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Sometimes it feels odd to write historical fiction set in 18th century England when I live in 21st century New Mexico. I think most Anglophiles, myself included, consider England almost mystical. But so is New Mexico, in a wholly different way.

Over the 4th of July weekend in 2009 I took an excursion to the Mescalero Apache girls’ puberty ceremonial near Ruidoso.  The ceremony takes twelve days to perform and years for the girls’ families to prepare for, but four days of it were scheduled to coincide with the annual ceremonial at which the Mountain Gods dance.

There was a midway, of course, with “fair”-type food to buy and souvenirs, umbrellas (for the sun), jewelry and art, and an open space where traditional dances and songs were performed all day, with bleachers and room to set up folding camp chairs around the edge.  Native Americans had come from all over. People camped in tents set up outside the meeting grounds. The families of the girls going through the ritual prepared mammoth amounts of food to feed anyone who showed up at meal time. Fry bread, always. Other stuff, sometimes traditional, sometimes not.

When we arrived on the 4th, there didn’t seem to be a lot of people in attendance. Evening came on and they built the bonfire around which the four Mountain Gods would dance. Night fell, and the Gods danced: several different sets of Mountain Gods, doing a succession of dances which relate an important Apache myth. There are four sets of Gods because there are sixteen dances, and each group does four, so the groups have time to recuperate before they’re on again. The moon, almost full, came up, and on the other side of the mountain range, seemingly right on the other side of the highway, flashes of light began. We thought it was fireworks. Instead it was lightning beyond the range, far enough away that we didn’t hear thunder.

While the Mountain Gods danced, the four girls carried on their own ceremonies. When we left at about 10:00 p.m., we were surprised to find that there were many times the number of spectators as there had been earlier. They must have drifted in like fog, to fill the bleachers and set up their chairs around the field.

The moon, lightning, fire and social dancing (with a great ring of spectators dancing around the edge, circling the Mountain Gods) will stick in my mind for a long time. And when we got out to the highway about half a mile from the ceremonial grounds, we found it had poured.  But not on the ceremonial. Not a drop.

But it’s not all culturally uplifting events. Some time ago, in the employment section of the Sunday paper, this small, discreet ad ran under Miscellaneous Employment: “Wanted—dwarf/midget exotic dancers for established club. Call ___-____.” What?

Another time, in the “Special Announcements” section, the public was advised that descansos (the small roadside shrines families or friends put up to commemorate traffic deaths*) must be moved by the commencement of highway work between Mileposts such-and-such and so-and-so. Descansos not moved will be relocated by the road crew . . . . (And they meant relocated, not taken down and thrown away.)

Don’t bother bragging about your haunted house.

Don’t bother bragging about your haunted house. Almost everyone here has a haunting or strange event to relate. The friend with whom I share the house and her stepdaughter had one when we were doing some remodeling soon after buying the house. The stepdaughter and I both experienced something, but not the same thing.

The cats were confined in the bedroom across from the one my friends were occupying; Carol heard them complaining in the night. Then they went silent. She mentioned this at breakfast.

I had been sleeping in the front room, down the hall from those bedrooms (the other rooms were full of furniture and boxes or else construction material or debris). I told her I had not heard the cats but had heard someone flip the light switch in the kitchen, eight or ten feet from my bedroll in the pre-dawn hours. I’d rolled over and hoped whichever one it was would not make too much noise and would go back to bed soon. But neither of them had gone to the kitchen.

The house was owned by the same family for many, many years until about six months before we bought it. We think one of them came back to see what we were doing. Apparently our work met with his/her approval; we never had another visit…that we know of.