Visit the Corrales Harvest Festival website these days, seeking to know if and when and what, you will encounter a jaunty bit of poetry which begins thusly:
“This Covid thing has just been terrible,
We keep to ourselves, it’s been unbearable.
But taking a peek on the brighter side,
There is a way to have fun and keep our stride.
Webbing and Zooming are the methods of choice,
We can connect to the Village and have a voice.
Some things may be cancelled, some reticking,
But by golly the Harvest Festival is alive and kicking…
Festival board member Cookie Emerson wrote that, and it does indeed sum up the perky and still germinating approach to the festival, scheduled for September 26 and 27. “But not really,” explains Tony Messec, who had thought that in 2020 he was going to bask in the accrued success of the Festival under his guidance the last few years. “We have no head this year, just the seven of us on the Board.” Messec knew he would be leaving CHF better than when he got deeply involved, “But then we were hit by this buzz saw of a pandemic.”
So, the festival will proceed almost entirely remotely/virtually, over a period of 16 to 17 days, starting no later than the last week in September. And the board is hopeful to put together six events—“though four of six would still be a victory,” as Messec put it, given the complexity of Zooming or YouTube-ing the festival. The first will be a compendium of videos put together by Casa San Ysidro’s site manager, Aaron Gardner. The museum, which houses a collection of rare artifacts in a historic adobe home and multi-acre setting, typically welcomes over 2,000 people within the two day festival period.
This year visitors can take a virtual tour of Casa San Ysidro and learn of the house’s history, architecture, and collection. 360-degree views of each space are featured. In another video, you can also watch blacksmith Dave Sabo work the forge, as he describes some of the early iron manufacturing and blacksmithing practices in New Mexico.
And you can observe methods of prepping, cooking, and baking in a traditional Pueblo horno. In addition, actress, singer, and traditional storyteller Rosalia Pocheco retells the traditional cuentos of The Magical Pairs, The Lion and the Bee, Tia the Tortilla, and La Llorona. And heritage artists will be showcased, along with their wares, including retablos, bultos, encrusted straw crafts, tinwork, pottery, colchas and jewelry.
Also, you can take lessons, one on Pueblo agriculture by former Isleta Albuquerque Museum docent, Rosalee Lucero, who shares her experiences growing up on the Pueblo and working in the fields. Another video lesson focuses on the history of architecture in New Mexico, from Pueblo, to Spanish, and early American architecture, explained through Casa’s own buildings and collection.
Next, thanks to the efforts of Tracy Stabenow, a pet mayor competition, and, thirdly, a pet parade, somehow. The theme of the parade is “First Responders,” which cleverly allows for pet persons actually to walk along garbed in shower curtains, masks, and plastic gloves, while their critters are similarly attired. Except maybe for the guineau pig, a recent nominee, who may be too tiny for much in the way of attire. To nominate your pet, see http://www.corralesharvestfestival.com/2020-pet-mayoral-election/. Thus far there are no details posted about the parade itself.
Fourth in the rotation is a virtual hayride, which Messec hopes will include an actual hay wagon touring Corrales, interspersed with old photographs of the buildings, streets, sites, the wagon is passing. A pumpkin carving competition takes up slot number five, particularly aimed at kids, with prizes involved. In fact, remote visitors are likely to be invited to cast their votes, at $1 per, much in the manner of the pet mayor event.
Finally, the non-Hootenanny. No dancing, no booze. Possibly a taped musical event viewed from cars, possibly at the Balloon Fiesta field which already is equipped with a drive in theater, or, something else. Kyle Martin, last year’s performer, may be on the roster. His music, per his definition: “Highly amplified western themed honkytonk style music played in a hard rock format with a heavy beat.” Likely not live, however.
The 2019 festival raised about $20,000 which was doled out to local organizations. The 2020 version may generate $5,000, with any luck, and, as Messec points out, “it won’t cost us much to put together.” No stage, no kids’ climbing wall and similar. No poster art contest, no new T-shirts for sale, either —“we don’t make any money on these anyway,” said Messec.
As for volunteers, which usually comprise many, many Corraleños, techies indeed are welcome to get involved. Contact Messec at firstname.lastname@example.org
Will this year’s festival attract virtually the two/thirds of non-Corrales people usually arriving via Corrales Road the end of September? Quién sabe?
A temporary climate controlled building will be installed in August to shelter county animals short term, according to Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block. He said the $56,000 building is likely to go in near the County’s administration offices off Highway 528. He would like it to be managed by the Community Services Division instead of the sheriff's office. The proposed location is close to community services operations.
At the July 9 County Commission meeting, Block challenged new County Manager Wayne Johnson, who assumes the office July 27, to prioritize the building of a permanent Sandoval County Animal Shelter, starting with the creation of a taskforce to explore the options.
Block duly noted the scarcity of resources during COVID-19, but was optimistic that the shelter would be a primary consideration “when the economy rebounds.” The public has weighed in with emails in support of “finally fixing the problem.” According to the County website, “all animals impounded by the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Division are taken to Watermelon Mountain Ranch” in Rio Rancho.
What may be Corrales’ most iconic historic commercial building, El Portal, now has a plaque proclaiming it. A blue plaque was attached to the facade by the Corrales Historical Society last month. Research indicates it was built as a two-room trading post around 1860. Over the years, the building has been used as a general store, dance hall, Sunday afternoon poker venue, art gallery, community theater and coffee house.
The U-shaped structure at 4686 Corrales Road, adjacent to the elementary school property, is known locally as “El Portal.” Its historical name is the Lopez Building, after Octaviano Lopez who bought it from Jennie Weiner in 1910. Corrales Historical Society records trace the building’s owners and uses over the years. “With the exception of Kris Dale’s completion of a partial second-story addition during the late 1970s, the Lopez Building has not changed significantly since 1927.”
“Earl Works ran a grocery store here after World War II where locals would often convene for a Sunday afternoon of poker. The Adobe Theater used the north hall for a while. In the 1960s, David Dale bought the building and called it the ‘House of Maya.’” Dale also bought the building on the other side of Corrales Road which today is still known as “Mercado de Maya.”
“As he and his wife raised their family here, they leased parts of the building for an art galley and coffee house in the early 1970s.” Architect designer Gay Wilmerding bought the building in 1983 and undertook a major restoration that included installing interior beams and posts to relieve weight on the original adobe or terrón walls.
El Portal is now owned by Mike and Adriana Foris who bought it from Wilmerding in 2004. “Gay won an award for historic preservation/restoration of the building,” Mike Foris recalled. “Recently we converted the entire building to a heat pump system such that each suite has refrigerated air conditioning as well as an upgraded heating system. Previously it had evaporative cooling and radiant heat panels. This has significantly reduced the building's electrical demand, a savings which we have passed on to our tenants.
“We installed a mini-split system which allows each tenant to control the temperature of their suite and which had a minimal impact to the esthetics of the building, which was a major consideration when we did the upgrade.
“The building is fully occupied and almost all of our tenants have been with us for a number of years.”
A family of bobcats (Lynx rufus) has apparently taken up residence in Corrales. Jasmine Tritten was surprised to find four bobcat kittens lounging on a patio wall at dusk August 9. Their mother had left them to hunt for a rabbit or other suitable supper. “They were there for about an hour at dusk,” Jim Tritten told Corrales Comment. North American bobcats are fairly widespread and commonly seen in wooded areas. They are about twice the size of a normal domestic cat. They have short, stubby (bobbed) tails, for which they are named. Also distinctively, they have black horizontal stripes on their forelegs and a black tip on their tails. Bobcats are considered territorial and generally solitary. They are most active around twilight.
Corrales Comment published an earlier photo of a bobcat in the Bosque Preserve in the July 25 issue, headlines “Close Encounter With Bobcat Here.” A frequent bike rider in the Corrales Bosque Preserve, Guy Spencer came across a less frequent visitor: a bobcat, right on the trail.
“I’m an avid mountain biker, and throughout the years, I’ve certainly come across and run into many cool things and experiences,” Spencer recalled after the July 15 encounter. “This however quite possibly falls into its own little bucket. I was out on the bosque this morning, getting a cool, quiet ride in around 6 a.m. I often ride during this time, selfishly taking advantage of the solitude and grace the bosque so unselfishly offers to many of us early bird-ers.
“I was headed back south from top of the trail, about to cross the arroyo just north of the reconstructed trail head on Romero Road, north side of the arroyo, on the single track. Just as I was coming out and around that last bush, this little fella walked right out in front of me” about 10 feet away.
“At first I assumed it was a solo dog ...and then, as I looked over at it towards the river, it gazed back at me. Well, that was no dog! What took me by surprise was quickly overridden by how calm this creature was. I bet I fumbled with my phone for almost an entire minute before I was able to take three shots. Amazing.
“I was just standing there over my bike watching the cat move ever so slowly away from me …fearless, content and unsuspecting. What a blessing to have seen it so close. Just a gorgeous creature."
If you’re miffed by political signs remaining up long after primary elections in June, be advised that Village officials may have to allow them to stay up —forever. At least that’s the contention of former Corrales Planning and Zoning Commissioner Frank Wirtz. In an August 10 email to Mayor Jo Anne Roake, Wirtz argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that such political signs on private property are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
The mayor responded to him in an email that same day: “Our attorney is looking into this right now.” The Village’s sign ordinance clearly states that political campaign signs must be removed within three days after the election. The Code or Ordinances reads at Section 8-97 “Permitted Signs, Size Restrictions:”
“Signs related to political campaigns may be permitted prior to an election on any premises. No one political sign including all its sides shall exceed 16 square feet in sign area. Such signs shall not be placed more than sixty (60) days prior to the election date, and such signs shall be removed within three (3) days after the election date.” These provisions were established in Corrales after lengthy, contentious and recurring debate. But Wirtz argues the Village’s ordinance is unconstitutional as an unacceptable limitation on free speech. In his August 10 email to Mayor Roake, he explained his position this way.
“I’ve learned that the Village of Corrales has made some recent efforts in advising residents that their political signage is in violation of Village code restricting political signs being placed outside of the 60-day period preceding election date.
“The Village may create and enforce this ordinance for Village property, but the U.S. Supreme court has addressed this specific issue and has found that municipalities shall not restrict signage “content” on private property. I’ve attached some links below that will hopefully clarify.”
Wirtz continued, writing “The summary of this is that if a municipality allows signage of any type (Keep Out, Welcome, Beware of Dog, etc), then that municipality shall not restrict the content of that sign. This incudes political messaging and support signs.
“Note that municipalities may restrict sign size, amounts of signs, placement such that motor traffic visibility is not compromised, etc. However, the content of the sign is considered an important expression of First Amendment protected practice.…
“On a somewhat related issue, our code for sign ordinances is poorly worded. In review of that code, I noted that all ‘portable’ signs are prohibited in the Village of Corrales. This would include the election signs that folks wave near polling places, as well as any other sort of ‘temporary’ signage such as signs at the farmers market, yard sale signs, etc. Due to the broad definitions of the signage ordinance, it could even be argued that bumper stickers or delivery trucks with advertising on the sides are prohibited.”
In a subsequent email, Wirtz added to his argument. “It is in the best interest of our Village to suspend the practice of issuing non-compliance notices to those posting political signage on private property immediately.
“A good part of my frustration during my three years on our P&Z commission is that our older (and some newer) ordinances are horribly worded. Ordinances should contain some very important items ...there should be a list of term definitions at the beginning, describing exactly what key words mean. There should also be a list of exceptions as there are almost always some to be included. In much of the Village Code associated with Planning and Zoning, the ordinances are nebulous, and entirely too much interpretation is required to apply the code.…
“All ordinances should be reviewed from time to time to ensure that they have not been found to be in conflict with our legal rights and liberties. Conditions change. Thirty years ago, we never anticipated needing cell phone hardware in the village, nor would we have assumed that cannabis farming would be an issue.…
“So... we have a mess on our hands, but one of the immediate ones which is threatening to our village is anything which steps directly on an amendment of the Constitution. In this instance, the court systems all the way up to the Supreme Court have ruled that municipalities may not restrict the content of signage, as long as signage in some form is allowed. This has been specifically applied to political signage.
“This is a very serious situation that our Village should address. I know several persons who have received a cease-and-desist tag for political signage, and there are some rumblings about it.
“As part of one of the most progressive communities in New Mexico, we need to apply that progressiveness to freshening our Village Code.” Few candidates running in the party primaries back in June have kept their campaign signs up. The most obvious of those were erected by, or for the Republican candidate for Sandoval County Clerk, Lawrence Griego of Rio Rancho, who ran unopposed.
He will face Algodones Democrat Anne Brady Romero in the November election. After defeating two other Democrats in the June primary, she took her campaign signs down pretty much right away. In contrast, Griego kept his signs up for at least two months, presumably to gain advantage over his Democratic opponent this fall. The Griego signs were most prominently displayed on the fence and wall of the property where former Mayor Scott Kominiak lives.
Other candidate signs reportedly remained up well past the three-day limit near Old Church and Mission Valley Roads and along Loma Larga. Another pre-November battle played out at the north end of Corrales when Trump supporters Elaine and Harold Manicke received what they considered hate mail for putting up a political banner.
In an August 4 email, she wrote “I was wondering how long it was going to take to get something because we have a Trump flag flying. “My husband picked up the mail Sunday and we received the attached two-page letter. Two other neighbors to the south also received letters. The neighbors to the north are flying a Trump flag as well. They will then let us know if they received a letter when they get home.
“Letters were mailed from Albuquerque, in plain business, white letter envelopes. Street address only, no addressee. Signed by “Republicans for democracy” encouraging us to write-in a candidate. It is desperation, misinformation and intimidation to make people continue to be afraid to speak up and demonstrate their choice.” In her email to Corrales Comment, Elaine Manicke added,”The neighbors and I met with the Corrales police. The officer mentioned that this harassment has been going on for months. They have had a lot of reports. He had not seen the attached letter, however.
“Would the paper be interested in finding out how widespread this is in Corrales and Rio Rancho? It would be good for people to know, if they are targeted, that they are not alone and others to be made aware of harassment. One neighbor did have a Trump sign pasted over with a yellow sticker. Frank Wirtz posted the letter on Next Door. Several people commented that they and neighbors had received such mail but not that exact letter.
“As the election nears, this will probably ramp up. Perhaps if a light is shined on the behaviors, people will realize that this behavior does not make people change their minds but cements their resolve.”
She emailed a copy of the letter they received objecting to the Trump banner. It reads, in part, “What is it you support?” followed by 26 statements about the president’s alleged policies or traits. Among those indictments are that Trump brags about assaulting women; pardons convicted criminals; and “his denial of science regarding the health of the citizens he swore to protect.”
Note: Corrales Comment’s story went to press the morning of the APS Board Meeting on August 19. The decision reached later that day was this, according to the APS website: “In an abundance of caution amid the contagious coronavirus, and after a lengthy discussion… that centered on keeping students and staff safe, the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education voted Wednesday to extend remote learning through the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year.”
Back to school this year under Albuquerque Public Schools is not about a snazzy new backpack, but, more likely a more powerful router, and an upgraded laptop. Students all will be learning remotely, at least until September 8, including pupils at Corrales Elementary. Busy Principal Liv Baca-Hochhausler wrote that “we are trying to reinvent public education!”
Baca says she is “very excited about the online learning our teachers have designed for our Corrales Cubs. They’ve created virtual classrooms for students to learn asynchronously, conducted virtual parent teacher conferences, planned lessons to be delivered via Zoom or Google Meet, and prepared ‘analog’ homework packets so that students and their parents have access to pencil and paper learning in addition to the virtual world.”
Enrollment numbers at Corrales Elementary are down, but not by much, according to Baca, who says while “many families have chosen to homeschool their children during these chaotic times,” she looks forward to “welcoming their children back to school with open arms when it is safe to do so.”
Acting APS Superintendent Scott Elder put it this way in his remarks online August 12. “Because we’re still dealing with a contagious virus, we are starting the school year in RED or remote learning. For how long? It may be a few weeks or longer before we can move to yellow, which is a combination of in-school and remote learning. We just don’t know right now. What we do know is that you, our students, deserve a good education, and so we need to work together to make the best of remote learning.”
APS is among the largest school districts in the United States, with about 82,000 students, 14,000 employees and 142 schools.
Some families have raced to enroll their offspring in what was APS’ online high school, or eCademy, now “in response to community demand,” expanded to “a full-time, online learning option for interested students in all grades this school year. The magnet school offers a comprehensive curriculum, a teacher-student ratio similar to traditional classrooms, district-provided technology for each enrolled student, and school-home partnerships to ensure student success.”
APS spokesperson Monica Armenta reported that “over 2,000 students had registered at eCademy as of August 11.” And the magnet school is welcoming applications from tech-savvy teachers. For information, see http://www.aps.edu/ schools/schools/ecademy-k-8-online-magnet. Armenta told Corrales Comment that “nothing is easy or familiar right now.” She was preparing material for an APS board meeting August 19, adding that “there were many, many moving parts” for that meeting.
Elder went on to write students that he was “genuinely sorry you can’t be at school right now. I never thought we’d start a school year from afar. But we have to keep you safe, we need to keep your teachers healthy, and we want to protect the well-being of your family.”
And he reminded pupils of this: “Complete your assignments! When you’re not online, you’ll be given chapters and articles to read, topics to research, problems to solve, projects to work on, and much more —all to help you better understand the world around you.
“Show up to class every school day —even if it is online— ready to learn and participate. We are recommending that students have online instruction for at least three hours a day. You should be in front of your computer during that time, listening to your teacher, joining in the discussions, taking part in the activities, practicing problems.
And finally, “Do the work. That’s how you learn. Turn in your assignments. You will be graded during remote learning. Grading is not pass/fail as it was during the spring semester when the coronavirus unexpectedly disrupted the last few weeks of school.”
If you’re planning to vote by mail this fall, you may want to think about how you’ll manage that. Concerns about voter suppression and/or voter fraud and Russian election manipulation are as rampant nationwide as the coronavirus. Will you stand in line socially-distanced to cast your ballot in person or will you send in a ballot mailed to you? The Sandoval County Clerk can send out applications for absentee ballots as soon as the middle of next month, September 14. Those mail-back ballots will be accepted starting October 6; early voting begins October 17.
In recent years, an increasing number of voters have cast ballots well before the actual Election Day, which will be November 3. In the last general election in November 2016, about 25 percent of voters nationwide voted absentee or otherwise by mail, and that is expected to at least double this time due to fears of exposure to COVID-19 at the polls. Some observers believe that up to half of all voters nationwide will cast mail-in ballots.
Corraleños are among the thousands, perhaps millions, of citizens afraid the U.S. Postal Service will not be able to facilitate vote by mail ahead of elections in November. Those concerns are exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s remarks earlier this month, implying he would not approve a large funding hike for USPS to accommodate the expected deluge of mail-in ballots. “They need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of those millions and millions of ballots,” the president warned.
That was perceived as a threat, especially accompanied by recent changes in how USPS handles mail, including elimination of streetside mail collection boxes, overtime for postal employees and sorting equipment, as ordered by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, identified as a mega-donor to Trump’s re-election campaign. Those portents have riled many Corrales Democrats and independents, including Trish and Allan Whitesel who have hoisted “Save Our U.S. Post Office! Save Our Right to Vote!” outside the Corrales Post Office.
She emailed to Corrales Comment August 16 asking, “Could we have ever imagined that our very own president would wage an outright war on the USPS and on Americans’ right to vote in free and fair elections? “President Trump repeatedly voices his concerns about voter fraud by mail and raises the prospect of foreign interference at the ballot box… [even though] President Trump, some of his family members, multitudes of Republicans, overseas military personnel and veterans routinely vote by mail, pay their bills by mail, receive their Veterans Administration benefits and their medications via USPS!”
“We should not have to choose between our health and our right to vote!”
Allan Whitesel echoed those concerns, adding that he feared, “the chaos and uncounted ballots could lead to an illegal authoritarian government take over, the result of which could mean the end of our more than two centuries experiment called democracy.”
The U.S. House of Representatives was scheduled to convene for an emergency session during the week of August 17 to appropriate more funding for USPS. At least 19 members of Congress signed an August 12 letter to Postmaster General DeJoy imploring him to maintain the postal system’s integrity, especially ahead of the November election. “The House is seriously concerned that you are implementing policies that accelerate the crisis at the Postal Service, including directing post offices to no longer treat all election mail as First Class. If implemented now, as the election approaches, this policy will cause further delays to election mail that will disenfranchise voters and put significant financial pressure on election jurisdictions.”
Sandoval County Clerk Eileen Garbagni, responsible for managing elections in Corrales and elsewhere around the county, assures that absentee ballots will be sent to every citizen who requests one; applications for an absentee ballot will be mailed starting September 14. Until early voting begins October 17, the only location to deposit a completed ballot will be at the County Clerk’s Office, 1500 Idalia Road just west of Highway 528. During early voting, each of 19 voting locations will have a secure box into which ballots will be placed, according to Garbagni.
Overseeing elections in New Mexico will be the Secretary of State who can be reached at email@example.com or by calling 1-505-827-3600.
To facilitate the expected dramatic jump in absentee and early voting, Corrales Comment presents below the candidates who will appear on the ballot here. As usual, this newspaper will publish candidate profiles in October. Vying for the presidency, of course, are Republican incumbent Donald Trump, Democrat Joe Biden and Libertarian Jo Jorgenson.
U.S. Senate: Democrat Ben Ray Lujan and Republican Mark Ronchetti.
U.S. Representative: Republican Michelle Garcia Holmes and Democrat Deb Haaland
N.M. Senate District 9: Democrat Brenda McKenna and Republican John Clark
N.M. House District 23: Republican Ellis McMath and Democrat Daymon Ely
N.M. House District 44: Democrat Gary Tripp, Republican Jane Powdrell-Culbert and Libertarian Jeremy Myers
N.M. Supreme Court Justice, Position 1: Republican Ned Fuller and Democrat Shannon Bacon
N.M. Supreme Court Justice Position 2: Democrat David Thomson and Republican Kerry Morris
N.M. Court of Appeals: Zach Ives (D), Barbara Johnson (R), Shammara Henderson (D); Gertrude Lee (R), Stephen Curtis (L); Jane Yohalem (D)
District Judge, 13th Judicial District (retention): George Eichwald
N.M. Public Regulation Commission: Republican Janice Arnold Jones and Democrat Cynthia Hall
District Attorney, 13th Judicial District: Democrat Barbara Romo and Republican Joshua Joe Jimenez
Sandoval County Clerk: Republican Lawrence Griego and Democrat Anne Brady Romero
Sandoval County Treasurer: Democrat Jennifer Taylor and Republican Benay Ward
Sandoval County Commission: Republican Jay Block and Democrat Leah Michelle Ahkee-Baczkiewicz
Candidate profiles for most of these can be found in the May 23, 2020 issue of Corrales Comment which reported on the June party primary elections.
Even though movie theaters have been closed during this pandemic there are other ways to see films, such as via Netflix and many streaming options. For those who would like to see first-run films which would be in theaters now, Albuquerque’s own independent Guild Cinema is offering a home viewing option. You can find a wide list of films at http://www.GuildCinema.com, and a portion of the screening fee goes to support the Guild. Unless otherwise noted, all films reviewed here are available at that link. The Guild and other local theaters are, or soon will be, opening at partial capacity.
The Woman Who Loves Giraffes: The Story of Anne Innis Dagg HHHHH Directed by Alison Reid. Plugs: None.
Available via GuildCinema.com for a limited time
The new documentary The Woman Who Loves Giraffes tells the story of a remarkable Canadian woman named Anne Innis Dagg, who first became fascinated by giraffes as a young girl upon seeing them at the Chicago Zoo. Though virtually unknown —and certainly not as recognized as some of her female contemporaries including Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey— in the early 1950s, Dagg was frustrated and surprised that there was very little written about the biology and behavior of giraffes.
Only 23 at the time, in 1956 Dagg decided that she would have to do the research herself. She then traveled to South Africa to study giraffes in the wild. This would have been an impressive enough feat in its own right, but is even more remarkable when we consider the social and political climate of the time. In the 1950s young women simply didn’t do that; they were supposed to get married and raise children, not head off to Africa alone to study wild giraffes.
Dagg had applied to live and study at ranches near where giraffes roamed wild, and was roundly rejected —because, you know, it’s a dangerous area and no place for a woman! Nevertheless she persisted, and eventually a South African citrus farmer named Alexander Matthew reluctantly agreed to house her. She then spent months in the field taking extensive notes about all aspects of giraffe behavior. Her research led to writing the definitive textbook about giraffes —one that is still used and taught to this day. She and Matthew became and remained life-long friends.
But The Woman Who Loves Giraffes isn’t just about giraffes. Dagg’s story is also told through the prism of sexism (and, to a lesser degree, racism, insofar as her research was done in apartheid-era South Africa). Upon her return, Dagg was denied tenure at the University of Guelph in 1972 despite her original research, impeccable credentials, and articles in peer-reviewed publications.
One of her professors at the time is interviewed and claims —mostly unconvincingly— that there was in fact no Old Boys Club thwarting her career and that Dagg had merely given up seeking tenure too soon.
Sadly, the impediments soured Dagg on academia and she turned to other things, including raising children and writing books about sexism and feminism. (In 2019 the University of Guelph issued a formal apology to Dagg and established a research scholarship in her name to support undergraduate women studying zoology or biodiversity.)
Dagg had assumed she’d been long forgotten, but that wasn’t in fact true. With a few parallels to the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, unbeknownst to Dagg her seminal books on giraffes were still widely read and revered in the (admittedly niche) world of giraffe experts and zoologists. The last third of The Woman Who Loves Giraffes focuses on Dagg’s unlikely return to both (some semblance of) recognition and the South African ranch where she did her pioneering research some half-century earlier.
It’s a bittersweet return in part because the giraffe populations have since been decimated (she notes ruefully that during her years there it hadn’t occurred to her that giraffes might ever be endangered, because they were so plentiful and beautiful). The film points out that while other African animals such as gorillas, elephants and rhinos (quite rightly) get attention and donations, giraffes for whatever reason don’t elicit quite the same sympathy from the public and wildlife organizations. The film suggests that donations can be made to the Reticulated Giraffe Project.
Director Alison Reid masterfully combines archival footage and current interviews, and must have been delighted that Dagg had appeared on a 1965 episode of the game show To Tell the Truth, which opens the film. The Woman Who Loves Giraffes is a wonderful and inspiring story of a strong, fearless female scientist who led an astonishing life and contributed groundbreaking zoological research about these endangered animals.