David would spend hours upon hours happily sitting in a blind he had built to observe wildlife, just waiting in stillness. “He was remarkably mindful.”
Avi and David
David Cramer (1951-2010)
Great observer of nature had finally found his own
—Keiko Ohnuma, Signpost
They had a relationship that went beyond the usual vows to love, honor, and cherish. David Cramer and Avi Kreichman were both longtime psychotherapists with high ideals, and when they began their life together in 2001, each vowed to put the other’s joy and fulfillment above his own.
So when David died March 25 of heart failure at the age of 58, their many friends were crushed by the tragedy of it—though what emerges, a month later, is a sense of triumph, too.
They had less than ten years together, but David and Avi savored their time together and recognized it as a gift. When they met in Santa Fe at a 2001 conference on “Creativity and Madness,” Avi was still mourning the loss of his partner of twenty years to cancer. David, who had been without a significant relationship for many years, was starting to think about slowing down his busy therapy practice in Austin to enjoy life more. Both his father and grandfather had died of heart failure relatively young.
By the end of the weeklong conference, “we made the decision we wanted to develop the relationship,” Avi recalls with typical understatement. Eventually he moved to Austin to be with David, and they stayed for the two years it took David to ensure that his patients could make a good transition in treatment.
It was during those two years in Texas, Avi recalls, that David first started taking pictures. These were mostly snapshots taken to document their travels around Texas, hiking and enjoying the outdoors. On one trip back to Placitas and Avi’s home, David noticed a “blurry big mammal go past the kitchen,” and they both ran outside. In the driveway, he saw his first wild horse, flushed from the wilderness by the drought. “He liked to say the horse looked at him and pooped, and he fell in love,” Avi says with a now-rare smile.
Anyone who has seen David Cramer’s photography can attest to how quickly the hobbyist grew into one of the state’s foremost wildlife photographers, winner of multiple awards and featured in a half-dozen books and magazines. It was the Placitas Studio Tour, just six months after they moved here, that launched his second career.
Two neighbors near their new house who happened to be photographers had invited David along on their shoots and encouraged him to join the studio tour with the photos he had, mostly landscapes. And “he was immediately successful,” Avi says. His work sold, and photographers who came by told David he was already doing excellent work. He began to connect with the large community of Placitas artists – dozens of whom grew to know and love him and flooded the Signpost with calls after his death.
A second calling
Surprisingly, David Cramer until then had not been any kind of photo enthusiast. He probably took fewer pictures than most people do, Avi says, because photos from his earlier life came mostly from other people. The second of three sons, David was born in Dallas to a family with an established business in concrete and swimming pools. Aside from a stint in Arkansas for schooling, David had remained in Texas like everyone else in the family, studying and working as a psychologist for 25 years, until he met Avi.
It was the views of Cabezon and the Sandias from their yard in Placitas that drew him more deeply into photography. After discovering the wild horses near Cedar Creek, he found they also roamed the BLM land below their home. From the start, Avi said, photography for David was about nature and nothing else. They quickly came to see their move to New Mexico as carrying an element of fate.
“We had a strong feeling it couldn’t have happened anywhere else,” Avi says of the confluence of inspirational landscape, fellow photographers, annual studio tour, and the artistic recognition it brought.
It was after the studio tour that David took the leap into retirement, devoting himself full-time to photography.
He started studying and taking workshops, and before long he was leading them. “A lot of people told him they got more benefit talking to him than the workshop leader,” Avi explains. Rather than guard jealously his professional secrets, David would lend out his cameras and lenses, and immediately share any tips or techniques he found. “He was an incredibly generous person,” Avi says—a sentiment echoed by old friends Josie Whitley and Nick Broline, in town from Texas for the memorial service.
The three friends agree that what tied David’s success as a therapist to his instinct for portraying wildlife was an intuitive understanding of relationships. “People said it was like he became part of the flock,” Avi says. Josie relates his similar approach to therapy, where David would be endlessly patient and “let people do what they did” before making one statement that would suddenly open their eyes in a new way.
It was this unique combination of natural sensitivity, attentiveness, and patience that gave him the ability to capture what no one else could see. Avi recalls that David would spend hours upon hours happily sitting in a blind he had built to observe wildlife, just waiting in stillness. “He was remarkably mindful.” After a day in the field with his students, they would marvel at a photo he had gotten that everyone else missed, such as of two cranes squabbling. “That was when you were talking,” David would say with a smile.
In retrospect, what seems remarkable is this prescient urgency to live, love, make art, do as his heart bid—combined with the inner stillness to wait for the perfect shot. Given his family mortality and Avi’s early loss of a partner, both men were acutely aware that the time to live and love is now.
Yet he never acted in fits and starts, his friends say. He was always steady and always advancing. “He would say, ‘Don’t indulge yourself, but don’t deny yourself,’” Avi says. “He always found the middle way.”
The search ended
It might surprise some acquaintances to learn that David was actually an introvert, happiest at home with Avi or out stalking wild horses and migratory birds alone. Despite his sweet-natured, easygoing temperament and readiness to laugh, David actually had longed for years for someone to share his life with, and he knew the search was over.
“I know he was in the happiest chapter of his life,” Josie says gently, shooting Avi a look of affirmation.
Cherishing time as they did, the couple seemed occasionally to transcend time, and achieve moments of eternal truth. “One example of what he did for me,” Avi allows, offering a painful glimpse into one day or evening when a photo was taken, of David watching Avi play the piano. The story behind it is that the talented physician had once been a promising young composer, and had stopped writing music in the 1970s to go to medical school. Only after he met David did Avi start writing music again.
“So we inspired each other,” he says simply. “That was the kind of relationship we had.”
Avi has vowed to carry through David’s legacy by establishing a charitable trust in his name, which will handle all proceeds from posthumous sales of his work—the hundreds of prints, files, and negatives left behind. All profits will go to charities spanning the range of David’s interests, such as art programs that help the homeless, disabled, or disenfranchised; wildlife groups; and others.
People close to David share his concern, Avi says, about “preserving the integrity of his personhood” as well as of his art. That means no corners will be cut in the quality of books or prints made, for example. “We want people to be as aware of his generosity as of his art.”
That intangible quality of kindness and gentle appreciation for life that illuminates his wildlife photography lives on also in the people whom David touched—Avi above all. For while love always unfolds in time, it can never be wholly contained by it. Love, like art, reverberates in the space of eternity, where David exists still.
Celebrations of David’s life will be held at the Las Placitas Presbyterian Church in Placitas at 2:00 p.m., Sunday, May 2, and at the First English Lutheran Church in Austin at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, May 8. Gifts in his memory can be made to a charity of choice.
Life as a state forester
—Margaret M. Nava, Signpost
New Mexico State Forester Mary Stuever says she stumbled into forestry by accident. “I came from a family that was always outdoors, but being involved with scouting and doing a lot of hiking really set the stage for me for wanting to be a forester. My aunt tried to convince me to become a pharmacist because she said, as a pharmacist, I could work three days a week, make enough money to support myself, and then have four days to go out and play in the woods. I really thought I was going into pharmacy, but when I got to college and looked at the majors, I discovered that pharmacy was only offered at the other university. I didn’t want to go to that other university. Forestry and pharmacy kind of sounded alike, and when I thought about it, it didn’t make sense to become a pharmacist just to make enough money to play when I could go work and play at the same time.”
Earning her bachelor’s degree in Forest Management from Oklahoma State University in 1982, Mary went to work for the State Forestry Division in Santa Fe. Enjoying the work but not the location, she applied for an open position in the Bernalillo district, got it, and moved to Placitas. After completing a thesis entitled “Fire Ecology in the Bosque,” she earned a master’s degree in biology from UNM in 1997. Going to work as a burn area emergency rehabilitation coordinator for the White Mountain Apache tribe in Arizona, she dealt with the disastrous results of the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski wildfire, the worst forest fire in Arizona’s recorded history. In 2008, she returned to Placitas and the New Mexico State Forestry Division.
As a state timber management officer, Mary is currently engaged in two major projects. “One is writing a state assessment of all the forest resources in the state and what we need to do for New Mexico’s forests to make them as healthy as they can be. The other is a stimulus job-to-go project with the goal of creating jobs and putting people to work. This particular project is a survey on how much forest we have and what impact large catastrophic fires and insect infestations have had on piñon mortality. We haven’t done this kind of survey since the late 1990s, and we’ve had a lot of big fires and insect damage since then, so this study will help us understand what’s out there and what the condition the forests are in.”
Life as a state forester isn’t a nine-to-five job. “Sometimes things change. You’ve got to be flexible. One night I was talking to my mom about the wild horses in Placitas and the truly difficult situation in our neighborhood because there’s a big tank that baby horses sometime fall into and can’t get out. Then on my way to work the next day, I got into my little car and noticed horses in my neighbor’s yard and wondered what they were doing there. When the neighbors had horses, free-roaming wild horses often came into their yard to drink from the tank, but the horses weren’t there anymore, and I suspected the worst. Glancing over at the tank, there was this little baby horse with its head sticking out. Even though the horse was able to get its front feet out of the tank, it couldn’t pull itself out. I spent most of my morning working with other Placitans, getting that horse out of the tank, and was reminded of an important lesson—only community and communication can guide us to solutions, and to be rescued, each of us has to do our own part.”
A prolific writer and steward of the forests, “doing her part” has always been an important component of Stuever’s credo. She co-authored the Philmont Field Guide (1985), Project Wild and Aquatic Project Wild (1997), and Plant Associations of Forests of Arizona and New Mexico (1997), as well as Plant Associations of Woodlands of Arizona and New Mexico (1997). In 2003, she co-edited the Bosque Education Guide and in 2005 the Field Guide to the Sandia Mountains. In 2009, UNM Press published The Forester’s Log: Musings from the Woods, Stuever’s first book written without a co-author or co-editor. Her current projects include a novel set on the White Mountain Apache reservation, an adventure story about hiking the Continental Divide with her mother and daughter, and yet another book about the Philmont Scout Ranch “because the world can always use another one.”
According to their Web site, the New Mexico State Forestry Division is “responsible for wildfire suppression on all non-federal, non-municipal, non-tribal, and non-pueblo lands.” They “also provide technical advice on forest and resource management to private landowners, and may include a commercial timber harvest to enhance wildlife habitat, increase water yield, and reduce the hazard of insect infestation, diseases, or fire.” Mary believes that the forests need a lot of advocates. “I am truly in favor of environmental organizations being involved in all the decisions involving the forests. It is important for people to make the forest real and to remind the managers that there are a lot of values to the forest beyond how many cows can graze or how many logs can be cut. From a scientific standpoint, we want to have healthy forests, but we want them to be healthy from a spiritual standpoint as well, and it takes people to speak up about that. I think it’s really important for people to learn as much as possible about the forests because the more they know about them, the more they will love them.”
For more information about forests, wildfires, plants, Mary Stuever, and upcoming events, log on to http://www.foresterslog.com. For more information about the New Mexico State Forestry Division, log on to http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/fd/index.htm.
The Jardineros ladies smile for the camera while displaying their crafty work.
45 years of Jardineros in Placitas
—Ellen Baker, Corresponding Secretary, Jardineros de Placitas
Jardineros de Placitas, informally known as the Garden Club, is a social and charitable organization, providing its members with opportunities for meeting other Placitas residents and promoting the betterment of the greater Placitas community. Membership in the club is open to any resident of Placitas. Meetings are held monthly, and programs cover a wide variety of subjects. A few of this year’s topics are folk art with artists/speakers from the Santa Fe Folk Arts Festival, xeric gardening, Nu Shu – the secret language of Chinese women, and the New Mexico Space Port.
Numerous smaller groups enable members to pursue their interests and enjoy the company of other members. The interest groups include wine tasting, area trips, bridge, movies, dining out, crafts, book discussion, photography, game nights, wildflowers & gardening, and gourmet cooking.
Our support of the community includes monetary donations to schools and agencies serving Sandoval County. Opportunities for volunteer service are offered through our Community Services committee. Members have made quilts for children at the local domestic violence shelter, donated backpacks with school supplies for elementary school kids, assisted at area blood drives, adopted a mile of Highway 165, and more.
Being a member of Jardineros de Placitas is a wonderful way to meet interesting people and make new friends while serving the community.
If you’re interested in learning more or attending a meeting, check our Web site, www.jardinerosdeplacitas.org, or contact our Membership Co-Chairs: Carol Gabel, 771-3060, or Clardel Walker, 867-8443.
Women find fighters for freedom on a highway in Placitas
—Doris A. Fields, Democratic Women of Sandoval County
The Democratic Women of Sandoval County (DWSC) held our second cleanup on Saturday, April 10, and it was quite a success. I extend a special THANK YOU to Floyd Cotton who did a yeoman’s job as the Crew Leader—Yeahhhh! Floyd is also an excellent wood craftsman; he made a set of very nice pick-up sticks for all of the workers. The sticks made picking up trash much easier and saved our backs. Although a few people were not feeling at their tops and could not make it out, we still had nine workers. We all worked hard. Everyone reported having a bit of fun, except when the wind made it too challenging to keep our bags open or the dust kicked up our allergies. We had fun anyway!
Before the cleanup, I had asked some of the volunteers to take note of anything they found that was fun, funny, historical, and/or interesting. Dana Roth of Placitas found some neat old bottles in what seemed to be an old (not quite ancient) dumping ground. One was a small blue glass Pepto-Bismol bottle and one was an old Mogen David wine bottle. We found several interesting but indecipherable pieces of metal, too, but the most important find in our Adopt-A-Highway section of Highway 165 was a tribute to women. The newly installed Historical Marker features three women veterans from our geographical region who made the ultimate sacrifice—they gave their lives in service to our nation. We are honored that their marker is in our section of the highway. They are First Lieutenant Tamara Archuleta of the United States Air Force, Specialist Lori Piestewa of the United States Army, and Captain Christel Chávez of the United States Air Force.
When we finished our clean-up, several of us took some time to read both sides of the marker and to think about the women honored there. Our clean-up crew posed for several photographs next to the marker. As we talked, we discovered two Placitas connections. First, it turns out that Dana Roth’s father is a long time private pilot who participates in the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). One of their missions is the Young Eagles Program whose goal is to introduce young people to the joy of flying. Through this program and Dana’s mother’s association with Lieutenant Tamara Archuleta’s family, Dana’s dad took Tamara on her first flight in a small plane. Tamara was an extraordinary young woman who went on to become a helicopter pilot, and sadly, she died in a helicopter crash when it was on its way to rescue two wounded Afghan children. As you might imagine, Dana could hardly wait to tell her father about the marker.
Second, Specialist Lori Piestewa, from Tuba City, Arizona, was of Hopi and Mexican descent. Serving in the military was a family tradition, which Lori carried on from her father and grandfather. She was one of several members of the 507th Maintenance Company whose unit was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers. Lori bravely drove her vehicle through the ambush until it crashed after being hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. She was the first woman to be killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She left behind two small children—a daughter and a son. Posthumously, Lori Piestewa was awarded Purple Heart and Prisoner of War medals. After Lori was killed in combat, I had the honor of being asked to write a poem/tribute for her family. I was truly humbled by the request. Subsequently, I read the poem at a public performance with the Live Poets Society in Santa Fe.
Members of our clean-up crew already have plans to honor the women further. We will plant some drought-tolerant flowers around the marker. We all plan to pitch in and water the plants when we pass by from time to time.
Another quest is to find anyone in Placitas who has a connection to Captain Christel Chávez; it would be good for all of us to learn more about any special connections in Placitas, no matter how indirect.
With nine dedicated workers, we collected 31 bags and several piles of trash. The DWSC extends a big THANK YOU to everyone who worked to keep our community clean.
On May 19, Fred Nathan, Executive Director of Think New Mexico, will be the guest speaker for our monthly program. He will speak on the topic of ethics, focusing on the recent Supreme Court ruling that corporations have the status of individuals to contribute to campaigns. The meeting will be held in the Bernalillo Town Hall at 7:00 p.m. Please join us.