Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Friday, July 01, 2005


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Remember The Milagro beanfield war, the 70s cult novel? It's about a small town called Milagro in Northern New Mexico, where an ordinary guy decided on a whim to divert water from the acequia to grow beans on his own land, and it started a virtual war. No matter that his family had owned the land for centuries -- in Northern New Mexico it's all about water.

Anyway, author John Nichols makes a political statement about water rights and about who really owns the land, with humor and compassion. The fictional town of Milagro comes alive under his pen, and each of the characters, the humans and the animals, create a composite picture of the villages of Northern New Mexico then and now.

I'm reading the book now, for the first time right in the center of Milagro Beanfield War country, and I must admit, whenever I walk through Taos and recognize a surname from the book, I wonder, could this be .... I drove to the village of Truchas, where the movie was supposedly filmed, wondering ... could this be where Jose Mondragan lived? Or Onofre Martinez's, but Onofre"s house, with its astroturf lawn, the fake flowers, the birdhouse, how could I miss it? What about Pacheco's pig -- could he have wandered these very dirt roads? That's how alive the characters are.

I'm glad I waited to read it till 30 years after it was written, being right here where it is happening. The author, in the Afterward to the current edition, says "I've had it with Milagro Beanfield War. I published this book when I was 34; now I'm almost fifty-three. .. Since then I have written 25 tomes; published 12 of them. ... Yet any time anyone introduces me, they usually say, "This is John Nichols. He wrote Milagro Beanfield War.

"I cringe. I want to grind my teeth and scream. Instead, of course, I always shake hands and smile politely and murmur gratitudes when people respond in a properly unctuous manner, telling me how much they enjoyed "my" movie."

This evening I heard author John Nichols (now close to 65 and a survivor of open heart surgery) speak at a local writers' series. In an address that was part autobiography and part tribute to the real northern New Mexico, he kept everyone attention with his funny, witty, and ever so TRUE observations of life and death in New Mexico.


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