I am not immune to the venerable tradition of New Year's resolutions. They are perfect excuses for letting go of the past and embracing the future. In that spirit that I am ending this column after nearly four years.
Southwest Storylines columnist Richard Mahler
and wife Stacey Austin in 2010.
In part this is dictated by circumstances. My wife, Silver City naturopath Stacey Austin, passed away last August at age 48 after a long battle with terminal cancer. Despite her disabling symptoms — which forced her to give up her chosen work and driving a car — Stacey did not want my role as caregiver to eclipse my profession as a writer. She encouraged me to continue with "Southwest Storylines" and, except for a month here and there, I was able to do so. I offer a deep bow of thanks to Stacey for her unwavering support and reminding me of what is most important in life, including knowing when it is time to tackle fresh challenges. In 2012 I will be fulfilling a promise to myself to pursue other writing opportunities. If you wish to stay abreast of where this leads, please check for updates at www.richardmahler.com.
My heartfelt thanks goes to the amazing personalities woven into the colorful tapestry known as southwestern New Mexico. As a final homage, this column offers "where are they now" vignettes following up on what some of these folks have been up to since they were profiled in these pages.
Edith Gutierrez, retired municipal court judge (May 2010)
When we last heard from Edith Gutierrez she was looking forward to her retirement from the municipal court bench in Silver City. The judge anticipated relaxing with her husband in the sleepy village of Gila.
"That lasted about a year," laughs Gutierrez. "It was too quiet. I missed people. I needed to find something to do."
"I'm now an assistant manager for a Family Dollar Store in Silver City," she says, with a trill of delight. "I thoroughly enjoy it. I burn a lot of calories and I'm around people again. It's an honest job and I enjoy the extra income."
In doing so, adds Gutierrez, "I've returned to my humble beginnings. I started working in a Silver City five-and-dime store when I was 14. "
So far Gutierrez has worked in one Bayard and two Silver City outlets of the national chain. Currently she is assigned to a Family Dollar near Beall's department store on Hwy. 180. Customers who recognize her sometimes wonder, "What's a former jurist doing in a place like this?"
Gutierrez tells them her story of being "a home-alone judge" and how she feels reinvigorated by being around folks from all walks of life. "The Dollar Store isn't just where poor people shop," she insists. "There are middle-class and rich coming through the door, too, and members of every age or racial group. Really, everybody is looking for a bargain these days."
And back home in Gila on her days off? "There are kids and grandbabies to keep me busy," says Gutierrez.
Karen Lauseng, artist and arts administrator (October 2009)
Karen Lauseng resigned her position last June as Silver City's first Arts & Cultural District Coordinator in order to return to full-time work as a multimedia artist. During her two-year tenure at the ACD she helped establish a strong foundation for meeting the visionary goals and objectives of the town's Cultural Plan, for which Lauseng was praised by New Mexico MainStreet and the New Mexico Arts Commission. Among her accomplishments were the launch of an arts-oriented website for Silver City, co-sponsorship of various art events, and introduction of an annual community-wide Art Yard Sale.
"Since July," says Lauseng, "working in my studio has consumed my days. It is hard to put into words how much I had missed the uninterrupted time to create and be in the moment. I have so many ideas ready to put into action and know 2012 will be a fabulous year for me."
A writer as well as a visual artist, Lauseng has submitted numerous design ideas for how-to articles. "Currently," she reports, "my designs scheduled for publication include step-by-step projects for Lark Books: Thirty Minute Bracelets, A Bounty of Bead & Wire Necklaces and The Beader's Guide to Design. In its January issue Art Jewelry Magazine showcases a brooch made by me from plastic spider rings, and a necklace created with plastic dental picks will appear later in 2012."
Luís Pérez, Silver City writer and historian (November 2008)
Luís Pérez continues to prepare and deliver talks he has researched on local history topics, including the Apache of southern New Mexico. He has found rapt listeners recently among audiences at Rockhound State Park and meetings of the Westerners Silver City Posse organization. Of special current interest to Pérez is the so-called "Johnson massacre" of about 20 peacefully abiding Mimbreño Apaches on April 22, 1837, at Juniper Springs in New Mexico's Bootheel. When his information-gathering is complete, Pérez plans to write an account of this surprise attack, which was led by "scalphunter" John J. Johnson on land now owned by the Animas Foundation and not open to the public.
Since the article about him appeared in these pages, Pérez has spent time in Portugal and Spain, where he visited his beloved Alhambra in Córdoba as well as the historic cities of Seville, Segovia, Madrid and Toledo. Closer to home, Pérez remains an active member of Grant County's Optimists Club. "I hope we can get our club involved with the new library in Bayard," he says, "which is very impressive." The addition of a special collection on southern New Mexico history would please him no end.
Patrick Conlin, Silver City Realtor (November 2010)
Patrick Conlin says "things are pretty much the same" in his personal life and work as they were 14 months ago. "I'm still living at my compound, Snoring Dog Ranch," he points out. "I have only two dogs now, since Max passed away last April."
One of Grant County's busiest brokers, Conlin nonetheless found time to celebrate his 40th birthday in Key West and to take a Mediterranean cruise with his mom on the occasion of her 66th. Other travel took him to Oaxaca, Las Vegas, San Diego and Chicago.
"We are staying afloat at work," says Conlin. "There are fewer transactions, but exceptional deals for buyers. Still only a relatively small percentage of properties are selling.… Prices are down. However, properties in all ranges are moving if they're priced aggressively. I ended 2011 selling slightly more property than I did the previous year."
Harley Shaw, Hillsboro biologist, researcher and author (August 2011)
As reported, Harley Shaw recently lent his knowledge and talents to the preparation of a picture-based book about his adopted hometown of Hillsboro. But Around Hillsboro, released last August by Arcadia Publishing, has since been eclipsed by Shaw's co-authorship with Mara E. Weisenberger of a biography from the University of Arizona Press of an early 20th-century influential New Mexico field scientist. Stokley Ligon, a specialist in native birds and mammals, took innumerable long trips with a horse and pack mules through the state's backcountry, studying and photographing wildlife in great detail.
"Our book on J. Stokley Ligon was published shortly after Around Hillsboro came out," Shaw reports. "So far feedback has been good and I've done a couple of signings. I also have been doing some heavy editing on chapters that will go into a wildlife management history to be published by Arizona Game and Fish Department. In addition, I'm currently gathering information about the Animas Creek that drains through Ladder Ranch on the east face of the Black Range. This is a fascinating place with nearly no written science or history, so it's not going to be an easy project."
Rhonda Brittan, co-owner of Black Cat Coffee & Books,
Truth or Consequences (May 2009)
Rhonda Brittan reports her downtown T or C business — housed in what was once a drive-up liquor store — has expanded with the enclosure of a patio, which in a past life was where pick-ups idled while waiting for six-packs to be handed through the window that has grown into a doorway. The new room "will look more like it's attached to the rest of the building," says Brittan, with shelving, flooring and a proper ceiling. The changes add more than 400 square feet to the store, which virtually overflows with books, videos and art. Oh, yes, there are pastries and coffee, too.
The Black Cat continues to host poetry readings the second Sunday of each month and a tarot-card reader weekends from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The latter are cancelled, advises Brittan, "if there's a baseball game going on. The tarot reader is a big baseball fan."
Recent online reviews on Yelp.com of the Black Cat remain uniformly positive. In one posting, Jena of Seattle asked rhetorically: "Do you ever wish that you could disappear into rooms of books and comfy chairs? Do you ever dream of Sunday afternoon poetry readings in a small, sleepy town? Do you ever wish someone would make moist, delicious carrot cake in an individual size? Do you ever wonder if there is a language with a word in it that means 'to smell books for fun'? Find it all here." Fred of Bisbee called the Black Cat "small town chill and comfort at its best." Another Yelp reviewer labeled it "the place in T or C to see and be seen."
Who says an independent bookstore can't survive in the age of Amazon, iPad and Kindle?
Michael Berman, Mimbres Valley-based photographer and board
member of Gila Resources Information Project (July 2008)
Guggenheim Fellowship-recipient Michael Berman has maintained a busy schedule over the past few years, documenting through his large-format photography stunning landscapes in remote corners of the Chihuahuan Desert and Gila River watershed. When not taking and preparing his pictures, Berman conducts occasional photography workshops and serves on the board of directors of Silver City's nonprofit Gila Resources Information Project.
"I have a big show up [at the New Mexico Museum of Art] in Santa Fe," Berman informs, "and I am also working on a new book on the Gila." Berman did a docent talk at the Museum of Art last Nov. 23 and had a 480-plate exhibition at the Lannan Foundation Gallery in Santa Fe during fall 2008. His book Trinity, co-authored with Charles Bowden, was published in fall 2009 to enthusiastic reviews.