“Believe me, I had dreamed of bigger papers, major cities, major news. Now I can’t imagine any better way to begin a career in journalism than the cop beat in Brooksville, Florida. That job was so elemental. It was rooted in the real world. Newspapers, especially small ones, are like that—they’re old-school, they’re fact-based, they’re pure. The journalism they practice is less adorned than magazine work; it has less spin than radio; it’s much deeper than TV. Walt Whitman worked at a small newspaper; so did Gabriel García Márquez. Everybody should work at a small newspaper. The amount of life you take in is staggering.”
—Jeffrey Gettleman, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times, in “Love, Africa: A Memoir of Romance, War, and Survival.”
From the time I graduated from college in 1962 until I moved to New Mexico in 1978, my professional life—indeed my life—was targeted like an arrow at major newspapers and magazines. I worked for, among others, the New York Times, Newsweek Magazine and the Baltimore Sun.
The “among others” included windows onto a different world. I reported local news for an abortive attempt to restart the once-heralded Brooklyn Eagle. I edited the weekly St. Mary’s Beacon in, Leonardtown, population 1,200, the county seat of a rural peninsula in southern Maryland where fishermen harvested clams and crabs and farmers raised tobacco. While serving as a private in the U.S. Army, I wrote about high school basketball for the Tampa Tribune and local crime for the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer.
I liked this different world, and I loved the view from its windows. It had a reality that I failed to find in covering business for Newsweek, working in the sports department of The New York Times and writing endlessly about politics and legal issues for the Baltimore Sun.
Moving to New Mexico 39 years ago was more than a decision to live in a different place; it was also a change of life, personally and professionally. I opted for the “other window.”
Over the years I have from time to time had regrets and second thoughts. What if I had accepted the Sun’s invitation to head its Moscow Bureau? What if I had applied to be its permanent White House correspondent (a role I played off and on when the regular White House guy was absent)? What if I had stayed on to become an editor of Newsweek? Where would I be today?
Surely, I wouldn’t have the life I did, or the life I have today. I wouldn’t be living in New Mexico, I wouldn’t be married to the woman I met in Santa Fe 34 years ago. I wouldn’t be the father of my 25-year-old son who has grown into a good and handsome young man.
I wouldn’t have owned, edited or written for a score of small newspapers and magazines in New Mexico, those “other windows” that gave me an education in life and in reality, knowledge that would otherwise have surely eluded me.
Nor would I have created The Independent to give a voice to what was in 1999 not only the newest but the most hopeful town in New Mexico. No longer the newest, it is still after all these years a community of hope and progress, and The Independent is still its voice.
Nor would I today be memorializing 25 years of continuous publication of this column, Mountain Musing. On the keys of my Remington typewriter and then the keyboard of my Apple computers, during that quarter of a century, I have typed uncounted millions of words. The Independent published some 2 million of them—words of reporting and opinion, travel and criticism, analysis and comment, retrospection and introspection.
Looking back, that quarter of a century seems sometimes to have endured forever, sometimes to have been only the briefest flicker of the candle of time. But for all that time, week after week, decade after decade, this column has been a reflection of my life in this community. With a bit of luck and the generous blessings of destiny on my 77 years, may it continue to be so for a while longer.
Thank you for reading.