Writer Bud Russo recalls experiences with Southwest Senior

Bud Russo
Long-time SWS writer Bud Russo with his New Mexico Press Women Communicator of Achievement award in 2011.
Half a century ago — no, longer actually — I first came to New Mexico from Maryland to go to college. Upon graduation, I left to make my mark on the world. The years here were centered on study and campus life. I had learned little about New Mexico.

In the ensuing 40 years following graduation, I worked as a journalist. Actually, I worked in corporate public relations departments, but what I did was write technical features about manufacturing for trade magazines. My work took me to nearly all 50 of the United States, every Canadian province that adjoins the U.S./Canadian border, and working trips across Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. I saw the world, but I knew barely anything about New Mexico.

Then in 2005, I returned to Las Cruces to find the sunshine and I discovered, despite being born back east, my roots were deep in New Mexico. I belong here.

I met Editor Cheryl Fallstead soon after she arrived from California. We both had become involved in Las Cruces museums. Cheryl also had become editor of Southwest Senior and asked me to write for her. You see, I had become a solo desert hiker and she wanted stories about my adventures. She also insisted I email her before and after I had trekked into some distant place where cell towers were scarce and rattlesnakes plentiful.

For ten years, I have traveled the state — often with Cheryl and her husband, Brian. We have made an interesting trio, each with his or her own quirks adding to the adventures. I have written about “My home,” the enchanted land, the one I adopted or, perhaps better said, the one that adopted me.

What I found — and hopefully what I have conveyed to you, dear reader — is the fascination the people, places, history, and culture of New Mexico has brought me. I learned New Mexicans are all connected. Forget Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees of Separation. New Mexico’s is far more interesting.

In the November issue, there is a story about Billy the Kid Museum and grave in Fort Sumner. I got to interview Fort Sumner’s mayor, Justin Ingram. He arrived there at age four. His grandmother knew people who knew Billy. Then there’s the biographical sketch I did on J. Paul Taylor. When a snide friend tried to warn him about “those Mexicans” in Mesilla, where Paul and his wife, Mary, planned to live, he told her he was Hispanic. His mother, a Romero, could trace her ancestry back to a Romero who came north with Juan Oñate. There are a lot of people alive today who can do that.

I’ve visited and even slept in buildings that have stood against everything New Mexico could throw at them — wind, flood, war, cattle stampedes, and rowdy, gunslinging cowboys. They are battered in some cases; bullet holes decorate pressed tin ceilings; some need of leveling. But they’re still there.

I’m not a person who perpetuates ghost myths, but … I meditated quietly in the plaza of Pueblo Bonito near nightfall and would have sworn I could hear the voices of the Chacoans preparing their evening meals. I toured Allan Houser’s sculpture garden. There is a sculpture of a woman with a small child, both wrapped in a blanket, her head tilted as she chants. If you’d been there with me, you too would have thought she was about to turn her face and sing her song directly at me.

I have learned so much about New Mexico from the culture of the ancestral Puebloans and other aboriginal people, to Spanish and Mexican traditions, to contributions of Anglos. We are a mixed culture: brown, red, black, and white. We are Christian and Jew, and even some Muslims with deep cultural roots here. And, of course, there are the native religions, practiced (unchanged I’m told) for nearly three millennia.

I will miss not having the opportunity of sharing my adventures with you. I have no plans to stop exploring my adopted home. The Sirens who nearly brought an end to Odysseus — albeit a more polite version — sing to me, calling me to Clayton, Folsom, Raton, and Cimarron, to Chama and a narrow-gauge railroad, to Utah with its five southern national monuments. I’ll travel and journal because I have no choice. I have to. If I stay home, I go stir crazy, and let me tell you, it’s a very short trip.

I’ve enjoyed every moment in a decade writing for readers of Southwest Senior. What I was compensated cannot be measured in dollars. There were those, but the real value, the true wealth, was the excitement, the wonder, and the joy of pointing my car in a direction I had not yet traveled just to see where I could go, who I would meet, and what story I would uncover. You, dear reader, have been with me every time.

The future will be devoid of Southwest Senior, but don’t let that deter you. Pack a lunch, grab a camera, stick a pencil at random on the map, and set out on your own adventures. May you be as blessed as I have been.