Thursday, July 16, 2009

West to Bisbee

My old friend, poet Albert Huffstickler (Huff), used to say that his body's home was in Austin, but his soul's home was in Santa Fe. Having just returned from a trip to West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, I too am starry-eyed about the southwest. It happens every time I travel west. The mountains, clouds, and sunsets, the long horizons, gems and minerals, the artwork everywhere, the desert and its freaky cacti, yucca and palms! I don't think I'll ever live out west, but my soul surely vibrates to its beauty.

In Bisbee, Arizona, we visited the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, where I learned that Americans on average use or consume 25 pounds of copper per year. Chocolate contains copper, for one thing, so mark me down for doing my share of copper consumption that way. In college, I learned how to etch and engrave copper and would love to fool around with that method of printmaking again some day. Turquoise gets its beautiful blue and green colors from copper. The Statue of Liberty is made of Norwegian-mined copper. One of the ways we count on copper is for its conductive properties, as in electrical wiring. My husband had to drag me into the Mining Museum, but once we got there, I enjoyed browsing through the exhibits. Later we drove to the Lavender Pit, a huge inactive copper pit mine in Bisbee.

Years ago, I had the opportunity to review Going Back to Bisbee (University of Arizona Press, 1992) by Richard Shelton in a bibliographic essay for the now defunct Wilson Library Bulletin. I was delighted to see the book prominently displayed in the museum bookstore, where the employee there told me it is still considered the best book on Bisbee. Shelton structured the book's chapters to parallel a one day journey from Tucson to Bisbee, the Shangri-la of his youth.

The town might have died a slow death once copper mining shut down in 1975, but an influx of artists and counter-cultural young people helped revive the place. The commercial neighborhoods of Bisbee are testament to the now thriving cultural scene, full of interesting galleries and coffee shops, etc. If you are headed that way, be sure and eat at the Bisbee Breakfast Club, one of those wonderful restaurants where breakfast is served all day.

As for desert plant life, for some reason I found myself most enthralled with the yucca plants. They look so punkish (see photo above), with their spiky leaves and impromptu seed stalks sprouting wildly. They beg to be painted, and I took photographic notes for future artwork. We also saw plenty of prickly pear cacti abundantly blooming, and bought some jelly made from their fruit, also known as nopalitos. Then today I heard a story on NPR about nopalitos which compared their taste to okra, not a good comparison in my book... To pick the nopalitos, tongs are recommended!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, traveling is fine, but I'm a homebody at heart so it's great to return with a camera full of photos and plenty of new experiences behind me. I'm told that part of aging healthfully involves trying new things. Our brains need challenges and new input. Travelling does that for me. I've been stirred now and I'm ready to simmer away on it all for months to come. The Houston landscape can't compare to the great Southwest, but I believe in blooming where you're planted. I'm firmly planted here. And in Houston, one thing we've got is greenery year round! And... not far to the west, plenty of interesting terrain.

photo by KAO: Soaptree Yucca, Las Cruces, New Mexico


Jeffrey Shallit said...

Going Back to Bisbee is a terrific book. I read it a few years ago when we lived in Tucson for a year.

LoneStarLibrarian said...

Thanks for reading my post, Jeffrey. I didn't know you spent time in the Southwest!

Foxcakes said...


I noticed you mentioned your friend Albert Huffstickler in this you happen to remember the name he published pulp fiction under? I have always wanted to read it.

LoneStarLibrarian said...

Sorry, sure don't - have you tried contacting someone at