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Monday, March 26, 2018

Don't Go to Bisbee on Monday!

I love this photo of the Artist clinging to the chainlink fence next to his friend as the two of them peer down into the open mine pit. Bisbee is not like anywhere else in Cochise County. Some aspects of it -- the galleries and new restaurants and visiting tourists -- are like Jerome, Arizona, but Jerome (up north of Phoenix) doesn't have a huge open pit like this, so maybe Bisbee is not like anywhere else at all. We made the trip there on Monday of last week.

I'm not nuts about the scary, man-made hole in the ground, but the colors of the exposed rock please me. They remind me of the soft and varied colors of cows.

Colors and materials of Bisbee's old historic buildings blend harmoniously with the surrounding rock. Some buildings are imposing, others modest. 

But smaller details also catch the eye, too. I was admiring some of the season's first flowers (it's almost spring!) with a woman from Iowa when a local man passing by stopped to tell us it was Indian tobacco, a member of the nightshade family. I also noticed chinaberry trees all over Bisbee neighborhoods. Isn't that a lovely name, chinaberry?

Our visiting friend eagerly posed in the doorway of the brightly painted remains of a former building, a site I remembered from visiting Bisbee three years earlier, though if I compare these photos with my old ones I would probably see that the painting itself has changed in the intervening time. 

There are distinctive features everywhere one looks in Bisbee -- walls hung with art or turned into art, a door decorated with bottlecaps, a stone wall with wooden doors that have pickaxes for handles. While I was gazing at the wall hung with paintings, the man who had identified the Indian tobacco appeared with three canvases under his arm. "The botanist!" I exclaimed, and he smiled and said he wasn't really but had learned a lot from friends. I wanted to photograph him from the back as he proceeded up the stone steps but could not get my camera on and focused and the subject framed in time. The picture I saw with my eye, however, is still in my mind. If you use your imagination, maybe you can see him there, too. 

Bisbee engages other senses besides vision. Wafting barbecue smoke drifted over a wall to tease us with its tantalizing aroma as we passed by ... 

... while smoothly polished examples of different rocks and minerals outside the historical museum invited stroking. 

Had we brought checkers or chessmen, we could have sat down for a game, but the Artist was intent on a visit to the Copper Queen Hotel, where the son of an old friend can sometimes be found in his lobby jewelry shop. No, not that day. 

Many businesses, we had discovered, are closed on Mondays in Bisbee -- as is also true in Benson and Willcox, which was one reason we had decided to make Bisbee our destination that day. The bar side of the porch of the Copper Queen was open, though, and we were happy to find a table in the fresh air and order drinks and "starters" (which made our light lunch that day). Following a chilly, windy weekend, sitting outdoors in warm air, without jackets, enjoying cold drinks felt like heaven.

Over on a busier street, we found a few shops and galleries open and even managed to get in a little shopping. Well, mostly looking. I looked at boots and looked at scarves but in the end bought only -- what else? -- a book! St. Patrick's Battalion, by James Alexander Thom, is a historical novel that takes its story from an incident of the Mexican-American War of 1846, when an Irish-American soldier and hundreds of his comrades defected to the Mexican side of the conflict. As Catholics coming from poor peasant stock who had seen their own native land invaded and seized by the English, their sympathy was with the Mexicans. I've only heard tiny bits of this part of American history and look forward to reading the novel.

One good thing about being in a tourist town on a day when many businesses are closed is that the streets are not as crowded as they would be otherwise, so I would not say absolutely that you should not go to Bisbee on a Monday, and, after all, it worked out for us. We were not able to have bowls of pho at the Vietnamese restaurant, but cups of beer-and-bean chili at the CQ filled in nicely. So, sure, go to Bisbee on a Monday! Just know ahead of time that you will not have the full selection of restaurants and shops.

I'll close today's post with a store sign that caught my eye and made me smile. Customers of Dog Ears Books (and readers of Walter Mosley) will instantly catch the double reference.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Who Gets to Name Places?

Sunday was another cold, windy, chilly day, too cold to sit and drink coffee on the porch at Beverly's and watch trains go by. Go to La Unica for lunch? No, esta cerrada los domingos. (Sorry about those missing accents!) Another nearby wonder our friend Joe had never visited, however, was the Amerind Foundation Museum, over the other side of Texas Canyon, and yes, the museum was open until 4 p.m., so off we set. 

I had already been twice to the museum and was more in need of a little quiet reading time than another exhibit walk-around, so I waited in Joe's truck, luxuriating in warm sun through the windows, while he and the Artist took in the exhibits. One of the books I bought from Winn the other day on the Benson book-buying excursion was Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache, by Keith H. Basso, and Chiricahua on Saturday and Texas Canyon on Sunday were the perfect backdrop for Basso's book, as his purpose in these essays -- as in the research preceding their writing -- was to understand the significance of place-names in Apache life and thought. For too long, Basso writes, linguists have considered place-names exclusively as referrents, regarding them within the larger range of proper nouns "as referential vehicles whose only purpose is to denote...." He notes the irony of this position,

...for place-names are arguably among the most highly charged and richly evocative of all linguistic symbols. Because of their inseparable connection to specific localities, place-names may be used to summon forth an enormous range of mental and emotional associations--associations of time and space, of history and events, of persons and social activities, of oneself and stages in one's life. And in their capacity to evoke, in their compact power to muster and consolidate so much of what a landscape may be taken to represent as both personal and cultural terms, place-names acquire a functional value that easily matches their utility as terms of reference. 
- Keith H. Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1996)

Because of the evocative power of place-names and their freight of associations, they also make available rich metaphorical meanings that native speakers use in story-telling. It felt good to sit quietly and soak in warm sun and rich ideas.

When my expedition companions returned from their museum tour, the Artist directed our friend to drive to the picnic grounds, where amidst seemingly gravity-defying boulders (many, I have discovered from close examination, have vestigial mushroom-like stems connecting them to base rocks) the three of us deployed cameras like the tourists we were. 

The edge of Texas Canyon encompassing the Amerind and lining Dragoon Road is certainly spectacular, and Joe was especially entranced, seeing it up close for the first time, but I couldn't help relating the place to my reading and thus thinking that surely it once had an Apache name, a name that would have been very important to the people who knew and used it. The entirety of Texas Canyon would have had such a name, and the smaller area we were photographing no doubt -- the feeling was very strong; I was sure of it -- had its own specific name, a name would hold for its people a history of events to which we visiting Anglos are completely blind. 

We can read all we want about the geology of the area, how the rocks came to be, as they are, but we have no personal connection to the place, no memories of unwritten local events, no knowledge of the stories that would make the rocks live for those knowing the stories. We are only strangers passing through a place named on our paper maps. 

Back on the road, though, from our passage through Texas Canyon on the expressway, I could see Dos Cabezas in the distance, and I thought, those twin peaks are my mountains. I look out on them every morning. They are the landmark from which I orient, whatever direction we travel out from our winter cabin to go elsewhere. Those mountains have become part of my life, whether hidden in clouds or mist, standing out bright in the first light of morning, or darkening as night comes on. I smiled, seeing Dos Cabezas -- and again, a little farther down the road, when Willcox appeared, "my little cow town," as I call Willcox, feeling a fondness for an endless number of ordinary spots and corners in the town, places now woven into my life history and meaningful to me, even from my ephemeral position on the far periphery of local culture.

Most of the town names around here are not awe-inspiring or evocative of very much. Willcox, Benson, Pearce, and Safford are named for whitemen who were at one time big deals but are hardly household names any more. Texas Canyon is called that because some a family from Texas got no closer than this to their original destination, the West Coast. The name Cochise County, when you get right down to it, is only the name of a person — albeit an Apache — not the kind of specific, descriptive place-name Apaches themselves would have used. 

Dos Cabezas, the name of a small mountain range, its twin peaks, and also the ghost town nestled on the south side of those peaks, comes nearer the spirit of Apache place-naming. As one of Basso's informants said of her home mountain: "'Elsewhere, hearing that mountain's name, I see it. Its name is like a picture.'" That is certainly true of Dos Cabezas. Its name is like a picture, and whenever I see or hear the name, I see the mountains, their identifying twin peaks, and the ghost town below, and my impulse is to pronounce the name aloud. 

In Dos Cabezas, our little poblado del invierno, I feel like more than just a stranger passing through. However temporary our stay, I feel at home here. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

We Take a Visitor on a Climb into the Sky

With yet another friend from Traverse City, this one coming to us from weeks spent with other friends in New Mexico and in the Tucson area, we made our first expedition of the season to the Chiricahua National Monument on Saturday, St. Patrick's Day. I always enjoy the drive from the ghost town in my "home" mountains of Dos Cabezas down the road east to Chiracahua almost as much as I enjoy being in the excitingly tree-filled Chiricahua Mountains, and our friend Joe had never been to Chiricahua before. So we were eager to show it to him, and he was, I am happy to report, duly impressed. --But then, who wouldn't be? In one direction, we looked down on the plain we had crossed to get to the Monument; in another, our view extended clear into New Mexico.

As you can see from the way this little girl's hair was blowing every which way, the wind was fierce up on Massai Point, and air was cold, too. I regretted not having worn my sheepskin-lined buckskin jacket, and the Artist could also have used a heavier coat, but notwithstanding the cold we did quite a bit of up- and downhill walking -- not attempting the trail to the shelter you see on the mountaintop below (are you kidding?) but climbing stone steps to a small exhibit building, where the origin of the rock formations was explained. 

We ran into our friend Tom up on Massai Point and didn't have to introduce Joe and Tom to each other, as each had spotted the other's Michigan license plate. We were glad to see Tom and invite him to join us for Irish dinner later in the day. We Michigan people, it must be said, were all a bit giddy being in the company of real trees up there in the higher altitudes. "It's like being in Canada," I exclaimed to the others. Here in Arizona, gains in altitude are like gains in latitude back in Michigan.

A notable feature visible from Massai Point is the mountain known as Cochise Head. It is a striking profile, but I wish the famous Apache were seen looking proudly out across his home territory, rather than lying on his back as if in death.

Going up the mountain, I had the alarming sensation that I could be crushed any minute by a rock wall that seemed only inches away from my head. (This is no reflection on Joe's driving, only on my nerves.) Riding down it was the nearness of the edge that had me gripping the armrest for dear life, but the views were worth the fear. 

We had a chance to pull off the road once or twice on the way down to photograph the columns of rock towering above us. Either looking down on them from Massai Point or looking up from the winding road below, the formations inspire awe and wonder. 

Recrossing the beautiful grassy plain as we returned to our own "sky island," I thought the sky and clouds in the south looked like burnished platinum. Sometimes you would think I have the mind of a grazing animal rather than an omnivore, the times when I can't help saying out loud, dreamily, "What is more beautiful than grass?"

Back at the cabin, though, it was time to put aside reflections on nature and get practical about dinner, a meal planned for omnivores, Irish and otherwise. I had been delighted to find the most beautiful little green cabbage I ever saw at the grocery store the day before, but the carrots and cabbage had to wait. Even the potatoes (cooked separately) had to wait while the corned beef simmered slowly in its herbs and spices, making a delicious broth. Eventually it all came to the table together, each item's cooking perfectly timed, if I do say so myself. Tom brought Guinness, the perfect accompaniment to our St. Patrick's Day dinner, and we were too busy eating and drinking (and drinking and eating) for me to remember to photograph the plated portions. You'll have to take it on faith that everything was delicious.