Popular culture

Sun-News Desert Sage column changes focus and will appear monthly

For nearly 21 years, this “Desert Sage” column has expressed wonder, asked questions, offered arguments, and reflected on the state of New Mexico, the world, and the human condition.

Win Mott created the column for the Deming Lighthouse in 2001, intentionally playing on the ambiguity of “Desert Sage” as a human character or part of the natural flora of southwestern New Mexico. For over a decade he has written on ecology, economics, ethics and faith, sometimes politics and always the human spirit.

In 2014, Win moved on and, with his blessing, the Lighthouse asked me to take over. I had already been submitting monthly pieces since 2009, the first being a hymn to Thomas Paine and civics.

After a few years, I was hired as a journalist and the column migrated to the Las Cruces Sun-Newswhere he quietly meandered from humor to polemics about national politics, popular culture, economics, arts and letters, parenting, technology and more.

The column was a strong advocate for maintaining our public postal service and often extolled the benefits of letter writing. It encouraged you to run for local office or help someone else to do so; he pushed you to vote, to show up from time to time at public meetings (so that the rascals know you are watching), to speak up, to demonstrate and to organize yourselves; and never bow to despotism or nihilism nor embrace the malice and vitriol modeled daily on Twitter and similar sites.

Journalist and columnist

Going against the grain of our times, Desert Sage has nurtured a sense of optimism about our ability to dialogue and help each other. It fell apart and at times, like when I filled in verse columns, tested the forbearance of editors and page designers.

He sought to be a friendly voice on your Sunday opinion page, an alternative to the “hot shots” served up by unionized political pundits, and a buoy of friendship in turbulent waters.

It found a small audience and received honors from the New Mexico Press Association and the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

If you sense an announcement coming, here it is:

Gannett, the company that owns the Sun-News, is making sweeping changes to its network of newspapers and websites, including how opinion pages are handled. Deadlines now fall in the middle of my regular work week as a journalist. This is the right time for a change.

Desert Sage will stop working every week. While nothing is set in stone, the tentative plan is for me to write a monthly article instead, perhaps telling longer stories or incorporating more in-depth reporting. Desert sage, after all, is famous for adapting to changing conditions and altitudes.

A new direction the monthly Sage could take is to tell stories from across New Mexico, stories demonstrating the beauty and wisdom that persists in our communities. Consider the advice line open to suggestions from problem solvers, builders and healers, creative weirdos and magicians who brush up against the daily rhythm of nothingness and ruin emanating from online media.

At the same time, we were able to document the best walks through this crazy beautiful state. Jean-Jacques Rousseau left an unfinished book of essays organized around several long walks near Paris. Desert Sage is no Rousseau, but he knows that walks, stories, and thoughtful companions make a powerful elixir whose essence can be shared. Together, let’s wander and reflect. Shout out the best walks and unique sights you cherish.

Failing that, just send an email―or a letter written in a pen you like to hold―and let the wise old man know how you’re doing.

Algernon D’Ammassa has been writing the Desert Sage column since 2014. Write to him at[email protected] or PO Box 84, Deming, NM 88030.

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