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Posts Tagged ‘History’

Charlize and I spent two days in the San Luis Valley trying to visit the places I identified while doing research for my historical novel MAN HUNT. The book is a fictionalized account of the intersecting lives of Tom Tobin, a frontiersman and the Espinosas, a family of New Mexicans. After the Mexican-American war the entire village in which they lived lost their communal property and became destitute. The Espinosas responded by turning to robbery, murder and a bloody vendetta against the Gringos.

Many of the places mentioned in the book were identified and described in historical accounts and records made during the lives of these real people. Several years ago my wife and I visited Taos and passed through some of the places I talked about in the book, but at that time I had no idea I would be writing about those venues in the future.

The reconstructed Fort Garland sits on the original site of that fort and some portions of the original buildings remain, along with historical records of what the fort actually looked like when it was an active army post. It was as I pictured it from my reading and study of existing drawings. The museum at the fort provides insight into the lives of the soldiers who were posted in that wilderness outpost. Charlize and I drove from Fort Garland south to Taos. Along the way I tried to identify the location of Tobin’s Trinchera ranch, but other than the general area where it was I could not identify a specific site. We passed through the town of Cochilla near where Tobin had a farm and kept his family. Nobody I asked knew where that farm had been located.

The museums at the homes of Governor Bent and Kit Carson were as I remembered them from our previous visit. I drove several back roads around Arroyo Hondo and even stopped to ask some local folks if they could direct me to the site of Turley’s mill, a prominent landmark of the book. I couldn’t find it and those I asked couldn’t or wouldn’t help. Maybe they just didn’t want another nosey tourist poking around in their neighborhood.

The next day we continued our hunt to identify some of the sites where the Espinosas did their deadly deeds, without much luck. Time and the new positioning of roads and highways have changed the landscape. Late in the afternoon we gave up that activity and made a side trip to the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It was interesting and informative. The natural forces of water flow, wind, the location in front of a mountain range with the necessary configuration to direct the prevailing winds and the geological rift effect all combine to create and maintain a reasonably large area of pure sand dunes. The size and shape of these dunes are in a state of constant change. The largest dune is over seven hundred feet above the floor of the valley. Charlize considered the place nothing more than a huge sandbox for her to frolic in.IMG_0099

The following day we drove over La Veta Pass and again I was unable to locate the landmarks described in my research on the nefarious activities of the Espinosas. This was explained on the eastern side of the pass when we saw a sign identifying the old La Veta Pass road. It took a different direction than the paved highway we were on and probably different than the wagon trail in use when Tobin was active in the area.

The changes of landscape, experience and life style of the people who live in the various environments we pass through seem to be a recurring theme of this odyssey. It seems I to focus on the changes during my lifetime piled onto the historical changes I have read about. Perhaps this is not so unfortunate. I find thinking about places and the events that occurred in those places in the past more comfortable. I don’t have to deal with things as they are now. As many have said to me and I have repeated too many times to count; growing old ain’t for sissies.

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We stopped in Salinas and spent the afternoon and evening with a veterinary school classmate and his significant other. I’ve known him since 1956 and we’ve probably spent time together less than half a dozen times since we graduated in 1960 but conversation flowed easily enough. He lost his wife to cancer a few years ago so there was empathy for our shared experience, but we didn’t dwell on it.

Several of our veterinary school classmates were Korean War veterans, most of them married, some with children, living in a Veterans Village of Quonset huts and going to school on the GI bill. Sometimes the people, as represented by our government, do something right for everyone.

In those days not only the students were close, the wives formed an auxiliary group and made close friends amongst the other wives. Shared experiences in difficult financial times but with a better future in the offing.

Many of those wives remained close, kept in touch over the years. My experience is that the female of our species is much more efficient, determined and relentless in that pursuit. When we had our fiftieth year class reunion the widow of one of our classmates attended to be with old friends. Two lonely, still grieving people met again and made a connection. They found common interests and now spend some of the year at her home in Nebraska and some of it at his in Salinas California, interspersed with travel for pleasure and enlightenment. I would call them a cute couple but that’s too cloy. They are comfortable together, not afraid to talk and reminisce about their prior lives with their well-loved spouses. Their children and grandchildren are all happy that the couple found each other. They look good, they now look younger than me, and I wish them long and happy times together.

Wolfe and Steinbeck had it correct though, you can’t go back and resume a past life, a past home, a past friendship. As our lives progress we create new lives, new homes, new friendships and the people of our past cannot relate, nor can we relate to their changes.

The three of us talked of our families and listened politely, but with wandering interest, to the achievements of our offspring. After an uninterrupted six hours of sleep in Frog we continued our conversation over breakfast, but I was on a schedule for this part of my journey. My son and his family had set aside time for me in their hectic life and I had to get down the road. Goodbyes come easier for me now, not so important as they once were. Perhaps we will spend time together again before our time is up, perhaps not. If we do find our lives come together again we will pick up comfortably but will be careful to make our time together short enough so the desire to meet, and talk, and catch-up remains.

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