Skip directly to content

Tales Of Our Times: For This Holiday Season

on December 24, 2017 - 7:21am
Tales of Our Times
New Mexico Citizens
for Clean Air & Water

Tales of Our Times For This Holiday Season

The years roll on. From the past, I bring local sketches from distinguished writers who passed this way before:

Peggy Pond, the fledgling poet and author, wrote in 1914:
There was the enormous and unbelievably vivid blueness of the sky; the wide horizon that stretched in every direction as we drove down to the Pueblo from our steep plateau; the arid landscape, all sun-baked gullied hill, the pinkish earth dotted with juniper and pinion like cloves stuck into a roasting ham; the swirling mud-colored river and its inhospitable gravelly banks; the occasional groves of cottonwood trees; the rectangular forms of broken mesas, capped with dark purple lava; the sudden moist-looking dark green of alfalfa fields.
Willa Cather wrote “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” a book in 1927 about nearby events in the 1800s (an exhibit on skies by the Pajarito Environmental Education Center selects from these words at the Los Alamos Nature Center):
The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still,–and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere in the world. The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was the brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was far away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!
Also from “Death Comes for the Archbishop”:
Yes, Sangre de Cristo; but no matter how scarlet the sunset, those red hills never became vermillion, but a more and more intense rose-carnelian; not the color of living blood, the Bishop had often reflected, but the color of the dried blood of saints and martyres preserved in old churches in Rome, which liquefies upon occasion.
Lansing Lamont wrote “Day of Trinity,” published in 1965, which described the environs of the earnest scientists who had displaced then Peggy Pond Church and the Los Alamos Ranch School in 1943:
Only the vista from the summit rewarded the scientists who had reached their destination: rising westward, the Jemez Mountains, richly forested with ponderosa pines that swept from sunny upland glades down to lush green basins with melodic names like Valle Grande and Valle Jaramillo; stretching southward from the Los Alamos Mesa to the Rio Grande far below, the huge fan of the Pajarito Plateau, its rim scalloped by splendid canyons sliced in the soft yellow tuff by centuries of rain and melting snow; and beyond, to the east, the glistening peaks of the Sangre de Cristo range.
Peggy Pond Church wrote a letter for reading at the 1982 Christmas meeting of the Los Alamos Garden Club at a home in the valley (the full text is in the Los Alamos Historical Society’s December 2017 Newsletter):
On Christmas Eve a small group of us would go from home to home singing carols, the old favorites as well as the lovely songs out of the OXFORD BOOK OF CAROLS which long ago disappeared from my library and which I dearly wish I could have again.

I can never forget the marvelous beauty of those starlit or moonlit nights. There were no streetlights at Los Alamos in those days. We carried a lantern or two among us, and flashlights, and sang “Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella” with our whole hearts.

The view down the mesa and over the Rio Grand Valley was unobstructed. We could look over the wide expanse called “the lower fields” (where the Los Alamos airport is now situated,) and sometimes see – or at least we thought we saw – the little pinyon fires, the “luminarias” that were lighted, it was said, to guide the Christ child on his way. On his way to where we didn’t exactly know, but the legend was that he was supposed to visit all the stables and barnyards, where sheep and cows were waiting.

The stars appeared much bigger and more brilliant than they are today. Any one of them was spectacular enough to have been the true star of Bethlehem, especially any one of the planets that rose in the east over the Sangre de Cristo mountains. “Oh holy night, the stars are brightly shining” still brings tears to my eyes when I think of the beauty of those silent nights. Far away we could see the twinkling lights of some small village, Pojoaque, Nambe, even as far as Truchas. “Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie/ Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.” How easy it was to imagine ourselves present at the first Christmas so far away, so very long ago, in the time before mechanical carols in all the supermarkets, before neon lights, before the sound and fury of automobile traffic.”
We still enjoy the lights of the sky.