Tell me a story. Say true things.

A love letter to my home state

February 13, 2023 4:45 am

The Sandias, Albuquerque laid at their feet, as seen from the volcanoes during sunset on Nov. 20, 2021. (Photo by Marisa Demarco / Source NM)

I’m sitting in my backyard. It’s still winter. The sun doesn’t seem to know. 

It’s my last day as the editor of Source New Mexico. I don’t seem to know either. Not really.

Incoming Editor Shaun Griswold gave me an assignment: write a love letter to my home state, to be published on his first day. Neither of us realized it also happens to be Valentine’s Day Eve.

The coincidence is funny and sweet, but what’s important to say is that Source NM was founded by people who have respect and deep love for this place. It’s central to us as people, and to our work. We report and frame stories from there. 

It’s a mindset shift that matters when a sense of disappointment — almost a chronic, collective low self-esteem — can invade the thinking about our home. Through so many layers of colonization, the desire for New Mexico to be more like somewhere else infects everyday conversation.

Growing up here, you talk to a lot of people who don’t have a lot of regard for the region, who complain about not being in a real city, or all of the things they say are missing. Maybe they point to our flawed systems or do this strange sideways brag about how dangerous it is here — like they’re all tough because they live somewhere with so much crime — polished with a singsong “Oh, New Mexico.”

Every kid I knew back in the day was dreaming of moving to New York or L.A. I probably did, too, like somehow that would solve everything.

I remember the first time I really saw the Sandias. If you live in Albuquerque, maybe you, like me, took for granted that there’s a colossal purple and pink and blue mountain to the east. We use it for navigation. We orient our internal compasses by it. But do we always see it? Like see it, see it?

(Photo by Nash Jones / KUNM)

Walking home from school in the sixth grade, I was heading out the back of the mostly dirt school yard, on my way to a hole in the fence that led to the ditches, the waterways branching through the entire city like veins — and also the best way to get around. Looking up beyond the treetops and houses, yanked away from the questions of my own little world, I saw the mountain for what it is, massive, present, changing bit by bit as the wind blows against it or the water makes its way down, existing in a timescale I would never understand because my whole life would be just a blink to the mountain.

It was such a surprise. It caught me still. I was in awe.

That’s probably when I really fell for New Mexico, it’s one of those “at first sight” kind of things — or at first real sight.

Last week, I reached out to the crew for their love notes to New Mexico to fold in here, because we all made Source NM together every day. The land and sky and sun are so big where we are, and Griswold’s offering touches some of the same ideas:

“My love for New Mexico is poetic, pulled from the landscapes, sights, sounds and experiences.” 

Great artists always try to capture it, and while this is not born in New Mexico, I do wake up every day to the sunrise, say my prayers and gaze at that sky thinking ‘Hey baby, que paso?’

– Source Editor Shaun Griswold

“I love getting lost in the sky,” Griswold wrote. “From Albuquerque, I can watch the sun set down below the mesa and smile knowing the golden hour is starting for my mom in Zuni. When clouds disappear Sandia, I know she’ll reemerge with a new outfit of snow. When I drive higher and higher into the mountains I feel like I’m about to touch the sky. New Mexico gives that to me.” 

Reporter Megan Gleason knows about the mountain, too:

The rich nature of New Mexico pulls me in and astounds me every day. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I pass the Sandias and don’t see a new beauty, or when the stars above the Bosque can fail to cheer me up.”

It’s been my honor to tell stories about this place for more than a couple of decades now. Still, when the States Newsroom network reached out to see if I could launch the New Mexico outlet, I’d been pretty well beat up by my career.

The public health emergency had turned my job into an around-the-clock, seven-days-a-week gig for too many months. I’d gone into it with the idea that it was really time to “say true things,” a phrase I said often and drew energy from throughout those early pandemic months. But I’d lost a dear friend who also worked in this field, and I wasn’t sure if I could keep going.

I was toying with the idea of becoming a bartender or hair stylist or something, no lie. I do love the work beyond circumstance. It’s just that the grind seemed to have grown sharp teeth. It’s hard to find your own heart when you’re all chewed up.

But I guess I heard it beating faintly somewhere, enough that I couldn’t stop dreaming about what my own newsroom could be like, the perspective, the values, even the logistics. I couldn’t stop tossing around names for it, either.

Newspapers are often named in relationship to light since news is all about illumination in dim corridors of information. With the quality of a sun that sears winter here, light-related words surfaced first. After some rest, probing where I was finding connection, I turned to the river instead.

All rivers have a source.

There’s some poetry in the work we all do, when we can find it. And it feels right that as I leave this job as the editor at Source, one thing I’ll leave behind is an unfolding series I’ve been helping out with that travels along the Rio Grande, telling the stories of people and ecosystems changing along the waters we should hold with reverence in the high desert.

As good reporters, we are not blind to the troubles and perils we all face together. Reporter Patrick Lohmann, in his note:

Since moving home, I’ve fallen in love anew with the strange and beautiful landscapes of our home. They are fragile, as we know all too well from the fires and floods we’ve endured just this last year. But the fragility makes them more beautiful.”

Though built on a solid 18 months of diligent work, Source NM is new, every day. Reporter Austin Fisher brings fresh eyes:

“I love how big New Mexico is. I’ve lived here for nearly seven years, and there are still so many places I have not seen,” he wrote. “I love how welcoming New Mexicans are to outsiders. Even though I usually stick out like a sore thumb in public spaces, I have felt cared for and included in many different communities here.”

Trees reaching when the Bosque turns gold. November, 2019. (Photo by Marisa Demarco / Source NM)

New Mexico is more than an environment. It’s also people, which Fisher gets. Having lived here for all of my years, I can only begin to describe all of the ingenious, tough, artistic, sensitive, wise, funny, powerful people I’ve been lucky to know, both through my work life and my personal life. They’re just everywhere here.

A few of them work at Source. I have nothing but confidence in how this team will navigate the coming months. They know what we’ve been doing. They know that compassion, respect and love is the foundation of our work. And they’ve heard me say during editing, an annoying number of times, “Tell me a story.”

Griswold, Source’s next editor, framed from his very first job interview how we would all come to think about this outlet. He named that when we talk about government coverage in New Mexico, we have to think of the ecosystems of government in this region — tribal, city, county, state and federal — all interacting and in play in our daily lives.

As I become national editor for eight outlets, one of them is still Source NM. So while I may not have much of a hand in daily operations, I’m not too far away, either — just up the street, really, in this place we love, and always a phone call away.

My valentine in fewer words:

Dear New Mexico,

Thank you for telling me so many stories, all the way from when I was born. 

They made me, and they make me every day. 

I’ll never stop listening. 

In gratitude, and in your service, 

— m

Textures of plants ending the season as the weather cools in the Bosque near the Rio Grande.
Plants ending the season as the weather cools in the Bosque near the Rio Grande. (Photo by Marisa Demarco / Source NM)

I’ll let Griswold sing us out. 

“New Mexico taught me how to love. So I love it back. That’s the foundation for why we make the news we do at SourceNM, why we are creating journalism for the state that gives us so much. Everything we do is with our heart because sometimes that’s all we can bring. And our community deserves to feel that love. Always.”

Take it away, Shaun.


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Marisa Demarco
Marisa Demarco

Marisa Demarco is an Albuquerque-based journalist and lifelong New Mexican whose work has won national and regional awards. She's spent almost two decades as a reporter, producer and newsroom leader, co-founding the New Mexico Compass, and editing and writing for the Weekly Alibi, the Albuquerque Tribune and UNM's Daily Lobo. She began a career in radio full-time at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health and criminal legal reform for much of the last seven years. During the pandemic, she was also the executive producer for “Your NM Gov” and “No More Normal,” shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice.