Making lyric mud in Todos Santos

BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR … It was the late great Hobo bard Utah Phillips who made me do it … Go back with me to Marin County. North of San Francisco. 1976. When California’s children, post-Sixties, were still flowering. It was at a Bicentennial Folk Festival that Phillips told the crowd a rousing tale between Wobbly songs. And the story’s punchline went: “Every so often you have to wake up, and jump off a cliff ” … Damn right, I thought! Been following that sage advice – to grand effect – ever since … So, it seemed fitting, or at least psychologically appropriate, after 20 years’ indentured public service, that I do something wild. … I signed up last spring for a five-day architectural ceramics workshop north of Cabo San Lucas in Baja California Sur ( I’d heard about Donna Billick’s Heaven on Earth event at a Community Built Association gathering in Manitou Springs – Colorado Springs’ liberal tourist twin – thanks mainly to my amazing community artist/activist buddy Steve Wood, who has a ceramic bench in Telluride, another in Todos Santos… Here was a whole different crowd of artist types – not makers of verse but makers of sculptural clay art. Murals, fireplaces, gates and doorways. This was a cliff to jump off of at 71. So I made travel plans to give myself a week alone after the workshop in this magical Mexican pueblo village. More relax-in-place adventureville than busy tourist tour chase. A stranger making friends and learning to be happily alone. I walked a lot. Through town with its prosperous plaza hotels and upscale restaurants. Out to the beach. Ate great meals. Downed many a margarita (my fave alcoholic). Met great new people and a few old Telluride friends. And came home with lots of stories.

LA POLICIA … I love exploding stereotypes. And the disastrous way my trip to Mexico began helped me do just that … Getting to the Los Cabos International Airport later than I should have, I encountered some unsettling surprises. Taxis from the airport up to the village of Todos Santos, where my Heaven on Earth workshop was located, were not affordable as I’d hoped – they would have cost more than my flight from Montrose. So I took a cheap taxi to the local bus station. Or so I thought. It was more a jitney than a taxi, spending almost an hour dropping off tourists at luxury beach hotels before dumping me and two bags at a darkened barrio in San Jose de Cabo. It only took a few minutes of sign language and pidgin Spanish to learn that the bus station was closed, and a bus to Todos Santos wouldn’t leave until the next morning … A foreign traveler’s nightmare. Alone. Late at night. More money with me than I should have had (to pay in cash for the workshop). Nowhere to stay. Unable to understand any of the little Spanish I barely spoke … I started wandering up a busy street. Got vague directions to a “hotel” that only had expensive “suites” way beyond my means. Then out on the street again. When who should come to my rescue, but two Mexican policia? They motioned me over to their squad car. The cop riding shotgun stumbled his way through my tortured, two-year-old’s explanation of my plight. He was good-natured. Told me to get in … The uniformed duo took me to a marvelously unassuming storefront hotel in the town’s historic district, a couple miles from where they’d picked me up. Shotgun parlayed with the owner, told me a room only cost $26 dólares a night, and made sure to insist the clerk not charge me more. And then the two cops left. This was a happy ending. I was rescued by the Mexican police! How’s that for an anecdotal antidote for the Mexican-baiting infecting our nation?

GERNOT HEINRICHSDORFF … Life is mysterious, where it takes us and who develops into our friends. Gernot was a dear friend. He and his wife Ava became Colorado surrogates for the grandparents I never had … His was a wild life. Drafted into the Luftwaffe as a young man, he was forced to fight on the Russian front, and after being wounded managed to make it to the American zone, where he was captured and detained (the Russians didn’t take many prisoners) … Released, he became a landscape architect like his mother – the first woman in Germany to pursue that craft. … Emigrating to America, he ended up in Colorado Springs and married Ava, the amazing Hungarian- American daughter of celebrated concert violist Ferenc Molnar, who had emigrated himself to the U.S. in 1926 … Gernot taught landscape design, wrote articles, and was a working sculptor. Before the term “xeriscape” existed, he specialized in indigenous materials and water-conserving designs. Besides residential and commercial landscapes his projects include city and regional parks, national monuments, creative playgrounds, greenways, traffic islands, campgrounds, schools, churches, and 16 environmental communities. He was a “design-build” landscape architect who installed his own projects, often single-handedly … As a sculptor he worked primarily in concrete, expressing natural rock formations and water effects inspired by the Colorado Plateau, Grand Canyon, and lava flows. … In the 1970s Gernot was featured in Sunset magazine for his creative playgrounds. In the 1980s and 1990s his gardens were again featured in Sunset and other publications. Town and Country listed him as one of America’s notable landscape architects. … He is best known to us on the Western Slope as the designer and builder of Infinite Nature, the Courtyard of the Science Building at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, for which he was awarded the national Excellence in Landscape Merit Award by the Associated Landscape Contractors of America. He inspired everyone who came in contact with him. As his wife noted, “Most of his clients became cherished friends who valued Gernot’s imagination, humor, wise perspective and generosity.” Although not a client, I valued Gernot for those same qualities … Although he passed in December, the man will live on to inspire me in overcoming hardship, respecting nature and in that mysterious process of creative imagining.


Dove Creek

“Hey friend,” Ernie asks
He wants a favor

We’ve been pols in adjoining counties
Different parties. Redneck & hippie
But we’ve helped each other out
more than once

“Write me a poem”
he says
“about odd friends”

& McRedeye laughs
We’ve all come to know
you don’t always dance
with the one you come with

“Odd friends?
Ain’t that the truth, Ernie”
I chime in

And there’s no denying
some of the most virulent
hardcore issue opponents
I’ve tussled with

& even a few half-soused
jock talk bigmouths
I’ve met at conferences
hotel bars or hospitality suites
have turned out
to be quite charming souls

Not opposed to goodness

Maybe a little twisted
Like a grain elevator
gone to seed

Or yellow tractors
chained to their rusts

So, why is it
McRedeye wonders
that some of the people you
fast friend in life
can be crazy bi-polar opposites
you never would have
expected to nod to
on the street

Let alone
trust like a sister
Like a brother

To deeply appreciate

Art Goodtimes writes from San Miguel County, Colo.

From Art Goodtimes, March 2017.