Author of The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, etc.
THIS PRECIOUS PLACE:
AN INTERVIEW WITH DALLAS BAXTER
(APPROX 50 MINUTES)
C.M. Mayo: After a hiatus, Marfa Mondays is back. Hi, I'm C.M. Mayo, recording in September 2013, and this is number 12 in the 24-podcast series Marfa Mondays, exploring Marfa, Texas and environs, that is to say, the greater Big Bend region of Far West Texas. This series began in 2012 and was scheduled to conclude this year, 2013, but it has been extended through 2015. Why is that? Read all about it at www.cmmayo.com/asteroid.
This month's podcast is an interview with Dallas Baxter, the founding editor of the beautiful Cenizo Journal. It was recorded back in February 2013 in her home in Alpine. That's about half an hour from Marfa. At that time, Dallas Baxter had just turned Cenizo Journal over to its new owner. I think I've mentioned Cenizo Journal in almost every single podcast so far, and I'm honored to say, one of my recent podcasts, "A Visit to Swan House," is my reading of my article in the winter 2013 issue of Cenizo Journal.
For those of you listening in for the first time, an especially warm welcome. This series of 24 podcasts is free. Listen in any time on the Internet from cmmayo.com/marfa. The podcasts are apropos of my book-in-progress about Far West Texas. If you're listening in some time in the future, the book may have already been published. So I invite you to check it out and read about my other books on my website, cmmayo.com.
So, Dallas Baxter in February 2013.
C.M. Mayo: How did you come up with the name [Cenizo Journal]? How did you come up with the idea? How did you get started with that?
Dallas Baxter: There had been a magazine out here called The Desert Candle, and it had existed in a couple of iterations. One with Judith Brueske producing it, and one with Kay Taylor Burnett producing it. They were quite different, but they were essentially about Trans-Pecos Texas. And when that stopped publication, I thought, well, hmmm, there's a hole here.
And right about that time was... time seems to conflate. I can't tell you what year it was, but... Well, it was 2009. (I can tell you what year it was!) There was a whole lot of stuff about the border walls and how it looked as though this area was going to dramatically change because of the politics of post-9/11 America. And of course, not only do we pride ourselves in the natural beauty, which does not get enhanced by walls, but I think it's very easy to overlook parts of any place that aren't developed, that don't have a lot of people, that don't have a lot of political clout.
I say, 20 thousand square miles, 20 thousand people. That's probably not absolutely correct, but it's a good illustration of the sparseness of the population and the size of the space.
And I'm not a native West Texan, but sometimes people who come into places see stuff that maybe even native West Texans don't see. And I really love this place out here, and I love the way it looks. I like the way it smells. I like to go outside at night and just look at the sky and feel the wind, and I think it's a really precious place, and I think it's a precious place because of what has come before and because of what's here now. And I certainly did not think we needed some sort of intervention about who could be here and who could not be here.
Our border issues... I can't really speak for California and Arizona, but just topographically, our border issues are very different. Northern Mexico is across the river from us. It's very sparsely populated. We are very sparsely populated. Actually, having people in and around the river is a much better deterrent for things that shouldn't be happening than building a wall.
So one of the things that I wanted to do with the magazine was to show people who did not live here the richness of the culture, the richness of the people who are here, the pride that we have in our history, and the pride that we have in our present, the pride that we have in what's unique about the place, and really to say to the reader, "Don't think there's nothing here because you don't see tall buildings or lots of infrastructure. There's a lot here, and this magazine is dedicated to telling you some of that."
C.M. Mayo: So many surprising stories.
Dallas Baxter: Oh yeah. When you talk to people who came out here a couple, three generations ago, you think, holy cow! How on earth did you do this? I just have the greatest respect for them, and then I think, my stars! My life is so easy. Of course, then you go to Austin or Houston, and my reaction is, uh, there's just so much stuff here! So I have become, I guess, vaccinated against stuff. I remember when we first moved here thinking if I could just get to Midland every six weeks, it would be fine. And now I think, we have to go to Midland? Ay yi yi.
C.M. Mayo: When you started Cenizo Journal, what were some of the most interesting stories for you to publish?
Dallas Baxter: I think the poetry is something that really gets me. I'm not a huge poetry reader, but there is something about the distillation of experience in poetry that is so perfect for this place, and one of the things that I enjoy is publishing people who have not ever done anything before. I had a guy that I had to call and say, you know, you haven't cashed your check, and he said, well, I was going to frame it 'cuz it's the first check I've ever made writing poetry. I said, well, instead of framing it, could you cash it, and frame the money, and send me the check? You're lousing up my books. [Laughs]
But I really love the poetry. People who have never been here before can write great poetry because this is a place that just grabs you and shakes you, and suddenly, poetry comes falling out of your mouth or your pen.
Stories are wonderful. There are a couple of writers who have written multiply for the magazine that I really love, and I won't say who they are so that the people I don't name won't be offended, but it's always fun when so-and-so writes because I'm thinking, oh, I can't wait to see what that's going to be because I know it's going to be good and interesting, and it's going to to tell me something that I didn't know before.
C.M. Mayo: Well, I would say that about Barbara Novovich. Her articles were really eye-opening for me.
Dallas Baxter: Well, yes!
C.M. Mayo: And she used to write for Reuters and the New York Times.
Dallas Baxter: Well, I think one of the reasons that you get that from her articles is that she has a journalism background. So she's used to reporting the facts, and she's very good at digging for stuff. She's mostly done portraits for us, and I think they've been very successful.
C.M. Mayo: And I am also remembering... did she do one on the Comanche Trail?
Dallas Baxter: No. That was Phyllis Dunham, another really first-rate writer.
C.M. Mayo: You've also run a lot of pieces about natural history, butterflies, and cacti. I love those.
Dallas Baxter: I am a native plant person and was one of the people 10, 12 years ago who founded the Native Plant Society chapter out here [Big Bend]. That's a really important part of this place, even if I weren't interested in it, because one of the issues that challenges the natural world is habitat destruction or breaking up of habitat, and we are very good out here about keeping these things together. So it's an important... "laboratory" is not exactly the right word, but you know, you can come out here and see how it's done, I guess is what I want to say, and how the interrelation between animals, and plants, and water, and insects, and all of that, it's all a very whole cloth woven together in which the red thread cannot do without the black thread.
C.M. Mayo: One of your authors, Cynthia McAlister, gave me an interview about the bees and the pollen.
Dallas Baxter: It's interesting, isn't it?
C.M. Mayo: Looking at the desert, you wouldn't guess how many pollinators are out there, and so many of them are very tiny.
Dallas Baxter: Well, and you hope there are many pollinators out there. Yes, they are tiny. One of the things that I do, other than this magazine, is a show on KRTS called "Nature Notes" and that is always something that I thoroughly enjoy because I always learn from every episode.
C.M. Mayo: And that's Marfa Public Radio?
Dallas Baxter: It's Marfa Public Radio, yeah, and we are now in Eastern New Mexico.
Actually, if you look at the Chihuahuan Desert, a tenth of it is in the U.S., and the rest of it, as you know, goes down way into Mexico. But the Llano Estacado that goes up into Eastern New Mexico and comes down through Midland, and then coming down into the Big Bend, there are so many tiny things in that area. The desert looks like there's nothing going on, but it is in fact hugely alive, and just the most incredible things happening with, I don't know, animals... plants... bugs.
One of the ideas that fascinates me is that if we could see microbes, we would really understand that all of life is constantly moving, and in the silence and the stillness of the desert, that is somehowat least to me very obvious. It's like sitting some place, and hearing the silence, and knowing somehow you can hear the busyness of nature going on.
C.M. Mayo: It's so different from what most people are used to looking at.
Dallas Baxter: If I say this, it's going to be partly wrong, but it's something like 15 inches under the soil, the temperature is a constant something like 55 degrees. So wouldn't you dig down and be cool in the summer and warmer in the winter and then come out to hunt, or mate, or whatever it is you come out for?
And to go back way into the conversation, cenizo is the Texas Sage. The word is "ash" in Spanish, and that gray-green foliage color, although it's not true of all cenizos, is true of most cenizos. It's also the native shrub of Texas. I was trying to think of, when we started the magazine, something that kind of... would be peculiar to this area. And our very first cover was a wonderful shot of some cenizo down in South County after it had rained. So you had rolling green hills, which is a real surprise out in Terlingua, and beautiful white and magenta cenizo. Cenizo... there seems to be some controversy about whether it blooms after the rain or it blooms before the rain because of the humidity, but suffice it to say, that moisture and blooming cenizos concur together. And it's a plant that flowers in the desert when there is water, and so this idea of the flowering desert, and the stories that we do, and the poetry that we do, and the photography, and the art. This is a flowering of the desert, I think.
C.M. Mayo: You've published a lot of very interesting photography.
Dallas Baxter: I hope so.
C.M. Mayo: The dogs in the pickup trucks!
Dallas Baxter: Wasn't that great?
C.M. Mayo: Oh, I loved that. Who was the guy who did that again?
Dallas Baxter: Jim Work. Jim used to be... and actually still is, but he's a sports photographer. So he's used to taking action photos, and I think now he does the... what do you call the them? The calendars for school where you have the volleyball team lined up, the football team lined up, but he's a wonderful photographer, and we met in the grocery store one day, and I said, I need to do something that you do. So what are you taking pictures of these days? And he told me about his pickup truck thing, and that was really hard because, normally, we'd only run three pictures, but it was too hard to choose just three, and all of us who were looking at them had different favorites. So we just ran as many as we could. But yes, I thought that was a very... I mean, just go up to the grocery store parking lot any time, and there they all are! [Laughs]
C.M. Mayo: The dogs out here have big personalities, and they have to be tough. There are coyotes. There are all sorts of critters out there.
Dallas Baxter: Yes. You want to be careful of your... I think that's one of the reasons we live in town in Alpine, because... We have fewer animals than we did 10 or 15 years ago, but I just didn't want to worry about what was going on outside the house.
C.M. Mayo: I heard the coyotes in Terlingua the other day.
Dallas Baxter: Oh, how neat!
C.M. Mayo: Yeah, about 2:00 in the morning.
Dallas Baxter: Calling.
C.M. Mayo: They had a whole concert going on.
Dallas Baxter: Oh, that's nice. That's neat!
C.M. Mayo: I wish I'd thought to get out my recorder.
Dallas Baxter: That's right.
C.M. Mayo: Put that on the podcast.
Dallas Baxter: You have to be a particular kind of person to live out here. You can come and visit and get a nice back rub or something at the spa, but when it comes to actually living here, not everybody can do it.
Dallas Baxter: No.
C.M. Mayo: And yet they do have some similarities. You know, sort of Western aesthetics...
Dallas Baxter: Well, I think the Cowboy Poetry thing, and by connection, a lot of the visual art in Alpine, it comes from the culture, the Western culture, the ranching culture. We are very much into the scenery, the sky. It has always been a real challenge on Cenizo not to do yet another landscape on the cover, because the landscapes are so varied and so incredible that you just feel like you have to put them on the cover.
Dallas Baxter: Somehow, I see what happens in Marfa as something that happens separate of the place. But against the canvas of the plateau, the grasslands, the flatlands, the enormous sky because you don't have mountains hemming you in. That invites all this minimalist sensitivity. It's art against the culture versus art with the culture. I don't mean against in an oppositional way, but against it as the background, versus in Alpine, what you'll get is art as part of the culture. And I think Fort Davis has its own sensibility that isn't either one of those things.
That's what's interesting about living out here. I mean, you've got that 20 thousand people in the 20 thousand square miles, but every one of the little towns is really different. As you come out here to live, at least we did, a sort of trying on of the "shoes" of each little town to see what that would be like. And Alpine suits us, but everybody has a different feeling of what home is, and there's a lot of variety in that, and interestingly, I think in many cases, not much cross-pollination.
When you have an event, you don't necessarily expect to see people from other towns at it, no matter where your event is. So that's a generalization, there are always a few who...
Doing what I do, I know people from all over the place, and I'm always surprised to meet people who say, "Well, we don't go there very much. So I don't really know anybody who lives there," and I'm thinking, Why don't you? You know, no place has everything. So it makes perfect sense to drive around. Get to know some other people and some other ideas. But there you go.
C.M. Mayo: It's a lot of driving, through. I was on the road two hours this morning from Terlingua.
Dallas Baxter: I know, but what fabulous things to look at.
C.M. Mayo: Oh, luxury. It was an all-star drive.
Dallas Baxter: Right! And it is every single time you do it, and it's all so different. Whether you drive from here to Fort Davis or to Marfa, that's a hugely different... going to Marathon. I love that drive through the Glass Mountains. It's extremely different from any other drive around here. So you spend a lot of time in your car, but you also spend... well, you can make that time anything you want. I love it sometimes when I'm quiet. I listen to books a lot. I listen to Marfa Public Radio a lot or other music that I keep with me, but there's always that option of being completely silent, being completely the only car on the road, and having this whole horizon-to-horizon thing unfolding in front of you as you drive.
C.M. Mayo: I'm nodding. I'm living in a city where that is not what we get in Mexico City.
Dallas Baxter: No, it's not. It's not.
C.M. Mayo: We get bumper-to-bumper craziness.
Dallas Baxter: Sure. I won't say my husband and I travel a lot, but we travel some, usually a couple places every year, and we like to go to cities because we get all the museums, all the orchestras we could possibly want, and we love doing that, but when we come back, the first thing we do is go sit in the garden by the fire pit and look at the sky and say, isn't it fabulous to be here and to be home?
C.M. Mayo: Well, you have the best skies.
Dallas Baxter: That's right. We do.
C.M. Mayo: The stars are brighter here than anywhere else.
Dallas Baxter: The first time I ever saw the Milky Way was on Molokai, and that was dark, dark, dark. The second time I saw it was on the Sinai Peninsula, and that was dark, dark, dark. But it is hard to beat driving 10 minutes from your home and seeing it! That's kind of special.
C.M. Mayo: So how long have you been here?
Dallas Baxter: I moved here probably about a week before 9/11.
C.M. Mayo: Just when everything changed at the border.
Dallas Baxter: Oh yeah. Yeah, and my husband was here for a year before that.
We were moving in when 9/11 happened, and as it happened, a friend of mine was the ABC announcer who was covering this from New York, and we didn't have a television or anything. There was nothing set up. We were still living out of boxes, and I used to sit in my truck in the driveway and listen to the radio because that was what I had to listen to, and it was very strange to hear a friend of yours recounting all of this stuff when you are thousands of miles away, and I thought, my, this is going to be a different life.
C.M. Mayo: It's a surreal moment. And I don't think a lot of the people here realized that it would change their life here.
Dallas Baxter: Yes. You got a lot of people saying, well, you're lucky you live so far from anything, and we're going, like, the border? It changes everything, and hopefully, as time goes by and... well, we live in a different world now. The old, kinder, gentler time seems to have gone, although I think this may be a remnant of a kinder, gentler time out here. But hopefully we will learn how to negotiate the political world better than we have been, I guess, so that we do have the border open and we do have this cross-cultural thing. I mean, for years and years, the border was just a river.
C.M. Mayo: Yeah, and people crossed very informally.
Dallas Baxter: Crossed. Went to work. Crossed. Went home. What happened out here when they closed the border was like putting a wall through your house!
C.M. Mayo: You've seen a lot of changes here in this region in the last 10 years. A lot of people have come in from the outside, and it's gotten wired up. I mean, we're all connected on the Internet.
Dallas Baxter: Sometimes. [Laughs] I finally moved my modem to on top of my desk so that when I got that horrible screen that says, You have no Internet, I wouldn't have to crawl under the desk to see why. It kind of comes and goes. I think it's still pretty edgy. I mean, you're describing your difficulties at not being able to get cell phone service. That's kind of normal. And nobody really knows why, but it's part of the... when you say edgy, I mean, on the edge. It's because we are on the edge of stuff.
C.M. Mayo: So you have to have an extra measure of patience.
Dallas Baxter: Well, you do. I always laugh because people say, "Oh, I just love the pace out here. It's just so slow and everything," and I say, well, that's because the truck doesn't come until Thursday, and if you're in the middle of your project and the truck doesn't come until Thursday, you just need to slow down.
So that's what it's like. People moan and grown about the quality of the produce at the grocery store, and I'm thinking, I'm amazed there's any produce at the grocery store! And I just know which days the trucks come in, and that's the days I shop. You don't say, I'm going to the store to get X. You say, I'm going to the store to see what they have. [Laughs] And that's okay. It's not a big deal.
C.M. Mayo: Well, and people here are really smart about water. I see all these people harvesting it off their roof, and these little gardens get their water from the...
Dallas Baxter: From drip.
For one thing, I mean, back to the natural world, you can watch the natural world in the desert tell you how to do this stuff, and look at the structure of plants, and see how they use fog and dew to focus that water down to their roots. How little hairs on leaves and stems will catch the water and hold it. Nature will tell you a lot if you will be quiet and stand still. I think a lot of us do try to listen and try to learn from that. We don't have our water catchment up yet, but we know where it's going to be.
C.M. Mayo: I was surprised to learn how much a person could harvest off the roof of a house.
Dallas Baxter: Oh, it's amazing.
C.M. Mayo: It's the future. Well, that's my next question. What's the future for this region? You've seen such a perspective, and my guess is... water.
Dallas Baxter: Oh yeah. I mean, water's going to be huge, and every cabbage leaf you look under, there's somebody rubbing their hands together wanting to see how much of our water they can take someplace else. We had a big hoo-ha over that seven or eight years ago with a bunch coming in to try to pipe water to Midland-Odessa. I am no longer current on that subject, but one of the things that came up with all of that was because we've...
Alpine has, more or less, always had about six thousand people in it. Well, it had fewer at the beginning, but you know, the population ebbs and flows around that number. In the past, I think, 20 to 30 years, the influx of people have not been into the town, but into the outlying areas, into some of the ranches that have developed into places like Double Diamond and Limpia Crossing. That's not Alpine, but it's still the same idea. So there are newcomers coming. A lot of people who come in, come in with a huge appreciation of living on these sky islands, which we are, the cold desert. And the things that we do not have appeal to them. The things that we do have appeal to them. There are also people who for work come and then leave. It's always a challenge when professional people come in here and one spouse is here for work, and the other spouse is going, I can't find any work to do, or, there's no shopping here, or, there's no mall. This isn't like someplace else. You have to come here and appreciate what it is.
So I don't know about the future. Part of me says the future is going to look quite a bit like the past. I don't think we're going to see a huge influx of people. I don't think we're going to see a huge influx of people where... I was reading some statistic in something recently that said something like in the past five years, 30 thousand people have moved to Austin. Well, that's not going to happen out here. We don't have infrastructure to support that, for one thing. I think with the... I would have to call it a looming water crisis. I don't know what else to call it.
There's a news story right now about how thin the snow pack is in the mountains in Colorado and what that means for spring and summer, and it means bad drought, harsh conditions for the natural world, for ranchers, for people in the city. I am not very sympathetic about people who want our water when they don't do anything to curb the use of water in their own town, and I'm not going to name names, but as you go places to go shopping and you see the automatic lawn sprinkler is on, either at noon, which is not the time to water your lawn or, even to have a lawn, for that matter, or that it's on right after it has rained! I mean, there's something wrong here, folks. There is too much non-stewardship of water. I mean, if it were gold or oil, there would be a lot more care to how it's dealt with, but in fact, it's both gold and oil. In fact, it's better, more important than gold or oil, and we need to be really careful about it.
So, I don't know. I'd certainly like to see music and art here in the summer. Maybe now that I'm not publishing the magazine anymore, I can put something together.
This is not a place that demands that you keep up with stuff. It's a place that pretty much just goes along, and that's why we're here. We enjoy the lack of pressure.
Dallas Baxter: The challenge that we face, of course, is if you don't work for the state, or the feds, or the county, who do you work for? And so a lot of kids who graduate either from Sul Ross or who are from here and go away to college stay away. Go away or stay away. They want to come back to retire.
C.M. Mayo: I would think there's a lot of retirees coming in.
Dallas Baxter: Well, we have a sort of a
two-tiered retiree system, and I don't quite understand that.
Young-ish people, in their 50s and 60s, come down here to retire,
and then when health issues... it's usually health issues, come
about, since we no longer have a nursing home, we don't have
assisted living there are a lot of things that, geriatrically,
the infrastructure support system isn't there. Then they go away
again. So you've got retirees who come and then retirees who
leave. And we're beginning to see that with the people who had
not been here for very long when we moved here, and now they're
moving away, and it's odd to sort of...
C.M. Mayo: A surprising number of New Yorkers.
Dallas Baxter: Oh yeah. Lots of folks from Houston, lots of folks from Austin, a few from Dallas, people from San Antonio. When Elderhostel, which is now Road Scholars, when they were more of a presence here, I know a lot of people who came through here on Elderhostel trips and went, Holy smokes, let's stay!, and they did, or they were on their way to Los Angeles in a car and took a left and came down here and went, Wow, I had no idea! So I don't really know that this is a true statistic, but it I think has been at one point. That Big Bend National Park was the least visited national park in the contiguous U.S., and on the one hand, that's good news! [Laughs] On the other hand, it would be nicer if more people came and brought their money and then went back to Omaha.
C.M. Mayo: I didn't realize you had lived in Manila.
Dallas Baxter: I lived in Manila for a couple years in the late '80s.
C.M. Mayo: That's a really exotic place to live.
Dallas Baxter: Well, I was living in New York at the time. So I left New York for two years, and went to Manila for two years, and then came back, and it was a wonderful, life-changing experience, and taught me a lot, and I'm thrilled that I did it.
C.M. Mayo: What were you doing there?
Dallas Baxter: I was a missionary teacher for the Episcopal Church, and I did teaching and public relations for the Episcopal School in Manila and in Baguio City up in the mountains. It was an international school, and I enjoyed it tremendously, and of course, if you like big cities, Manila is one!
C.M. Mayo: Yes! It couldn't contrast more with Far West Texas.
Dallas Baxter: Well, yes, or New York actually. Actually, probably it's closer to New York. It was then, I think, 23 million people with an infrastructure that had been built for eight. So there were problems left and right, but solutions left and right, too. So lovely people and beautiful country.
C.M. Mayo: Coming back to Cenizo Journal, you've wrapped it up after... gosh, how many issues has it been?
Dallas Baxter: Well, I think it was 16 issues. We started in April of '09, and the issue that's currently on the stands is the first quarter issue for '13. So that's four full years, and then Caroline [Zniewski] and Danielle [Gallo] will be picking it up and taking it into its fifth year and hopefully beyond, beyond, beyond.
C.M. Mayo: Why did you decide to wrap it up?
Dallas Baxter: I think it was just time, as they say. You look at your life and go, Okay, is this what I'm going to do until I fall over, or is this a good time to pass it on? And I thought it was a good time to pass it on. We're anxious to finish the house that we've lived in for 10 years. I would love to have a closet. [Laughs] Little things like that. I was also finding too that my whole life was based on the publication of this magazine. It was like, When can we go on vacation? Can I go there for Christmas?
And I thought, I've really done that for several years now and would like a little more flexibility. It's not a matter of freedom, but a little more flexibility. You get into something that is cyclical, and there's just no way to break the pattern. You know, you can't say, Well, we're not going to publish this quarter so I can go to Baja California and sit on the beach. So I'm pleased to have Danielle editing, and I think they're going to take the magazine in the direction that it's always been, and they're going to probably be doing it after I have died, which is...
C.M. Mayo: [Laughs] A long time from now, I'm sure.
Dallas Baxter: I'm not planning on dying, but I have a feeling it's going to happen. It's happened to so many others. I'm looking at my garden, and watching spring, and thinking, This year, I'm going to be able to be out in my garden working in it, which I really enjoy. My friend Nancy [?] has been helping me with it for the past couple of years. Bless her heart, and so now I can work with her and do some other things that I've been wanting to do.
C.M. Mayo: Will you continue writing or doing other kinds of publishing?
Dallas Baxter: Well, I'm not sure. Interestingly, I hadn't really been thinking about much except putting the second coat of paint on the closet doors in the other room until I had a conversation with somebody yesterday, and it got me thinking about stuff that I will not go into, because I ran it past my husband last night, and he was going, I think you need to rethink this. But things are going to come up, and when they do, I will know a little bit more about how much energy it's going to take. Is this a project, or is this going to be another lifelong event?
And I love to do projects. I am a sprinter. I am not a long-distance runner, and I love my background in the theater of doing a show, and then it's over, and you go on, and you do another one. So it's like, very intense, and then it's over, and another very intense thing, and then it's over. So that's a pattern that I enjoy, and I love having days when I have absolutely nothing that I must do. I usually am fairly good about wasting them, but that's what those days are for. [Laughs]
C.M. Mayo: I have to also tell you, when I came across Cenizo Journal, one of the things that really impressed me was the literary quality of the content. I used to a be a literary journal editor myself. [Tameme] We were a different kind of literary journal in that it was bilingual, side-by-side Spanish and English, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. So that was a little different, but in terms of the format, we were sort of [a] classic literary journal: about 200 pages with a spine like a paperback, very similar to a whole raft of them from Gulf Coast, to Kenyon Review, Paris Review, stuff like that, and yeah, advertising.... Oh my God. We were just hopeless in that department. So when I saw Cenizo Journal, I was so impressed by the quality of the content, but then I thought, They've got advertisers! They're distributed! And I know you're well distributed because I've been traveling around here quite a bit, and I see it.
Dallas Baxter: You can't get away from us. Our advertisers make the magazine possible. There's no other financing. And the other side of that is the distribution. I think that the fact that it's a free magazine is a huge help because when I worked for The Desert Mountain Times and we had to run around to all these places, collect... I mean, I can't remember the exact numbers, but it was like, you sold it for 50 cents, and they kept 30. What was the point? It cost way more than 20 cents to collect the money.
But on the other hand, because it's free, it makes the distribution so easy. You don't have to have thousands of dollars worth of racks and all this sort of formal stuff. We are in more than 150 places in the Tri-Counties. We start in Van Horn and distribute in the travel centers all the way across [highway] 90 down to Harlingen. We're in four places in Midland-Odessa and at Book People in Austin. We usually print 11,000 copies, and that translates into about 27,000 readers. There are a lot of different ways to figure out how many people actually look at each magazine, but...
C.M. Mayo: Well, I had one in my room in Terlingua. I saw it in a grocery in Lajitas. I saw it in two places in Presidio. It's all over Marfa.
Dallas Baxter: Right. That's what we give our advertisers back in return for their support, and it's a really nice relationship. I have had more than one person say, I love this magazine. First I read the ads, and then I read the stories, because all of the advertisers are Trans-Pecos people. Part of the mission of this magazine is to give these small advertisers, mom-and-pop or large...the Gage Hotel is a big deal, and the Bide-a-Wee Bakerywell, taste and seeis a big deal, but they're hugely different, but they both get the same opportunity to be seen in this magazine, and there are not many opportunities for such a wide variety of advertisers. And none of them can do for themselves what this magazine can do for them. So we all work together. I have always felt that the advertisers, and the writers, and the producers of the magazine, we're a community, and we were all working for Trans-Pecos Texas to be sure that people got to learn and see what we're about.
C.M. Mayo: That's a win-win.
Dallas Baxter: I'm hoping.
C.M. Mayo: How did you get the idea to structure it that way, to have it be free but financed by the advertising?
Dallas Baxter: Well, I started with no money. [Laughs] That's very inspiring when you think, This is going to cost something, and I don't know to pay for it. I had worked for The Desert Mountain Times selling advertising, and I always felt if that newspaper had been free, it would've been so much easier to sell advertising because there was a... you know, we were a regional newspaper. We weren't competing with other newspapers, but there were other newspapers. So there was the local newspapers, and then there was the regional newspaper.
And the other part of this advertising scheme is pricing, because there are a finite number of people out here to advertise. If you're not going to go to Odessa, or El Paso, or Austin to get your advertising, there's a fairly small pool of people, and after they've all taken out 10 ads in different publications, they don't have much money left. So we were very careful about structuring the price of ads. They go from 67.50 to 15 hundred dollars a quarter, and wherever you fit in there, there's a place for you. I wanted to be sure that the pricing was something that local business could afford. I wanted to be sure that the people who contributed got paid. Even though it wasn't a huge amount of money, it was at least something that said, we value you, and it also said, You want to get paid? I need this by the deadline. So there's that as well. It's a business deal, not just everybody feeling good. We've always made a little bit of money. We've never made a lot of money. But we've never had an issue that was not fully supported by he advertising in it.
C.M. Mayo: In this day and age where newspapers and magazine are folding like collapsing houses of cards, it's extraordinary to see a viable print publication.
Dallas Baxter: I think part of that is that we're the only magazine or publication that does what we do, and so we don't have any direct competition.
C.M. Mayo: Right. You're very different from The Big Bend Sentinel.
Dallas Baxter: Oh, sure.
C.M. Mayo: Which is the local newspaper covering the news.
Dallas Baxter: Right. Or the Avalanche, or Bob Dillard's paper in Fort Davis [Jeff Davis County Mountain Dispatch]. Yeah, we don't cover the news, and in fact, I make a very specific choice about... I want anybody to be able to pick up any issue of the magazine and never feel that it's something that's already happened. I mean, it has already happened because it's history, but it's not like Betty Sue is opening her dance studio, and we're going to do a story about that, and then the next year, Betty Sue has moved away, and the story is dead in the water. So the idea is to have stories in the magazine that are timeless.
C.M. Mayo: Because they're timeless, it's an archive. Have you found a place to put the archive?
Dallas Baxter: Well, it's certainly in the library at Sul Ross. So there's that.
C.M. Mayo: So if someone wanted to consult back issues- apart from downloading the PDFs on... so if you go to CenizoJournal.com, you can download the PDFs of all the journals- but if you wanted to consult the print version, to go to Sul Ross [State] University library?
Dallas Baxter: They do have it. The other thing that we've tried to do with the website for our contributors is to list them alphabetically in a master list so that if you wanted to see what Barbara Novovich or Phyllis Dunham have done, you just go there, and you can read every single story.
The other plus for advertisers is that since they are PDFs, your ad never dies. So the advertising that was in the first issue is still online. The business may have died, but the ad is still there!
So we've tried in a lot of ways to give little perks to our contributors, give little perks to our advertisers in that way so that, again, we're doing for them what they can't do for themselves because it's too time consuming or it's too expensive, but when everybody contributes, it's not that expensive. No single person is bearing the weight.
C.M. Mayo: It's a really extraordinary and very successful concept.
Dallas Baxter: Well, we made it up as we went along. [Laughs]
C.M. Mayo: It has been such a pleasure talking to you. I thank you.
Dallas Baxter: My pleasure.
C.M. Mayo: This has been podcast number 12. There will be 24. To date, the podcasts include interviews with Mary Bones on the Lost Art Colony; Cynthia McAlister with the buzz on the bees the vital role of pollinators in the Chihuahuan Desert; Paul Graybeal on Moonlight Gemstones; and more, about Chinati Hot Springs; adventures in the Big Bend with Charlie Angell; Marfa Ghost Lights; and "Cowboy Songs By Cowboys," including an interview with cowboy poet, musician, and luthier, Michael Stevens. And much more to come. Until next time.