On the Bunny Slopes

On the Bunny Slopes
by Adam Perry for Local Flavor Magazine
December 2010

Jennifer Flores, director of the Children’s Ski School in Santa Fe, is not an easy woman to get in touch with if you’re not actually up on the slopes with her. Between helping manage the school, giving lessons and training new hires, there’s rarely a dull moment—or a moment spent indoors. And that’s the way she likes it.

“I grew up on a chile farm,” Flores, 26, says. “So we didn’t stay inside and watch cartoons and that kind of stuff. We were always outside, whether it was fishing, biking, swimming in the river or skiing. We did all that.”

She was also hooked on skiing from the first time she tried it.

“I was kind of a daredevil as a kid,” she says. “So I think for me it was more the rush and just going out there and trying new things. You get excited when you take that first jump and all that kind of stuff, so it was just being out there and being outside. We were outside our whole lives.”

Flores was born in Santa Fe and later moved to Lyden when her parents started the five-acre chile farm; two years ago, she moved back with her two-year-old daughter, Mia, and 15-month-old son, Jarrod, following her parents back to Santa Fe. While this is Flores’ first season as director, she’s been teaching skiing at the Children’s Ski School for four years. Although many people who haven’t been here would be more apt to think of cactus and desert than premier skiing, she says Santa Fe is in fact her ideal locale for winter sports.

“Vail and all those big resorts are fun to go to for a trip here and there,” Flores says, “but for me Santa Fe’s nice because it’s close to where I live and the prices aren’t crazy. If you go to Vail you’re gonna spend a lot more money, and I think those resorts, they’re huge, so you don’t get a feel of the whole mountain. You have to stay for a week to get a feel of the whole mountain and really experience it all, whereas Santa Fe is smaller and family friendly and kid friendly for sure.”

A skier since age two and a half, Flores has seen the evolution of the sport in New Mexico since the late ’80s and has some strong opinions about keeping skiing pure.

“In a way it’s changed because of technology,” she says. “When I was young we had just straight skis and everybody would just go out and ski. It was definitely more just for fun. Everybody just went out to ski and have fun, and now it’s still fun but it’s become competitive, and it’s changed in that sense.”

“It’s kind of evolved into an actual big-time sport, and everybody wants to be…they go and put their heart into it and they look up to, like, Sean White and people like that. The parents, too—they put so much time and money into the sport because it’s a big, big sport now. It has become more expensive because it’s evolved. You spend more on skis now because it’s not just straight; you have twin-tipped skis and you have snowboards that just glide, so it’s amazing.”

Despite the cost, a major part of Flores’ work—not to mention her passion—is telling children and their parents about the joy of skiing in the Santa Fe area

“Skiing is definitely an expensive sport [but] if you’re the type of family that goes up all winter long you definitely get your money’s worth if you buy a season pass, because it pays off by far in the long run. You figure you pay $60 for a lift ticket, and if you buy a season pass for $500 and go twice a week, you pay that off easily. And our school is a full-day program with snack and lunch. It’s all about having fun with the kids and making their experience—whether it’s their first or their fifth—making sure that they have a fun day. We want them to definitely want to come back, and we want to make skiing a positive sport for them.”

“They’re literally with us all day. They get checked in, in the morning; they have snacks with us, and lunch with us, and they ski all that other time. It’s just great. We have so many levels that we can teach kids at; it’s experience for everybody. We have three and four year olds who have actually skied so much with us that they’re already up there skiing with six and seven year olds and just doing amazing, because we make it fun and we want them to be out there on the slopes.”

Seeing children get hooked on skiing early, just as she did, gives Flores a sense of satisfaction.

“It’s a positive when you have kids who don’t want to come in for snack and lunch because they’re out there skiing and having so much fun. And we started snowboarding last year with the kids and it was a great success. So this year we’re actually starting snowboarding at five years old, where last year we started at six-year-olds. Next year we might even start snowboarding with three- and four-year-olds just to see how it goes.”

According to Flores, what’s now the Children’s Ski School was at one point the only ski school in Santa Fe. They had been hosting lessons for children here and there, but many parents wanted a full-day program, which equals not only fun-filled training for the kids but also free time for mom and/or dad. Flores’ dual excitement around both skiing and childcare made her a perfect fit.

“I’ve just always had a passion for working with kids. I’ve been a nanny since I was in the 11th grade, and I have a younger sister who’s six-and-a-half years younger than me, so she’s been my little shadow her whole life. I’ve just always been into kids. I’ve done youth programs for the City of Santa Fe; I volunteer at church and am currently teaching Sunday school. I just have a passion for kids and believe that they’re our future. They’re gonna be what you shape them to be, and if you show them all the positives in life they’re gonna be fantastic in their future because they’re gonna think positive about themselves and have a positive experience in life.”

Having grown up on the slopes, Flores’ daughter, Mia, is naturally an avid skier, too. Mia started skiing even earlier than her mother, and she’s been zipping up and down the mountain ever since.

“My daughter started right before her second birthday, actually,” says Flores. “It’s been a good experience, because this is my fourth year at the ski area, so she’s literally lived on the mountain for a good portion of her life. She skis and snowboards now; she’s amazing at both. When you do it as much as she does, sometimes she doesn’t want to go up there and that’s fine, but when she does she has so much fun. It’s one of those things where I’d love to see her on the mountain rather than sitting at home watching cartoons and playing video games, stuff that’s not going to teach her anything.”

“To me, skiing is like education. She’s learning about [the] outdoors; she’s learning new things; she’s learning how to be in classes with other kids and get along with other kids. It’s one of those things that’s just positive; there’s not one thing I could say that’s negative about her being a skier and snowboarder for as long as she has so far.”

Flores says her son, Jarrod, will try skiing in a few months, just before he turns two. As with any child, spurring Jarrod’s interest in winter sports is mostly about getting him outside, according to Flores.

“We have a daycare [at the Children’s Ski School] that starts at three months old, and we take kids up to three years old. Just getting them out there in the snow, sledding and building snowmen with them and stuff like that, that’s all in the experience, too. You’re getting them outdoors and in the snow. It’s part of the learning process, because a lot of kids freak out when they see snow for the first time and touch it and feel how cold it is, so getting them used to that is definitely the first step.”

Training new staff has taken up most of Flores’ time preparing for the exciting new season in Santa Fe, but when she spoke with Local Flavor there was one other little detail on her mind.

“Hoping for snow is a big thing,” she said with a hearty laugh. “We need more snow to get it off the ground and start things going for the season. It’s gonna be awesome.”

Jen Marie Davis: “Sometime Soon Ago”

Filling the Gaps of Experience
Former Boulderite’s New Book of Poetry Focuses on Life’s “White Noise”
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly
9/16/10

There must be something in the mountain air. More and more young writers are coming to Boulder from far-flung American locales, unlearning who they thought they were as artists and people, and then (usually) moving on, spreading the cool, creative calm of Colorado elsewhere.

Naropa University graduate Jen Marie Davis, author of the beautiful new hand-stitched collection Sometime Soon Ago (Shadow Mountain Press, Golden), is a great example. Davis, an Ohio native, initially thought of herself as primarily a prose writer—and then primarily a self-chronicling poet-essayist when she first began dabbling in poetry. Davis’ time in Boulder, she says, taught her to slow down and not only appreciate but also chronicle what she calls life’s “white noise”: ordinary details we tend to overlook as unimportant but actually come to define our experience over time.

These days, Davis lives in Santa Fe, where she works as a book artist, co-edits Fact-Simile Press and engages in fairly complex poetic exercises that bloom out of the intense passion and focus she affords her craft. Sometime Soon Ago, however, presents both Davis’ debut solo effort and a time when she was just getting acquainted with her voice as a poet.

In brief moments such as “After Taos,” which we’ll include in full below, Davis deftly and pleasingly opens the reader’s imagination vis a vis place, time and subject. Instead of pointing us toward a concrete setting with a fixed meaning, Davis succeeds at conveying a feeling, and a range of possibilities.

After Taos

What separated
the morning from
noon was not the stretch;

instead, proximity:

the well-placed promenade
and song between drags
of riverbed.

The short, succinct and unlocked poems of Sometime Soon Ago include references to New York cafes, dance classes, ornithology and the day-to-day struggle to keep a relationship vibrant. These passing flashes of a seemingly normal life stimulate the imaginations of patient, curious readers and suggest fluid and tantalizing implications that grow with each reading.

How Davis plays with tense, shape and sly pronouns—the word “she” is painted all over the proverbial walls of this book—nixed my preconceptions about poetry and meaning as I read Sometime Soon Ago last week on an airplane from New Mexico to Maine. In a brief recent chat, the poet herself told Boulder Weekly the profound elusiveness I discovered in her poems was no accident.

Boulder Weekly: It was surprising, after repeatedly hearing you read your more complex and abstract work in Boulder a few years ago—which I assumed was your older work—to read these charming Frank O’hara-esque koans

Jen Marie Davis: These were actually the very first poems I’d ever seriously written. I had been interested in the compression of time and memory and had written about it in longer [prose] forms. The synchroneity of form and content is very important to me; it seemed wrong to write about compression in a long form—I wanted to successfully communicate an idea or multiple ideas in as few simple lines as possible. At this time, I hadn’t read much poetry, either; certainly not Frank O’Hara—I’m glad to say that I have since. So I was moving from prose—to be more specific literary journalism/creative nonfiction—to these poems, which actually began as the seeds of essays. So, instead of developing these “seeds” into essays, I decided to see if the ideas or themes translated simply in just a few lines. Eventually, with more reading, writing and understanding poetry and language, I was able to move from these to what you referred to as my previous work.

BW: How did your time in Boulder affect you as a person and as a writer?

JMD: Before I moved to Boulder, I had the mindset that unless I was working—writing, reading, researching—I was not being productive as a writer. My time in Boulder slowed me down; I learned contemplative practices and mindful behavior. Noticing what I noticed and why I noticed became just as if not more productive for me as “working” and began to inform my writing. The poems in this chapbook all reflect what I would call short “non-moments”—the kind of things that regularly happen to a person or the thoughts that may cross a person’s mind that tend to go unnoticed. The “white noise” of life. Being in Boulder taught me how to be present and listen to and engage with the “white noise.”

BW: This writing seems much different from what outsiders generally consider the stereotypically free form and messy poetry Naropa writers produce. How did you transcend that style

JMD: I’m not really sure what “stereotypical Naropa poetry” is. During the time I spent at Naropa, I encountered such a variety of aesthetics. I remember one poetry class in which no one was writing in a similar manner, everyone had different concerns, but everyone responded respectfully yet critically despite the differences. That’s actually one of the reasons I really love Naropa and is one of the most important skills that I learned there—how to read and respond to a variety of work. If my work is different from typically Naropa poetry, I would owe it to a background in magazine journalism/creative nonfiction. I read a lot of MFK Fisher, John McPhee, Annie Dillard, Anne Carson and philosophy. [Before coming to Boulder] I had never read On the Road, any Ginsberg, really no Beats at all.

BW: One of the most striking moments in Sometime Soon Ago is an opening lines that reads, “She interrupts life to write it down.” Is the overwhelming urge to write ever a curse?

JMD: The curse of forgetting what I wanted to write down always outweighs the curse of writing.

BW: Who is she?

JMD: “She” is an eye, a lens and a position. After taking a lot of workshops in the personal essay and reading a lot of “I”s, I became bored with close personal experience, which led me to become interested in the gap that exists between a writer and third-person narration. Can I write essays in a third-person narration? What shift in perspective happens with the change of position?

BW: How did this project come about?

JMD: [Shadow Mountain Press publisher] Travis Cebula was familiar with my work and asked if I would submit a manuscript. I’ve wrote most of these poems two and half years ago and knew that Travis had read and enjoyed them, so I thought that they would be a good fit. I’m very pleased with the book—Marie Larson, a very talented poet and artist, designed the cover, which I think resonates very well with the contents. My biggest concern when I make a book through my press [Fact-Simile] is that the form resonates with the work. With Marie’s cover, the artisan paper and hand-stitched construction of the book, I think Travis achieved that aim.

Sidney’s Homebirth in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Homebirth
by Adam Perry for Midwifery Today, Issue 95 (Autumn 2010)

Driving home to the southern hills of Pittsburgh from a day in the city with my family as a child – generally spent watching a baseball game at old Three Rivers Stadium or wandering downtown with my quiet grandfather, a notoriously avid walker – I always became awestruck at the sight of towering billows of white smoke filling the sky as we left the South Side. Near where Carson St. meets Beck’s Run Road, in an area now dominated by the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers’ massive practice facility/embassy, I would arc my little head to watch the oddly beautiful display of pollution make its way from the muddy banks of the Monongahela River up to what I thought was heaven.

The towers of smoke I saw then were incredibly small compared to the industrial waste that covered Pittsburgh when my parents were growing up, and in fact I was actually witnessing the final gasps of my birthplace’s reign as Steel Town USA.

Still, I was stunned when I moved to San Francisco at age 21 and breathed the cool, fulfilling Northern California air. I wasn’t only overcome with emotion at becoming the first member of my family to live outside southwestern Pennsylvania, arriving with no job or apartment and only a few hundred dollars; more consciously and powerfully at the moment, I was enlivened by the alien taste of fresh early-morning San Francisco air.

By contrast, my daughter Sidney’s birth in December of last year occurred in her mother’s childhood bedroom just outside the Santa Fe city limits, in an adobe-based home built by Sidney’s maternal grandparents twenty years ago. The first fresh air Sidney breathed was the nurturing winter chill of New Mexico; her first trips outside in the warmth of her mother’s arms were in the mysteriously soothing arroyo less than a hundred yards from the house where she was born; and the sky Sidney first strained her formative eyes to see was clear blue, save for heavenly mountains and raw desert in the distance and the powerful eruption of rainbow swirls when the sun sets.

My partner Irene’s childhood home in the Arroyo Hondo section of Santa Fe is oriented 28° east of south so that winter morning sun, low on the horizon, begins charging the south-facing glass with solar heat, according to her father, the blacksmith Tom Joyce. He designed his family’s home so that its south section, which features a glass-paneled greenhouse that provides fresh fruit and vegetables year-round, receives the first and best helpings of sun during New Mexico’s high-desert winters. Thus, much of the house stays warm without gas or electricity no matter the temperature outside. In addition, the thick adobe-based walls that cover most of the home keep the inside very cool during intense summer heat.

When I first visited Santa Fe in the early stages of my romance with Irene, I asked Tom where one begins when taking on a project as daunting as building a (partly) solar-heated home made mostly of adobe. “You start drawing,” he replied, and later took me down to his custom-built blacksmith shop (which is just 150 feet from the house) to show me his initial sketches, begun a few years before the house was finished in 1991.

The wonder, admiration and all-around comfort one feels after spending just a few minutes in the Joyce home, which is surrounded by juniper and pinion trees and vast mountain views, made it an easy choice when Irene and I conceived Sidney last year and deliberated on the issue of choosing a gentle, spirit-filled home where she might be born. Irene and I interviewed numerous midwives in Santa Fe last summer, and after I finished my writing and literature studies at Naropa University in Boulder in the fall, we moved into a small casita in the City Different and excitedly awaited our first child’s arrival.

In July of 2009, Irene and I decided on Seva Khalsa, who has been practicing midwifery in Santa Fe for several decades and delivers at least three or four babies a month. Irene felt an instant connection with Seva, who is a strong-willed, knowledgeable and stoic woman; however, it wasn’t until the day our daughter was born that I got over our midwife’s seemingly emotionless personality and realized that a dynamic, outgoing and motherly woman isn’t necessarily what you need in the fragile and reverential event of childbirth.

On Saturday, December 12th, 2009, Irene started feeling “different” and, as Sidney’s birth seemed imminent, we cut our morning walk around the Plaza de Santa Fe short to find our way onstage at the Lensic Theater and interrupt Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s morning warm-up for that evening’s performance of the Nutcracker. “Excuse me,” Irene said as we halted the intense concentration of the company she danced with from age 17 to 21 before being hired as a lead ballerina for Sweden’s Gothenburg Opera Ballet, “I’m sorry to barge into rehearsal like this, but I just wanted to say that Adam and I won’t be able to make it to the show tonight because I’m going into labor.”

Gisela Genschow, a long-beloved local dance instructor who started working with Irene when she was in grade school, hugged both of us closely and was moved to tears, along with ten or so ASFB dancers who Irene used to tour with.

It was then, on the Lensic’s big, dark stage where Irene performed countless times as a ballerina before moving to Sweden and then eventually Boulder (where we fell in love), that both of us realized “it” was really happening. Though we’d read dozens of books on birthing and parenting; enjoyed and appreciated diverse wisdom and support from truly amazing mothers among family and friends across the country; and meticulously begun preparing Irene’s parents’ home for the arrival of our daughter, the reality of what was actually about to happen – and what it would mean for both of our lives from that point on – had only begun to sink in.

Irene’s mother, Julie, arrived in front of the Lensic shortly after we called her to say “it” was happening, and Irene called our midwife during the car ride to Arroyo Hondo.

“Hi Seva, it’s Irene Joyce,” she said. (Irene, like her father, is humble enough to frequently assume that if you’re not related to her you might need to hear her last name to remember who she is.) “The practice contractions are getting more intense,” she continued hurriedly, “and I’ve been counting the minutes and they’re still a little inconsistent but closer to the two-to-seven minute range than the fifteen-to-twenty-minute range.”

Seva, sensing tension in Irene’s voice, serenely replied that it was “pre-labor” and could go on for either hours or days. Seva hadn’t slept for about 48 hours because of a very difficult birth and had just returned home; she was on her way to the relief of her bed and seemed almost uninterested, from what I overheard. The life of a midwife is one of incessant precipices: Irene was just one of three women who had hired Seva as their midwife and were near or past their due dates. Still, we had visited Seva’s office off of Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe the day before and she was surprised to see that Irene’s cervix was already more dilated than a client of hers who was over a week past her due date. “Call me if anything changes,” she said before hanging up and quite literally passing out.

Irene called her older sister, Kate, a photographer in Chicago who had a flight booked for Sidney’s due date of Wednesday, December 16th. As Irene and I set up a shrine overflowing with gifts, pictures and notes that friends in Boulder had given us at a November “Baby Bath,” Kate got on the next flight to Albuquerque to make sure the entire Joyce family would be present to witness and support our daughter’s birth.

On the day of Irene’s birth in February of 1983 in Santa Fe, 3-year old Kate – who at the time voiced her annoyance at the “loud noises” coming from the next room – was entertained by a family friend reading her a story while her little sister came into the world with the help of her mother’s wonderful midwife Laurie Holmes, now a keystone at Rio Luna Family Care. As for Sidney’s birth, Kate vowed not to miss a thing. While Irene’s parents drove to Albuquerque to pick up Kate, we made love – our midwife told us it was safe and might even create a smoother birth. Kate arrived that night and slept in the living room as Irene wandered in and out of our bedroom (where she fervently practiced ballet on a makeshift bar as a preteen) feeling her contractions get bigger and closer together throughout the small hours.

By 7am Sunday morning, I was shoveling a path in the snow between the house and Tom’s workshop so that Seva and her assistant, Myriah, could walk safely from their car to the back of the Joyce home, where a birthing pool was being set up just outside the room where we expected Sidney to be born. Hearing Seva say “she’s already six centimeters” in a hushed voice soon after her arrival created a sense of joy and momentum in the house as Irene continued splitting her time between walking around focusing on deep breaths and sitting alone in the blue plastic tub of warm water. Soon, I proceeded to text message dozens of family and friends to say “Irene is in labor and our daughter will probably be born today – I’m turning off my phone until then.” It was happening.

As many birth veterans could have predicted, both the plethora of scrawled notes of verbal support I’d prepared and the iPod “Birth Mix” Irene and I had culled together ended up being unnecessary when the day of Sidney’s emergence finally came. Smiling, laughing and attempting to unobtrusively comfort Irene with words and massages as she labored in the birthing pool, I simply tried to be myself and do whatever it took to help Irene and Sidney have a healthy, happy experience culminating in their first meeting, which would also in fact be a separation.

Kate glided around the house with the marvelous old German camera she’d used in years past to photograph Irene and I in idyllic locations like White Sands and Mesa de Cuba. She intermittently sat in a rocking chair next to the birthing pool holding Irene’s hand as the contractions became more noticeably painful. Bhanu Kapil, a brilliant author and professor of creative writing at Naropa, told me last year that the birth of her son turned out to be much less painful than she’d imagined because she succeeded in experiencing the pain as service, and Irene embodied that mindset perfectly during Sidney’s 100% natural homebirth in Santa Fe. Fitting, then, that our midwife’s name, Seva, could be translated as “service.”

The portions of Seva’s personality that I initially interpreted as her seeming “emotionless” or “uninterested” evolved into a comprehensive respect for our noble midwife’s unwavering patience, resolve and tranquility amid the natural excitement and anxiety of a homebirth. “She’s doing great,” Seva would say, breaking up the acute silence that sometimes hung over the house between Irene’s contractions, and quickly I realized how grateful I was for her expertise and erudition, how confident I was in her sagacious, cool-headed judgment.

While Irene and her sister enjoyed a few minutes alone together, Seva and I were sitting in front of the living room fireplace on wooden benches Irene’s father built when I told her about some fears I had, mostly stemming from a horror story one of the midwives we interviewed had told me. “Oh no, I can’t believe she told you that!” Seva said. “You don’t have anything to worry about; your baby is fine. You’ll see.”

Chatting with Seva just outside the room where my partner was in labor, I thought of Kate being distracted while her mother was birthing Irene in their first home. So many stories I’d read included statements from fathers who felt helpless and excluded when their children were born, even during homebirths. Irene’s father had just missed catching her – which ended up being fortuitous because she was born in the amniotic sac – and I wanted to be a part of as much as possible, although I trusted Seva to be the first one to grasp our daughter’s delicate body.

Around 11:45am, all five of us outside the den where Irene was laboring in the pool – Seva, Myriah, Irene’s parents Julie and Tom, and myself – quietly walked back to join Kate and Irene and get an update. The contractions were getting stronger, and almost constant. As Irene commented that her lips were tingling, Seva decided to give her a steady flow of oxygen through her nostrils to prevent hyperventilation and ensure that both mother and baby could breathe easily. Examining Irene on the couch, Seva noticed that the baby’s heartbeat had faintly slowed; it wasn’t a sign of danger, but it was enough for Seva to tell us all “I want to get this baby out as soon as possible.”

I stood up, pacing and shivering, and Irene’s father appeared behind me, massaging my shoulders in a rare, well-placed show of physical affection that was a perfect source of composure. Sidney was about to be born, and we were all there together to welcome her.

With Irene pushing on all fours atop the bed she was born on in the room she grew up in, I faced her; holding her shoulders and touching my forehead to hers as she pushed, I could see her family behind her, holding each other and smiling. The room where our daughter was about to take her first breaths was filled with noontime sunlight, the family’s two rescued dogs racing around the outside of the house as if they expected some huge event as well. This might sound trite, but it did feel like our daughter was about to genuinely be born in nature, and later Irene’s father told us “one day Sidney will learn just how auspicious the timing of her birth, into our high desert world, really was.”

As Irene, naked, went into active labor and we gathered around her in admiration, affection and solidarity, I thought how strange it would have been to welcome Sidney into a hospital, with strangers potentially coming in and out of the room and a sterile, bleak atmosphere surrounding us. I pictured unknown nurses taking our baby away as soon as she was born, cleaning her with unknown chemicals for unknown reasons, hearing her cry in an adjacent room and waiting in suspense until she could nurse for the first time. We had heard about great experiences with hospital births and knew they were possible, but nothing could convince us that our baby was not meant to be born on this beautiful land, in this hand-made home, into the care and comfort of this wonderful family.

“Kate, no more photos,” Irene strained to finally verbalize between pushes, and everyone laughed. Kate put down her camera and put her arms around her mother, both of them standing next to Seva and Myriah, who were kneeling behind Irene and offering her soft words of advice and support.

“I feel so vulnerable right now,” Irene said, and the sounds of her moaning became deeper and more primal, yet we never heard an ounce of fear.

“You’re safe here,” her sister replied.

Irene’s pushing, and the sounds she made, became more extreme. Irene cried out “hello!” as the top of Sidney’s head popped out – “there’s your baby,” Seva said – and then was quickly inside the birth canal again. I kissed Irene on the forehead and went around to kneel down next to Seva and hold onto Irene’s right ankle, voicing my love, encouragement, excitement and reverence as I looked up in astonishment at the miracle in progress.

Quickly, the top of Sidney’s head was poking out again, and with one long push from Irene our daughter came flopping into Seva’s hands in the fresh New Mexico sun at 12:37pm on December 13th, 2009. Irene and I still marvel at how fast the next hour or so went by – Sidney clearing her lungs, being held and nursed by her mother for the first time and then carried into the greenhouse’s radiance in my arms – and how much Sidney’s first flopping sounds hilariously reminded us of a fish out of water. She was tiny, curious and beautiful, and we were instantly in love.

“We got to see each other transform, and in the midst of that transformation unite,” Irene recently told me when we recalled the moments before and after our daughter was born.

Originally just 4 lbs, 12oz, Sidney was almost shockingly small, but entirely healthy. Like her mother and aunt Kate before her, Sidney hasn’t received any medical treatment or shots and she was not washed after her birth, thus her skin wholly received the extremely valuable fluids her mother’s body provided her on her journey into life outside the womb. She’s almost ten pounds now and progressing wonderfully in every conceivable way as Irene and I simultaneously respect, enjoy and make sense of parenthood and life partnership.

While I was born with dark skin into an otherwise pale family on a bright August day in 1980 – my birth prevented at six months with morphine and then induced one day after my due-date with pitocin – Sidney is fair-skinned and stormy-eyed like her mother. Sidney’s birth and Irene’s pregnancy were 100% drug free, and Sidney was fittingly born on Santa Lucia Day, as a Swedish friend of our family pointed out. Like St. Lucy, our daughter came with incredible light into the darkest time of the year; coincidentally, Sidney was also born the day after Irene and I finished getting certified as respite care providers through an organization in Santa Fe called Santa Lucia. Sidney – now happy, healthy and crawling – has a gentle and intrigued personality, sleeps long and well most nights, and (in the words of Irene’s father) “makes one’s heart melt.” I’ll never forget the day she was born.

I was honest about my nervousness that day, but thankfully didn’t project it onto anyone. Many fathers worry about feeling “outside” of the experience of their child’s birth, feeling like they can’t offer any help or can’t be a part of what’s happening without being a walking, talking interruption, and until Irene’s active labor I had similar worries. Still a little self-conscious, I surprised Irene the other day with a tape recorder and a simple question: “how was I during Sidney’s birth?”

She replied “I think you started to get a little bit of nerves coming up saying ‘hey, I’ve never done this before and I don’t know what’s gonna happen and I’m not sure I’m ready for it.’ But when I was going through contractions you were just there. You would put a hand on my back or my belly or my head and let me know that you were present.”

“I was starting to go into a deeper internal place and you were maybe in some sort of process similar to that, of some internal seeking, but without the deeper connection to nature that I was experiencing through the pregnancy and this other being, knowing how to bridge these other worlds and come through.”

I told her “I think I felt that more when you were on the bed in active labor and the sun was coming through the windows and everyone was in there together.”

“Yeah,” she said, “because the energy was coming out of me then; it wasn’t just inside me. When you started seeing the intensity, to me what was happening for you seemed to be this realization. I really felt you go through your own process of going from the ‘oh my gosh’ place to ‘I’m right here; we’re doing this; it’s happening.’”

“I think you started to feel her, to feel her presence come, and that’s something that was really reassuring for me on some conscious level. When I was in active labor you were amazingly gentle and motivating and beautiful and clear. I knew you were having an experience that was life-changing.”

Perfectly summing up where we are now as lovers and new parents whose first child was born naturally in a gorgeous and peaceful Santa Fe home, Irene – a mother, dancer and partner whose strength and creativity are beyond description – concluded “we’re slightly different, but we’re still ourselves.” And that’s really a huge portion of what we can hope for.

Parenthood and partnership are the crux of what’s happening in our lives right now, but as we move forward and Sidney comes along, Irene and I both feel that viewing our daughter’s birth as a new dawn for all three of us is important. We’ll try to stay honest with ourselves and each other as we love and accept who we are and nurture who we can become, and Santa Fe – with its coyotes playfully howling in the star-filled night and its many artists embracing three cultures and infinite inspiration – is a great place to start.

Lyle Lovett, Fans Bid Paolo Soleri Farewell

Lyle Lovett at Paolo Soleri Amphitheatre
Santa Fe, 7-29-10
Review by Adam Perry

“I will always remember this night,” Texas-born singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett said from the Paolo Soleri Amphitheatre stage in Santa Fe late Thursday evening. “God bless you folks, and God bless Paolo Soleri.”

The Santa Fe Indian School, which owns and operates the 45-year-old Paolo Soleri Amphitheatre, announced earlier this summer that Lovett’s concert will be the last ever at the venue, though they have not ruled out preservation. Lovett, who has performed at the amphitheatre more times than any other artist, said that when he met with the venue’s renowned Italian architect Paolo Soleri—now 91—at a recent concert in Phoenix the socially and ecologically minded artist shrugged at the demolition rumors.

“Change is on all of our minds,” Lovett told the capacity audience. “If we live long enough, we’ll experience it.” Lovett said it was his intention to perform last night “with [Soleri’s] spirit and vision in mind, and the vision for the world he’s shown us.”

Lovett then launched into “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas),” commenting that “New Mexico is a dangerous place to do this song, but Paolo Soleri would’ve done well where I come from.”

Lovett’s immaculately tailored “Large Band,” which features over a dozen diverse and talented musicians, traversed poignant country ballads, gritty rock, bluegrass and galloping, tongue-in-cheek Dixie romance. The latter gave the band’s skilled instrumentalists ample chance to take flight as soloists and as a proficient and tasteful ensemble. The versatile and sometimes awe-inspiring group does well reminding audiences that real country equals stunning musicianship and raw poetry, and Lovett kept the Santa Fe crowd in stitches with his between-song banter, showing the uninitiated that country music is often also hilariously silly and self-deprecating.

Vince Bell, a collaborator and hero of Lovett’s since their embryonic showbiz days in Houston, now lives in Santa Fe and made a two-song appearance in the middle of Lovett’s set. Bell played one country-folk number alone and one with Lovett backing him on vocals and guitar. Lovett’s pained but tender and unwavering voice shined on tear-jerkers such as “North Dakota” and soared on impressive covers like Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” with help from a rhythm section just off the James Taylor and Carole King tour. But the Paolo Soleri stole much of the spotlight.

Lovett opened the evening by telling the energized audience, “It’s an honor to be here, especially on this night,” and his near three-hour set did not disappoint, although the irony inherent in much of the venue’s recent controversy was all too apparent from the get-go. A sense of history and tension was especially evident in the moments after Lovett sang the line “on a trail of tears I ride” during “Natural Forces,” a song he pre-empted with a diatribe about appreciating U.S. soldiers in the Middle East. “[They’re] fighting so that I’m able to watch football on Sundays,” Lovett said.

The Indian School’s campus has only been totally Native-controlled since 2000. Two summers ago, officials chose to tear down—sans public notice—virtually all of the original school, which had a history dating back to 1890 that included rampant oppression and indoctrination of Natives, who were frequently brought to the school from pueblos by whites via kidnapping. The Paolo Soleri Amphitheatre, which is notable not only for its intimate beauty but because it was one of Soleri’s few commissioned works, appears to be headed for destruction as well. Opinions abound in northern New Mexico about the need to “save” the incredible venue—not to mention what some see as the Indian School’s faulty administration—but opinions are not important in this situation. Music lovers such as the elderly blind woman who sat next to us last night—singing and clapping along with every song Lovett played—will follow their passion wherever necessary; as for the Paolo’s situation, the rights and free will of Natives are all that should be recognized and respected.

Besides Lovett’s dashing four-member African American backup vocal ensemble and the venue’s all-Indian staff, I saw exactly one black person and less than a half-dozen other people of color in or around the Paolo Soleri last night, though the capacity is listed as 2,900. It would be a tragedy for such a remarkably designed and great-sounding outdoor amphitheatre—with its “wishbone” architecture and close-up seating, which literally lets fans converse with performers—to abruptly vanish, leaving only fond memories of concerts by everyone from Leonard Cohen to Phish, but it’s not our choice. Music lovers, promoters and local officials in Santa Fe have no excuse for having never built another similar-sized outdoor venue in the area while presenting only a handful of concerts at the Paolo Soleri each year—only three in 2010—and Natives have zero obligation to privately fund the maintenance of an aging site they really only use for high school graduations.

Santa Fe Indian School officials claim that the renovation necessary to keep the Paolo Soleri Amphitheatre open would cost over $4 million dollars, which does seem outlandish. However, just this week the U.S. government approved continued funding for the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars every month, with no end in sight. If local officlans will not intervene to provide the necessary resources to fix and maintain the Paolo Soleri, its demise is understandable; what’s more, if the Native-controlled SFIS decides to close the Paolo Soleri no matter the circumstances—forcing the virtually all-white fans, promoters and performers who frequent the venue to enjoy entertainment elsewhere—theirs is the choice we must accept.

Last Night: Midlake at SFBC

“Of course we played it,” Midlake guitarist/singer Eric Pulido said last night after his band pleased the Santa Fe Brewing Company audience by finally honoring several requests for “Roscoe,” which recently topped Westword’s “Top Ten Indie-Rock Songs of the 2000s” list.

“We’re not that band,” Pulido joked. “And we’re working on a new one called ‘Bosco.'”

Midlake is going through some growing pains at the moment—or growth-spurts, depending on your point of view. Last night at SFBC, the band had four guitarists, one bassist, one keyboardist/flautist and one drummer; the last time the Texas folk-rock outfit toured, it numbered only five musicians total, and now it’s gone the way of Broken Social Scene. More fittingly, Midlake has gone the way of the E Street Band, with a slew of rhythm guitarists playing the same chords, and one lead-guitarist tempering things with sinewy guitar-talk.

Surprisingly, Midlake only played for about an hour last night, which was an obvious outcome for anyone who saw singer/guitarist Tim Smith roll his eyes at the sight of a half-full small-town venue. Still, the group graced Santa Fe with spirited versions of songs from its new album, The Courage of Others, and satisfied everyone with new, darker versions of tunes from Midlake’s 2006 breakout The Trials of Van Occupanther. Whereas the latter album elegantly juxtaposed Fleetwood Mac and CSNY, The Courage of Others—and Midlake’s new sound in general—draws from Medieval inspirations and heavier ’70s influences such as Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin.

Additionally, last night Midlake stretched out Van Occupanther favorites like “Head Home” by tacking on long, Allman Brothers-meets-Hawkwind jams that recall Midlake’s salad days as the fusion-thick Cornbread All-Stars. Even “Roscoe” got the Wooden Shjips-esque treatment, beginning with a raucous, extended intro that recalled Lou Reed’s cocaine-fueled Rock ’n’ Roll Animal period.

Although Midlake is one of those bands that seems to play better at a big, sold-out venue in New York or San Francisco and often lack the necessary energy to adequately rock a pub in New Mexico, it’s always a treat to see a premier American indie act, if only for an hour.

The Wonder of “Useless” Bicycles

In a letter published by the Santa Fe Reporter last week, reader Richard Meltz (a motor scooter proponent) asserted that he “cannot fathom” why the use of bicycles continues to be promoted.

“If you live in Eldorado and need to show up in downtown Santa Fe neat and crisply dressed,” Meltz wrote, “a bicycle is useless.”

Really?

Last night, after I played a gig with Oakland’s David Gans at Mike’s Music Exchange in Eldorado, my partner Irene and I decided to spend the night at her parents’ house in Arroyo Hondo—not far from Eldorado—rather than interrupt our infant daughter’s sleep for a late-night drive back to our apartment off of Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe. So, this morning I rode my bike—a heavy old Diamondback bought off Craigslist recently for $50—ten miles from Arroyo Hondo to the Reporter’s offices in downtown Santa Fe. With a dress shirt on, I pedaled north for a windy hour along the Rail Trail, frequented mostly by lizards and dung beetles in the early mornings, and arrived at work neat and crisply dressed, although my hair was minimally matted from wearing a helmet.

Not everyone enjoys that kind of exercise first thing in the morning (and some demand absolutely flawless hair) but, needless to say, my bicycle was not useless.

Last Night: David Gans at Mike’s Music Exchange

Last night David Gans, longtime host of the popular nationally-syndicated radio show The Grateful Dead Hour (which has recently gone even bigger-time on satellite radio), played Mike’s Music Exchange in Eldorado, just outside of Santa Fe. Mike’s is a small but very posh and professional-sounding venue with a front-room guitar store and mini-recording studio. The proprietors are still working on getting folks to make the drive out there and opening the adjacent restaurant and bar to concert-goers but, as far as the sound and feel of the room go, Mike’s is definitely impressive and welcoming.

As a drummer in San Francisco, I collaborated with Gans repeatedly from 2005 to 2008, beginning with a 2005 tour up the coast of California in a pick-up band called Guilty Pleasures with Gans and members of The Dead, Zen Tricksters and Phil Lesh & Friends. So, when the Oakland-based singer-songwriter and loop-station guitarist asked me to bring some hand percussion to Mike’s Music Exchange last night, I grabbed some rare drums from the Santa Fe blacksmith Tom Joyce (a collector of strange world instruments) and jumped on the musical opportunity. Thus, after Gans ran through a set of his pleasing, Northern California-centric folk songs, we riffed on stretched-out versions of “Norwegian Wood,” the older-than-old sailor song “Jack-A-Roe” (which dates back to the 1700’s) and David’s original rocker “River and Drown.”

After the gig, I was told that Mike’s has an ongoing first-Tuesday Open Mic Night that’s becoming something of a hit with singer-songwriters in the Santa Fe area. If you’re there for the June edition, make sure to say hello.