Weston family set up an impressive spring luminaria display on a Caribbean beach at Frenchman’s Cove in Jamaica.
Now, online sources offer multicolored and patterned LED-lit luminarias. I’m trying to remember the first time I saw a string of electric luminarias: plastic brown bags packed with small white light bulbs. I think it was on a store in Santa Fe, where many still take great umbrage of you don’t call them “farolitos.”
Luminarias, they insist, refer to the small bonfires lit along paths and roadways for Las Posadas, the traditional annual reenactments of the first Christmas, when Mary and Joseph sought refuge at inns in Bethlehem for the birth of the Christ child.
“Farolitos,” City Different residents will admonish you, was the name given to smaller lanterns carried by children and others reenacting La Posada (literally “house hunting”), a tradition dating to morality plays of the middle ages.
Many Las Crucens can tell you stories of their childhood La Posada adventures, ambling and caroling through neighborhoods on chilly nights.
It’s a tradition that has been revived in recent years at area churches and with a Downtown Mall procession, complete with a cooperative burro borrowed from the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Museum.
It’s one of many traditions that warm our hearts and hearths this time of year.
New red chile ristras symbolizing spicy hospitality in our kitchens and on our front doors. Fresh batches of biscochitos and sweet and savory tamales. The quiotes (walking sticks) and the candles of those expressing their faith at area services and pilgrimages up Tortugas Mountain.
The most vivid memories are made of the simplest things. No matter where you are in your holiday schedule, remind loved ones — and yourself — to take time to smell the piñon fires, see the lights, and experience the message of love that inspires this blessed season.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at; (575) 541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style.