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Michelle Alexander in Santa Fe

Michelle Alexander spoke in Santa Fe on September 12 as part of the Lannan Foundation’s Cultural Freedom speakers series. Her presentation left the audience stunned. She was eloquent and dynamic, and her message was compelling. She spoke of “the new Jim Crow,” her expression for the disenfranchisement of minority voters, mostly black, in this country. The facts she presented in and of themselves are shocking and came as a revelation to many of us in the audience, even those who consider themselves informed about matters of civil rights or, as Alexander says, human rights, which in the USA are supposed to include voting rights. Alexander was interviewed by Liliana Segura, editor from The Nation, who was quite charismatic herself, and an excellent interviewer.  Listen to the podcast of the event at:

http://www.lannan.org/events/michelle-alexander-with-liliana-segura/

 

 

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Pecos Backpack

Dan Flores standing on the Santa Barbara Divide

 

I’m just back from a four-day backpack into the northern Pecos Wilderness with my friends Bill deBuys and Dan Flores. It was a remarkable hike. We started at Serpent Lake and then climbed up the Santa Barbara Divide and walked along it for several miles before dropping into the east fork of Santa Barbara canyon. The wind howled on the divide but the temperatures were remarkably warm for October. It barely froze. The aspens were glorious, although we spent most of our time well above them and only walked through them on our last day, as we hiked out to Santa Barbara campground. To see some photos go to:

http://donusner.com/_LIGHTROOM/Pecos%20Hike%202012/

 

 

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Car Show in Española on August 4, 2012

 

 

I wrote an article for The New Mexican last spring about lowriders in northern New Mexico. In the process of writing that story, I met many car enthusiasts, who were even then busy preparing for the big car show this summer in Española. The date finally arrived and I went for part of the day on August 4. People came from all over the West to attend the show. I met folks from LA, Phoenix, Denver, El Paso, Trinidad, Pueblo… and of course, from all over New Mexico. It was quite a day for Española. People were decked out, and they proudly showed their perfectly polished cars, of all makes and models. I saw a lot of friends from the low rider community and met many more. The organizers (led by Andres Valdez and Eppie Martinez) were thoroughly exhausted by the time the show opened and people began streaming in. The city had blocked off the old main street downtown, and the old town center, even though it’s become rundown, made a perfect backdrop for this show of local culture at its finest. Hopefully, they will put on the show again next year, as this was a real success. 

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Guatemala Three Years On

(Gardener at the hotel in Guatemala City)

Three years ago, my family and I joined my in-laws for a trip to Guatemala. We went as part of a group with Trees, Water, and People, a nonprofit that helps communities protect and manage their natural resources, mostly in Latin America. We went specifically as volunteers to help a small community install energy efficient wood stoves, and to plant trees as part of a reforestation project. I donated photography to the organization, and I also took many photos on my own as we traveled after the “working” part of the trip was over. TWP does fabulous work, and traveling with them is a wonderful way to see places that few tourists would ever visit—such as Pinula, the small village where we built the wood stoves. Some of my photos are posted here: http://donusner.com/_LIGHTROOM/Guatemala%202009/

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A great Santa Fe nonprofit

Here’s another nonprofit I work with and highly recommend—Reel Fathers, an organization working at the national and local level to promote “positive father engagement.” For many years, fathers have been left out of the picture, and Reel Fathers aims to bring them back, by elevating the cultural perception of fathers and by actively working to bring fathers into their children’s lives. Among other activities, they organize early childhood/Head Start events for low-income dads, their children and partners; prison and parole programs for fathers; film and radio production intensives on the theme of fathers for at-risk youth; and community-wide celebrations of Father’s Day.

I’ve been as some Reel Fathers events and I can attest to the remarkable results they achieve in engaging fathers and rekindling their passion for parenting. It’s a mission I support wholeheartedly.

A young father with his child at the Sweeny Headstart program in Santa Fe.

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Paparazzi on the loose

I’m teaching a three-week workshop in beginning digital photography at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. They’re here for SFUAD’s Artfest, a remarkable gathering of students from many countries. I have a terrific group of students, from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Chile, and Mexico. They’re bright, enthusiastic, respectful, and very charged up about photography—and they’re talented. I took them out on a short field trip yesterday, to downtown Santa Fe, where we wandered, visited photography galleries (Verve, Andrew Smith, Monroe) and took photos. People were very obliging and quite amused to be surrounded by nineteen young foreigners with cameras. We seemed to run into a lot of people with little dogs.

Photography students from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design at Play

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Gathering at the Chimayó Museum

On Sunday I gave a talk at the Chimayó Museum about Don Victor Ortega, who was the patrón of the plaza for several decades beginning in the late 1800s and until his death in 1948. He was the subject of a story I wrote for El Palacio magazine a few months back, and the museum asked me to talk about him in conjunction with an exhibit on display there. To the great pleasure of those who attended, four great matriarchs from the community showed up, including my mother, her best friend since childhood, Elsie Miranda, and two of Victor’s granddaughters, Josephine Martinez and Elma Bal. (They’re all cousins to various degrees, and Mom and Elsie went to grade school together and were roommates at Allison James school, Menaul High School, and the University of New Mexico.) Also, three of Victor’s great-grandchildren were there. It was quite a gathering and I was humbled to be speaking about a man I never knew while in the presence of people who knew him intimately. They were kind enough not to point out any errors they detected in my presentation, and Josephine added some great stories about her grandpa when I was done. Afterwards, the crowd ate home-made apricot pastelitos in the very rooms where Victor was born and raised, along with fourteen siblings, one of whom was my great-grandfather, José de los Reyes Ortega.

Cuatro viejitas lindas at the Chimayó Museum

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Back from Vallecitos Again

Vallecitos River Just Upstream of Vallecitos Mountain Ranch

I just returned from another fabulous hiking weekend at the Vallecitos Mountain Ranch. My coconspirator was fellow board member Steve Thompson. We led walks into the woods around the ranch. I took a group through Wild Horse Canyon along the Continental Divide trail, to the big ponderosas up Bonita canyon, and up to Hidden Meadow and over to the big pines in Jarosita Canyon—amazing locales all. Big rains before we arrived left perfect tracking conditions and the trails were covered with the prints of elk, deer, coyotes, wild horses, and  mountain lion (one partial print). …read more →

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Talking it up

I gave two talks last week, one at the Upaya Institute and Zen Center and the other to the Genealogical Soicety of Hispanic America, at the organization’s annual conference, held here in Santa Fe. Upaya is our next door neighbor and I volunteered to help Wendy Johnson kick off her five-day retreat, THE FOUR ELEMENTS RETURN TO THEIR TRUE NATURE. I provided the participants with a “geographic disorientation” to northern New Mexico. It was my intent to introduce the group to the natural and cultural history of this place, here in the Santa Fe River watershed in the Rio Grande Valley, at the southern end of the Rocky Mountains.  …read more →

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A week in the spaciousness of Vallecitos

It’s been over a week since I’ve returned from a five-day hiking retreat at the Vallecitos Mountain Ranch, and, as always, the re-entry is challenging. Life is so simple when off in the woods, off the grid, away from the hustle and bustle. That was the whole idea behind this retreat, which was designed for people working in the media world particularly. It was quite a treat to spend that time with a group of highly creative, deeply engaged professionals who left all their work behind and immersed in the time in the mountains. We took many walks, visiting some magnificent stands of old growth pine, following the banks of the Vallecitos river, winding through remote, rocky canyons, and pausing at promontories to take it all in. Best of all, much of the walking was in silence, so we could actually be in the place and be aware of the sights and sounds and smells around us. We never did spot the wild horses that everyone wanted to see, but we did hear them snorting and galloping off, and we caught glimpses of goshawks and perhaps an eagle, as well as a plethora of more common birds and other animals. Amazingly for a bunch of people involved in making images and telling stories, we didn’t take any photographs, answering the question, “If sixteen film makers get together in the woods and no one makes a movie, did anything happen?” with a resounding, “Yes! A whole lot happened…”

 

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