Iceland 2023, aka Puffin Paradise!

Atlantic Puffin, Photos by Merri Rudd, unless otherwise noted

During the fall of 2022 an email arrived in my inbox stating that our longtime friend Dave Mehlman had been named “tour guide of the year” for Naturalist Journeys, a small company that specializes in nature tours around the world. “Hmmm,” I said to Mark, “I wonder what other tours Dave is leading?” Iceland in June 2023 was one of Dave’s upcoming trips. In the past Dave had taken his friends, including us, to Ecuador, Guatemala and Peru, but we had never been on a tour with strangers.

I emailed the Iceland trip link to Susan, my best friend of 50 years, and Paul, her husband, in Tallahassee and said, “Iceland, anyone?” A few days later Susan replied, “We’re in!” Susan, Paul, Mark and I had planned our own trip to Belize in 2013. Then Susan and I celebrated our 60th birthdays with a group that went to Costa Rica. Now we looked forward to a new adventure.

Mer and Susan, Nashville TN, circa 1970s, unknown photographer
Susan and Mer, Gullfoss Falls, Iceland June 2023, photo by ??

Next I sent the Iceland link to John Stewart, Mark’s friend of 60 years who lives in London, England. John’s wife Meg could not go, but John wanted to. I had hoped to fill the entire 10-person tour with our friends, but I wrote Naturalist Journeys and asked if I could proceed with recruiting more travelers. They wrote back, “Merri, please stop, we’re now full.” Oh, well, at least we created a buffer of our besties for the tour.

During the next six months, we bought airline tickets (Icelandair flies nonstop to Keflavik, Iceland from Denver, Seattle, JFK, Chicago and other cities), planned a few extra days ahead of the tour, did research, watched videos about Iceland, and bought some recommended items of clothing. Mark and John decided to stay four days after the tour ended, rent a Jeep and head east toward waterfalls, glaciers, rivers and parks that we would not visit on our tour. Mark reserved two nights at 1×6 Guesthouse in Keflavik, which they loved, and two nights at Holiday Houses near Vik, which they did not love. Mark, Dave, and I planned two nights in Reykjavik at the Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, which was a delightful small hotel close to birding areas, museums, restaurants, pubs, and the harbor.

Mark and I left our little dog with our trusty housesitter Brie and headed to Denver on June 10. We had a four-hour layover, then an eight-hour nonstop flight from Denver to Reykjavik. In the airport, we kept seeing a guy walk by. I said to Mark, “That looks like Gary King (son of our former NM Governor and former Attorney General himself). What are the odds?” Naaaa, it couldn’t be. We boarded the plane and seated behind us were the guy and his wife. “Excuse me,” Mark said, “are you Gary King?” “Why, yes, I am…” What are the odds?! Pretty good, I guess. Such a typical small world New Mexico story. I greeted Gary and Yolanda (we knew each other from campaign trails long ago and Gary was our friend Mary Smith’s boss for years), texted Mary a photo, then settled in for an eight-hour flight.

Photo by Susan Robinson

We arrived at 6am Reykjavik time, midnight our time. Dave’s flight arrived an hour later, so we entered the country, claimed our luggage, withdrew some Krona, the unique currency of Iceland, (we needn’t have done that; American dollars, Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Iceland) from the ATM and settled in to wait for Dave. Dave got to us about 7:30am and we boarded our Flybus to the BSI Terminal, a 40-minute ride. There we caught a local shuttle for a short trip to City Hall, Bus Stop 1, about a block from Hotel Reykjavik Centrum, our home for the next two nights. The hotel staff was awesome and let us check in early for a $35 fee. We didn’t want to sleep until that night, so we deposited our luggage in our rooms and met in the lobby to take a walk.

City Hall near Tjörnin

A block away was Tjörnin, a series of three or four ponds with lots of waterfowl and songbirds in the nearby copse. During the first hour, we saw eight life birds (never before seen by us), so we were happy. Unlike Central and South America, which host thousands of bird species, Iceland has only 90 or so regular bird species. Our Iceland Ebird Trip Report contains 78 species, 58 of which were lifers for me. Click on the link to view species with our photos.

Reykjavik & Tjörnin

Reykjavik is beautiful and very walkable. We walked everywhere–to morning coffee, to various restaurants, to the harbor, to museums, to the murals we admired.

30 Feet High at Least!

I texted our former neighbor Deirdre a photo of this mural and she texted back, “I follow that artist on Instagram!” (Yes! T-Mobile works in Iceland at no additional charge for unlimited data and texts, at least, on our Magenta plan.) And WiFi in Iceland is underground fiber optics. Speeds there were ten times as fast as our plan with CenturyLink. America could learn a thing or two from Icelanders.

Yummy Fish & Chips

We ate lunch at Mandi’s Middle Eastern restaurant, which was delicious. Then Dave and I napped while Mark blogged. Later we walked to the harbor, saw people clad in swishing nylon coveralls going out in small whale-watching boats, watched numerous families of common eiders with their newly hatched chicks, and got fish and chips at a food truck on the wharf. We ate our delectable meal outdoors even though it was a bit chilly. Then we stopped at Slippbarinn, a pub along the harbor. Although it is light 24/7 in Iceland during June, Mark and I had these Soft Sleep Masks. We were in bed by 8:30pm and slept for thirteen hours.

The next morning we had great coffee (cappuccino with a foam bear!) and pastries at IDA Bokakaffi, Vesturgata 2a, Grófin 101, Reykjavík, a charming shop that is also a bookstore.

Beautiful & Delicious!

Then I revisited Tjörnin and explored Cemetery Holavallagardur, established in 1838, a block from the hotel. “Remember me as you walk by, for as you are, so once was I. And as I am, so you shall be. Prepare yourself to follow me.” If ever there were a cemetery to do justice to this poem, it’s this one, a mystical, tree-filled, moss-covered eternal sanctuary with many old headstones and lots of flowers. The cemetery also hosted dozens of birds and their newly fledged young, like this redwing:

Redwing Parent & Spawn

Susan and Paul arrived at the hotel in time for lunch; John was due later that afternoon. All six of us stayed at the Centrum.

Dave awaits his stew

We walked to Arctic Street Food for loaves of brown bread hollowed out and filled with lamb stew or seafood stew. A few had Icelandic beer with lunch. A self-described “ginger boy” with red hair and blue eyes served us and was very excited to discover some of us lived in New Mexico. He had lived in Arizona with his family for a while, but returned to Iceland.

Nature Rocks!

We all walked to the Maritime Museum, which Paul and Dave visited. On the way Mark, Dave and I showed our favorite street murals. Then Susan and I went to the Reykjavik  Art Museum while Mark went back to Centrum to journal and wait for John. When John arrived, we all walked back to Slippbarinn for dinner and beers. Afterwards we got gelato near the Centrum and toured the cemetery.

Cemetery Holavallagardur

Since Susan and Paul were very tired, we had an early night and reconvened the next day to repeat our coffee/pastry breakfast. We were to meet the rest of our tour group with Daniel Bergmann, our local Icelandic guide and renowned photographer/birder. Someone’s late flight delayed our start, so I took a few folks to Tjörnin.

Candice and Tim from Denver arrived at City Hall, Bus Stop 1, where we were meeting Daniel. On board the van were Daphne from Arizona, Sandy and Tim from Chicago, and Peter and Brenda from Spokane. We headed out of Reykjavik to our first bird stop, Bakkatjörn. Scopes emerged, bird views and “oohs” and “aahs” commenced. We stopped for lunch and landed at Staðarsveit–Ytritunga, complete with shorebirds and harbor seals.

Harbor Seals Sunning

On to Kast Guesthouse located in the quiet countryside of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This was home for the next three nights. Our group occupied most of a new wing at one end. Dinner was fish or lamb, soup and vegetarian options. Breakfast was delicious with the best homemade brown seeded bread I’ve ever eaten, a variety of cold cuts, Skyr yogurt, cereal, hard-boiled eggs and other goodies. Plenty of coffee and tea was provided. You can ask for sack lunches.

Whale Watching
Dave & Mark at Sea
Ducky at Sea

The next morning we loaded ourselves and day gear onto the van for a drive to Ólafsvík for a whale-watching boat trip with Láki Tours.  One never knows if one will see any whales, but it was worth the risk. We rode a big boat with lots of other tourists besides our group. We all dressed in polypropylene (or some rubbery material) coveralls, which were bulky but helped keep us warm. Presumably we would have floated a while if the ship had capsized (it did not). Orca, humpback, sperm and minke whales were possible in the sea. We saw our first puffin floating on the waves, northern gannets, various gulls, kittiwakes, and murres.

Sperm Whale
Sperm Whale Spout
Sperm Whale Tail

Suddenly the crew spotted the spout of a sperm whale fairly close to our boat. The boat turned sideways and cut its engines. We watched as the whale swam, blew water from its spout, and ultimately dived down into the ocean, its tail flashing farewell. It was so beautiful that I cried and I looked for Susan, who was crying and looking for me. (We also cried when a resplendent quetzal burst from the Monte Verde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica near us.) Sometimes nature’s beauty overwhelms us. We observed three more sperm whales and after about four hours, returned toward the dock. The crew gave a short lecture about different types of whales, their feeding habits, and why we should boycott restaurants that serve whale. Hunting has decimated whale populations.

Nesting Razorbills (Brünnich’s guillemots to Europeans)
Murre Cliffs
Arctic Fox on Tundra, photo by Mark Justice Hinton
Nesting Common Murres (Common Guillemots to Europeans)

After lunch we visited Svörtuloft,  cliffs filled with nests of northern fulmars, black-legged kittiwakes, common and thick-billed murres (John, I mean “guillemots”!), and razorbills (aka Brünnich’s guillemots to Europeans).  We studied the different marks on bills, observed the social structure, then  drove through the western region of Snæfellsjökull National Park to return to Kast Guesthouse for dinner. At one point we stopped to watch an Arctic fox wend its way across the mossy rocks on the tundra.

Dinner at Kast Guesthouse

The following day the van departed at 8:30am to tour other parts of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, including Hraunsfjörður, home to several nesting European golden-plovers. Here my disaster occurred when the van door was shut before I was completely seated, jamming my Canon PowerShot SX50HS camera between the door and my hip.

My camera was unusable early on day three of the tour. While I was in shock, Mark walked up with a Canon PowerShot SX70HS camera belonging to John. John, ever the chivalrous one, said he was too burdened switching among the camera, scope and binocs; that I had helped him choose this camera; that I was the better photographer; and that I should use his camera until I left Iceland. I wept with relief and gratitude. Later our group ate a picnic  lunch in a woodland with Icelandic horses grazing nearby.

Icelandic Horse & Foal

We then visited  Daniel’s hometown of Stykkishólmur, Vesturland, where the Norwegian House had an exhibit of Daniel’s phenomenal photographs. He gave me permission to photograph one of his photos and his accompanying book about gyrfalcons shown in the museum.

Daniel’s Photo Exhibit & Book
Daniel: saving the environment one golf ball at a time

Daniel is mostly quiet, humble and funny as hell, but he is also an amazing photographer, birder and conservationist. Having a local guide on our tour was a real plus. Daniel knows every cliff, every pond, every bush where a bird, rare or otherwise, might be lurking. It’s because of him that we were in the presence of 78 species, not all of which everyone saw. He also brings a library of books about wildflowers, geology, geysers and other Icelandic treasures in case people have questions or want to learn more. He kept us away from the massive busses and tourist sights and showed gems of his country we would not have known about without him.

Lighthouse Súgandisey

Later most of us walked up, up, up a hill to the Lighthouse Súgandisey with a vast view of cruise ships, ocean, and cliffs. We searched for a white-tailed eagle, which is so scarce, we cannot share locations or other details. On the way home, Daniel got a report that a rare king eider had been spotted where we had seen the harbor seals. It was just across the lake from Kast Guesthouse, so right on the way home. Daniel spotted it immediately, and Mark and a few others actually got a photo with its head raised rather than tucked into its back. Wow!!!

Rare King Eider, photo by Mark Justice Hinton

We stopped at one more pond with a rare common pochard on the way home when Paul, a nonbirder, asked, “Daniel, are you SURE there isn’t another place to stop between here and Kast to look for birds?” The entire vanful of people erupted into laughter. To the Kast Guesthouse we went (without more stops), tired but happy to be home, eat dinner and go to sleep.

European golden-plover
Kolugljúfur Falls

We bid  “bless” to Kast Guesthouse (but not before I took a walk through the farmland and spotted some European golden-plovers in the mist). We headed out in the rainy fog toward Akureyri in the far north of Iceland, stopping at a cascading waterfall on the way. Candice noticed a crashed drone at the bottom of the cliff below the falls. Sometimes karma IS a bitch. We arrived at the Lamb Inn in Akureyri mid-afternoon.  Most of us joined Daniel for a woodsy walk at Kjarnaskógur, a short distance away.

At dinner Johannes, the proprietor/owner of the Lamb Inn, welcomed us at dinner, then left to sing with his choir. He first performed for us a cappella an old folk song in Icelandic. Dinner was delicious and Luna, the main staff person, was a whirlwind–keeping service flowing and problem-solving along the way. Food is locally sourced, and the ice cream was some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

Lamb Inn Breakfast Spread

Breakfast was quite the spread; only half of it fit into one photo. The van left at 8:30am to explore the northern coast of Iceland.  Daniel searched the cliffs for rare gyrfalcons, the national bird of Iceland. We observed one from afar.

John from London, England

We stopped at Vestmannsvatn, the only known location of an Arctic loon that has returned there for five seasons. Another pond in the Lake Mývatn Kálfaströnd region revealed barrow‘s goldeneyes, Eurasian green-winged teal, whimbrels and other birds. Here’s John, my camera hero, striding between the lakes.  We spent a lot of time in this area, ending at Laxá í Mývatnssveit, a rushing creek featuring harlequin ducks at close range, long-tailed ducks, wagtails, and barrow’s goldeneyes.

Eventually we headed back toward the Lamb Inn for dinner, stopping for a short visit to Goðafoss,  ‘Waterfall of the Gods’ (or Chieftain) between Akureyri and Lake Mývatn. Iceland’s energy comes from hydroelectric and geothermal plants. For a desert dweller, seeing so much water was a bit daunting. Ultimately, the power and thunder of the water truly astounded me. This was our first stop full of other tourists, but it was worth the crowds.

Rainbow below Goðafoss
Lamb at Lamb Inn

After breakfast and a stroll around the Lamb Inn (aptly named and a working farm, I believe), we headed to a pond at a hydroelectric plant, then to Daufhylur with dozens of barrow’s goldeneyes, and on to Kaldbakstjarnir, where a rare Eurasian coot dwelt. As Daniel was driving toward a lunch  spot, he saw a pullout on the side of the road. He said, “Let’s stop here. There may be a puffin or two on the cliffs.” We jumped out of the van and saw thousands of puffins and other seabirds. Way to undersell it, Daniel! Puffins were everywhere, in groups, alone, flying, floating on the sea. They seemed to be very social and gentle creatures. We sat at the edge of the cliffs, enthralled, for a half hour, then off we drove to lunch.

Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður NP, Pond is Below Cliffs
Barrow’s Goldeneye Display

On to Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður National Park –Ásbyrgi–we went, where we observed a barrow’s goldeneye displaying in a pond, literally kicking up his heels. Red-necked phalaropes and a Eurasian wren also gave us close-up views. We ended in Kópasker, on the edge of the ocean, with black sand beaches.

Kópasker Black Sand Beach

Finally, we headed off to the Sel Hótel Mývatn for an elegant dinner, buffet or a la carte. Near the hotel a gyrfalcon perched on a rock right beside the road. I took two shots through the UV-darkened van window before a white wagtail dive-bombed the gyrfalcon and both flew off. What a startlingly sublime gift from the universe! Since we were arriving back at the Lamb Inn late, we hoped to see a short-eared owl but did not.

It was never dark while we were in Iceland, except for one five-mile tunnel, so I don’t know how the birds and other critters know when to eat or sleep. Even when the sun sets at midnight and rises at 2am,  it’s twilight but not dark, which can be disconcerting. In winter the sun rises around 11am  and sets around 4pm. However, due to the darkness, one can observe the northern lights during the winter months. Even if the northern lights were visible in the summer, one couldn’t see them due to the endless light.

Nighttime at Lamb Inn
Steaming Fumarole

We departed from the Lamb Inn around 9am, admired some long-tailed ducks in the lake, then drove east to F35 south. The rest of the day we were “off road” on gravel with wide views of glaciers, tundra, geothermal wonders, and lava. We stopped at Hveravellir for lunch and a beautiful view of snow buntings, but we did not soak in the adjacent geothermal fumaroles . A boardwalk led us past burbling, steaming water and baby geysers. Hveravellir is an active volcanic area in the highlands of Iceland. As we continued south, we viewed two giant glaciers,  Hofsjökull and Langjökull.

Glacial Wonderland

Distinguishing clouds from snow can be challenging. The landscapes are vast, desolate, and uninhabited.


Our last stop of the day was Gullfoss, a world-famous falls in the Hvítá river canyon. Hundreds of tourists trudge either to an overlook or beside the falls. Susan and I opted for the closer view where mist drenches humans and our equipment. The roar of the voluminous water is deafening at times, but the majesty is spectacular. Click here to learn about Sigridur Tomasdottir, a female environmentalist who helped make Gullfoss a nature reserve instead of a hydroelectric plant. Sometimes one person CAN make a difference.

We reached the Stracta Hotel in Hella in south Iceland in time for an abundant buffet dinner. This was our home for the last three nights of our tour. The Hella volcano was across the street, dormant but expected to erupt any day. It was long overdue, given its past eruptions schedules.

The next morning, after a bounteous breakfast buffet, we departed early for a ferry ride to Westman Islands to search for more puffins. This was also Sandy’s birthday, so I did a French braid in her hair and gave her my Sirius chocolate mint candy bar. The weather was cold and drizzly as we boarded the gigantic Herjólfur Ferry. Its hull opens to allow vehicles to be driven inside and parked. The ferry is electric and very plush with a coffee bar, restaurant and numerous bathrooms (or water closets, as much of Europe says).  Comfortable seats and bunk beds are inside the ferry, along with giant windows. In better weather one can stand outside and watch Iceland recede and the Westman Islands appear. Seabirds glide by and bob on the waves.

Daniel drove the van out of the ferry’s belly and we climbed onboard. First stop: Puffin Point. Puffins tend to hang around there in the morning and late in the afternoon. Mid-afternoon they fly out to sea to cool off and feed, so plan your visit to the point accordingly. We spent two hours there with puffins, nesting black guillemots, a meadow pipit and sheep grazing on the hillside.

Sheep by Puffin Point

Taking a bad photo of a puffin is difficult; they are so photogenic and cooperative. Several of us have hundreds of photos and are reluctant to delete any of them. The puffin population has declined 70% in the past thirty years. Despite the recent
Smithsonian Magazine article about locals helping baby puffins find the sea, some Westman Island residents hunt them for food in a nod to traditional customs. Some encourage foreign tourists to have a  traditional Icelandic experience by eating puffins. That plus climate change have drastically impacted the puffin population. Enjoy them while you still can, folks. And support conservation organizations that help preserve populations.

Fish Chum Frenzy
Candice’s Requested WIldflower Montage, photo by MR

Leaving the puffins, we meandered to a spot on Heimaey where thousands of fulmars and other birds were in a frenzy, feeding on chum from the adjacent fish processing facility. We observed a multitude of seabirds there until lunchtime. Clouds rolled in during the afternoon and most puffins had left Puffin Point when we returned on our way back to the ferry. But we got to observe a few fly in and out from the ocean to their nesting sites in the cliff and disappear into burrows surrounded by rocks, sheep and bright green grass. Wildflowers were abundant as well. A quick tour of a tiny medical museum, church and memorial for sailors lost at sea completed our tour of the Westman Islands. We returned to the ferry and the Stracta Hotel for dinner.

Our last full day of the tour, Mark and I declined to get on the van. We were weary of driving places and decided to walk to local spots, eat lunch outdoors, use the saunas/hot tubs at the hotel, and not be in a vehicle at all for one day. It was the solstice after all. We walked to the river about 1/4 mile from the hotel and saw twenty or so common Icelandic  birds. Wildflowers lined the river and the day was sunny and warm.

Iceland weather was unseasonably warm and sunny for most of the two weeks we were there. We had brought wool, rain gear, down puffy coats and other items to keep us warm. We found ourselves wishing for short-sleeved shirts and shorts much of the time. We might have needed the warm and rain gear, but I suppose we lucked out. After the tour ended, Mark and John encountered fog, rain, and cold. So they experienced all the various conditions that Iceland offers in the summer. Shortly after they left Iceland, 5″ of snow fell near where they stayed by Vik. And the following week a volcano on the Reykjanes Peninsula erupted. Be prepared for anything; layers of clothing are essential.

Mark Enjoys Lava ’47 Pizza

We ate lunch locally and then soaked in the outdoor hot tub. After a few more afternoon walks, our group returned. Mark and I had pre-dinner, a sourdough crust pizza from a food truck, Lava ’47. “The Hawk” was what we ordered, and it was scrumptious. Later we joined our group for our last buffet dinner at the Stracta.

Our final day, we loaded all of our luggage into the van. We drove in a misty rain to the Reykjanes Peninsula and the Garðskagaviti Lighthouse built in 1897. “Something smells fishy” is a well-known saying, perhaps originating at this spot. The fishy smell was overpowering, but we saw lots of seabirds before heading to lunch in Keflavik. After lunch the sun appeared, and Daniel gathered us by an old boat for a group photo to commemorate our tour.

Photo by Daniel Bergmann

Then off to the airport eight of us headed, leaving Mark, John, Susan, Paul and Dave behind.

To give an idea of where we toured in Iceland, here is a map with points marked:

My trip home was fraught with thunderstorms, delays, downgrades, tornadoes and other obstacles. Seeing the city lights of Albuquerque at 11pm was a bit disorienting after two weeks without darkness. But I adjusted and made it home before midnight (6am Iceland time), petted the little dog, showered and went to bed. Thanks to Daniel, Dave, Mark, Susan, Paul, John, Sandy, Chicago Tim, Candice, Denver Tim, Daphne, Brenda and Peter for a sensational Iceland adventure!

Albuquerque at Night

— Finis —

(c) 2023, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

Remembrance of Kris Past

Kris bought this shirt and never wore it, but it encapsulates her quirky sense of humor.

C. Kristine Osnes. I have been sworn to secrecy regarding the C. for more than 30 years. It was a measure of our friendship that Kris ever entrusted me with that small secret detail of her identity.

Kris and her then-partner Adrienne lived in the Summit apartments in Albuquerque in the early 1980s until they bought a house on Las Lomas just west of UNM’s main campus. Kris first got an MA in English. Adrienne reports that Kris often said “I want to go to law school.” Adrienne said, “What does it take to go to law school? Let’s find out.” Kris applied, got in, and started in the fall of 1983. She later told Adrienne, “This is when I really learned to write.”

Kris and I met in 1983 as first year students at UNM’s School of Law. She was a wisp of a girl–very short white-blond hair, barely 100 pounds, shy, quiet, observant. Eventually Kris and I talked. We shared a love of books, words, writing, legal analysis and chocolate. During our third and final year of law school, we were assigned as partners in tax law clinic by our professor Scott Taylor. He and his partner Chris were going on sabbatical, and I think Scott decided that Kris and I needed each other.

Kris and I did tax clinic together for a semester. We represented clients before the IRS, spending HOURS preparing. Scott sent us out there alone to audits and other IRS matters on behalf of our clients. Kris and I were a great team who got excellent results for our clients, but had we been calculating billable hours, no one could have afforded us. We spent so much time together nitpicking every detail, doing extra research, plotting and planning what to say once we got to IRS offices.

Kris and I didn’t have much in common. She was a city girl who loved the urban life, noise, traffic, etc. I was an outdoor girl who loved hiking, camping, and nature. Kris smoked cigarettes to which I was deathly allergic. I loved to bake, cook, experiment with all types of cuisines. Kris, a Minnesotan, once debated that cool whip counted as salad. Kris loved fine, name brand clothes and lots of them (I did benefit from her hand-me-downs for many years, some of which I still wear); I was a thrift store junkie. But we shared important things such as a love of learning, dedication to the law, an ethical approach to the world, a fascination with words and how they fit together, and deep loyalty as friends.

During our third year of law school, we both decided to apply to New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Mary Walters for judicial clerkships after graduation. She had two clerks, and we wondered if we could both be hired. I interviewed with Justice Walters (a former probate judge!) in Santa Fe. At some point she threw up her hands in frustration saying, “I hate this! ALL of you are smart. ALL of you have excellent writing skills. ALL of you are hard workers with impeccable references. How am I supposed to decide?” She decided to go by class rank. Kris graduated #19 in our class, I was #20. Alas, Kris was hired, I was not. But at the end of my interview, Justice Walters threw me a bone. “Have you talked to Judge Bivins on the Court of Appeals,” she asked. “No,” I replied, “I only applied to you.” “Go talk to Bill Bivins. Tell him I sent you.” “Are you saying just show up in his office? With no resume or appointment?” “Yes, go.” she said, shooing me out of her office.

So I dropped by Bill Bivins’ office, telling his secretary Georgia Romero that Justice Walters had sent me, and assuming I would set up an appointment to interview another day. Georgia said, “wait a moment,” disappeared, came back and said, “The judge will see you now.” Oh, dear, for an anal-retentive Virgo, going to an interview unprepared was like being condemned to hell. But I went, we talked, and he hired me. We both had Tennesse and Vanderbilt connections. I think that sealed the deal. At least this meant that Kris and I would both be clerking in the same building in Santa Fe.

We rode the SECA (State Employees Commuter Association) van between Albuquerque and Santa Fe the first year. Sometimes our driver was drunk, so I’d have to drive the van back to Albuquerque. Kris and I rode together, chatting both ways or trying to nap. Our twelve-hour days were brutal, including commutes and working. But we learned a lot and refined our legal writing and research skills. I sometimes created whimsical sketches during the commute. This drawing shows Judge Alarid, who was also on the Court of Appeals, and Kris commuting. I believe Kris is the only friend I’ve ever drawn (10/27/86).

I can’t remember if we walked every day on our half hour lunch break, but I do remember that on Fridays, we would walk around Santa Fe and treat ourselves to the cheapest food we could find/afford–hot dogs, burritos, pastries. It was our reward for surviving another week. I took this photo of Kris in December 1986 in front of the Supreme Court building. This was long before cell phones and social media, and it is one of only a handful of photos that I have of Kris.

Kris, Santa Fe, December 1986

After law school, Kris, Adrienne, my sweetheart Mark and I became a foursome. We played scrabble, shared meals, talked, and hung out. Kris had an Amazon parrot named Lexis who adored Mark and hated me. Lexis was named for an online legal research tool, an invention slightly ahead of its time.


Mark and I eloped in our backyard at noon in late May 1991; Judge Bill Bivins officiated. Eight other people were invited, and they didn’t know it was a wedding until they arrived. Kris was one of the guests:



Kris moved to Minnesota for a few years in the mid 1990s after she and Adrienne parted ways in 1995. I remember that Mark, Kris and I sat under our back arbor, and Mark and Kris shared a cigarette in mourning for her departure. I even had a puff although it nauseated me.

Darcy and Kris got together in 1996 and were together until Kris’s death. Kris moved back to New Mexico to be with Darcy. About a year after they became a couple, Kris was diagnosed with COPD. She quit her filterless Lucky Strikes, but it was too late. As her lungs and oxygen levels deteriorated, she became dependent on 24/7 supplemental oxygen. She was put on a list for a lung transplant.

Kris and Darcy were one of two couples with whom we had monthly dinner dates. Kris was working at a large law firm, and she was not comfortable being openly gay. One day she asked Mark to be her “date” to a UNM basketball game outing planned by her law firm. I argued with her “just be who you are.” “You don’t understand,” she said. “I can’t risk my livelihood.” Mark went with Kris, even though they were both sports-impaired, and they had a good time. Eventually Kris became Mark’s best friend in Albuquerque; he’ll write his own entry about that. Years later it turned out the law firm knew Kris was a lesbian and didn’t care. Her law firm valued her for her brilliant mind, exquisite writing skills, work ethic, knowledge of appellate and insurance law, and analytical prowess. Plus Kris was an avid golfer, so she fit right in!

Eventually Darcy and Kris decided to build a house just west of Old Town near the Biopark. It was a really cool, two-story house with a giant metal heron affixed to the outside. We had fun parties and dinners at the new house, played with the cats, and admired Darcy ‘s beautiful gardens, but after a while, Kris’s lungs were not up to the task of climbing the stairs to her lair. We had a fun 50th birthday party in that house, and my favorite photo of Kris and me was taken then:

50 and Counting!

Darcy sold that house and bought her mom’s old house across from Alvarado Park, just a few blocks from us.

In 2007, Mark and I celebrated 25 years of being together. Instead of one big party, we spent the entire year having small dinner parties, totaling 25 guests, our favorite and closest friends. Kris and Darcy were two of those guests:

Celebrating 25 Years & Darcy’s Birthday


While awaiting a new lung, Kris’s world was forever altered when her brother John, a renowned jazz pianist, was murdered on November 23, 2008 in California:

In 2010 John’s killer was sentenced to 15 years to life for the murder of John Osnes. The LA Times reported, “A jury convicted J— last month in the death of Osnes, a jazz pianist known as a stickler for pedestrian rights, who was beaten by J— and run over by his SUV after a confrontation in a Hollywood crosswalk early in the morning of Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008.” Her sister Mary told me, “John was going to be the person who was to help Kris through her transplant recovery. It was hard on Kris, and all of us for that matter, not having John’s support and help [after he was murdered].”

When Governor Newsom commuted the killer’s sentence in 2020, Kris was horrified. This single act profoundly tainted her notions of justice and fair play. One article stated that the family could not be contacted prior to the commutation. The reality is that no one from the governor’s office ever tried to contact the family, and no one informed them that John’s killer had been released:

Mary said, “When Governor Newsom commuted J—’s sentence, Kris put on her lawyer hat and went toe to toe with Governor Newsom’s office and the California Innocence Project ( who supported that J— was wrongfully convicted. This resulted in the CA Innocence Project removing their insinuations that J— was somehow innocent from their website.”

Now Kris’s family included only her beloved sister Mary,

Sister Mary Beth and Kit, photo by CKO

Darcy, and an assortment of cats and rescued greyhounds and whippets.

Kris’s Menagerie of Pets, photo by CKO

Of course, Kris also had a cadre of devoted friends. In 2007 she and Mark went to Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in Kris’s Miata convertible.

Pre-Transplant Road Trip to Bosque del Apache, photo by MJH

In December 2009 Kris finally got the call that Fairview had a match for a new lung. Darcy reports, “We headed to Minnesota that night in a Learjet provided by Air Angels and, once there, were driven to the hospital in a stretch limo with Christmas lights in the ceiling and white leather seats.” 

I’ll spare readers the details of the transplant, the long scar, ‘roid rage, and other hurdles that come with transplants and recovery. Mary said, “Kris needed to have someone with her 24 hours a day for several months. This was impossible for Darcy, since she had animals and other matters to care for at home. They hired a great young man Tim who would be there from Sunday to Friday. I was with her on the weekends. When Kris finally got the green light to go home to Albuquerque, she and Tim drove straight through without stopping.” The transplant was a success; Kris’s oxygen levels were good enough that she no longer needed supplemental oxygen.

Kris had adventures both solo and with Darcy, driving Route 66 and other roads and sightseeing,

Ocean Raven, photo by CKO

but mostly cocooning at Walking Raven Central, a giant room in Darcy’s house, filled with books, ravens, computer paraphernalia, online gaming equipment, rubber duckies, an assortment of Teletubbies, puppets, and trinkets.

Carson and Teletubby, photo by CKO

Darcy, Kris, Mark and I continued our monthly dinner dates.


My mom died in 2013 and Mark and I adopted Autumn, a papillon mix from Lap Dog Rescue, later that year. Autumn did not let anyone pick her up except us and her foster mom. Autumn would shriek if anyone tried. But in March of 2014, when Autumn was less than a year old, this happened:

Kris and Autumn, 2014, photo by mjh

I have no explanation other than Kris had good dog karma.

Kris and I used to have “girl dates,” mostly lunches where we’d talk about law, classmates, friends, family and books.

Kris was the best librarian I ever had. We both loved reading and she finally convinced me to borrow her Kindle for a long camping trip. I thought that I was one of those folks who loved holding an actual book to read, but it turned out that putting 8 books on a 10 oz. contraption and reading them in the middle of nowhere, Colorado, was awesome. Kris showed me that I love books, no matter what form they’re in. Every book she recommended, I loved. Our taste was eclectic: Louise Erdrich’s The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Jasper Fforde’s 4-book Kazam series featuring teenage heroine Jennifer Strange, Scarlett Thomas’s Popco, Willa Cather, Proust, Tolstoy, T.S. Eliot.

Girls’ Lunch Date 2012

In addition to our shared love of reading, Kris pushed me to write. She said it was in my blood and I could be a southern writer like Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner. I think Kris vastly overestimated my ability, but I did write one blog entry due to Kris’s nagging.
My 2014 Retrospective written at Kris’ Request


Kris made it almost thirteen years with her new lung. Mary reports, “A note on the time Kris lived with her new lung: she truly was happy. She loved her time alone reading, online shopping, Facebook, playing video games, and getting an occasional social fix. She learned to live in the moment and not succumb to any “shoulds.” She listened to what she wanted.” Mary also said, “Kris donned her lawyer cap many times with her health insurance company, especially about prescriptions. She showed me that having a chronic condition practically requires full-time attention.”

Kris was also very proud of her new lung’s longevity (surviving ten years was considered great, so thirteen was exceptional). We would have “another year and I’m still here” parties and celebrations. Kris diligently ingested sixty or so meds daily,

Kris Meds, photo by CKO

endured injections to stave off organ rejection, and dodged several health bullets during those years.

Pre-Covid Kris, Darcy, Mark and I ate out together almost every month. July 2022 was the last time the four of us ate out together. We were supposed to have a joint birthday dinner (I’m a few days older than Kris) in mid-September. But Darcy called that morn and reported she had tested positive for Covid. She and Kris sequestered from one another and Kris was negative for five days. On day seven, Kris sent an email that she had tested positive for Covid. It seemed to be a mild case, she was in the hospital briefly, but returned home October 7. Then Kris experienced terrible pain and was readmitted to the hospital with pancreatitis and blood clots. Darcy sent periodic reports, and Kris was better on October 15. Suddenly Kris sharply declined, was in great pain, and finally was sent to hospice, where she died the next morning, October 19. Mary, who was travelling abroad, got to say “goodbye” via phone shortly before Kris died. Darcy was the only person allowed to be with Kris as she took her last breath.

Kris’s friends, colleagues, and fans are heartbroken. Kris was loyal, cantankerous to those she loved most, smart, smartassed, fierce, funny, quirky, biting, opinionated, passionate, and introverted (one of her many T-shirts proclaimed, “Introverts Unite…Individually”). She knew how to push buttons and escalate conflicts, not necessarily an admirable trait, but she mostly spared me because she thought I wasn’t tough enough to handle her. She was a big fan of Hillary Clinton and so wanted to live to see a female president elected. She believed in social justice, equal rights, and progressive principles. She was passionate about the power of educating women of all ages worldwide and animal welfare issues.  Kris was intensely interested in debate, religious beliefs, and reading. She loved to question and challenge her friends. She was wry and sarcastic, good-hearted and devoted to Darcy, myriad animals, and her friends and sister. She was stoic, enduring many physical challenges, some painful, without much complaint.

Kris’s obituary appears at the Direct Services website:  Kris was cremated there and her ashes have gone to Minnesota with sister Mary for a Viking funeral on Lake Superior. Shhhh… Flaming arrows optional.

KrisE, wherever you are, I hope I did an okay job writing you.

Postscript: January 1, 2023. I finished reading a book called Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. The last lines are profound and beautiful: “The dead are never far from us. They’re in our hearts and on our minds and in the end all that separates us from them is a single breath, one final puff of air.” This morning I read that to Darcy, the first person with whom I spoke this year after Mark and Autumn.

Another Folk Friend Gone Too Soon

I was heartbroken to read that Robert Fleming, “mandolin-playing physicist,” had died recently at home in Los Ranchos, NM. His was the best obituary I’ve ever read:

“Mandolin-playing physicist, Robert McLemore Fleming, 74, died October 31, 2020, at his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico after a brief, but courageous battle with cancer. Surrounded by his beloved wife of 52 years, Diane Fleming, his daughter, Dr. Chandler Todd (of Albuquerque), his son, Swope Fleming (of Boston) and son-in-law, Dr. Richard Todd.

Born June 1, 1946, in Nashville, Tennessee, to Swope and Margaret (“Peggy”) Fleming, Robert spent his formative years on a 300-acre horse farm, Antrim, in Columbia, Tennessee. Everyone who knew Robert, knew about that time he rode a pig, taught his mother’s favorite horse to swim, and landed a plane in a field of cow patties. Everyone who loved him, knew that his antics belied his brilliant mind. While his education began on the farm, he discovered his love of physics at Battle Ground Academy (BGA) as a high school student. He earned his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University, and a PhD in physics from the University of Virginia. Robert remained a student of physics his entire life and was a prolific and accomplished researcher. At the time of this writing, he is credited with 262 publications and over 17,000 citations.

In college, he met and fell in love with Diane Davis, of Memphis, Tennessee. His time was divided between parties at the Pike House, classes, and testing limits. Robert attended the Naval Officer Candidate School, graduating in June 1969 and was assigned to Naval Facilities on Grand Turk and Bermuda. His tours of duty included oceanographic research and participation in SOSUS, a passive sonar system to track the movement of Soviet submarines in the Atlantic Ocean.

After graduate school, in 1977, Robert and Diane relocated their growing family to Chatham, New Jersey. He devoted the next 24 years of his life to basic science research at Bell Laboratories as a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff. His contributions there were wide ranging, from sliding-charged density waves to superconductors. Pivoting to a teaching position in the turbulence following the dot-com bust, Robert took on the greatest challenge of his life, teaching high school physics. The kids loved his creative approach. His problem sets asked them to calculate the electrostatic force needed to attach his first grandbaby to the ceiling, and he took them outside for labs, one time pushing his BMW convertible around the parking lot to measure forces.

In 2003, Robert became a Principal Member of the Technical Staff at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here he made important advances in the understanding of the nature of defects in semiconductors. He thrived working with his talented Sandia colleagues and friends until his retirement in 2016.

Robert was a man of many interests and talents. He was an amateur jockey, self-taught musician, and teller of tall tales. He loved Old Time string music, and played in many bands and pick up groups. One of his favorites was “The Over Educated String Band” which made annual pilgrimages to the Motleigh Musicalia. His best band was his family band “The Second String Band” with Chandler, Richard, Geneva and Caleb Todd. Named for their many second place ribbons, one year they actually won the belt buckle at the Santa Fe Old Time and Bluegrass Festival. Robert’s signature farewell at any jam session was, “one more last tune!”

Robert was known for his community service. He served in leadership roles in his congregations at Christ Church in Summit, New Jersey; Church of the Good Shepherd in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and First Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He welcomed refugees, volunteered at Family Promise, counted collection money, taught Sunday School (usually with his guitar “Big Red” and songs such as “Magic Penny”) and served as congregation moderator.

Upon a celebration of their 70th birthday, with friends and family gathered around the pool, grandchildren dancing with sparklers, and green chile on his plate, Robert reflected that sometimes the worst things that happen in life, turn out to be the greatest blessings. His smile, infectious and warm, would light up the room, and you couldn’t help but feel better for the hours spent with him. He never worried and he wouldn’t let you worry either.

Robert loved richly, played music beautifully, and made every room he was in a brighter, better place. He was pre-deceased by his brother Dr. Stuart Fleming, and his parents. He is survived and missed by his entire family, including his wife Diane, his siblings (James Fleming, Margaret Hewgley, and Tami Crawford), his children (Chandler and Swope), his children-in-law (Richard and Dana), and his four grandchildren (Geneva, Caleb, Benjamin and Ashley), and wonderful and beloved in-laws, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins across the country.

Despite careful research, the authors of this piece could find no evidence to suggest that Robert ever left a party early; if he ever left at all. Which is why his family will honor him in person, back home on the farm at Antrim, when the time is right. Robert had many different phases in his life from childhood country boy to international scientist. In all areas of his life, curiosity and optimism were his calling cards. He always had a smile on his face and a song in his heart. He loved life, and especially his family. He is dearly missed and left a legacy of love and joy in his wake.

There will be a virtual service live streamed on Saturday December 12th, 2020 at 2pm mountain time, by Christ Church, Summit NJ on

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Albuquerque Public Library Foundation in support of the Children’s Room in the new International District library.

The Albuquerque Public
Library Foundation
P O Box 25792
Albuquerque, NM 87125

Published in Albuquerque Journal on Dec. 9, 2020.”

Then I watched Robert’s youtube memorial service:

The memorial is also spectacular and makes me happy to have known both Robert and Diane, however briefly. It appears that Robert and Diane have done a terrific job of launching children who exhibit thoughtfulness, kindness, intelligence, love and joy.

Safe travels, Robert, may the music be loud and plentiful, the laughs uproarious, and the views spectacular.

Adios, Gary, the Funniest Punster in NM

Erika, Gary, Bill Balassi and Peter Esherick perform at ABQ Folk Festival, June 4, 2016, with their band Cheap Shots

Gary Libman was a microbiologist, among many other things. So he understood better than most the horrendous odds he faced when diagnosed in June 2015 with Blastic Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell Neoplasm (BPDCN), the rarest and most aggressive leukemia invented to date. I had to create a mnemonic, Banjo Player Destroys Cancer Nemesis, just to learn the name of his illness.

Off he and Erika went to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, the experts in treating BPDCN. Gary was upbeat, positive and hopeful. He endured a month of isolation with only his banjo (and possibly a few guests dressed in clean suits), multiple chemotherapies, and a stem cell transplant. The music and dance community, along with Gary and Erika’s families and other friends, sent well-wishes, support, and jokes via email, snail mail, and phone. Some even appeared in person to entertain Gary through the glass of his isolation room. I imagined him and his guests holding their hands up to their respective side of the glass, palm ‘touching’ palm, to say ‘hello.’ After months of endurance, voila! His leukemia was beaten into remission. No detectable trace. Magic words in the cancer realm.

Gary and Erika got sprung from the medical maw in October 2015, attended Boo Camp in the Jemez Mountains, played music and danced, tried to avoid germs that might compromise Gary’s recovery. They moved into their new home in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, celebrated holidays, grieved the loss of Gary’s mom in January 2016, two weeks shy of her 100th birthday. They enjoyed life, love, music, friends and family. His hematologist pronounced him ‘boring’ because his leukemia was at bay. When he reported this to me, I could see that he was truly delighted.

But in April 2016 Gary’s leukemia returned, and he and Erika returned to MD Anderson in Houston. So many ups and downs ensued. He and Erika did come back to Albuquerque on June 4 for the Albuquerque Folk Festival that Gary co-directed. He played banjo, clarinet and autoharp onstage, resting between events. During the next few months, various friends and family visited Houston as the medical world tried to beat Gary’s leukemia back into remission. Despite numerous infections and weakness, he and Erika celebrated their 4th wedding anniversary on October 14 with friends. Then his earthly journey ended on Tuesday, October 18, 2016.

I recount this summary to remind myself that Gary and Erika and MD Anderson did all they possibly could to combat Gary’s BPDCN. And I believe the root of Gary’s fierce determination was one simple fact: he did not want to leave Erika and his other family members. He gave it his best shot, endured hell, jumped through all the medical hoops, even those in uncharted territory. “He fought hard” as someone posted on facebook. But biology, which will end each of our lives someday, prevailed. And now the world, my world at least, is a little less bright, a little less funny, a little less humane, a little less compassionate, a little less loving, a little less kind.

Because Gary was all those things: bright, funny (funny as hell!), humane, compassionate, loving, kind. He was a prince among men. He and Erika deserved more years of health and happiness, love and laughter. Yet they made the best of what they got. I loved hearing Erika guffaw at Gary’s jokes. I loved Gary’s jokes; he was my joke writer when I was onstage, calling dances. A true funnyman, a gifted comic, a clever wordsmith. He could find humor in the darkest situation.

Gary and Erika’s primary passion (besides each other) was making music together and with others. Their various bands and their commitment to organizing and running the Albuquerque Folk Festival energized our music and dance community. Unassuming, hard-working, creative, organized, they donated enormous time, energy, ideas, and money to musical causes.

I was thrilled when they asked me to officiate at their wedding in 2012. They were the 16th folk couple I married. Their beautiful wedding in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains was magical, memorable for the variety of traditions, music, dance and pink boots that it included. They were married exactly four years and four days. They packed a lot into those four years and four days: travel, bicycling, camping, music festivals, jams, concerts, performances. They got to the “for better or worse, in sickness and health” part pretty quickly. Erika didn’t miss a beat. She stepped up, assuming the role of caregiver, morale booster, coordinator, protector, and partner throughout Gary’s illness.

None of us knows how long our life pendulum will swing. To say one should live with purpose and love well might strike some as simplistic. But that’s exactly what Gary and Erika did…they lived with purpose and loved well during easy and challenging times. This approach proved both simple and complex, true and heartfelt.

e.e. cummings wrote a love poem, “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart),” which evokes the deep connection that Gary and Erika shared. The poem also reminds us to cherish those whom we love. May we all carry Gary and Erika in our hearts. May we watch over Erika as she grieves the loss of her beloved companion and our beloved friend.

Seems appropriate to end with a tune. A few years ago Gary was instrumental in bringing a fantastic group, Birds of Chicago, to the Albuquerque Folk Festival to perform. Here is one of their original songs: The Good Fight

Adios, #16. xo

For KrisE—2014 Retrospective

DSC03315 I kept a wonder jar in 2014, little scraps of paper pushed through a slot into a plastic container. Each one contained an event or image or fleeting moment of beauty, joy, or memory. On the last day of the year, I reviewed the scraps with Mark and our friends Ken and Benita. Benita was fascinated by my mostly mundane captures, and she helped me distill my entire year into four words: people, nature, food, dogs. That could be the end of this blog entry, but my friend Kris asked me to pen a holiday letter for 2014.

On January 4, a little dog named Autumn came over for a play date. We had adopted her in November 2013, but Mark’s allergies forced us (heartbreakingly) to return her. We kept running into her in the neighborhood with her foster mom Sue K. Autumn has not yet gone home from her play date, and her one-year anniversary with us just passed. Mark has been managing his allergies. And we are now a two-dog household. We have the dog beds and stuffed toys to prove it. Luke tolerates Autumn and occasionally engages her in play. Both dogs love to camp and hike, and Mark and I took five camping trips with them this past year, all within New Mexico for a change.DSC03101DSC02335Autumn in Hammock

My college friend Helen visited us in January, and Autumn approved of her.  Helen and I spent a few nights at Ojo Caliente in northern New Mexico, soaking in the mineral springs, plus hiking and bird-watching at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, one of my favorite spots in the state.Two Cuties


In March I headed to Memphis to hang out with high school friends Roxie, Kathy and Sally. It was my first time back since my mom died.


In May Mark and I flew to San Francisco to visit his brother Dan and wife Sharon. We hadn’t seen them in 18 years. We had a fine time, walking, dining, visiting Golden Gate park, admiring myriad murals, and hanging out, talking and laughing. I especially enjoyed watching the piles of seals at Fisherman’s Wharf and experiencing how many ways one could travel without a car.


In June I served as a presiding judge for the primary election. It was a grueling 16-hour day, but all our numbers matched at the end of the night. And my former student Willow won a second term as probate judge. My other friend Shannon was elected probate judge for Santa Fe County, proving that, every once in awhile, merit is rewarded. Then Mark and I spent a week at the Cruces Basin Wilderness with friends Melissa and Lew, camping in high aspen country beside a lake with one resident osprey. We hiked, hung out, cooked together and played hearts. Mark and I went back there in August for another week, camping in a different spot, which we had to ourselves the entire time. The trails were humanless too, and one day we encountered a herd of elk dashing through the forest and across the trail we were on. The dogs were suitably quiet and seemed as rapt as we were.

We did a bunch of work on the house this past year, upgrading both bathrooms, then adding a 250 square foot addition to the back. We now have a large bedroom and bath with walk-in shower. My office got bigger too and has a handcrafted Murphy bed for guests. After 27 years, guests no longer have to sleep on the pull-out sofa in Mark’s office. They’ll have a large, light-filled, comfortable airy space. Two “before and after” shots are here, but I’ve yet to cull the 100’s of photos I took during the 12 1/2 week project. We made it through with zero tears or fights, and for that we are grateful.

DSC02706New Addition 1214

I turned the big 6-0 in 2014 and managed to milk that for several events—a camping trip with Mark and dogs north of Santa Fe, lots of dinners and lunches with friends, and dancing with the folk community. We had an especially divine shared birthday dinner at Seasons with our friends Kris and Darcy. I also did a solo driving trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon to meet my college friend Ruslyn and her New Hampshire book club. My other best friend from college Susan Robinson’s mom died at age 98 while I was en route, so there was some sadness too. Rusti, her friends and I had fun hiking and dining together, and one night Ruslyn and I laid on my car hood in the pitch dark watching zillions of stars and the Milky Way twinkle in the sky, as elk munched grass nearby. A magical moment that certainly went into the wonder jar.

In October I called a dance weekend called Boo Camp in Jemez Springs, NM with a fun band Steam! It was my first weekend calling gig in awhile, and a doctor friend who attended said it was the first time since my mom died that I seemed genuinely relaxed and joyful. Although I miss her daily, the raw grief has subsided. I was able to help my Albuquerque friend Meg with the final weeks of her dad’s life in November. It seems to be a time when many parents are leaving in their 80’s and 90’s. Yet, my dad died of ALS 38+ years ago, and Mark’s mom died of cancer 30 years ago. Time marches on. Some days we cringe and duck. Others we gather the light and joy and seize the day.

Mark and I finished our house project just before Xmas and hosted friends Kit and Mary for Xmas dinner. When their Schnauzer Oscar wasn’t humping poor Luke, it was a delightful event that we share each year. Then in a perfect segue to the year’s end, Ken and Benita joined us for New Year’s Eve and the unveiling of the wonder jar. It really HAS been a year of wonder, discovery, beauty. But, as Benita summed up my life…a year of people, dogs, nature and food. If each year is as full and joyful, it will be a life well-lived.unnamed[1] Thanks, Kris, for helping me to realize this.

Merri Family 2014IMG_5158

Another Year & We’re Still Here!


© 2012, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

Holiday Greetings, Family & Friends,

Mark and I attended an “end of the world, maybe” party on December 21. Just in case, we wanted to be surrounded by great friends, food and merriment. We were! But since the world didn’t quite end, I must now ruminate about 2012 on this last day of the year.

All in all, 2012 was a fine year. Much of January was spent socializing and showing off our newly remodeled kitchen, which we love. I drove to Las Cruces in southern New Mexico to dance and visit friends, stopping at the bird refuge along the way. Lonnie and I literally walked across the Rio Grande, a giant dried-out swatch of sand. While the dry river was desolately beautiful, the forlorn great blue heron surveying the sand from the bank encapsulated the impact of the severe drought that has desiccated New Mexico for several years.

The biggest news of January was Mark reading a book called Wheat Belly, written by cardiologist William Davis. Mark asked if we could try going “wheat free” for a few weeks. After we both noticed healthy results, we kept it up. Eventually Mark lost 25 pounds doing nothing but giving up wheat. We didn’t feel terribly deprived and enjoyed experimenting with new recipes. We’re not fanatics and occasionally eat regular pasta or a flour tortilla. But the overall health benefits for both of us are happily evident. We recommend people give it a try! Months after Mark read the book, it became #1 on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

Mark and I continued to hike almost weekly, seeing a variety of birds and wildlife along our river and at Bernardo Wildlife Refuge south of Belen. In February the national dance organization, Country Dance and Song Society, held a board meeting in Albuquerque. My friend Meg and I hosted a brunch for them and local folkies the last day, which was fun. In March I visited my mom, and we had fun driving around looking at the blooming azaleas and cherry trees. I also taught some sessions at the annual probate judges training. Sadly, our neighbor Paula across the street died on Leap Day. We were neighbors for 25 years and greatly admired her spunky walks even when her cancer turned deadly. Her Marine son Ben made it home from Afghanistan in time to say goodbye, and for that we were grateful.

We found another camper, a 2007 Sunlite popup, and got the truck ready with suspension enhancements and tie-downs. We added a concrete pad extension to our driveway so we can still get both vehicles into the garage. Due to a slight miscalculation resulting in the pad being a few feet too small, Mark must ‘jig’ his truck around the camper, but he has become expert at doing that. The heater actually works in this camper, a first! It’s quite swanky compared to our other two, and we are learning its tricks and idiosyncrasies.

Meanwhile, my friend who had the double mastectomy had her final reconstructive surgeries in 2012 and has been declared cancer-free. Having shared this journey with her as her health care power of attorney for four surgeries spanning several years, we are all happy, relieved and hopeful.

Mark and I celebrated thirty years together in February! They passed rather quickly and we are hoping for thirty more. He began working on another book project for Wiley Publishers: Windows 8 for Seniors for Dummies. In typical small world fashion, his editor, who lives in Maine, was also a contra-dancer and knew people I knew. His Windows 7 for Seniors for Dummies book sold more than 100,000 copies and was almost always in the top 10 of computer software books on amazon. com for several years!

My friend Ann from North Carolina visited the end of April, and we had a fine time attending a concert, hiking, and taking the camper out on its first trip. We went to the Gila during a fierce windstorm and just before devastating fires, but we saw tons of birds and enjoyed nature despite her ferocity. And yes, due to global warming, we wore shorts for some of the trip until it turned cold the last night. Ann is a dog-lover, so Luke loved her right back!


© 2012, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

In early May I travelled to north Florida to visit my friend Susan. She and I celebrated FORTY years of friendship in August. She was my next-door neighbor freshman year at Vanderbilt. We had fun hiking, bird-watching, flower-watching, and spending time at Susan’s sister’s beach house on St. George Island. We love sea-kayaking with dolphins, cooking together, and talking for hours. When we got back to her house on Mother’s Day, husband Paul presented Susan with a white lab who found him while he was jogging with their other white lab Buddy. I promptly named the new dog Honey, went with Susan and Honey to the vet the next day, and persuaded them (didn’t take much!) to adopt her (Susan and Honey are pictured below). Honey is older, but very sweet and mostly healthy after Paul gave her a few flea baths. I also saw my first ever pileated woodpecker near their house, a very special treat!

09131013Honey Nurse

© 2012, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

I got to be publicly politically active for the first time in ten years, working on my longtime friend Christine Trujillo’s legislative campaign. She won the primary and the general election, so will serve our district in the session that starts in a few weeks. At the end of May Meg and I attended the 20th annual Folkmadness music and dance camp in Socorro. We were roommates and twins in our matching turquoise fiesta dance dresses. A few days later I jumped in the Volvo and drove to Memphis for my 40th high school reunion.

What was I thinking—driving along across country by myself when it was 102 degrees in Amarillo? For the reunion, we lucked out in Memphis and got cooler weather. I stayed with longtime friend Kathy, and our other best friend from high school Roxie joined us for some of the festivities. It was somewhat traumatic that I didn’t recognize or remember most people. But it was mostly fun and interesting to hear people recount stories about me that I had no memory of. Then I moved over to my mom’s for the rest of the week before driving back home.

Merri Rudd, Kathy Caradine, Roxane TaylorThe Whole ClassMerri Rudd

© 2012, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

July proved brutally hot for Albuquerque. Mark and I vowed to drive north, no matter how far we had to go, until we hit rain and cool, even if it meant driving to Canada. Turns out we didn’t have to go that far—central Colorado was our home for two weeks of camping with Luke. It rained the first 11 days and was in the low 40’s each night. Blissful! We loved hiking and camping, staying put at one remote campground beside a lake at the base of a mountain for four nights. At the end we joined our friends Melissa and Lew and their dog Siska for two nights at a cabin near Pagosa Springs. We enjoyed cooking together, playing cribbage and hearts, and hiking. Mark even saw a bear wander past our camper at six in the morning, plus an eagle fly downriver next to the cabin.

DSC01264DSC01266Friends by Age Order

© 2012, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

In August we added an unexpected member to our family—a baby roadrunner (New Mexico’s state bird) that Mark named Spike. He hopped down one day while I was feeding our baby turtle a burger ball. I fed Spike a burger ball and the next day he followed me around the yard, sat on the hammock with me, poked his head through a slat in our fence and acted like I was his mom. I tried to teach him to hunt worms in the compost pile and caught a grasshopper for him. We think his parents kicked him out of the nest a bit too soon. [Note: Spike turned out to be female, which we discovered months later when she barked for a mate.] Hawks Aloft, Inc., our local raptor rescue group, advised us to feed Spike mice instead of burger balls and sold us a bag of frozen mice. Spike is very personable and photogenic, even wandering into our living room on occasion:

photo(4)Spike (5)Spike 100112

© 2012, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

Mark posted a great blog entry about Spike, complete with a photo slideshow and some videos at:

Spike the Roadrunner

This year I turned 58 and my mom turned 85, so Mark and I headed to Memphis in September to celebrate both birthdays. We spent a lot of time eating, laughing and hanging out. At the end of September Susan and Paul visited NM and Colorado. Quite fabulous to see Susan twice in our 40th year of friendship! We hiked and ate and visited. They got to meet Spike before heading up to Telluride for a family reunion.

Also in September our longtime friend Gail moved into the house next door, which had been empty for many years. Now we enjoy all of our neighbors, on either side and across the street. We have formed our own neighborhood watch group and keep an eye on each others’ houses when one of us is out of town. Mark and I celebrated 25 years in our house this past summer…those years passed way too quickly!

Mark headed to D.C. area for a family friend’s funeral and to see friends in October, so I had the house to myself for a whole week. I enjoyed hanging out with Luke, reading and attending the musical LION KING with my former court administrator Lori. Mark and I reconnected with my old law school friend Michael and wife Didi this year, swapping dinners and stories. It was easy to pick up where we left off when we met 30 years ago, and we enjoyed catching up.

Did a bunch of socializing and got a new furnace (ours was 35 years old) in November. Mark and I hosted nine of us for Thanksgiving, an hours-long event that involved my favorite things: friends, community, food, laughter. I also started a short-term job, rewriting the Probate Judges Training Manual for the Judicial Education Center. I wrote the last five editions for free, but they’re paying me this time. A lot of laws and rules have changed, so the project is challenging.

In December our gang-of-six birding group—Dave, Kathleen, Melissa, Lew, Mark and I—did our 10th annual birding trip to Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. There weren’t quite as many birds as usual due to low pond levels, but we had fun. Mark and I went to Albuquerque’s River of Lights for the first time ever. It was breathtakingly beautiful and a wonderful way to get into the holiday spirit, with live Christmas music and hundreds of lighted shapes. I posted a slideshow at:

River of Lights Photos (note Slideshow button in upper left corner)

I danced more in 2012, went to yoga classes three times most weeks, and took up jigsaw puzzles (more proof that I am officially an old lady with my knitting, cribbage and puzzling). We ended the year with a rush of socializing—hosting dinner for friends Kit and Mary on 12/25, then Mark’s longtime friend Steve showed up from Bozeman, MT on 12/26. We joined Steve and family and the Mullany family out in the east mountains for a riotous dinner on 12/27. Now we’re resting up for the new year. Our last day of 2012 started with an inch of pristine snow and Spike nowhere to be found (roadrunners ‘hibernate’ in the evening and during cold spells). I walked to the post office in 36 degree temps to mail my belated holiday cards, and now I’ve finished my year’s review.

Happy old year, happy new year, good health and fun to all!

Hurray for Las Cruces Dancers!!!

I just received a fantastic article in the mail (thanks mi amiga, Laura) that recently appeared in a Las Cruces publication. Lonnie Ludeman and Julie Schmitt, as well as all the musicians, dancers, and other callers, deserve humongous kudos for their fine organizing work. Article, complete with photos, can be read at:

Las Cruces Contra Dancing Soars

Now if we can just figure out how to do this in Albuquerque and Santa Fe…

I’m Healthy, But Uninsurable

Several months ago I wrote this column, and the Albuquerque Journal, our morning paper, finally published it today. With the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling upholding most of the Affordable Care Act, I guess the column was timely once more.

Thanks for reading. Stay vigilant and insist that your elected officials of all parties make it easier for more people to obtain affordable health insurance and health care.

Millions more people have their own stories to share. I hope America will listen.

Hope Springs Forth!

Dear Family and Friends, Happy Holidays and a Healthy 2012 to All !!

Happy Anniversary, Luke!

I did not post a holiday letter in 2009 or 2010. Both were filled with sorrow, death, and tragedy, and I did not want to sadden folks during the holiday season. Just so you won’t worry too much (and some of you know much of this), in 2009, my car was totaled, back injured, our dog Lucky died, AZ friend Craig had motorcycle wreck and became quadriplegic, and my aunt’s cancer spread to her brain.

In 2010 my aunt died as I was flying to see her on Valentine’s Day. Mark, 6 friends and I took a birding trip to Guatemala, we adopted new rescue dog Luke (a bassadorable, ½ basset hound, ½ Labrador), I spent months settling my aunt’s estate, making trips to FL to clear her house of 70 years’ of possessions and have a memorial. Kathleen (our longtime friend whom Mark and I helped for 25 years) died at age 94, my friend Craig died of complications from his quadriplegia, I listed my aunt’s FL house for sale, I was term-limited-out of my judge job, my fabulous former student Willow won an election to succeed me (although her opponent, a totally unqualified, retired nurse with zero law or probate experience, got 87,000 votes), and  right before Thanksgiving vandals in FL pumped 16,000 gallons of water inside my aunt’s house, flooding the entire interior. Just before Xmas the insurance company denied my flood claim. The county made a nice farewell video for me as my judge job ended, and there were several farewell events:

I know that life is a combo of good and evil, joy and sorrow, fun and work, gratitude and resentment, yin and yang. Thankfully, I can offer mostly good stories for 2011.

I entered 2011 without the job that I had loved for 10 years. And yet I believe in term limits. I had planned to take 2011 as a sabbatical to figure out what was next. Instead I spent much of January fighting with the FL insurance company, which finally allowed the flood claim. I travelled to see my friend Laura in southern NM the end of January, a solo girls’ trip, and we had fun hiking and dancing there with friends Lonnie and Julie (although Lonnie made me call part of the January dance in Las Cruces). Also drove to Tucson to stay with Jacquie, my fiddler friend and widow of Craig. We had a wonderful time hiking, dancing, eating and laughing. I got back to NM just in time for a visit from college friend Rusti-Ruslyn, who came to NM for adventure and relaxation. We rode the train to Santa Fe, saw the musical WICKED, hiked, ate and laughed. Good therapy to get me through the first month of missing my beloved court and staff.

Things got easier in February, when Mark and I committed to hiking at least once a week. One day we were walking down by the Rio Grande and saw a peregrine falcon eating a small bird in a treetop. The day was sunny and blue, and I turned to Mark and said, “This beats working!” for the first time since my job ended. Also in February, three friends and I drove up to CO for a dance weekend, my first since the car wreck. I danced every day for four days, something I’d not tried to do since the accident. Also saw a bobcat in the snow late one night driving back to the cabin, so close we could see tufts of fur between his paws, and that was the highlight of the weekend, despite the fabulous food, dancing, music and learning to play cribbage.

Mark and I visited my mom in TN in March, which was delightful—tons of flowers blooming and a giant full moon rising near her apartment one night. We also lunched with my longest-time friend (almost 50 years) Roxie and hubby Tommy in Jackson, TN, and stayed with our friend Susan Kevra one night in Nashville. I thought I had sold the FL house in March, but the sale fell through when mold was found all over the house. This triggered another fight with the insurance company about who was responsible for mold cleanup, and eventually they paid for that too, but not without first making my life miserable for months.

Our Maine friends Pam and Gary visited in April, and we enjoyed our eating tour of Albuquerque. Also, I visited college friend Susan in north FL in April and canoed with alligators nearby FL Nurse 0411 (97)

© 2011, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

(Susan became a grandma in March!!!), had the mold cleaned up in the FL house, and the house sold again with a May closing. In early May I made a trip to NC to see my friend Ann, and then a 10-day trip to FL to do house repairs and help the buyers get their loan. Alas, that sale also fell through on the day of closing when the buyers didn’t get their loan. But I got my best photo of the year on that trip while walking along the bay, this shot of a very cooperative snowy egret.

Egret FL 2011 (800x600)

© 2011, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

A few days later Mark and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary at a dog-friendly B&B in Taos, hiking at snow level each day and dining at very tasty restaurants by night. We’ve actually been a couple for almost 30 years, shocking, I know!

I decided to rehab the FL house and then relist it, so I made a trip to FL in June to oversee the rehab, spending 18 hours steaming wallpaper from the bathroom and kitchen and going to Home Depot with the awesome contractor every few days. All in all, I’ve made 14 trips to FL since my aunt’s diagnosis of metastases in April 2008. After the rehab was finished, I relisted the house, got yet another offer, and that one actually closed on August 26.  “Before and after” photos of the rehab are at:

In between all the FL fiascoes (I have written the first 700 words of my novel THE FLORIDA FIASCO), Mark, Luke and I camped in CO in late June with our friend Dave and his two dogs. Mark and I and Luke camped again in CO the end of July and beginning of August. We sold our old camper in an hour on craigslist after that trip (while it was still in decent shape) and sold the 16-year-old Toyota Tacoma truck too. We’ll look for another camper in 2012, but at least we don’t have to worry about storing the camper this winter.

So essentially my sabbatical started in September, since FL business ate up the first 8 months of it! Mark and I continued to hike each week. In September I flew to Houston with my Albuquerque friend for a second opinion about her upcoming double mastectomy for recurrent breast cancer (I am her health care power of attorney). The facility in TX was amazing, but we got the same advice from the doctor: do it sooner rather than later.

Our friends Robert Coontz and his beautiful bride Jolene Jesse visited us for a week in September, and we had fun playing tour guide, hiking, going to Taos, and to the hot air balloon fiesta. Robert introduced Mark and me 30 years ago. He and Jolene got married in 2010, so this was their first anniversary trip. They both declared it “their best trip ever!”

I called Boo Camp, a dance weekend in Jemez Springs, NM with the well-loved Privy Tippers from Tucson the end of October. You can view Peter Esherick’s Boo Camp Photos (click on a photo to get the large version, then use gray arrows to right and left of photos to move to next or previous photo) to see the merriment that ensued. My college friend “Big Bob” Chess, a former center on the Vanderbilt basketball team, visited in November. We enjoyed hiking, hearing a Czechoslovakian bluegrass band, and hanging out with him. A few weeks later our birding friends Melissa, Lew, Dave and Kathleen shared a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner with us. This week we all head down to Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge for our 9th annual birding/gourmet eating outing.

Mark and I had been planning a kitchen remodel of our own house for a long time. Destruction began November 30 and it was mostly finished last week (see Mark’s blog entry for details: We do LOVE the beautiful, functional results! Our contractors, Two Dads Construction, were great. The floating cork floor, cabinets made by a local guy (who lined up the grains of wood on the drawers), and engineered quartz counters are the stars.

 Kitchen Finished

In December I celebrated my 20th anniversary as a dance caller by calling two dances in Albuquerque; one was affected by snow and ice, but the other was magical. In the middle of kitchen remodeling, my friend had her mastectomy and they sent her home 4 hours after she emerged from the 3-hour surgery! She was sitting at her dining table eating soup soon after, kind of hard to believe. She is doing great and the pathology indicates she is now cancer-free.

Mark, Luke and I spent Christmas day with our friends Kit and Mary in the south valley of Albuquerque. We hiked near the river, saw hawks, cranes, towhees, llamas, goats, and geese, then shared a fabulous meal of leg of lamb with tasty side dishes.

As 2011 wraps up, I am grateful for good family and friends, good music and dance, good food, and the natural beauty in the world all around us. I hope that 2012 is kind to us all and that the Mayan calendar merely signifies an evolution to more peaceful times.

 Merri Xmas

Merri’s 20th Anniversary as a Dance Caller

December 7, 2011 marks my 20th anniversary as a dance caller. I’ll be calling two dances to celebrate, one on Saturday, December 3, at the Albuquerque Square Dance Center, 7:30 – 10:30 pm with Hey! playing (I just got home from a two-hour band practice with them, and they have planned some fun surprises for the dancers). I’ll also be calling the Second Sunday English/contra dance at the Heights Community Center on Sunday, December 11, 7 – 9:30 pm in Albuquerque with Second Nature (Karina Wilson and Della O’Keefe playing, and since Gemma DeRagon played at the very first dance I called on December 7, 1991, she’ll be joining Karina and Della for this dance). Between these two dances I hope to call my top 20 dances of all time. We’ll have a big chocolate cake on December 3 and would appreciate potluck snack donations for the Second Sunday dance on December 11. If you’ve ever had fun dancing to or with me, please come help me celebrate this big anniversary. Please email or call your dancing friends and encourage them to attend. It’d be fun to have a big crowd at both dances.

I can only say this: those twenty years went quickly! I wrote a long essay in 2000 about calling. Here is a small part of it:

After I started contra dancing in 1981, I sat on the periphery of music, sometimes at a dance, sometimes a concert, sometimes around a fire in the middle of a field, or in a cabin amid piles of snow. I listened to others proliferate wonderful, rowdy, driving music and was unable to participate. I wished fervently to speak the language of music, but I never found the notes, never had any musical ability, never had a role.

Learning to call dances gave me a role. For years I admired musicians and callers and the bridges they created for the dancers. And so I learned to be a bridge. I bridge the music and the dance. I connect the players and dancers. And when it all comes together in a synergistic way, indeed, magic happens.

Getting on stage that first time in April 1991 was the greatest leap of faith I ever made. It took me more than a year to get there, fifteen months after I first attended a calling workshop with Bill "Doc" Litchman one weekend in January 1990. I could not bring myself to get on stage in front of people and interact with dancers and musicians, all alone. I practiced and struggled, and finally I stood on stage, out of excuses.

Even my non-dancing hubby Mark showed up for my debut. I gripped the microphone, I cued the band, and I called Don Armstrong’s "Broken Sixpence." Flawlessly. The dancers and musicians erupted into shouting so loud, so sustained, and so spirited that I tried calling one dance again, a few months later. On December 7, 1991, at the Lloyd Shaw Dance Center with Megaband backing me up, I called my first whole evening of dances. I only knew ten dances, and I called them all.

That first year or two of calling my knuckles stretched white and my hands ached from holding the microphone so tightly. I counted the beats of the music in my head to time my calls correctly, "1, 2, 3, 4, LA-dies CHAIN a-CROSS now…." Several years into it, I realized I knew where I was in the music, which was the second A part or the first B part, or when a tune was irregular. I became not only a dance teacher and leader, but also a band director, choosing dances to complement tunes, setting tempos, cuing the band to switch tunes, speed up, slow down, and finally stop. All of this looks easy when you gain experience. But, believe me, it’s not as easy as it looks.

Once a musician told me, "You are one of the few who thinks the musicians are important. You appreciate us."

"Important?!" I exclaimed, "It is because of you that dance is possible."

And so I became a bridge to what is possible, not a big, commercial, concrete and steel giant spanning a metropolis, but a small, wooden bridge over a babbling, musical creek. Maybe Pan plays his lute on the shore or a Civil War fiddler and banjo player tune up, leaning against an old gnarled tree. And maybe the women are there in gauzy gowns, with flowers in their hair, and the men are bowing to their favorite partner. But there I am, too, figuring out how it all fits together.

Why? Because. Because I finally have a role.

(c) 2011, Merri Rudd, All Rights Reserved

Richard Wilson’s Memorial on September 18, 2011

A memorial gathering to remember Richard Wilson will be held on:

Sunday, September 18, 2011, 3:00 pm

Oddfellows Hall, 1125 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe

Please feel welcome to participate in an open sharing time.

Dress comfortably, and bring a pot luck dish to share.

For more information: 505-820-3535,

Richard Wilson, former postmaster in Glorieta, community  dance leader, and poet, passed away on August 4, 2011 from  metastatic melanoma.  His passing has left a great emptiness in  the lives of those who survive him: his wife of 30 years,  Karolyn; his best friends Scott Crates and son-in-law Justin Perea; his daughters Emily Perea, Karina, Lily, Laurel and Char  Wilson; his grandchildren Elizabeth, Martin, and Beren Perea;  dear friend Merry Crates; mother Anastasia Haley, sister Margaret Woods, and brother Danny Wilson; and his many  friends among his postal patrons and fellow contra dancers. 

He was born on Christmas Eve 1947, in Los Angeles, CA, and  attended the John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun  Valley, CA, graduating in 1966.  He first came to New Mexico in  1968 and lived at the New Buffalo commune in El Rito.  He  served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970, and was honorably  discharged with a Bronze Star.  He traveled around the world,  spending a year in Australia before returning to the United  States to ride a bicycle from California to New York and back  again, and work as a miner around the Western US.  In 1978, in  the midst of a ladies’ chain, he met the love of his life, and he  and Karolyn were married in 1981.  They moved to Glorieta  with their family in 1991, and he became the postmaster there  in 1992. 

He embraced his life with gentle enthusiasm and joyfulness,  and his gracefulness, warmth, charm, and kindness touched  the hearts of all whom he met.  As postmaster, he became the  heart of the community of Glorieta.  As a community dance  leader he encouraged and supported both beginning and  experienced dancers alike.  His dances, like his spirit, were  lyrical expressions of his zest for life: his poetry given life and  spirit. 

The family would like to express their gratitude to contra  dancers everywhere, especially the communities in Santa Fe,  Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Taos, and Durango, as well as to the  community of Glorieta, especially the La Cueva Share the Care  group.  Individuals are too numerous to mention by name, but  please know that your support, help, prayers, and thoughts are  not only warmly appreciated, but were of critical importance.

Richard Wilson Memorial flyer (pdf)

Farewell, Richard Wilson, August 4, 2011

Richard Wilson1

(photo by Stephen C. Mills)

Richard Wilson, longtime dancer, dance caller and folk community icon, passed away peacefully today, August 4, 2011, at home surrounded by his family, wife Karolyn and daughters Emily, Karina, Lily, Laurel and Charline. Although he fought his melanoma cancer with all of his being, biology triumphed and death prevailed, as it will for each of us. Each year the anniversary of our own death passes us by with nary a blip or acknowledgement, mostly because we don’t know that day yet. Cherish life, dance often, support traditional music and dance, honor Richard’s memory by loving well and living with joy.

I first met Richard and Karolyn Wilson around the fall of 1984 at the Heights Community Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Emily was already born (and probably snugged to Richard’s chest while he danced). Karolyn was pregnant with Karina and dancing away. Both Richard and Karolyn glowed while dancing together.

Soon after, Richard stepped up to fill a caller void when Pam McKeever left for New York. We were a small group. I think Mimi Stewart and Richard were the main callers back then. Then Richard took a job in California for awhile, and the family moved with him. New Mexico called him and his family back several years later. They’ve lived here ever since.

One vivid memory I have of Richard is from 1991. I was a new caller, terrified of being on stage. So I practiced and practiced and practiced to overcome my fear. I called one dance (out of an evening of dances) in Albuquerque and one dance (out of an evening of dances) in Santa Fe. The Albuquerque caller coordinator then decided I was ready to call my first whole dance—on December 7, 1991 (the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day). I saw Richard at a dance before my gig and reported that I was about to take the plunge. After hearing the date of my first whole dance, he said, with a gleam in his eye, “Well, then, it’s OK if you bomb!” We laughed and laughed, although 19 years later, he claimed to have no memory of this exchange.

Richard believed steadfastly in giving everyone access to the folk community, be it dancers, callers or musicians. No matter what the skill level of callers and dancers, he encouraged them to learn and have fun. Richard was the first caller I ever saw fly off the stage and into the dance line, calling and dancing simultaneously. Eventually, I too learned this instant access to rhythm and community.

He and I have different calling styles, but we enjoyed egging each other on. He provided an entertaining evening for all in attendance. Once, in the early 1990’s, a new and unskilled caller stood on stage for 45 minutes trying to teach a difficult dance that he did not understand. After the music started, the dance broke down and people were gathering their bags and leaving the dance hall in frustration. Richard leaped onto the stage from the dance floor, took the microphone, yelled, “Line up for a contra, no walk-through!!” and proceeded to gather everyone back into dance mode. He saved the evening. This was the only time I ever saw him assert control over a floundering individual for the good of the group. Otherwise, he reminded everyone to be kind and patient, go with the flow, and not dwell on our mistakes.

An article called “Gotta Dance!” was published in GQ magazine in December 1998. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about rediscovering lindy hop expert Frankie Manning and going to a dance workshop taught by Frankie, who was in his 80’s by then. Gilbert wrote, “For Frankie, style, dignity, dance and romance are connected….One of Frankie’s best students said, ‘Here I am, this head-of-the-household single black mother, carrying the world on my shoulders. But when I dance with a man, I have to relax and surrender. I have to trust that, for just two minutes, this man is going to take care of me….’”

The article continued, talking about how Frankie once interrupted a class with this statement: “’Fellas, the lady you are dancing with is a queen.’ The students laughed. Frankie said it again, ‘She is a queen.’ He was serious. ‘She is a queen.’ He was going to keep saying that until we all heard him, until we all understood exactly how serious he was. The room got very quiet.”

“‘And what do you do to a queen?’ he asked. ‘You bow to her. When you’re dancing with a woman, you should be bowing to her, all the time. That’s the feeling you should have. She is letting you dance with her. You should be grateful, fellas.’”

Richard Wilson2

(photo by Stephen C. Mills)

That is exactly how Richard danced and taught dance. He treated each partner as a queen. He took care of her, made her shine, guided her gently and grinned (even if the “she” was a guy dancing the woman’s part!). Then he moved on to the next partner with the same focus and flair. When teaching dance he wanted us to take care of each other. He wanted us to look beautiful. He wanted us to flow gracefully and to create synergy from music and dance. That was Richard’s goal: for us all to embrace the elegance that the marriage of music and dance evokes, to bask in the beauty of the moment.

He wanted us to have fun. He was the “pied piper” of dance leadership, often instigating long swirling, weaving, crisscrossing lines of dancers just to get people on their feet. He was a master of the grand march, directing dancer traffic into two lines of individuals, who reunited as couples, then two couples merged into a line of four, then four couples merged into a line of eight, and so on. Everyone could participate successfully and light-heartedly, as Richard subtly led them all to move effortlessly and delightedly to the music.

I’ve learned a lot from Richard, watching him teach dance, watching him share his love of dance, watching him build community whether it be a one-night-stand wedding gig or a regular dance, watching the twinkle in his eyes as he set things into motion. “Get ‘em up, get ‘em movin’” no matter age, experience, gender. Include everyone.

My most poignant Richard story occurred at New Mexico’s annual Folkmadness Music and Dance weekend in Socorro, New Mexico in 2005. Richard was supposed to teach an early Sunday morning English country dance workshop there. But he was in the middle of treatment for his cancer and was unable to do so. At the last minute, I was asked to teach the workshop instead.

To understand this story one must understand that, for almost 25 years, I disparaged English country dance. I heard birds tweeting in every tune, all of which I thought were silly. I lacked the grace and carriage to dance English well. I lacked the wisdom to understand the dance. I didn’t know it at the time, but I disgraced dance leadership.

Meanwhile, Richard loved English country dance exactly as much as I disliked it. He was the grand master of English country dance in his baby blue silk jacket with his elegance and poise, setting and turning and arming and heying with a proper English attitude. He had danced and called English country dance for years and years. He was the obvious choice to lead this workshop, not me.

Richard wasn’t a heavy-handed or judgmental leader. He was gentle. He let you make mistakes, he didn’t lecture. Maybe he believed you’d figure it out eventually on your own. I did.

In April 2004 I abruptly corrected the error of my viewpoint. I was in Nashville, TN staying with Susan Kevra and Russ Barenberg. Susan took me (apologetically, knowing my lack of enthusiasm) to a small English dance in a hot gymnasium with recorded music. She taught Jaque Latin, and I danced it with about 20 others. At the end I said to her, “That was fun!” She looked at me in disbelief, and I clapped my hand over my mouth in shock. I was suddenly inexplicably smitten by the joy, verve, grace, and fun of English country dance. I started my English dance collection that weekend, poring over Susan’s dance collection with her humming tunes to me.

I share these details so that readers appreciate the supreme irony of me substituting for Richard Wilson in leading an English country dance workshop only a year after my conversion.

So it was May 2005 at Folkmadness, and I was emergency-subbing for Richard. I was working with a band called The Cantrells (Emily and Al, more serendipity, from Nashville, TN) who used to play English tunes 20 years ago. We weren’t at all sure about our workshop, so we had a band practice, complete with dancers, under the spreading sycamore tree the day before. The Cantrells brushed up on their English tunes rather quickly; they were great musicians. I figured the workshop was early Sunday morning; usually only 20 or 30 people showed up.

More than 100 people attended my workshop, including Nils Fredland, one of our guest callers for the weekend.

And it was the first time I’d ever taught English country dance. I started with Well Hall, not the best choice for a beginner’s workshop. But I had come to love that tune and dance, the many “moments” of discovery and interaction throughout the dance sequence. The music started and I was observing from the stage many flailing contra dancers trying to master a new dance style. It looked AWFUL until unexpectedly, an amazing thing happened: the music took the dancers to where they needed to be. They settled down, started floating above the floor and leading with their hearts, maximizing the moments. The transformation was beautiful to behold.

This was the only time in 20 years that I have cried on stage.

The dancers (many of whom were startled to see me teaching English) were touched that I was touched. We carried on, not flawlessly, but exuberantly, playfully, and truly in the spirit of English dance. And certainly in honor of Richard Wilson, whose name I invoked more than once.

Richard and Karolyn showed up later for lunch, and Richard sought me out to ask how my workshop went. I cried again, relating the details to him, and he seemed bemused by my emotion.

I went on to teach other English dance workshops at several weekend gigs with a mix of English and contra dance. I reminded the dancers that the great moments found in English dance could be found in other dance forms. Several reluctant contra dancers reported to me (with some surprise) that they “now love English country dance.”

In Colorado in 2008 when I called the Stellar weekend with Notorious and Hands Five, a retired schoolteacher approached me at the end of the English workshop. She said she enjoyed how I captured the dancers’ attention with my enthusiasm and love for English country dance, which she felt was strongly evident. I stood silently for a moment, with tears filling my eyes (I was off-stage). I said, “For twenty+ years, I set a bad example on the dance floor with my disdain for English country dance. And one day about five years ago, I ‘got’ it. I LOVE English country dance now and I’m trying to make up for all the harm I did before.” “Well,” she said, “don’t worry. You’re more than making up for it now.”

I partly credit Richard for this lesson, which took me so many years to learn. He had been quietly leading English dance for years. I think he taught me, just by his example and without me even knowing it, how to be a better dance leader.

Perhaps the greatest gifts that Richard and Karolyn have given to the folk community are their five daughters, Emily, Karina, Lily, Laurel and Charline. Watching Richard dance with each of his daughters through the years is a treasured memory. I suppose those girls had no choice but to grow up lovely, graceful, accomplished in music and/or dance. Karolyn is the matriarch of the family, raising five girls with love, warmth, strength, dance and song. And she has brought many other young lives safely into the world through her midwife practice.

Emily has been a skilled dancer since age five. When less skilled, much older men would try to guide her incorrectly in a dance, she would politely but firmly decline the lead and go exactly where she should be. Eventually, the men came to rely on her to get them where they should be.

Karina, also a graceful dancer, has evolved into a fiddler of extraordinary talent, the notes of English dance tunes hanging mid-air at the moment the dancers’ eyes meet or bodies swoop past. Her contra rhythms excel too. She started as all musicians must start, learning and goofing up as she went, visibly flustered when she made a mistake, forgot an A or B part of the tune, or dropped a phrase. Somewhere along the way, her tunes steadied, her repertoires increased, and she became an accomplished English country and contra dance fiddler.

A bunch of us travelled to Oklahoma City in February 2008 for an English country dance weekend with Bare Necessities. Richard drove with two of his daughters and several other young dancers. He enjoyed dancing all weekend.

My friends Meg, Kit, Mary and I joined the band for lunch on Saturday, and we told Mary Lea about Karina, who was attending as a dancer. Bare Necessities’ fiddler Earl had a high fever and struggled to keep up his energy. On Saturday night, we were waltzing to the achingly haunting notes of one of those “waltzes to die for.” I looked toward the stage and saw Karina sitting in with Mary, Jackie and Peter. I was stunned and thrilled! Earl was lying on his stomach behind the stage with acupuncture needles protruding from his neck. Karina, then age 23 and playing with some of the most talented musicians in the world, blossomed that night. Richard was there on the dance floor, in his blue silk jacket, applauding, proud papa beaming as he watched his daughter soar.

Lily dances wonderfully too. Recently at a benefit dance for Richard and his family, Lily took the microphone and called one of her dad’s dances, flawlessly. I didn’t even know she was a caller.

Laurel is 21 now, beautiful, poised, articulate, a dancer and singer. Her singing is the music of angels. She’s carrying on her maternal grandmother’s tradition of singing old folk songs to her guitar accompaniment.

The youngest Charline attends the Santa Fe School for the Arts, where she is learning to share her gifted voice and love of music. They all obviously doted on “Papa Richard.”

Richard devoted his time, energy, skill, and love to the music and dance community for more than thirty years, with enthusiasm and creativity. He and Karolyn have ensured that the folk traditions will thrive through their five charming daughters. Until the very end Richard continued to encourage our community’s youth and everyone else, to call, dance, play, flow, and have fun. Even when he was too weak to dance, he continued to bask in the therapy of music and community.

Thanks, Richard, for all you did for New Mexico’s traditional music and dance community. We are better dancers and leaders because of you. You will be missed for many, many years to come. May your spirit sprint across the universe and infuse us with joy and hope as we dance, play and sing in your memory.

Also, check the blog for updated information regarding visitation hours and family support.
Cards can be sent to:
Karolyn Wilson & Family
P.O. Box 317
Glorieta, NM, 87535

The Santa Fe New Mexican posted a story about Richard at:–1947-2011-Postmaster-danced-through-life

–Merri Rudd, Albuquerque, NM


Many members of the New Mexico music and dance community know that caller Richard Wilson’s cancer has returned. He and Karolyn are facing many difficult challenges ahead. Albuquerque will host a benefit dance for the Wilsons on Friday, November 12, 2010 at Lloyd Shaw Dance Center, 5506 Coal Ave SE, Albuquerque, NM.

The evening will feature different events beginning at 5:30 PM with a potluck supper, waltzing from 6:30 to 7:15 PM with Mad Robin and any other musician who would like to join them. It will be followed by a contra dance at 7:30 with the Megaband and various callers in the community who will call one of Richard’s dances.

To call one of the dances, contact: Erik Erhardt at: If folks can offer housing or folks are in need of housing, contact Donna Bauer at:

Hope to see everyone there!

Merri Rudd
Albuquerque, NM

Merri’s August 2010 Folk Enews

August has some fun events. As always information about FOLKMADS contra dances is posted at It looks like dancing is back at the Heights Community Center in August, although I’m not sure about Labor Day Weekend.

Judy Muldawer has posted some music jams and other events at Judy’s Music News.

Wildlife West Music Festival, Edgewood, NM, August 6-8: Don’t miss the Wildlife West Music Festival next weekend. You’re not sitting in the sun and it’s 10 degrees cooler in the East Mountains.  Bring the kids, bring your grandmother, and please tell a friend.  A very fine Violin and Mandolin will be awarded the 1st Place Winners at the Contest Sunday at 3pm.   20 miles east of Albuquerque. Saturday & Sunday begin at 11am.  Sunday Gospel at 11am.  The Claire Lynch Band, Pat Donohue, Spring Creek, Small Potatoes, Syd Masters, Hot Club of Santa Fe, Atomic Grass, Muddy River String Band, Cheap Shots, Old Time Martin Family Band and more. Visit the bear, wolves and mountain lions and still hear the music playing! Food, drink and children’s activities on site. More info at:  

Albuquerque Concert, August 10: Kit French and I are co-hosting a concert featuring Jacqueline Schwab, who played piano on the soundtracks for Ken Burns’ Civil War and National Parks series and is also the pianist for the famous dance band Bare Necessities. The concert will be on Tuesday August 10, at 7 pm, at the First Unitarian Church, 3701 Carlisle Blvd. NE (corner of Comanche), Albuquerque, NM  87110. Concert tickets are $10 ($5 for students). Jacquie will be joined on a few songs by New Mexico’s own fabulous fiddler from Santa Fe, Karina Wilson. Here is part of the press release about the concert: Americana pianist Jacqueline Schwab will perform a solo soiree of her signature arrangements of vintage American music—reflective airs and rousing dance tunes that shaped American spirit—and traditional Celtic and English music.Jacqueline has been heard on the soundtracks to a dozen of Ken Burns’ documentaries, including his Grammy award-winning Civil War, his Emmy award-winning Baseball, The West, Lewis and Clark, Mark Twain, The War and his recently-premiered The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. In Burns’ words, “Jacqueline Schwab brings more feeling and intensity to music than anyone I know. Her playing is insistent, physical, heartfelt and … unusually moving.” Schwab’s improvisational playing draws on classical, traditional folk and contemporary roots. The New England Folk Almanac wrote she plays with “the jazz/classical improvisational spirit of Keith Jarrett and the touch of George Winston ….” For her Albuquerque concert, in this Mark Twain anniversary year, Jacqueline will feature music from Twain’s era (1835-1910) and beyond—Stephen Foster and Civil War song tunes, Victorian ballroom dance tunes, Scots and Irish songs and dance tunes brought over by settlers, hymns and spirituals, ragtime, plus 20th-century tango and Billie Holiday blues. She will also perform Scottish and English traditional music in the contemporary tradition. For more information, see, or listen to sound clips on Noralyn and I will be selling tickets at the door. So come on out, bring your friends, and please invite anyone who would enjoy attending this very reasonably priced evening of entertainment!

Concerts Galore: is neal copperman’s awesome music venue with lots of concert information for music-lovers. Neal also organizes ¡Globalquerque!, which will be September 24 & 25, 2010 at the Hispanic Cultural Center, ABQ, NM (more on this below).

Folk Wedding # 15:   Joli Michael 050910On May 9, 2010 longtime dancer Joli Sharp married longtime wilderness activist Michael Soule in the Sandia Mountains. A tasty potluck followed. Here is the group shot of all present on that beautiful sunny day filled with friends, food, laughter and birdwatching.

Tragic News: Those of you who attended Boo Camp 2004, 2009 Folkmadness in Socorro, any May Madness weekend in Prescott, or Dance in the Desert camp outside Tucson know the great dance band the Privy Tippers. On November 18, 2009 the Tippers’ guitarist Craig Tinney was in a motorcycle accident that left him quadriplegic. Despite a great attitude and rehab, he died on June 29, 2010. I blogged about Craig at Cherish our time on earth, since we don’t know how long we’ll be here.

Looking Ahead: PICKNICAMANIA MUSIC AND PICNIC FESTIVAL, Free!! Saturday, September 11, 2010 in lovely Silver City, New Mexico, 12 noon – 8 PM, come and share music at Gough Park with local musicians and out-of-towners. Bring a picnic and your instruments for an unforgettable afternoon of Jamming. While the town’s fledgling festival Pickamania is taking a year off, we will celebrate with an informal, totally acoustic grass roots festival. There will be no sound systems, just groups of people playing music all around the park, and eating/sharing picnics. So mark your calendars with this date and tell your friends. For more info write Ken and Jeanie at

¡Globalquerque! will be September 24 & 25, 2010 at the Hispanic Cultural Center, ABQ, NM. Lineup includes:

Rahim AlHaj & Little Earth Orchestra (Iraq/USA)
Khaïra Arby (Mali)
Susana Baca (Peru)
Deolinda (Portugal)
Flatlanders with Tom Russell (U.S.)
Inti-Illimani & Francesca Gagnon (Chile/Quebec, Canada)
Kenge Kenge (Kenya)

Mariachi Mystery Tour (New Mexico, USA)
Emeline Michel (Haiti)
Pietra Montecorvino (Italy)
Oreka Tx (Spain)
Simon Shaheen (Palestine)
Líber Terán (Mexico)

Advance tickets on sale now!

Want to dance in the Czech Republic? This year’s tour takes place October 9-18, 2010: Contact David Millstone for more info at

I shall add more events as I learn of them. Happy playing, dancing, and singing.

Merri Rudd, Albuquerque, NM,

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