BY BRANDON BROWN
In late September, Tira Howard and I chased the light around Los Luceros Historic Site.
Tira works on contract for the Department of Cultural Affairs and frequently takes gorgeous photos of our museums and historic sites. You might recognize her work from former El Palacio editor Charlotte Jusinski’s story on Bosque Redondo Memorial in the Summer 2022 issue. We like working with Tira because she understands that New Mexico’s story is complicated and that in service to the people of our state, we have to see the world through many different lenses.
As we chased the light in September, the annual Los Luceros Fall Harvest Festival was just around the corner. We were hoping to catch the apple orchard before hundreds of people from Alcalde and beyond arrived to pick the trees clean.
We walked the site a few times and said hello to the sheep and goats living there, talked about the beautiful doors on the Almacén, the crops they grow here in Northern New Mexico, the river, and the mosquitos.
The apples would be the last thing we did, she said. “They glow in the right light.” Tira wanted to capture the site around sunset when the light would be softer and more evocative. I don’t have to tell you: the light in New Mexico is spectacular, but not forever. When the light was just right, we’d need to move.
A cluster of clouds in the west kept us guessing. Harsh light yielded to something softer more than once, but always came roaring back. We putzed around by the river, waiting for the right moment. Tira’s hatchback was open, her equipment ready to go.
How to describe it? When the light softened, the land around us was darker, almost purple. We rushed from the river to the casita and Hacienda, rattling off our wish list as we went. We cheered when we found apples. And out by the acequia, Tira unfolded her drone and told me about the time she and her family had visited the site five years earlier and picked apples. Families crowded the parking lot, ready to fill their bags with apples. Kids hung from the historic orchard’s trees. It was ritual and fresh all at once. The sense of belonging was palpable. “That’s happening at all the sites,” she said. “I can tell when I visit. They’re focused on their communities.”
There are a lot of hands in this pot. Folks living and working on the historic sites, custodians keeping the spaces clean and accessible, security guards keeping them safe, curators imagining exhibits, designers developing the exhibits’ look and feel, and educators spreading their know-how with good cheer. And there are contractors like Tira, helping all of us tell these stories. The work is not always straightforward, but it is worth doing—and made sharper when we work together.
Brandon Brown (he/they) is a former PR Specialist for NMDCA. They also write speculative fiction with an interest in shifting climates and bodies. For some years, he has been very focused on stories about a strange small town called Brittle.