The Buckets of Gold planted along the south side of the fence.
Flowers and friends
My Mother traded flowers with many of her friends in Bernalillo during the years she and my Dad raised our family of eight children. Money was scarce, but family and friends shared the beauty of their flowers eagerly. I think that while I watched her raise our family and plant and tend her garden, I have come to have the same love of flowers she has always had.
I remember helping her plant some of the flowers around our home and how she picked each spot, what flower needed sun or shade, would others be able to enjoy it from the road as they passed our house or as they entered the back door, what flowers looked good together, what plants liked sandy soil or good rich mountain dirt, and what plants might need a fence to grow on.
She was so proud of the lilacs she got from a friend of my Dad’s, Perfecto Tafoya, and was excited to plant them next to the house where visitors could enjoy their wonderful fresh scent and lilac color. When we got a fence around the front yard, she got Buckets of Gold from another very dear friend of my Dad’s, Ricardo Farfan, and planted them along the south side of the fence.
Her mother-in-law Mildred was the source of the very bright, multi-colored four o’clocks planted along the north wall. They did so well along the cooler side of the house and everyone could enjoy them as they drove into our driveway. They have pretty little pink, yellow, and white trumpet-shaped flowers and reseeded themselves each year. She got Bouncing Betties with a pretty little white flower from Mildred and they are a good plant for the cooler side of the property also and once started, spread easily.
One of her dearest friends, Mrs. Franks, gave her a start of some old-fashioned yellow roses. They were planted along the front fence for people to enjoy as they drove by and to make our house look warm and inviting. They were tiny but very fragrant and mother shared them with Mildred.
One of her old family friends, Ora Cosper, who lived in the North Valley, gave her a start of trumpet vine. It was planted along the north side of the front yard and hummingbirds and butterflies just love it. It has bright orange trumpet-shaped flowers and spreads quite easily, almost becoming a bother to keep in just one area.
A pretty little succulent plant, Hens and Chicks, was a gift from her dearest sister-in-law Kay who shared them with another sister-in-law, Estell Steward. It is a cute little plant that spreads fairly well.
A beautiful bulb given to Mom by both niece Maxie Steward and daughter-in-law Jenny has done wonderfully well and been enjoyed by everyone. The Naked Lady grows wonderful amaryllis-like leaves which then die and you think the flower did too. But surprise—a few weeks later, up comes a thick stem that holds four blooms of pastel pink flowers. They are a lovely surprise and last for most of a week as a cut flower.
A dear family friend, Nancy Pratt, gave Mom the passion flower that graces the front yard. Nancy drove a school bus for Dad for many years. It is a vine with a beautiful purple flower that spreads easily and also attracts lots of hummingbirds and butterflies. Many people have asked about it and for a start of it as well. In the Florida Keys, the flowers grow as big as dinner plates. Nancy also gave Mom the pretty little violets in the front yard and a start of the Everlasting Sweet Pea.
Beautiful pink climbing roses were given to Mom by Mrs. Madrid, the mother of one of her son’s schoolmates, Alfonso. They bloom wonderfully and smell just as good.
A unique tuber given to my Mother by daughter-in-law Jenny is the Red Hot Poker, and it is red hot! It has an abundance of green leaves and a single thick stem that develops a flower which is initially pale green, then yellow, then bright red. Hummingbirds and butterflies love these too and they make a great cut flower to enjoy in your home.
The iris that have been given to my Mother include several colors and have come from several people. They spread easily and take little maintenance, except for separating them occasionally. Sister-in-law Wanda Steward gave her beautiful yellow iris, good friend Nancy Pratt gave her beautiful bright purple iris, special friend Rudean Perea give her a lovely pale blue iris, and neighbor Al C de Baca’s brother-in-law Ruben gave her a crisp white iris, all planted in many locations of the property.
The deep red, pale pink, and solid white hollyhocks scattered around the property were given to us by Larry Pratt. They have spread to many corners of our yard and I have shared them with many friends and family. They grow in any soil and you can virtually neglect them. Larry Pratt also shared his late wife Nancy’s iris. I hope I will see them bloom next spring where I can enjoy them and remember Miss Nancy, what a special person, hard worker, and dear friend she was.
The orange tiger lilies between the fruit trees were given to Mom by Jessie Crockett, a friend who lived just across the street from our family for many years. Her children played with my siblings and she kept in touch with Mom even after her family moved away. She was a hardworking woman who raised a good family and who just recently passed away.
The white Siberian bearded iris in the back yard among the trees were shared by Rudean Perea. She was a special friend who drove a school bus for Gene for many years and recently passed away. My Mother and she enjoyed the time they spent shopping, eating out and visiting, sharing laughs, recipes, confidences, and hard times, along with their flowers.
The grapes in our yard have come from my Dad’s family and include champagne grapes as well as the green and purple varieties. They have been enjoyed as light wine made by my Grandfather Victor, grape juice, or just grapes.
I think knowing the history of the flowers in my yard is a part of what keeps me happy when I tend them. I know how precious each one was when it was shared with my Mother at a time when our family did not have money to spend on flowers, no matter how beautiful. I spend many hours weeding, watering, pruning, cutting blooms, and fertilizing and I hope to share them as my Mother and her family and friends did.
And I hope that visitors and passersby will continue to enjoy the flowers in my Mother’s yard for many seasons to come.
Here comes change
—Alan Kesselheim, Writers on the Range
Recently I had the opportunity to watch a short but very moving video about an elderly Diné woman named Pauline Whitesinger from Big Mountain on the Navajo Nation. In it, she speaks about who she is, where she lives, and what informs her life. Her nephew, Danny Blackgoat, translates her words, listening and speaking quietly. The interview is interspersed with scenes of the surrounding arid land, her garden plot and band of goats, the sun framed by white, billowing thunderheads.
Pauline is in her 70s. She lives all alone in a house smaller than the bathrooms found in many upscale homes. She has no electricity and no running water. No car. No telephone. And certainly no computer. Her nearest neighbors are miles away across scrub hillsides dotted with piñon and juniper and sage. She tends a small bunch of goats. Family members visit her from time to time, bringing water and food and checking on her. In material terms, her existence is impoverished.
Her words are spare, straightforward, unrehearsed. She tells who she is, what clan she is from, who her ancestors are. She talks about the land on which she has lived throughout her life—where she is from, quite literally. She pays homage to the sun that rises each day, to the plants that grow nearby—each of which she knows individually—and to the rain. She talks about living in a balance of respect with all the other life—animal and plant. She says she is grateful each day, for the beauty that surrounds her and to the life-giving forces that nourish and sustain her.
As I say, the video is not long, nor is it sophisticated in any way—an old woman talking to her nephew, with some scenic landscapes thrown in. And yet, it moved me in a powerful and indefinable way. Because, I think, despite her material poverty and her bare-bones way of life, she is so clearly connected to a place, to the continuum of history that she is part of, and to a way of living embraced comfortably in the rhythms of the earth. It made me ache with a sense of loss, or, perhaps more accurately, an appreciation for something I’ve never had. Moreover, my sense is that her words speak to something universally longed for, a level of connection and continuity that was once essential to the human condition.
In this election, no matter who you backed, the mantra was change. A timeless political chant, perhaps, but this time the sentiment felt pervasive and passionate, even a little desperate.
We want change from so many things that have gone wrong: war; questionable financial rescues of people who deserve jail terms more than golden parachutes; the cynicism of “Healthy Forests” and “Clear Skies” initiatives; $15 billion quarterly earnings for a single company, Exxon-Mobil; schools held to standards but not given the budgets to achieve them. We want change from fifty million people without health coverage in the wealthiest nation on earth—change from a government willing to hastily throw $700 billion at a shaky financial house of cards, but unwilling to even acknowledge the clear and growing distress of our planet.
Yes, we need change, most of us agree.
What worries me is the impression that a lot of the “change” sloganeering I’ve heard amounts to little more than tinkering with the existing structure—as if we just need a thorough tune-up and an oil change to get us back up and running.
Now, I don’t have any illusions that I could live the way that Pauline Whitesinger lives. It isn’t as if I could pick up a herd of goats and turn off the lights. I am too far removed from that sensibility on too many levels. And yet, her life holds the power it does because it points the way to something more fundamental than just re-jiggering “business-as-usual.”
Pauline Whitesinger’s simple statement reveals an abiding connection to her home, the land she is from. She lives within the grace of that landscape, and is grateful each day for that grace. She acknowledges the civilization she is a member of, and the people she comes from. She respects the community that surrounds her—human, animal, plant, weather, spirit—and her actions are informed by that respect.
No, I don’t advocate some ascetic return to nomadic herding, a hunting-and-gathering subsistence. But I advocate a return to respect. I advocate a return to gratitude. Not just one day a week, and not just occasional lip service. I mean living every day in respect and gratitude—and then seeing where it might lead us.
Maybe that’s the change we can all get behind.
Eleven-year-old Placitas resident Ian Kingsolver smiles for the camera. Ian is a second year winner of Hey, Mozart! An annual composition competition for children.
Winners of the 2008 Hey! Mozart competition play their winning compositions
Hey, Mozart! competition showcases local youth talent
—Margaret M. Nava
When eleven-year-old Placitas resident Ian Kingsolver remembers his first Hey, Mozart! New Mexico competition, he smiles. “I’d already been composing for a couple of years but when I found out that the New Mexico Symphony would arrange and play my work, I was like, “Wow.“ I definitely wanted to hear my piece and the contest is what motivated me to get serious about composing.”
Hey, Mozart! New Mexico is an annual composition competition for children twelve and under, produced in collaboration with the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra, and elementary and middle school children and teachers throughout the state. The project invites all New Mexico children ages twelve and under to submit original melodies, from which sixteen are selected, professionally orchestrated, and recorded on a CD. The selected composers perform their melodies in a free concert at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque and then hear the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra perform the arranged versions for the first time. Hey, Mozart! New Mexico’s core assumption is that “music created by children, as opposed to children’s music composed by adults, will help foster greater interest in, appreciation for, and ownership of classical music among young people.”
In 2007, the selected composers list included Jocelyn Boyack, 6, Stephanie Brener, 11, Dylan Cuellar, 10, Angela Jerkins, 11, Simon Laird, 11, Maia Scarpetta, 12, Tankred Steinbach, 9, and Maya Vansuch, 11, all of Albuquerque; Benjamin Harris, 13, Bosque Farms; Christopher Musson, 12, Rio Rancho; John Paul Norman, 11, Corrales; Ian Kingsolver, 9, Placitas; Sierra Stackhouse, 13, Aztec; Sophia Wickert, 11, Las Vegas; Quintin Dean, 12, and Phillip Miller, 11, both of Las Cruces.
The 2008 composers included Jocelyn Boyack, 7, Dana Brener, 12, George Laird, 8, Simon Laird, 12, Abbie Reeves, 10, Tankred Steinbach, 10, and Amy Thomas, 9, of the greater Albuquerque area; Ian Kingsolver, 10, of Placitas; Jaimi Donaldson, 11, Levi Doyle, 8, Andrew McLaughlin, 11, and Amalia Zeitlin, 12, of Las Cruces; Jade Kennedy, 6, and Jasmine Kennedy, 9, of Santa Fe; Thomas Chadwick, 7, of Los Alamos; and Sarah Jo Samora, 8, of Clovis. A CD featuring the work of the 2008 finalists performed by Chatter ( an innovative chamber ensemble) was recorded at the University of New Mexico School of Music’s Keller Hall, and is available through www.heymozartnm.org.
According to Ian, “Every kid in New Mexico should try and enter this competition because it’s a really great experience writing your own music and then hearing it played by professionals. When I entered that first year, I thought some eleven or twelve year olds with these brilliant concertos or these giant pieces everyone loved would win over me so I was really surprised when I was chosen as one of the finalists. If I can do it, so can lots of other kids… even if they don’t play traditional instruments. Even singers who make up their own melodies can enter. Maybe someday the program will be so large, we’ll have to perform at Popejoy because there wouldn’t be enough space at the Hispanic Cultural Center.”
Unlike most competitions that look for technical musical skills as well as expressiveness, Hey, Mozart! New Mexico does not require that its composers know music notation. Instead, children may simply submit a recording singing or playing the melody. This opens up the project to many more children who feel the creative impulse but may not consider themselves students of music. Ian confesses, “I read music but not as well as I think I should. Right now, I’m in the AJO (Albuquerque Junior Orchestra), and I take piano lessons but someday, I’d like to be in the AJS( Albuquerque Junior Symphony.) They do a lot harder pieces and I could learn a lot there.”
Initially trained in the Suzuki method, an educational philosophy which strives to create “high ability and beautiful character in its students through a nurturing environment,” Ian attends the APS Family School (an alternative school) Monday through Thursday and devotes his Fridays off to traditional violin lessons and music theory. “Some people would say my music is kind of modern classical (contemporary).” Inspired by Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Johann Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, he wrote Elemental Air for the 2007 competition and Journey to the Corona for the 2008. In 2009, he hopes to enter a piece on water and eventually one on Earth, thereby completing his “ode” to the four basic elements.
When asked what he might choose as a career, Ian responded, “I like biology and animals but not ecology and global warming so much. I think what we need to do is find a new species like some kind of new frog whose skin can cure cancer and stuff like that so we can really help ourselves. Ever since I was little, I always wanted to be a scientist but now just looking at it, I’m really good at music, so I’m thinking about going into both. It might take a few extra years, but I think I can do it.”
So do we, Ian, so do we.