Ken Hartke

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I'm retired and living solo "out west" in the New Mexico desert. I've been an observer and blogger for years and usually have four or five blogs going but wrote for myself or for friends. A lot of it was travel stories or daily random postings -- but it was a good experience. Red Room allowed me to share things on a wider scale and with its demise, I (maybe) found a more public voice.

A Place Beyond

There are places beyond the usual limits
of space and time.
We go there – when the time is right
to see what is mostly unseen.

This is not a different world or universe.
You simply have to hop the fence.
Step lively if you want to catch the fleeting moment.
It is worth the effort.

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Be It Ever So Far Away

It is so tiresome now.

To have so much to do;

but cannot do it.

To have so much to say;

but cannot say it.

To have so far to go;

but cannot journey.

Our existence is masked.

Our life on hold; we hold

our breath waiting, watching,

for the promised land they

tell us lies just ahead.


This has gone on longer

than some biblical plagues

of forty days and nights.

We count ourselves lucky

if we are still even counting

the days - no, weeks, months.

It is the same everywhere.

There are always complainers.

Some cry louder than others.

Some have good reason as

there are many empty chairs

and cold pillows on the bed.


I was in Dublin at the start.

A few glory days in March.

It was slow to catch on as

we walked the streets and

saw the puzzled faces and

the two-meter marks.

Even the pubs were closed.

There was a sign on a wall

"There is a good time coming,

be it ever so far away."

And that became our quest,

-- be it ever so far away.


November, 2020



Recent comment in this post
Stephen Evans
So apt, Ken!
Saturday, 21 November 2020 01:27
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1 Comment

Memories of Guadalupe

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Am I haunted by an old place or just by forgotten spirits?
Guadalupe sits in the hot sun by the edge of the river.
La Senora Guadalupe: Wind, cold, sand, sun and rain
have sucked the town dry leaving only a fading husk.

A wandering poet with a camera is sometimes a dangerous thing. We get into troubling places with troubling thoughts and sometimes find ourselves where we don’t belong. Such was my experience on a recent brilliant January day. I was in pursuit of an idea and ideas are hard to pin down. Eighty miles is a long way to go chasing an idea and it is a long way back again – find it or not. On this day I didn’t capture the one I was after but was captured by another. Finding a ghost town in the desert opens a new Pandora’s box.

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La Ojo del Padre: the father’s spring provided fresh water.
And the water brought wildlife and hunters and Indians.
And then the Spanish soldiers and the friars and the settlers.
And then the sheep and cattle. A common story in New Mexico.

I vaguely knew it was there. I had heard stories and there is more than one lost colony out in the unforgiving desert. For some, we know how they were born and why they died. That is not so much the case with Guadalupe. Now empty, it was once home to a couple hundred people. Maybe they came for the scenery – it is stunning – but I doubt it.

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I was a man possessed, but by curiosity, and I stumbled backwards
through the dusty years. In 1870 the place was a speck by the spring
on the banks of the Rio Puerco. A few skinny cows, some goats,
and maybe a wandering Diné poet chasing an idea?

I was looking for something else entirely: an old pueblo ruin perched high on a mesa. It was elusive that day and for my own good I stopped climbing. It was a long way down and I was by myself. I have tumbled off cliffs before and was always lucky but this time I was spooked. I don’t bounce like I used to.

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The ghost town called me back from the edge.

The town, Guadalupe, is named after Our Lady of Guadalupe but it was also known as Ojo del Padre after the spring and was named Miller at one point by the all-knowing postal service. No idea why. The last Postmaster was named in 1952 so there were people living there in my lifetime. There are people alive who hold memories of this place.  Just a few miles away there was another village: Casa Salazar, also mostly invisible today. It seems to have been more substantial than Guadalupe or at least known. John Wesley Powell showed it on one of his maps drawn in 1880. The Salazar family goes back to 1610 in New Mexico. But Guadalupe has a presence and a few melting adobe structures.

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Who lived here?  The town, now dead, was once home
to herders, farmers and “cow punchers” and something else.
The Ladies of Guadalupe: were they fact or mere rumor.
Who knows? They are all dead. Mostly forgotten...and gone?

There are stories about the loose women of Guadalupe. It seems like a very unlikely place for a brothel but who knows. I combed the records that I could find but there were no hints of the story. There were a number of widows with children listed in the census record with no obvious means of support. There might be a story there, maybe not.  One remarkable thing was the staggering level of infant or child mortality. There must be a camposanto somewhere full of tiny graves.

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Senor Cordova ran the General Store and the dancehall out in
back. There were a couple musicians by trade. Antonio was the
blacksmith. Manuel was born nearby in 1800, first under the Bourbon,
Carlos IV, and then Joseph, the Bonaparte, and then the Anglos.

That old Manuel saw the long march of history, but nothing changes. Hardly ever. The townsfolk spoke Spanish, probably the sixteenth-century dialect common in northern New Mexico. All were born here or close by. Few could read or write but some could and there were postmasters and burro-riding boy mail carriers. How letters found this place is a miracle. There was a teacher now and then – and a school for the few kids that were sent…very few. There was no priest or padre but there is evidence of a church, of sorts. Perhaps it was a Morada maintained by Los Hermanos Penitentes or a chapel visited by a circuit-riding padre. This was someone’s hometown for several generations.  It would be a hard place to love as a home, but times change and so do expectations.

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There is a mystery in the earliest census pages. A curious number of persons are living in families as “adopted” or tagged as “wards”. These were sometimes listed as servants or as farm laborers. Some were Indians. Slavery, as known in the American South, was a different sort of thing from what happened here. Genizaros were an ill-defined group of people who were held captive by the Indians but were purchased (or ransomed) by the Spanish settlers most often from the Comanche or Apache traders who passed through the area. They worked the farms and herds or were servants and their existence was somewhat akin to indentured workers but there were no hard and fast rules. The early census taker apparently paused and wondered what to write and settled on “adopted and “ward”.  After seeing the place and looking at the records I think these people could have left on their own if they chose to and maybe did -- they disappear in later records.

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I’m taken back to consider the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years. Forty years is a long time – generational time. Those that came out of the desert mostly knew Egypt and the time of bondage from stories passed down. They experienced great hardship. They went hungry, ate quail and other wild things. They lived off the land as best they could. They left a trail of those they had to leave behind. They got into trouble, but they found their way. The people of Guadalupe found their way. Cattle and sheep herding were their primary occupations. They liked to dance and make the best of things. They had a hard life and it got harder. They survived two world wars and the depression. There was a CCC camp nearby. There were some Anglo workers from Oklahoma during the dustbowl years. The place is a ruin now. Somehow there was the last straw and people moved away. It is going back into the soil. The desert owns everything.

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*   *   *

The Home Place – 2020

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
All that history and silent presence in the atmosphere and the winds swirling around Guadalupe! You make it so vivid. I believe it... Read More
Wednesday, 01 April 2020 18:59
Ken Hartke
Thanks for the comment. Much of our history here is filtered through religious fervor and mysticism. Nuesta Senora is depicted ve... Read More
Wednesday, 01 April 2020 22:45
Nicholas Mackey
Hi Ken, I was enthralled with your writing and pictures of my favourite state in the USA: New Mexico. Thank you for sharing these ... Read More
Friday, 03 April 2020 19:10
2195 Hits

In the Camposanto


Padre Felipe was laid to rest in the Camposanto.
He was a good man – from just over the mountain.
Not far – He knew this place. He was one of us.
Time passes slowly and he was never in a hurry.

We came to this place, our families did, long ago.
How many generations after three hundred years?
We know the names. They, too, are in the Camposanto.
Many still live among us but our numbers are few.

Old family names are remembered there. A few new ones.
The Costa and Lopez people lie quietly together
but they never got along. Nobody remembers why.
There are a lot of stories like that.

Maria Galvez, she was really a Vigil, is all by herself.
She was married three times. She had one daughter
who married and moved to Santa Fe, in 1922, we think.
Roberto was killed in the war – it’s a long, sad story.

The Romeros always had the best sheep in the valley.
The Luceros were weavers – Antonio was the best.
If you needed anything fixed, always go see a Torres.
The best carpenters were always Medinas or Cortes

Amalia Gomez was the best baker when I was growing up.
She only had boys but taught Rosa, her daughter-in-law
(Pepito’s wife) how to bake. That Pepito had a bad
heart attack and couldn’t work much so the baking helped.

Things are a little different now. We travel farther
and we need more things than we used to. We got by
with very little when I was young. There is a WalMart
in Taos and some of us can even get stuff from Amazon.

Young people started moving away twenty years ago,
but now some come back with their own families.
We see new faces and think “Is that maybe a Lucero?
Oh, maybe that is Gilberto’s boy, Devin”.

They all turned out at the Camposanto today.
Young and old were there for Padre Felipe.
He was laid next to Padre Estevan, who rebuilt
the church. That young Father Roy did the service.


                                     *     *     *

The Home Place – 2019

Recent comment in this post
Rosy Cole
Tapping into the soul of another culture is a particular gift. These are vivid and timeless snapshots, all on a deeply human level... Read More
Sunday, 29 December 2019 17:57
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1 Comment

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