Good News and Bad

When you hear about Luna County’s newest business you might think the owners just landed from Mars. Preferred Produce, a group often greenhouses off Columbus highway owned by Matthew Strong and his family will keep every special interest happy.

This certified organic company uses no pesticides or herbicides. They grow tomatoes, lettuce, bell peppers, squash, cantaloupes and herbs such as basil, mint, tarragon, and cilantro, which are delivered to Deming, Las Cruces, Silver City, and will soon start a home delivery program that will also accept food stamps.

Even better, they train and employ 12 locals who are paid a minimum of $12.50 an hour and recently gave one employee a $1,500 scholarship.

To learn more or to place an order call 575-527-9805 or go to www.preferredproduce.us.

***

A recent event at the Learning Center was mandated by the State. All the local poobas attended. Seems there’s a law that every five years there must be meetings in every community to develop a five year plan. The State of New Mexico sent a half dozen experts down from Santa Fe to make sure we did it right. It reminded me of the USSR’s five-year plans under Stalin and his successors when grandiose plans were announced but nothing happened.

Sure enough, at the onset Larry Caldwell, a man admired by locals for asking questions they’re afraid to ask, but hated by politicians because his facts and figures put their feet to the fire, stood up with a copy of the previous survey. He suggested we work on what hadn’t been accomplished. Leaders quickly shushed him into silence.

The crowd was seated at tables of eight; each included a local volunteer facilitator (read party head, hopeful politician, or activist). Ours included two business owners, and a political mix of Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

Suggestions at our table: 1. Jobs for youth providing training, benefits and possible promotion; 2. Approval for Homelands Casino and other clean industries; 3. Accountability from our schools and local politicians; 4. Stop wasting State and Federal money on useless programs including those like this one.

***

Now the bad news. Jim’s Electric has closed after 43 years, blaming the high cost of doing business. That’s a loss of more high paying jobs. Jim says such things as crazy mandates from OSHA, requiring a man who had safely used a piece of equipment at the shop for 25 years without an accident, to attend an out-of-town workshop to learn how to use it, at a cost to the employer of $400.00.

That story is a familiar one to those in agriculture. Twelve years ago Wal-Mart hired specialists to inspect farms and make sure onions were handled according to their standards. The experts blitzed a 30,000 square foot local onion farm and were astonished to discover that one side of the shed and the loading dock were open to the elements. Birds and mice might get in. Worse yet, onions were sorted and packed in breathable mesh bags to prevent spoilage, rather than air-tight plastic bags to keep them clean.

Finally the grower called the Wal-Mart buyer, cancelled the contract and explained why. During the conversation he asked if the buyer was aware they grew onions in dirt.

A local says some illegal immigrant families, especially women involved with abusive husbands, are blackmailed by threats of deportation by their U.S. born children – even very young ones, for not buying them something or expecting them to attend school. The kids believe that without a mother, they’ll be free to do as they please. Obviously that fine old American tradition of spanking the child isn’t an option.

DEMING! WHY DEMING?

By Nancy Johnson

Dr. Victor Cruz.
Photo credit: Dr. Victor Cruz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Boundaries! There are no barriers!” was Dr. Victor Cruz’ smiling reply when asked what he and his wife, Dr. Francine Jacobs, liked most about Deming. They both grew up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Queens, NY and later practiced in Salt Lake City. In both cities, certain areas are limited to one ethnic, religious or socioeconomic group, and residents observe those unmarked lines.

“In Deming neighbors are a mixture of race, religion and income level, and no one seems to mind. They all get along.”

I had heard that Mimbres Memorial Hospital had recently brought a husband and wife pair of physicians to Deming. Dr. Jacobs is board certified in pediatric medicine, which is wonderful to have, but not so rare.

Dr. Cruz is a rare combination. He is board certified in general surgery, which means he operates on everything from tonsils to gallbladders to gastric resections; nice, but not unusual. However, he’s board certified in colorectal surgery; that’s a scarce field. There are only three such specialists in all of New Mexico and he’s the only one outside of Albuquerque. Furthermore, he did a fellowship in surgical oncology at Cornell Medical University, perfecting techniques for surgically removing cancer. All in all that’s the surgical equivalent of a black belt!

His attitude is welcoming, calm and relaxed, unlike that of many surgeons, who shake hands with a patient using their right hand while their left is reaching for a scalpel in their hip pocket because their only interest is surgery.

“No,” he said. “The patient’s history is important and surgery isn’t always the answer to every problem. Many can be avoided with the proper medication.” That was a statement I never expected to hear from a surgeon!

When he was growing up, his mother, who always wanted to be a nurse but lacked the means, regularly watched the Learning Channel program “Operations,” while he curled up beside her on the sofa. As far back as he can remember he always knew he would become a surgeon. By his teens kids at school called him “Doc.”

In describing his education, Dr. Cruz said over the years he worked under, or with, seventy-five well qualified surgeons but considers only five to be what he called “Master Surgeons.” Those were doctors whose example he wanted to follow. They were not only exceptionally talented but cared deeply for their patients and also the patients’ families during what often were stressful times for all concerned.

Deming must be culture shock to someone from New York, but the things Dr. Cruz and Dr. Jacobs miss most are the restaurants. Dr. Jacobs first worried about living in a small town but now, a few months after the move she’s decided she was always a small town girl at heart. Their three boys are 8, 6, and just weeks from being 3 years old.

The pace of life is slower and much of the pressure of his erratic schedule has been taken off her. Before the move, she was responsible for all the children’s activities, and getting from point to point took lots of her time. In Deming, the Hospital is never more than minutes away if he’s called in on an emergency. So they now go places as a family.

He revels in the variety of surgical cases he has treated here. The operating room staff is professional and easy to work with, and the equipment is up to date. He says administration has never hesitated to purchase any new instrument or device he requested.

“Of course I’m not going to ask them to spend $150,000 for something I might use once a year,” he adds.

I first heard of Dr. Cruz when a friend with life-long bowel difficulties was referred to him for surgery. Within days, a lifetime of problems “miraculously disappeared” because he prescribed one non-prescription medication.

The second case requires the use of pseudonyms because of a possible lawsuit: Mr. and Mrs. X were in a serious accident far away. Both had multiple fractures and were in several hospitals and rehab units before coming to Deming, where her sister and brother-in-law could care for them until they recovered enough to live alone.

Mrs. X arrived in Deming with two fractured vertebra requiring a back brace, a fractured leg in a cast, and her right arm was fractured and placed in a splint. A (former) local physician was guiding their recovery.

A few months later Mrs. X began complaining of severe stomach pain. The doctor ordered more pain medications. She started losing weight, returning time and again to complain of stomach pain. Each time, she was offered more or new pain medications.

By the time she had lost almost 70 pounds, she insisted the doctor find out what was really wrong and a CT scan of the abdomen was ordered. Based on life-long experience with her previous hometown physician, Mrs. X assumed the CT was normal when she didn’t receive a phone call from the doctor.

The pain became unbearable late one night and she was taken to our local ER, where the doctor on duty walked down the hall to look at the earlier CT. The report, a copy of which was sent to the previous physician the day the exam was done, showed a large, likely cancerous mass in the abdomen. The ER doctor called Dr. Cruz.

He took four and a half hours to remove all the visible cancer including that surrounding, but not invading the lymph nodes.

Mrs. X is now having chemotherapy treatment from Dr. Aswad. She has lost all her hair, but she has gained some weight.

She and her husband recently purchased a home in Deming because she swears she’ll never again be away from this town and the doctors who cured her.

Apache Homelands Update

Fort Sill Apache Tribal Chairman Jeff Haozous

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greetings,

On May 15, 2012 the Bureau of Indian Affairs sent a letter to Governor Susana Martinez and regional elected officials to begin consultation about the Fort Sill Apache Tribe’s plans to develop the Apache Homelands casino on our reservation in Akela (to view this letter please visit www.FortSillApacheNewMexico.com). It’s the first step in the process that will enable us to bring hundreds of jobs and a major economic boost to Southwest New Mexico and to allow us to fulfill our long-held desire to return to our homeland. We’ve requested meetings with the Governor to discuss the benefits that we can bring to the state and the area, but she has not yet agreed to meet with us.

We’re preparing the application and the environmental reviews that this process requires and will soon submit them to the Federal Government for approval. In this process, we’ve consulted with elected officials and community leaders throughout the Southwest as well as New Mexico’s Tribes and Pueblo leaders. The Scoping Meeting that you attended this past April in Deming was a part of this process, and I want to thank you for attending the event.

We’re grateful for the backing we’ve received from the community and for the support letters that you’ve sent to state and federal officials, especially the Governor.

We’ve gotten letters from the City of Deming, Luna County, Deming Chamber of Commerce, the Town of Silver City,

Grant County, Hidalgo County, the Village of Hatch, the City of Las Cruces, the Pueblo of Pojoaque and residents like you. If you’re interested, we encourage you to write to Secretary Ken Salazar at the U.S. Department of the Interior: Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240.

On Saturday, September 29, we’re planning to hold a tribal celebration at Akela. Activities begin at noon and will end with a dance by our Mountain Spirit Dancers. The dance is our way of evoking blessings for our efforts at Akela and will begin after sundown. We welcome you to join us for a meal and to experience our culture.

Sincerely,
Chairman Jeff Haozous
Fort Sill Apache Tribe

At the time of publication the tribal celebration at Akela is still in discussion and the date and time may change.

The Making of a Tradition

Deming’s Klobase Festival Marks 84th Year

Bring the family, and feast with us from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on October 21st at Courthouse Park. Make a day of it by staying for Bingo and other games.

It all began as a simple barbeque in 1927, when a group of struggling farmers, homesteaders and ranchers decided to have a celebration of thanks for the bountiful harvest. The site chosen was twenty miles from town in Old Deming (once known optimistically as Mowrey City). Distance wasn’t important because their land was scattered throughout the county.

The McSherry family donated a beef for the barbeque, and everyone brought the usual beans, potato salad, cole slaw, cakes and pies to share. The Kretek and Kostelnik families, natives of the province of Bohemia in Czechoslovakia, were the planners of that first party.

The event was such a success that they decided to do it again the following year but, since most were Catholic, this time it would benefit Holy Family Catholic Church. Deming wasn’t a wealthy community and the church was having a hard time keeping up with utility bills.

The first official Festival, an all day event, was held in 1928 and more volunteers were involved. People arrived by car, wagon, horseback or on foot. (It was still twenty miles from town!) A wagon-load of watermelons was auctioned off for ten cents each, pinto beans and live turkeys sold for three to four cents a pound. Meals were $1.25 a plate. Bingo prizes were homemade jams, jellies, pickles, etc. Net profit: $100 from food; $25 from Bingo.

Frank Kretek arrived in Deming in 1923, four years before the first barbeque. He became such an enthusiastic supporter of agriculture in this area that he advertised land and business opportunities in the Czech and Polish language newspapers in Chicago. Those ads brought ancestors of many of today’s families to Luna County.

Fred Ligocky, a butcher from Bohemia, worked in Chicago during the early 1930s, when his doctor suggested a move to a warm, dry climate might cure his chronic bronchitis and mastoid infection (often fatal before we had antibiotics). Deming’s climate was right, and there were other Czech and Bohemians in the area, so he purchased a farm outside town in 1933.

Mr. Ligocky not only made Klobase, but he brought along his own antique sausage stuffer, made in Germany in 1881. The Klobase Festival was born that year.

Today, it’s located in Courthouse Park. Old friends meet and greet; strangers are brought into the fold, willingly or not. There’s Bingo, just like before, and some new games have been added.

Last year, volunteers served about 2,500 people. The cooks mixed 3500 lbs. each of pork and beef for Klobase sausages. Another 3,500 pounds of beef was made into barbeque. That’s over five tons of meat!

Food is served from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.; the culmination of four days and nights of preparing, cooking and tending the smokehouse. Each $8.00 plate is loaded with so much barbeque, Klobase, beans, potato salad, cole slaw and rolls that desserts comes later. Even the heartiest appetite is satisfied. All that food is prepared from start to finish by volunteers.

By 3:00 p.m., any leftover barbeque and Klobase sausages are packaged and sold. Many people take packages home for the freezer. The sausages are good as they are, or chunked up in bean soup.

There’s an old story told every year about a sour faced Methodist minister whose stay was so brief that nobody remembers his name. He was talking to a Church of Christ minister at the Klobase Festival. “Those Catholics always know how to make money, don’t they?” said the Methodist minister.

“Methodists could make just as much,” answered the other, “if they were willing to work as hard.”

A far nicer story took place in the early 2000s, when a critical piece of that 1881 sausage stuffer broke just as they started to use it. A local expert stayed up all night to fabricate a replacement part.

 

Around Town

Photo credit: Southwest Photography

We’ve become a nation of itinerants. Even our pets are unlikely to die in the town where they were born. The uniqueness of a recent obituary undoubtedly got attention from the town’s newer residents.

Lifelong farmer Edward Lewis Remondini died at home in Deming four months shy of his 100th birthday having outlived two wives. He was one of seven children born to immigrant parents Joe and Mary Remondini, who settled here in 1909. His surviving sibling Jody, and husband G.X. McSherry, still live in the old house on the family farm where he was born. He is survived by 11 children, 27 grandchildren, 48 great-grandchildren, and 16 great-great grandchildren. He was christened at, and buried from, Holy Family Catholic Church.

Typifying his life, in lieu of flowers, he would have asked that you plant some flowers or vegetables in his memory.

***

Until a few years ago one of the most beautiful sights at any event in town with a dance floor was Genevieve and Edwin Hyatt. They moved as one, as though they’d danced together for centuries rather than a single lifetime. Edwin died a few years ago, and Genevieve no longer danced.

Recently, I spoke with her. She’s bed-bound much of the time, an old back problem complicated by a serious shoulder injury from a fall. She’s fortunate to have a caretaker at home, but I’m sure she would enjoy cards.

***

Word is that local Democrats are in an uproar because an Early Childhood Education activist is actively campaigning against local resident Senator John Arthur Smith, who has been popular for years with Democrats, Republicans and Independents for his voting record against wasteful spending programs in Santa Fe.

Senator Smith was one of those who wrote the Early Childhood Education Bill. He voted for increased spending for it every year until recently. All that money hasn’t improved the quality of education.

Parental attitudinal changes about the importance of attendance and homework might help more than more money. Some years ago attendance soared when Las Vegas, Nevada

began jailing parents if a child had more unexcused absences than allowed.

Maybe there is a new move in this country. For years we’ve thrown money at projects here at home and abroad, expecting it would fix every wrong and buy friends. It is increasingly clear that money alone won’t cure local or world problems. Voters now expect to see results.

***

The local Republican Party has its own troubles. Meetings are said to be so locked-in to the rigid righteousness Tea Party message it’s scaring off moderates.

I had lunch with some friends at the Pink Store in Palomas. Sergio said they’ve bought a hundred-year-old building in downtown Silver City. It needs lots of work, and he complains about the aggravation of all the permits necessary for such work in the U.S., unlike Mexico. They plan to open the building eventually as the Pink Shop, but only after graduating a couple of their three children, who are now in college. He thinks he’ll finally have some money at that time.

***

Speaking of building permits, don’t try to get one in Deming right now. We’ve lost Mr. Patel, who was Director of Zoning and Planning, and they’ve advertised there’s no one on the horizon. So you’ll just have to wait to start a new building project. One of the joys of living here is learning there are few things in life that can’t wait if you just relax.

***

There are those who remember our license plates read “New Mexico, Land of Manana” until post-WWII, when some ad agency type decided it made us sound like Old Mexico rather than a modern state where the atomic bomb was developed and changed the world.

***

The Museum is desperately searching for a photograph, snapshot or painting of Spruce Street looking west from Iron. There were a number of businesses in that area including John the Sole Saver’s shoe repair shop. John’s last name was Valdespino. He was also a money lender according to the Kretek twins.

We also need an old photo of the front view of the White House in the 100 block of West Pine. It was originally the Clark Opera House, where high school graduation programs were held in the early 1900s. We’d be unbelievably lucky to find a very old photo of that.

Frankly, we would be happy to find any view of businesses on Spruce and Pine west of Gold. It seems nobody thought these photos were worth saving. Call Sylvia at 545-2946 or 546-4466.

Apache Cave

By Ron Wolfe

High on a ridge in the Florida Mountains there is a cave known to locals as Victorio Cave or as Apache Cave.

The term cave may be a stretch, as the cave is a narrow slit in the rocks about three feet at the bottom, tapering to near nothing at the top and about ten to 12 feet high. The entrance has a rock wedged sideways, about two feet off the ground.

For those brave enough to seek out the cave, the hike is very treacherous. Like many areas in the Florida Mountains, the approach is up a steep scree strewn slope. Unfortunately, the cave has been well enough known to contain initials of a few of the visitors scratched into the cave walls over the last 100 years.

Once there, inside are several pictographs created by Apaches long ago. Photos of the pictographs were forwarded to Fort Sill Apache Historian Michael Darrow, who verified that these are paintings made by Apaches when they called this land their own. One pictograph appears to be a cowboy or Buffalo Soldier with a round hat on a horse, which helps date the cave paintings.

From inside the cave, one can clearly view the Needle’s Eye, once called Arco del Diablo according to a topographic map dated 1892.

Some say that the Apaches considered the Florida Mountains as sacred. Maybe that is why the pictographs were painted in the cave.

Many years ago Apache voices echoed in the cave, but today the only sounds come from the wind blowing across the ridge or from the call of hawks.

The pictographs are protected from the wind and water and hopefully will remain undisturbed for future generations to see. The danger to the pictographs comes primarily from today’s visitors attempting to let others know they were there.

Luckily, the hike to the cave is treacherous enough to discourage many potential visitors.

Sombras Del Pasado

San Antonio, 1883

What does Conrad Hilton have in common with Bosque Del Apache?
Photo Credit: gonorway.com

A few years ago a Texas governor bragged that there’s only one San Antonio. He was wrong. There are two, both founded around the same time. One prospered while the other eventually withered and nearly died. If not for migrating birds at Bosque Del Apache, its old adobe homes and buildings would have been reclaimed by the desert, and the story of one immigrant would have been lost in the dusty pages of history.

Augustus Hilton left Norway’s long winters intending to make his fortune in America. He never could’ve imagined spending his life in a small, dusty village surrounded by Spanish neighbors and bedeviled by Apache raiders.

He spent the first couple of years in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where he learned English then fell madly in love with Mary Laufersweiler. Her father, unwilling to part with his daughter, convinced Gus that no job in Fort Dodge would ever pay enough to provide for a wife and children. When Gus left for San Antonio, New Mexico Territory in 1882, Mr. Laufersweiler undoubtedly thought he had seen the last of the pesky young immigrant. Anyway, marriage was out of the question. Her family was staunchly Catholic and the young man was not.

Gus was a big, robust Viking with a handlebar moustache, big hands and feet. At six feet, he towered over his Spanish neighbors. After renting a two-room adobe house he opened a small store in the front room and proceeded to learn Spanish.

San Antonio, 11 miles south of Socorro, was at that time a bustling village. The Santa Fe Railroad arrived two years earlier. Twice a day, trains stopped at the little depot, bringing in supplies for the store, often picking up furs Gus bought from trappers up in the hills.

He had one peculiarity his neighbors never understood. He loved work, seven days a week. Seven o’clock was mid-day in his mind and a 40-hour work week would have shocked him as much as hearing that churches planned to close businesses on Sundays. The copper mines were still active at Carthage just east of town, and on Sunday their employees came in for church and to pick up supplies at Gus’ store.

His spare time was spent writing letters to Mary, concentrating on the beauty of the land and mountains, the sky at sunrise and sunset, and the friendly (Catholic) neighbors. Her letters occasionally mentioned her father’s continuing fear about “that God-forsaken country where Indians still raid.”

Fortunately, Gus never wrote about the time he and six others formed a search party when four local men failed to return from a deer hunt. His party was attacked by Apaches; only he and two others survived. The missing hunters were never found.

Meanwhile, he built a proper store building with a kitchen/parlor combination and a bedroom in the back. Business was so good that he sent to Norway for his young cousin Holm Bursum to help him.

During a casual conversation with the local priest, the topic of romance came up. The priest suggested the young man write Mary’s father, assuring him the children would be reared Catholic. Two months later, a letter arrived from her father expressing relief that Gus had guessed the reason for his reluctance, and he gave permission for the marriage.

On February 22, 1885, the young couple married in Fort Dodge, honeymooned in New Orleans and then came home. Daughter Felice was born the following year, son, Conrad Nicholas Hilton, was born Christmas Day, 1887. Six more children would follow. Fortunately, Gus’s business grew even more rapidly than his family.

Connie, along with his siblings, worked with their father, were educated in local public schools, spoke Spanish as fluently as English and learned to dance at local bailes.

Throughout his life, Connie danced like a pro as long as the musicians played. He was deeply religious and attended mass almost every day of his life.

The hotel business was an accident. In 1919 he attempted to buy a bank in the booming oil town of Cisco, Texas. He stayed with friends because all the hotels were filled with workers from the oil fields. The old Mobley hotel, a derelict, was so busy with shift workers that some rooms changed hands three times a day. After the bank deal fell through he bought the Mobley, and with the money left over he leased or bought other hotels in Texas. Financing always included friends who shared his foresight.

His first high rise hotel was built in Dallas in 1925, the same year he married Mary Barron.

They divorced in 1934, the same year he built the Albuquerque Hilton Hotel, his first hotel outside of Texas.

Their marriage produced three boys, each very different from one another. Nicky, the eldest reveled in his good looks, quick wit and fortune. Once, his father asked why he spent more money on a suit than Connie ever did. The teen replied, “Well, you didn’t have a rich daddy.” He drank to excess, his brief marriage to Elizabeth Taylor ended in divorce and he died at 39. Barron, a year younger, kept meticulous records of every dime spent, married young, and had eight children. Eric also enjoyed money, kept track of expenditures, married and had four children. Both surviving sons rose up through the ranks at Hilton Hotels.

Every man enjoys telling stories of his past and Connie was no different. He told how he got his start, how he almost lost it all during the Depression when he was down to his last thirty cents and his first hotel was about to be foreclosed. One of the bellboys handed over his life savings of $350.00.

Several of his hotels were foreclosed during the Depression but he persuaded the banks to keep him on as manager and as times got better he bought them back one by one. By the late 1940s that bellboy was a millionaire.

In 1942 Connie shocked everyone when he married a second time. The bride was Zsa Zsa Gabor. Her obsession with image and publicity, plus her insatiable spending on jewels, clothing, make-up and other frills of stardom spelled mismatch to everyone but Connie. As a Catholic, he couldn’t take communion and that wounded him to no end. To no one’s surprise, it ended in divorce in early 1947. The marriage produced one child, daughter Constance Francesca Hilton, born March 10, 1947. Tongues wagged at the time and gossip magazines sold out.

(Curiously, his autobiography tells of the marriage to Zsa Zsa and the divorce, but never mentions Franesca. In his will he left her $10,000; a token. Nothing like the amounts he left his most menial employees.)

One of the bankers who financed him on many deals was lifelong friend Sam Young, President of El Paso National Bank, who put a lot of his own money into Connie’s first properties, and the relationship continued until Sam’s death. Their friendship wasn’t always smooth. One meeting lasted for hours while they hammered out details late into the night. Restaurants were closed so they decided to go to Juarez for dinner. The discussion got so heated in the elevator that they threw off their jackets and slugged it out on the deserted sidewalk in front of the bank.

By the 1960s Hilton Hotels were international. He owned or controlled more hotels than any other person or organization in the world. Old friends in New Mexico couldn’t believe he owned hotels from San Francisco’s Drake to Chicago’s Palmer House and New York’s Waldorf Astoria because he never changed.

Once, when seated beside his elderly mother at a grand opening they were served iced vichyssoise. He asked if she liked it. She pointed out that it was just chilled potato soup. He told the story often to remind himself and others of his simple beginnings.

Mary Hilton, his first wife died in 1966 freeing Connie to marry in the Church, but he refrained until 1976 when he married Mary Frances Kelly. He died of natural causes three years later and is buried in Calvary Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery, in Dallas, Texas.

San Antonio is a thriving community today whose stores, restaurants and B&Bs cater to tourists from around the world. It’s all thanks to the wildlife preserve at Bosque Del Apache, named for those same Apaches who could have killed August H. Hilton long before Connie was a glimmer in his father’s eye.

Tunas: Gift from the Desert

By Laura Mitchel

Ripe tunas on prickly pear cactus. Photo: Tom Le Tourneau

If you’re new here you’ve probably never heard of tunas, the thumb sized crowns topping pads of the prickly pear cactus that grows wild on the desert or in yards around town. They’ll be getting ripe soon, and you can tell by the color that ranges from pale pink to electric yellow to marvelous magenta. They’re organic, and they’re free.

You’ll need to wear a sturdy pair of shoes since they often grow on dry, gravel covered ground in the desert; the same terrain snakes enjoy. Take along a gallon-sized bucket, a pair of metal kitchen tongs, a sharp paring knife with a serrated edge, some matches and a candle.

Avoid picking tunas growing close to the ground or orange colored tunas. I always take heavy gloves and a denim long-sleeved shirt, especially if I have company, so I won’t accidentally bump into cactus thorns while I’m talking. For the sake of the plant, pick tunas from pads that are six to eight inches or larger in size.

Grasp each tuna with tongs, tug or twist gently; if it doesn’t come loose it isn’t ripe.

If you can’t resist eating one out of hand, hold it with tongs, and thoroughly singe off the tiny thorns. Then scrape off all traces of black residue. Slice the tuna in half and eat the colorful flesh, seeds and all. Be careful not to eat the peel or your stomach will pay.

Back home, singe and scrape each tuna. Use rubber gloves to peel, to avoid wearing purple fingers and hands for a few days. Quarter the fruits and place in a large stainless steel saucepan. Add just enough water to see through the fruit. Bring to a boil then lower heat and simmer for about 45 minutes. Strain fruit and seeds, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract all the juice.

Use the juice to make pink lemonade, or margaritas. Or reheat, add sugar to taste, and pour the syrup into a bottle and refrigerate. It can be used on pancakes or waffles. Or go to cooks.com on the internet and look up the recipe for Tunas Jelly.