Due out from the Countryman Press March 5, 2012

. . .Why do certain natural settings of mountains, groves, streams, and rocks, and certain cultural properties and built landscapes, such as shrines, churches, temples, and monuments, evoke feelings of awe, wholeness, and belonging to a sphere much larger than our everyday reality?

At sites such as Bandelier National Monument, Chaco Canyon, and Taos Mountain, at the Earth Journey stupa in El Rito, the Temple Montefiore cemetery in Las Vegas, and the Marigold Day of the Dead Parade in Albuquerque, or walking the grounds of the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, or watching the Mescalero Apaches’ ceremonial Dance of the Mountain Gods, peace, connection, a sense of being blessed, of purpose, of participating in a drama beyond our own, temporarily overwhelms our petty “monkey mind” without our conjuring it or trying for it.

It matters not what our individual religious beliefs are. Such places speak to us in their own subtle, strong, and silent language if we are the least bit open. All I can say is: Welcome to New Mexico!. . .

What struck me so forcefully, from the time I first traveled through New Mexico in 1972, is the peaceful coexistence of so many different, clearly articulated spiritual paths. An early drive through the Jemez amazed me with the sight, in close proximity, in this narrow canyon, of Buddhist, Catholic, and Native American communities.  . .

This book highlights special places in New Mexico where we may retreat to repair our souls, rest from the world, seek peace in a community where the dedicated, such as the Benedictine monks at Christ in the Desert Monastery, devote their lives to offering just such a possibility to guests. One may join in the practice of prayers or meditation, or simply sit by the flowing river in silence and watch the changing light on the rock walls of the canyon. . .

Please visit my updated website to learn about upcoming events for SIGNS & SHRINES: SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS ACROSS NEW MEXICO.





Today our dear friend Irma Bailey passed away. She would have been 95 in March. According to her wishes, there will be no funeral and no memorial service. That is a hard one. Her friends around the USA and among the Pueblo and Navajo communities will  miss the opportunity to gather one last time and celebrate. Her favorite song was “On the Road Again,” and now her spirit is traveling free.

Irma was born and raised on a homestead/ranch near Clovis, NM. She met her husband, Wayne, while they were both students at New Mexico Highlands in Las Vegas, NM, where Irma went on a music scholarship. They worked together as traders of Indian arts – pottery, weaving, silver, kachinas – and she knew more about these beautiful things, and the artists who made them, than anyone. Irma and Wayne would load up their motor home and bring their wares to museums and collectors around the country. I was fortunate to meet Irma when she was 77 years old and starting a new chapter in her life.  After Wayne passed on, she tried “retiring,” but sitting home and taking it easy was not her way. After two months of that, she got herself a new rig, a new driver, and went into business for herself, dealing only in “the best of the best.”

She became incredibly successful. The phone rang constantly at her house, and people came from Dayton, Boston, Atlanta, El Paso, Minneapolis, everywhere, really, to do business and to sit in her magic circle of warmth and generosity. If there was such a thing as a sexy 85 year-old, that was her – bright red hair, sparkling blue eyes, unstoppable sense of humor. And she still shopped at Victoria’s Secret. A yellow T-Bird with the license plate “IMATOY” sat in her driveway.

I shared dozens of cups of coffee with her at her kitchen table, where you never knew who would turn up;  and went on the road with her and saw how an “old time” trader worked. When we visited a Potowotome village across the Canadian border, she purchased all the baskets, with the result that the villagers would make more. I attended a couple of the shows she did at Harvard, and I assisted her with presentations at University of New Mexico.  We went to Chimayo to buy chile and eat at El Rancho de Chimayo. Christmas Eve at her Albuquerque home, with red chile, tamales from Santo Domingo, beans and posole was the highlight of the year, and people flew in from everywhere to experience it. On any day,  you could meet a medicine man and a museum curator in her living room.

Irma serves up a breakfast with her red-eye gravy.

Here is just a bit of Irma’s wisdom:

*”Wear it all”

*You can’t do it part-time”

“I can still get up earlier, stay up later, and work anyone under the table”

“You can’t keep a good woman down.”

Today we say goodbye

Irma Bailey and Kokopelli

Poem for the New Year

Life is Like a One Night Stand

I want to put my arms around Life

Hold it close, squeeze it tight

Climb on it

Wrap my legs around it

Twist with it

Explode with it

I want to dance with life

Though it pushes me around the floor

Too close to the edge

Keeps me in the dark

Does not say “Thank you”

Expects to take me home

Life is not a good person

And does not care what I think

About that

Life is a narcissist

With no intention of changing

Of course he has others

But we don’t talk about that

Life is a crude lover

He doesn’t “get” me

Or pay attention

Or take time

Life does not give me what I want most

Life only gives me what he feels like giving

When he is in the mood

But, hey, Life, I know you need me

To look you in the eye, to tell your stories

We meet up at the hot springs

In Truth or Consequences

Moonrise over Turtleback Mountain

Lights the Rio Grande silver

Life takes me to his beached Airstream

Has his way with me all night long.

@ Sharon Niederman, Jan. 2, 2012

My new year commitment: I will be blogging at least every Monday. . .appreciate your visits & comments.

Sharon’s 2012 New Year Letter

Farewell forever, 2011. Welcome aboard the good ship 2012.  I am wishing all my family and friends the very best health, happiness, and prosperity in the time ahead. I am glad to report I have survived the fires of Northern New Mexico with more peace, calm, patience, forgiveness, and ability to “get over it,” and, with less obsessing and need to get even. Books of old hurts have been closed and put away. And in this state of mind, there is a strengthening of the ability to intervene in negative thoughts before they spin me around.

Early 2011 was busy with promoting New Mexico’s Tasty Traditions: Recollections, Recipes and Photos, published by New Mexico Magazine. This book earned several awards, including First Place, Cookbook, National Federation of Press Women; Silver, Travel Book, Society of American Travel Writers; and Finalist, non-fiction and cookbook, New Mexico Book Awards. I was also busy putting together Signs & Shrines: Spiritual Journeys Across New Mexico, due out March 5, 2012, from The Countryman Press. The kickoff book signing will be March 29, 2012, 6 pm, Collected Works, Santa Fe.  I was fortunate to have outstanding book events at the Fiery Foods Show at Sandia Resort and at Black Cat Books in Truth or Consequences.

During the year, I worked with the Clavel family of  the five-generationTwin Creek Ranch, Harding County to produce a beautiful family history, and I researched and wrote The Hundred Year History of Santa Fe’s Scottish Rite Temple, due out in May, 2012. My current projects include a new beautiful color edition of The Santa Fe & Taos Book: A Complete Guide and a fresh updated edition of The Explorer’s Guide to New Mexico, both due out from The Countryman Press in 2013. I am also looking forward to a refreshed edition of A Quilt of Words: Women’s Diaries, Letters & Original Accounts of Life in the Southwest 1860-1960 during 2012.

In June, I was honored by the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society with their Dr. Alan Hurst Award for service, attended by my nephew, Ian Shlomo Solow-Niederman;  then, I delivered the keynote speech, “Reading Sholem Aleichem in Raton: My Life in New Mexico’s Diaspora,” at the NMJHS Annual Conference, in Albuquerque.

We have both been fortunate with our businesses: Chuck continues to grow his business of auditing small (no more than one stoplight) municipalities in New Mexico; and in addition to my ongoing work for the New Mexico Beef Council, I have added Taos School of Music to my clientele.  I especially enjoyed the week I spent at the Valles Caldera National Preserve with the first-ever Youth Ranch Management Camp working with a super-professional team from New Mexico State University. A grant from the Historic Records and Archives Board of the NM State Archives continues to support my work preserving vintage images of northeastern New Mexico history at the Arthur Johnson Memorial Library, and I expect to have a narrated slide show of this work complete in 2012.

The year started with a trip to Cottonwood Hot Springs in Buena Vista, Colorado with dear friend Irene Clurman and continued with travel to Silver City and the Gila Wilderness, Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonial, Taos Wool Festival, Matachines at Jemez Pueblo, several trips to the hot springs of Truth or Consequences, Eugene, Oregon for the wedding of Na’ama Tubman and Kieran, and Tuscon, Arizona to meet up with my cousin Allison Lehman and husband Billy, plus an amazing  (in so many ways) trip to Phoenix, Arizona with Erin Quinn Bodine.

On December 10, we celebrated Chuck’s 65th birthday with a party at El Pinto in Albuquerque. Happily, Kevin, Andrea, Sarah and Eric were all able to be there.

Dear friends Carl and Becky Calvert of Taos and Mike Taylor and Joan Clark of Santa Fe have generously provided me with homes away from home, and I cannot thank them enough.  The same to Eleanor Bravo of Corrales and Kathy Matthews of Albuquerque, for their ever-welcoming hospitality.

Our darling pups, Buckley and Samantha, continue to bring us joy (and exercise) every day. As 2012 approaches, I look forward to stepping down as president of New Mexico Press Women and handing the job on to the very well qualified and talented Sari Krosinsky. I have been fortunate to work with a dedicated board, and I am grateful to each one.

As I anticipated when I moved up north, some friendships have fallen away, while others have grown and deepened. I continue my love-hate ambivalent relationship with Raton. While I am not by nature a small town gal, I appreciate the clean air, blue skies, sunsets, artists’ light, good water, closeness to nature and lack of traffic, while I miss the people, parties, shopping, movies, lunches, Jewish community and stimulus of Albuquerque.  As I have said, Raton is either a trap or the best place in the world to write a novel. I am happy to report that my novel in progress, Morpho Blue, inspired by a trip I made to Ecuador with a University of New Mexico medical team, is well underway, and it is my leading ambition to have a presentable draft ready to go in 2012.

I don’t know where this year will lead, but if your journey leads you north, please stop by for a meal or a stay in the casita. We love company.  We are blessed with good health, good work, and good friends and wish you the same.

PS – To those who, with whatever intent, reproduce this letter in all or part, thank you in advance for driving traffic to my site.










“You Can Set Your Calendar by the Curlews”

Spring is in full swing on the three-generation Copeland and Sons Hereford Ranch 18 miles north of Nara Visa in Union County, New Mexico. “The curlews always nest here. You can set your calendar by their  arrival on April 1,” says Cliff Copeland, President of the New Mexico Beef Council. The gramma and buffalo grasses are still mostly brown, but a little rain will bring the green shoots close to the ground right up, Cliff says.  “We can hear the migratory birds now, the Canada geese and sandhill cranes flying north, and the mallard ducks that nest here are arriving.”
But the best signs of spring are the healthy baby calves now arriving. Calving season from Feb.-April is one of Cliff’s favorite times of year, along with the branding season that follows. That’s  when the Copelands  and nearby ranchers “neighbor up”  the old-fashioned way to help each other get the chore done while they visit and catch up.
Part of the Copelands’ daily ritual is a morning  family visit, often by phone, between Cliff and his photographer wife Pat;  son Matt and his wife Kyra; and Cliff’s parents, Cliff Sr. and Barbara, to prioritize and divide up the responsibilities that need tending that day. “Day off is not even in our vocabulary,” Cliff observes. “This is a hard and healthy lifestyle. My Dad is 79 and he still puts in a full day’s work. He is still active in every part of the ranch.”
Cliff grew up on the ranch and never thought about being anything other than a rancher. He left home to study Animal Science at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and returned with a knowledge of genetics. He is able to see the genetic selection process, the results of their choices, every year with the arrival of the baby calves.
“The weather has been cooperative,” he says of this year’s calving season. “It’s too dry now. We could use some rain, and that may be coming soon”

Cliff Copeland

Signs & Shrines: Spiritual Journeys Across New Mexico
Text and Photos by Sharon Niederman – Forthcoming from The Countryman Press, 2012

SIGNS & SHRINES: SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS ACROSS NEW MEXICO takes the reader along  the ancient pilgrimage trails that crisscross this enchanted state where a rich multiplicity of cultures continues to thrive. The mysteries of sacred sites, natural wonders, power spots, feast days and festivals are explained by one of the state’s most prolific and knowledgable authors, and the book is illustrated with soulful images from her travels.  In addition to providing  cultural context that answers visitors’ questions about the history and practices found only in New Mexico, the author provides clear directions, maps and guidance on the best places to stay, dine, shop and recreate. SIGNS & SHRINES  is an innovative guide that will enrich the experience not only of spiritual seekers but of every visitor drawn to experience the marvelous Land of Enchantment.