We believe, as a nation, in Big. Big houses. Big throughways. Big cars. Big office buildings. Here in the relatively small town of Santa Fe—around seventy thousand after two decades of unrestrained growth—the big houses of the newcomers crowd the ridges around town that were once protected by a zoning law, still in effect but no longer enforced. Our narrow roads are jammed with enormous cars and trucks.
People here and elsewhere are not bigger, either physically, or in our imaginations. But everything we build seems designed for a race of giants.
There’s a virtue and a beauty in smallness, which we all know about but seldom bring into our decisions about what to buy or build. For me, a worthy emblem of this smallness is the Las Vegas, New Mexico newspaper, the Optic.
I’ve been reading it twice a week for several years since I undertook to partly civilize a wild mesa on the outskirts of the town. Nearly every one of the slender issues—usually only four pages, now—carries a story I don’t find anywhere else, online, in The New York Times, or even in our admirable, slightly larger Santa Fe New Mexican.
Las Vegas is an old railroad town, sleepily surrounding its shady plaza, its side streets furnished with nineteenth-century houses and the small stores that still survive, many second-hand emporiums full of the china and lamps and furniture of the past as well as several bars and restaurants. Its charm is in its smallness as well as a certain bleakness, common to abandoned railroad towns in the west, that for me has a potent charm.
The town sits in the middle of old ranchlands, mesas and scrub descending to the plains The Optic carries the stories of the town’s ranching history as well as of its present. In the August 6-8 edition, an item under “Agriculture” reports the killing of six cattle on two separate ranches with a high-caliber rifle, the corpses left to rot where they fell. This is an AP story but not one I saw reprinted anywhere else; it has relevance only in ranch country where it is easy to imagine “fears of a serial cattle killer running loose.”
Wire service stories matter less to me than ones written by the Optic’s reporters. In this issue, Jason. W Brooks writes of the death, at ninety-three, of Father James Flanagan, co-founder of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, which has expanded internationally.
A fellow priest from St. Gertrude’s Parish in Mora remembered, “He was an Okie. He wore a cowboy hat and boots.” Probably not with his robe.
On the second page, Gwen Albers reports on the Las Vegas bridge group which Lois Patterson, 89, founded when she moved from San Deigo. She arrived knowing no one but soon found a group of compatible souls through bridge.
“CO stabbed at a Santa Fe prison”—news from the bigger city next door—is balanced by “Senior Lunch Menu,” one lunch featuring a “Red chile smothered beef and bean burrito” which sounds pretty good.
Announcements range from The Third Annual Junque/Antique Market to the Las Vegas Community Soup Kitchen’s search for volunteers to the San Miguel County Magistrate Court’s hours.
The obituaries outline a history: Sue K. Parham, dead at 86, was a Cherokee whose father, Red Cloud Duncan, was the last High Sheriff of the Cherokee Nation. She is remembered for her “adventuresome spirit, acerbic wit, lyrical singing voice, and the ability to make friends with everyone”—and for her patience with her offspring.
Rick Kraft’s column, “Put The Trophy on the Shelf, Move On” reminds me “not to be a trophy person or a damaged person, but to take where you are on the path of life and, with the God-given gifts and talents you have, to make a difference with your life moving forward. Trophy people are hung up on themselves. Damaged people are hung up on themselves.” The outcome is the same.
Lively letters to the editor dispute the city’s refusal to support a non-binding declaration of support for the resettlement of refugees. As bland a requirement as one can imagine but perhaps its rejection by the city council reflects one of the drawbacks of a small town—a limited tolerance for outsiders.
A whole page of classifieds, always the financial backbone of newspapers, lists “a lost hickory walking stick with a slight bend,” manufactured houses (trailers) for rent and for sale, and ends with a cartoon from “The Family Circus” which I thought had long disappeared.
The jail log is there, too, with a reminder to readers that everyone incarcerated has not been judged guilty, essential as we struggle to preserve our national belief in innocent until proved guilty. Most are for traffic offenses or drug possession, the former usually a problem with alcohol, the later eventually to be erased as an offense with our finally loosening of the drug laws.
So there you have it: the Las Vegas Optic, as plain, as small and as essential as their office building.
Long may it live.