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letters, opinions, editorials

Stereogram c. Gary Priester

Happy New Year, stereogram, by Gary Priester
Relax your eyes and look “through” the image, not focusing on the foreground. Let your brain work to see the hidden message above.

re: La otro banda (the other band)

We were first introduced to this expression two summers ago during a gathering of Placitas residents who have lived in our neighborhood for many years. It was during this oral history lesson that I first heard the phrase: la otro banda. During our chat, local Placitas village residents reminisced about the hay days of Placitas and what it was like to live in the village during the sixties and seventies. Those were the days of the beat generation with visits from the likes of poet Alan Ginsberg and Bob Dylan’s drummer who reportedly did a gig at the old Thunderbird Lounge.

During the question-and-answer session, I asked the group, What it was it like to sit in on a Ginsberg reading or listen to the drum beats of Bob Dylan’s percussionist. As the guests shared their personal recollections, I was asked by one of the participant’s where I lived in Placitas. I told them that we live on a private road off Camino de las Huertas, just a couple of miles from where we were meeting. At that point, one of the speakers smiled, turned to one of the other guests and said, “Oh, he is one of the la otro banda.”

Without a comment, I waited until the story was finished. At the end, I approached the storyteller, and asked what la otro banda meant. “Oh, “he said”, that is simply an expression we use to describe the rest of the Placitans.”

I am honored to be part of the la otro banda and equally proud to be associated with the village people.

—RON SULLIVAN, Placitas

re: an “awesome” train

I am writing to say that I had a hair-raising experience while standing at the Rail Runner platform at 550 in Bernalillo on December 1.

The train was delayed—we later learned that the delay was partly because of a faulty railroad crossing gate to the south—and many children, excited to ride the special Saturday holiday train, were playing around the fat yellow line that separates the waiting platform from a drop down into the train tracks. Forty-five minutes had gone by and still no Rail Runner had arrived.

With no train staff there to explain the delay, people were getting restless, craning their necks out and over the train tracks to look south and see if the Rail Runner was coming north. Clumsy children ran and twirled themselves around the support poles of the station’s shelter with limited supervision, stepping in and out of the yellow line. All of a sudden, around the corner from the north, and with only a second’s warning blast of a train horn, here comes the Amtrak train, rocketing southbound through the Rail Runner station at eighty miles per hour, not slowing a bit.

Unbelievable! There is no railing on the Rail Runner station. The kids and everyone stood in shock as the train blasted through, within inches (twelve, eighteen?) of our bodies. You could have reached out and touched it. The force was ever-memorable. After it passed, little kids, still clutched by their parents, screamed, “That was awesome!” I can only imagine the horror if someone would have slipped.

My point is: There should be a railing at the Rail Runner station platform with gates to access the doors of the train—good grief. My advice: Watch out!

—BARB BELKNAP, Placitas

re: roasting chestnuts,yellow snow and Thee
Dear Friends Back East:

The thought behind your Christmas gifts is exceeded only by their terrific originality. I will always treasure the elegant and uncommon coffee table book, Yellow Snow on Manhattan Streets—A Photographic Essay. I especially appreciated the inclusion of a photo of the canine responsible in each case for the urinary deposit on the lovely snow-mantled urban landscape of your home area. It appears that some of these wonderful animals are exuding genuine pride over their colorful discharges, e.g., the grinning Brittany Spaniel on page fourteen and the beaming Akita on page fifty-seven. What a charming book!

I also look forward to perusing the other unique photographic volume, Skin Grafts Gone Bad. Great holiday reading—thanks so much again. Each book fills a… needed gap… in my library.

I’ve already enjoyed the DVD you sent me. I recall each of you encouraging me to see On Golden Pond over the years, but I had failed to do so. The DVD you sent me was, however, entitled On Golden Blonde and seems to vary considerably from that Henry Fonda/Jane Fonda/Katharine Hepburn film. In fact, in repeated viewings, I’ve failed to recognize any of the performers, although I’ll doggedly continue my efforts.

Perhaps there was a communication error with the vendor? Don’t feel badly in any case—this film has many high points and undulates with a simple, but classically appealing story line.

I am interested in whether you liked the black velveteen throw I sent you, depicting a tightly-coiled, open-mouthed, long-fanged diamondback rattlesnake in the center. You hadn’t mentioned it in your note. You also failed to acknowledge receiving a copy of Firing Squad Protocols for the Twenty-first Century that I sent. Hopefully those items arrived okay and you will enjoy them.

You’ve asked if I had any resolutions for the New Year. No, I don’t. I just plan on starting the New Year very slowly and then gradually easing up over time. I don’t plan to report the wages of sin on my income tax forms again this year. I will eliminate from any consideration those presidential candidates whose desktop calendars and mindset fail to continue beyond September 11, 2001. (“No man can think clearly when his fists are clenched.” —George Jean Nathan, 1882–1958.)

And I plan to play my superb old Maine coon cat’s Marty Robbins CDs for his listening pleasure whenever he seems interested. (Patrick can no longer manipulate the CD player, but never tires of hearing Marty’s “Streets of Laredo.”)

And, finally, I shall pick up my hat, grab my coat, leave my worries on the doorstep, and direct my feet to the sunny side of the street.

—YOUR FRIEND, HERB, Placitas, New Mexico

re: “the telephone booth”

Camino de las Huertas has many interesting attractions as it twists and turns across arroyos, Huertas Creek, and Indian Mesa. Perhaps the most frequented and interesting stop along the way is the pull-off my wife has identified as “the telephone booth.” The booth is located about three quarters of a mile north and a couple of dips and turns past the Community Center. As you begin the sharp turn and steep incline on one of the S-curves, on the right hand side of the road is the telephone booth. As you pull into the telephone booth, panoramic views begin to unfold like an alluvial fan. On most days, you can see the Jemez Mountain Range, the Rio Grande Valley, and Cabazón some fifty miles away. During tarantula mating season, it is not uncommon to see the fuzzies traversing along the side of the road. It is also a point from which you can hike to the outcropping of rocks to view Native American rock art.

However, the most common reason for stopping there does not include any of these amazing sights, and you will not find a telephone booth at the telephone booth pull-off. What you will experience is the ability to generate and receive cell phone calls. If you have ever tried to use a cell phone along Camino de las Huertas, it is usually a crap shoot. At best, “Can you hear me?” is the query. The telephone booth is one of those special spots where you can make contact with the outside world, call for directions when you are lost, or simply let your family know you are almost home.

Personally, we have switched services and most of the time, the new cell phones are okay. For special occasions, such as visiting our well or scouting an arroyo, we have invested in two-way radios. I have also thought about rigging up tin cans connected with twine, but the distances are far too great. So far, nothing seems to work as well as the pull-off at the telephone booth.

—RON SULLIVAN, Placitas

 

Editorial:

State of Bernalillo—It’s ‘the vision thing’

—MAX SMELLING

When September 11 arrived in the year 2006, an unusual event occurred in the Council Chambers at Town Hall. Mayor Chávez and the Trustees, feeling mounting pressure from developers, declared a moratorium prohibiting development in the two Rail Runner Depot areas. Apparently, they were unable to define what would be appropriate and in keeping with the slowly evolving character of this small, rural, ethnically enriched outpost of sanity that is our home.

The point was that we were blessed with two train depots in one small town, and a plan was needed to rationalize such an extravagance. The state built the Rail Runner, and sure they would be glad to finance a study—using more of your tax dollars—called Transit Oriented Development (TOD).

The Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG)—or ‘Mr. Cog,’ as the Town Administrator calls it—is motivated to see that the Rail Runner is a success. But, it isn’t necessary to really listen to the inhabitancy in a small town like Bernalillo whine about how they don’t want to lose their town to hyper-development. It is necessary for MRCOG to create the illusion that they care and the good people’s every desire has been addressed with TOD.

For instance, Mr. Cog himself told the eighty or so folks at the October 18th input session that affordable housing is part of the plan. However, not only is the term totally undefined, but there is only token lip service to the subject.

In a town where most of us just want to be left alone, the complaint that thousands of new people will be moving in falls on deaf ears. Those masses—packed into two percent of Bernalillo—support the vision of MRCOG, the Planning and Zoning Officer, and the Community Development Director, but not the majority of citizens.

TOD Goals: “Solidify a sense of place around each station that is suited to the history and character of the town” and ensure that the ensuing “development supports the town vision …through more compact environments.” One may correctly assume this density is what our Community Development Director refers to when advocating her vision of seventeen dwelling units an acre.

When the Mayor and Trustees are unable to create a vision for development, they will leave it up to staff and consultants. Imagine what it would be like to have a Council creative enough to come up with their own vision representing the will of the people. In Bernalillo, staff runs Town Hall and their agenda is to convince those elected that their grand visions are truly in the best interests of all.

History is replete with authoritarian rulers who sought to build or change communities to better serve mankind. In James C. Scott’s book Seeing Like a State, these rulers tended to “regard themselves as far smarter and far-seeing than they really were and, at the same time, regarded their subjects as far more stupid and incompetent than they really were.”

Development is inevitable in Bernalillo, but encouraging overcrowding through TOD recommendations is not the best vision for the Town. The Mayor and Trustees have bought into a pattern of unnecessary, detrimental change that will determine their legacy, and our future.

The perpetrators of this plan should not be rewarded with complacency. The mold has been set for the wrong kind of development in Bernalillo, but there is still hope. Density and related city expenditures can be controlled still by a motivated Council. If they are not in favor of maintaining our small town closeness, perhaps we should express our opposition at the polls on March 4, 2008.

Email me with thoughts and comments at maxsmelling@q.com.

Signpost cartoon c. Rudi Klimpert

Ramblin’ raven recovered

—BARRY MCCORMICK

This just in… In what is apparently the largest bird hunt in the history of the modern day Placitas area (including but not to be confused with the historic village of), results are hereby reported: Poe, the rambunctious rambling raven, was found in Homesteads on the afternoon of Friday, November 30. She was about 3.5 miles (a twelve-minute drive) from home, but less than a mile, as the crow flies.

This raven was brought to the Wildlife Rescue, Inc. (WRINM) Clinic in June 2006, at approximately three weeks of age, by a man who rescued her from a bull snake. The constrictor had crushed her left wing and right leg, so she was, at that time, unable to fly. She was sent home with Mrs. Peggy McCormick to begin socializing the young bird in hopes that she would become an education assistant and participate in programs for the organization. Poe was placed on the USFWS/WRINM education permit in 2007 and since then has done many hours of education programs. One morning in November, as she was being transported from the McCormick house out to her flight cage, she broke free and flew away. So, Peggy put signs up here in Ranchos and nearby areas, and emailed everyone she knew, so folks could keep an eye out and hopefully ease her passage home. Clearly, the bird has regained some ability to fly.

Still feeling feisty after a taste of life on the road, Poe nevertheless succumbed to tasty morsels from the hand of raven wrangler Peggy McCormick. There had been many sightings of her meanderings during her adventure… several not far from home in Ranchos, one in Trails, and reportedly one near Kirtland AFB, although a renowned ravenologist, who wishes to remain anonymous, doubts she would have traveled that far and speculated the sighting may have been a test flight of a new miniature stealth fighter. The Air Force would not return phone calls at press time.

Mrs. McCormick wishes to express her gratitude, and that of Wildlife Rescue of NM, at the recovery of the rambling renegade raven and wants to thank all who helped in the round-the-clock search. New security measures are in place to prevent a recurrence.

 

Heard around the West

—BESTY MARSTON, High Country News

OREGON

“Lucky,” an elk that was hand-raised by residents of Tillamook County, was by all accounts a cute calf. You could see the little elk along Highway 101, in a pasture where bull elk like to hang out with milk cows. He was comfortable with people and would jump into a pickup bed as easily as a dog, reports the Statesman Journal. But then Lucky got bigger and wasn’t so cute anymore. He started getting pushy with the neighbors and jumping into the wrong pickups, says Herman Biederbeck, a state wildlife biologist. Lucky had to go. But once relocated to a remote part of the county, the elk still “found his way to a house and went inside.” Lucky was picked up for a second attempt at relocation, but this time the elk who seemed to think he was a dog was trucked much farther away, to the Cascades. Oregon biologists say the saga of unlucky Lucky shows what can go wrong when young animals get taken from the wild. Although they hope Lucky makes it in the mountains, they’re not very optimistic: The elk has no experience as a herd animal and has never had to find food or escape from predators. Their advice to humans: Never “rescue” a young wild animal, and always assume that its mother will return.

CALIFORNIA

State health officials gave away lunchboxes festooned with healthy slogans, hoping kids would follow their advice to “Be Active” and “Eat fruits and vegetables.” Sadly, the attempt backfired: The colorful containers of green and blue canvas were made in China and possibly contaminated with lead, said the California Department of Health. It announced a recall of 300,000 of the lunchboxes, which had been distributed at health fairs and other venues since 2004, reports the Los Angeles Times. “It’s unfortunate that an item we’re using hopefully to promote healthy behavior is discovered itself to be a potential health hazard,” said Mark Horton, director of the state’s public health department.

COLORADO

We can probably expect great things of six-year-old Josh Barber of Broomfield, Colorado. Waking up early and really hungry for some chicken nuggets, he took matters into his own hands while his dad was at work, his grandmother was asleep, and his mother recovered from surgery. The child found car keys, went outside, unlocked the car door, adjusted the seat so he could see over the steering wheel, and started on down the road toward those chicken nuggets. “I hit the gas,” he told a Denver television station. Unfortunately, the car was parked in reverse, reports the Associated Press. Backing up 75 feet, Josh hit a pole and knocked out phone service and electricity to dozens of houses. “I crashed into these things, and then what happened is, I didn’t know what to do,” Josh explained. The boy promised that he wouldn’t take the wheel again. Not for a few years, anyway.

THE NATION

Three cheers for ninety-year-old Harold Burgess, volunteer extraordinaire and particular advocate of trumpeter swans and black-bellied whistling ducks. After putting in 33 years as a national wildlife refuge manager and biologist, Burgess volunteered for the next 27 years at various refuges. Last July, when he turned 90, he “quit” his second career as a volunteer, reports Refuge Update, published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Asked which work he enjoyed more—paid or volunteer—Burgess said the latter. “I don’t have any boss. I just go ahead and do it.”

ARIZONA

Trust the Arizona Republic to get readers’ blood boiling. All it took was a little story headlined “Way too hot, way too late in the year.” For the fifteenth straight day, temperatures were far above normal, and on the day of the paper’s story, November 6, the temperature hit a steamy 91 degrees. What was worse, “the Valley’s hot fall is merely a continuation of what has been a fairly miserable year.” One unsurprised reader reacted with mockery: “We’ve got trouble … right here in Desert City! We’re oblivious to the need for shade or water conservation. We’re in denial about the heat island effect.” Another agreed, saying that moving out of Phoenix was only a question of when. Still, the nation’s fifth-largest city had its avid supporters. More than one said the heat was just fine and that people fleeing would mainly mean “a few less people on the freeways.”

CALIFORNIA

Bears burgling houses around Lake Tahoe are a familiar story. But the number of bears killed by cars—75—set a record this year, reports the Reno-Gazette Journal. Also new are efforts by some people to feed the animals in the forests, a move condemned by most wildlife specialists. One woman spent $10,000 on nuts and fruits, dropping off the goodies as she walked through the trees, and “pilots have also dropped food from their planes.” Ann Bryant, leader of a local group, the Bear League, defends the practice: “It’s a whole lot more natural if bears are foraging in backwoods and finding food than picking through someone’s refrigerator.”

WASHINGTON

Given the number of accidents and attacks against bicyclists in Seattle, riders may want to don flak jackets. In September, a cyclist was hit by a truck and killed, and in October, a rider accused the driver of a sport utility vehicle of trying to intimidate or even hit him, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. But it’s only recently that the shooting started: Peter McKay was pedaling home in early November when he heard bangs, then suddenly felt pain in his chest. “I didn’t think of calling the police or dialing 911,” he said. “I just kept riding.” Once home, however, he discovered he’d been hit by BB pellets; an X-ray the next day showed one had entered his left lung, releasing air into his chest cavity, while another just missed his aorta and spinal cord. McKay, who plans to continue commuting to work, jokes that he shouldn’t have been wearing a yellow bicycling jersey because it made him an easy target. Some help is on the way for Seattle’s 6,000 bicycle commuters: The city council just approved a master plan that will put millions into improvements, “including 19 miles of cycling trails and a 230-mile system of marked routes for riders.”

CALIFORNIA

As joggers passed by and tourists looked on, a group of 700 “guerrilla volunteers” pitched in to clean oil from San Francisco’s beaches, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. What made the cleanup unorthodox was the ingredients used: human hair and mushrooms. Hair “acts as a perfect sponge,” according to Lisa Gautier of San Francisco. The hair was collected from Bay Area salons, and woven into pads the size of doormats. Gautier donated 1,000 hair-mats collected by her nonprofit, Matter of Trust, to help clean the oil spilled by a cargo ship that crashed into a base of the Bay Bridge. Gautier pioneered the technique, first persuading the city’s environment department to use hair-mats to absorb used motor oil. Where do the mushrooms come in? Once the mats become saturated with “black gunk,” she says, they’re a perfect bed for oyster mushrooms to grow and make nontoxic compost. “You make it like a lasagna,” Gautier says. “You layer the oily hair mats with mushrooms and straw, turn it in six weeks, and by 12 weeks you have good soil.”

OREGON

Mushrooms are so ingenious: One species apparently lives and thrives underwater in Oregon’s Rogue River, reports the Mail Tribune. Hydrologist Robert Coffan couldn’t believe what he was seeing at first—“gilled mushrooms do not live and grow underwater,” he said—but there they were, “swaying in the main current of the clear, cold river in early July through late September.” Coffan consulted biologists at Oregon State University and elsewhere, and they believe he’s found a new species, one that apparently grows not only on submerged wood but also on gravel. How are the mushroom’s spores dispersed? Nobody knows. “We have a whole new area to look for mushrooms now,” says Coffan. “It’s mind-boggling.”

UTAH

Eight cows escaped from a trailer that opened just as the driver pulled into a McDonald’s in Weber County, Utah, reports The Associated Press. “Maybe they were going to hop in the freezer (and) save the middleman,” said a sheriff’s deputy. A two-hour roundup of the 800-pound cows was dubbed “Operation Hamburger Helper.”

COLORADO

Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in the 1950s for refusing to tell a congressional committee the names of Hollywood communists. The screenwriter was never honored by his hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado, for his award-winning work on the movies Spartacus and Roman Holiday. Quite the opposite: For decades, it was impossible to find his novel, Eclipse, about the hypocrisy of Grand Junction natives, in local bookstores, and stories abounded about people buying the book in order to trash it. But times change, and thanks to residents with a sense of humor and deep-enough pockets, a bronze statue of a cigar-smoking Trumbo sitting up in a bathtub—his favorite place to write—was recently unveiled in a prime spot downtown. Trumbo still has his detractors. In the anonymous “You said it” column in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, one said: “I will take the plaque of Ten Commandments any day over a statue of a communist in a bathtub.”

ARIZONA

In Surprise, Arizona, some locals had their sensibilities spanked by a sign for Bad Ass Coffee, a rival to Starbucks that hadn’t even opened yet. This “crosses the line of good taste,” miffed residents told the Arizona Republic, though the paper explained that the name simply describes “a maladjusted donkey.” One homeowner protested that “We all have small children … and we don’t want to swear around them.” The franchise is based in Salt Lake City.

Betsy Marston is editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (hcn.org).

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