I cannot stand wind. And I am especially averse to places where the damn thing blows all the time with seemingly no purpose. Deming, New Mexico is one of those places. It is also one of those places that is intentionally vague. It has an aloofness that suggests it doesn’t care whether you stop or not. Despite its somewhat unwelcoming attitude, the town bustles with folks who pause as they are passing through on the way to somewhere (anywhere?) else. Every now and then you can see the exceptions to this - the locals hanging out at the local McDonald’s accessing wifi and swapping stories, the van of dozing football players as they return to the high school after a long road trip, the smattering of houses that dot the tidy residential streets in this 9 square mile, dusty town, 33 miles north of Old Mexico. Clearly not everyone is leaving. There are even a few glimpses of what the 14,000 people who live here might do, as they live their lives in between Tucson, Las Cruces, Albuquerque, and everywhere else. There is the lone cow crouched hesitatingly under the lone bush in the midst of thousands of acres of sparse ranch country. His body language seems to suggest some skepticism that the few leaves on the “tree” are going to provide him any protection from the howling wind and glaring sun, but he also seems to know the cowboy will return. Not far from him is a trough of water that appears to have been recently filled by someone - the water rippling in the breeze Deming is famous for. The open sign in the thrift store window twinkles its message that folks have brought their “past treasures” to trade. There are independent restaurants clearly stubborn in their refusal to close shop even in the face of the daunting encroachment of every kind of fast food chain you can imagine. There is the bank, the medical center, and Baca Funeral Chapels. Obviously, there are some who are born, live, and die here.
I often drive through Deming...on my way to, well, anywhere else. In spite of my skeptical feeling about this blustery site, there is something about the place that begs me to ponder it. How do places like this survive? It’s position near the Southern Pacific Railroad once had Deming coined “The New Chicago” - but obviously that never quite panned out. Ranching has historically been one of the most important industries in the region but most of the time these days it seems there is a total of about 400 blades of grass in all of Luna County and that one lonely cow, under that wispy bush, has visible ribs which seem to support my assessment. The river exists only when it floods and the Interstate seems to further promote the fastness with which people encounter this indistinct town. Still, the tire shop is open, the football team made the state playoffs last year, and the Baca Funeral services seem to be doing a fine business, at least from the appearance of their website.(1) I stopped this time at the pinon pine sales tent that has been selling its wares for at least a decade. The young woman manning (masculine verb intentional) the tent smiles at me as I approach. I can barely hear her hello above the loud whipping sound made by the tent as it flaps in the unceasing gusts. I buy my pinons, ask her how business is, and laugh gently when she says “as good as it needs to be.” I then mention to her the development I’ve noticed on the way out of town toward Hatch. She smiles again and says “this wind is finally good for something.”
The development to which I refer is a 28 turbine, 50 MW windfarm named “Macho Springs.”(2) Like most windfarms in the US West, this one appears eerily in the distance the first time you come upon it and then dominates the view for miles and miles. The phallic windmills tilt toward the absurd, and I always find it difficult to find beauty in them even though I know how important the energy they generate is for the region, the country, and the world. This one was completed in 2011 but for some reason I’ve just really noticed it the last couple of years. The tax revenue generated from it will benefit Luna County public schools and other public services. The farm sits on the old Graham Ranch and takes up about 2000 acres. The man whose idea it was prided himself on his rugged individuality. Macho Springs indeed. Donald Graham first became enamoured with technology during his stint in the Navy during World War II. After the war, his young adulthood found him cowboying for several ranches throughout southern New Mexico, rounding up wild horses for the federal government, opening chicken farms, and riding the bulldog circuit in Texas. He even found a white collar profession for a bit of time as an appraiser before finally settling down in windy Luna County to run his family’s ranch. In the early 2000s, the story goes, he and his son began to think about that interminable, incessant wind and its potential. They partnered with Element Power (Oregon-based and now Canadian owned) and in the blink of an eye 6 permanent jobs and a whole lot of energy was being generated on the part of the ranch that had long been the holding pasture due to its proximity to the railroad. Not quite the stockyards of Chicago, but perhaps one shouldn’t be picky. Donald died in 2014, and yes, he was buried by Baca Funeral, leaving the wind turbines as part of his legacy. He was a well-known supporter of local history, but interestingly, we don’t know much about Donald’s wife. His obituary mentions they married in 1958, but where she is now isn’t explained. An albeit halfhearted attempt to Google her results in nothing. And thus this woman from Macho Springs seem to be erased - her presence and contributions blown away in the winds of time.
Like so many men in mid 20th century New Mexico ranch country, Donald was active in the New Mexico Cattlegrowers’ Association, but he was particularly proud of his association with the Freemasons. If ever there was an organization from which machoness sprung, it is The Freemasons. The Masons are a fraternal organization whose activities and beliefs are fully visible only to its members and rather secret to everyone else. Much of the secrecy of the organization stems from its earliest rituals steeped in closed membership that had a guild-like character available only to those European stone masons eligible for indoctrination. The anti-papal, anti-female organization has been shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theories for hundreds of years, but today is generally known as a male-dominated fraternity for local (usually white) businessmen to fraternize - the kind of organization that would logically flow from places named Macho Springs. According to the Masonic Service Association of North America, the Grand Lodge of the Masons in the US never discriminated against non-whites. Asking an applicant’s race is not allowed by the Grand Lodge (and as a result ethnic membership numbers were never kept). Of course, membership was and is up to the local lodges. In small town America, in the heyday of the Masons (1800s-mid-20th century), everyone would have known the race of an applicant and likely the local racial politics of race would have excluded men of color in many locations. Not so progressive was (is) the Masons approach to gender. In the earliest days of the Masons, women were completely excluded (ya know, to “honor” the tradition of male-only trades like stone masonry). Today, women get to participate in some activities and there are auxiliaries that meet women’s “specific needs” (aren’t the gals lucky to have such progressivism in their midst?), but at the end of the day “To petition for membership, the petitioner must be "a man of legal age, good reputation, and possess a belief in God."(3)
As I leave Deming to head elsewhere, the wind has shifted to gentler breeze, and I imagine the blades at the windmill slowing just a bit maybe to the relief of the cows who graze under them and the birds who try to fly around them. I arrive in the cooler climes of northern New Mexico where the bushes and the cows look happier - but where the wind continues to howl. Sitting on one of my favorite patios sipping tea, an elderly woman is painting a stand of yellow Columbine. She must have felt me staring at her as she looks over. I smile at her; whenever I travel alone, my smile seems to say “talk to me and tell me your quirky theories.” “Windy today,” she says. I reply that it seems to be windy a lot of the time. She says as she looks wistfully toward Taos Mountain, “of course it is. It’s Georgia.” “Georgia?” I say skeptically. “O’Keefe!” The woman nearly shouts. “That’s who I thought you meant,” I reply somewhat defensively. “And it isn’t just the white women speaking,” she continues, “If you pause, you can hear all the women who have left this place reminding us to be strong. They have stories to tell that many haven’t been interested in hearing. That’s why the wind always blows. They are trying to get us to listen.” I turn to look at the Columbine that are as big as my hand. A woman walks through the nearby pasture to gather a lone cow whose ribs are hidden under a thick layer of grass-fed fat. She pauses to pat the cow, looking up at the tall cottonwood that sways in the breeze as it has for probably a century. Clearly, I am no longer in Macho Springs, and I may never think of the wind the same way again.
1. Baca Funeral Chapels, “Donald Graham Obituary,” Accessed: June 22, 2019, https://www.bacasfuneralchapels.com/notices/Donald-Graham.
2. Matt Robinson, “Macho Springs Windfarm in Southwest N.M. Officially Opens,” Deming Highlight, November, 2011, Accessed: June 22, 2019, https://www.abqjournal.com/69615/macho-springs-wind-farm-in-southwest-n-m-officially-opens.html.
3. See Masonic Service Association of North America, “Freemasonry and Brotherhood,” Accessed: June 22, 2019, https://www.msana.com/brotherhood.asp.