I understand from my blogery colleagues that there have been some near misses of the close encounter kind regarding trespass and just what belongs to whom—and it is all blamed on Forrest Fenn.
Now, I don’t doubt that Forrest Fenn can be blamed for many things, but this one is best laid to our own DNA and the space we grew up in.
The solution is simple according to my friend, Jose Villa, who lives up by Alcalde. It has to do with “permiso y respeto.” I have a story to illustrate which also involves a school bus.
But this bus was different in that it was short for its bulk and painted blue. It sat at the back edge of a half-acre chunk of land carved from an even larger pile of mine tailings and the soil surface was black from the bits of coal that remained. A small kiosk and a pile of chairs, a ‘69 or ‘70 Grand Torino—the color of the soil—and a discarded sculpture made from Styrofoam and plaster which included a headless lady liberty and a base with painted dancing nymphs, also occupied the space. The whole setting was a bit surreal and begged to be photographed.
And it was. In a scene straight from an FBI movie, half a dozen cars screeched in from the highway and surrounded the blue bus on three sides as if it were a hideout for escaped inmates from the state penitentiary just up the road. A dozen or so “agents” immediately exited the cars and surrounded the bus with weapons drawn: there were Canons of all shapes and sizes, EOS Rebels, Minoltas, Nikon D-40’s, 80’s and 200’s; Powershots, and at least one Holga.
A late arriving car also filled with agents skidded to a halt in front of the Torino and that was it; the fellow sitting in the Torino had had enough and shouted to the last car that this was “private land, that the whole bunch of us were trespassing and that we should get out!” Word that we were not welcome spread like wildfire through the agents still shooting into the fading light.
When I heard the news, I walked over from my position at the rear of the bus to apologize to the fellow now standing beside the Torino. After a while, he more or less accepted the apology and I stayed to chat. He said that the landowner was letting him live there in the bus in exchange for him guarding the kiosk and chairs which the owner would set up on weekends to sell things like soda pop and toilet paper to the tourists which, more or less, was a custom in Madrid—the small village which we had just invaded. You have to understand Madrid if you are to understand this lesson.
Everything about the place is different from anything you have ever seen or heard, including how the name is pronounced—with a hard accent on the first syllable rather unlike that place in Spain with a similar name. Further, the break between syllables is also different: “Mád-rid” (New Mexico) as opposed to “Ma-dríd” (Spain).
Mád-rid is a wannabe art colony that has an ugly beauty about it favored by photography classes and workshops from Santa Fe. Piles of tailings are spread over the landscape and much of the town sits on this loosely packed spoil of the mining industry. Vegetation is scarce, buildings tilt and sink, and the water table is gone.
Years of abandonment or of temporary occupation by itinerates and souls with dreams larger than their pocketbooks, as well as a lack of trash pickup, have left mountains of decaying refuse that mingle with the even larger mountains of discarded and rusting equipment and decaying infrastructure from the mining days in the 1940s when Madrid was a thriving place full of young men and their lady “friends.”
Patriots all, they dug out thousands of tons of coal for the war effort and played baseball. The town boasted its own minor league team and a covered wooden “stadium” with real lights for nighttime games. To this day its citizens remain patriots with parades and fireworks on July 4th, lights at Christmas, and, in this modern era, real trash pickup.
A few years ago, on a photo journey, I sat alone in that dying stadium and remembered a photograph from about 1930 of my uniformed father and uncles who were about to play a baseball game on a field much like this one but without the lights. I even imagined them playing there in front of me with their blousy pants, funky caps, and tiny gloves.
Of course there are other ghost towns like Madrid that have been converted into artist colonies in the last fifty years. Jerome, Arizona is one of these. But Madrid is different. For example, Madrid is set in the dry hills on the edge of the Galisteo Basin while Jerome is set in the dry hills above the Salt River.
The biggest difference, however, is that the hills around Jerome yielded up gold and silver while those around Madrid gave only coal. Thus, many of the buildings in Jerome were built of carved stone that today house millionaires while the buildings in Madrid were made of dry and cracking wood with asphalt shingles that blow off in the wind.
And while the wealth of Jerome remains gold and silver by way of artist studios, restaurants, and souvenir shops, the wealth of Madrid is in the curiosity, jealously guarded independence, and dreams of its people. They call themselves “Madroids.”
The bearded Madroid who accepted my apology wore a soiled hat, a tattered shirt and blue jeans bought at a time when he had had more to eat. Despite the beard, his wrinkled cheeks showed through and the color of his skin matched that of his boots.
He was particularly proud of his bus, which, he said, was given to him as payment for painting a house. He claimed that it had a 1961 engine in it that he had overhauled himself and that it would start right up if he needed it to.
I asked if he was from Madrid and he said that he was from Florida but that he had come to Madrid 30 years ago when it was still a real ghost town and although he had left a few times he had always returned because there was something about the place that drew him back. I said I understood and we agreed that everybody has some travel in them that needs to get out although it may take longer for some than for others.
He said he liked Madrid because of the dryness of air and the fact that the residents understood the value of what they had and that just about all of them had long ago discarded what was meaningless. He liked the grasses when they were the color of gold and he liked to explore the abandoned homesteads and to collect junk from the arroyos. I asked if he had any friends up in the cemetery and he said, “Yeah, there were some.” He gave me the name of the owner of the land we were on.
As I left, we shook hands and as I repeated my apology he said, “No problem, Bro; just get permission next time. I’m sure you’ll be welcome.”