Friday, July 30, 2010

Scenes from My Sister's Garden, 1

My magic only extends to the bringing of storms; my sister's magic is all about making art and growing things.

My tomatoes all blew away.
If she had planted tomatoes she would be making sauces right now.

I follow directions. When I read that lavender and rosemary like dry soil and don't like to be fed, that is what I do.
My sister doesn't believe that directions apply to her, so she feeds and waters hers copiously.

My lavender and rosemary just look like they have been treated poorly.
Hers bloom and clamber right out of the pot and across the ground.

I might tell my plants to "buck up" occasionally.
She speaks to hers constantly and cares for them tenderly and they respond with love.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tranquil Sky with Cranky Swallows, for Skywatch

The swallows always get cranky when I'm on this little bridge taking pictures--fair enough, as they build their nests right under the place where I stand.

For all kinds of skies from all kinds of places, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Not Visiting an Explosive Site

Beez and I were out for a drive a couple of weeks ago, and thought we'd pop over to the White Sands Test Facility, located just across the Jornada Basin from the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park. When we've hiked around the park, we've looked over toward the Facility, so we were looking forward to seeing it a little closer up.

Silly me. Silly us. This is the sign that greeted us at the Baylor Canyon Road exit just off Highway 70:

Here is what the website says: Since WSTF is a protected and hazardous testing facility, it is not open to the general public. Employees and authorized visitors can only enter the facility with appropriate badges and photo identification.

Here is what they are doing out there where we didn't visit, according to the same website:

White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) conducts simulated mission duty cycle testing to develop numerous full-scale propulsion systems. These systems have been developed for the Apollo Service Propulsion and Lunar modules, Shuttle Orbiter, and the International Space Station (ISS). Additionally, we evaluate upgraded or redesigned shuttle orbiter components to extend service life, enhance performance, and improve mission safety. WSTF is formally certified to perform precision cleaning and depot-level refurbishment of flight-critical propulsion systems components.

The scientific investigation of explosion phenomena at WSTF is aimed at improving safety at launch facilities and other areas where hazardous materials are used. Ultra-high-speed instrumentation helps better define safety and structural requirements for new and existing launch facilities by measuring the effects of exploding liquid and solid propellants.

That's some pretty exciting stuff. I'm kind of glad we didn't get any closer.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chastity via Vegetation

A month or so ago, we started noticing some lovely medium-sized trees around town that were blossoming in a wonderful shade of blue. The tree in the left foreground is an example, although I don't think you can see the blossoms very well, but the photo does give you an idea of the size of the mature tree.

I checked with my favorite plant guy down at the Las Cruces Farmers Market and found out that the tree is called a vitex. I bought a small one from him and planted it out front in the full sun.

Here is a close-up of one of the blossoms.
I wanted to know a bit more about the tree, and found that it is also called chaste tree, chasteberry, or monk's pepper. The leaves look a bit like cannabis, and, together with the flowers have a lively peppery fragrance. I like a plant with a bit of a story to it, and this one will add a lot to our gardening conversations: The Greeks used the leaves to "cool the heat of lust," and the plant parts were used as "anti-libido medicine by monks to aid their attempts to remain chaste."

Never mind what they say about older people; perhaps having one of these in the garden might add even more to our reputation around the neighborhood.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sounds After the Storm

After the big storm last week, the orchard was so noisy that the sounds out there woke me in the night. I understand that there are toads in the desert that stay dormant and only appear after a rainfall, but I don't really know if these were toads or frogs. Please leave a comment if you know what I was hearing.

Because this video was shot at night, I didn't expect to capture much to see. I was really making the recording to get the amazing and very loud sounds. By the next night, the toad/frog songs were silent and all I could hear were the crickets.

However, we had another storm tonight (Sunday, when I'm writing this post for Monday) and the sounds are out there again.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why It's Hard to Go Walking in the Morning, for Skywatch

Some days the Morning Mile is just a little harder than others. I trip over my feet while looking at the sky, first to the west...

... and then to the east.

To see skies from all points on the compass, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Winding Up the Storm Story

The neverending storm saga is continued (see the 3 previous posts) and is finally wound up here. As stated earlier in one of the comment responses, please note that no cats were exploded in the writing of this blog...


The dogs and I were safe at the neighbor's house. The wonderfully calm and efficient (and jovial, once the gas was off) emergency crews were on the scene and they worked into the night to remove the broken gas meter, cap off the damaged pipes, and drag away the fallen tree so I could get my car out.

Although the workers had a long night of work ahead of them, within an hour from when I called them and after a kind of mechanical sniff test done in a walk-through of every room in the house, I was allowed back in. The cats eventually emerged from their hiding places we all settled into a new kind of life that continues almost a week later now: No cooking on the stove and cold showers only. Not bad, when you are so grateful to be alive!


These pictures of some of the damage have such a calm air about them, making all my hysteria seem a little over the top. Yes, I know that they have my signature out-of-focus look; many were taken with my cell phone. You can see the gas meter here, knocked off the pipe, which was capped by this point

That object between the tree and the fence is a large piece of metal that was folded up by the storm and tucked into that spot. At first, I thought it was part of my roof, but it was a piece of someone's shed.

Some of the emergency vehicles--at one point I counted 8. This was after the gas was capped and local traffic allowed through once again

This little fellow was judged to be "too small" for the job and was sent away

Using some bigger equipment the crews dragged the tree away to unblock the driveway. I didn't leave for several days, as cleanup crews, plumbers, and insurance people were arriving or calling at all hours. Besides, I assumed that the rest of the city was a mess and busy cleaning up; I later found that the big damage was confined to my road.

Now what will we do for excitement?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Help Me!

Continuing from yesterday's post: The storm was still raging and the broken gas pipe still hissing...

Since you already know about my problem with magical thinking, you won't be surprised to learn that I convinced myself that the gas somehow wouldn't explode if it couldn't see me while I used the phone. I rushed to the other side of the house and turned my back toward all the chaos and called 911 (see why you shouldn't use a phone in the vicinity of a gas leak). I don't think that I have ever been in such a state of fear (As I learned in my public speaking class, my mouth goes totally dry when I'm really scared and I find it hard to talk), but I managed to make myself understood and was even able to remember my name and address. The operator told me to grab the animals and get away from the house.

Getting the animals out felt a lot like this

I found two leashes and the snapped them on the big dogs. Telling the two little dogs that I would be right back (I hoped), I closed the door behind me and took off for the neighbor's house across the road. Although I'm normally a quiet person, not given to much shouting, I started screaming, "Joe, help me!" at the top of my lungs when I got near the house.

Joe's wife, Wanda, peeked out the door as we came barreling toward her, all of us soaked and some of us terrified and me still screaming. She started to say something like, "No, no dogs in the house..." when a part of me that I didn't even know I had in there told her to take the dogs, put them in the bathroom, stay inside because there was going to be an explosion, and that I was coming back in a minute (I hoped) with more dogs. This is a woman I hardly knew, and I was moving our acquaintance up several notches all at once, but she saw my terror and grabbed the leashes.

Sloshing pretty fast for a lady my age back over the road and through the puddles in an outfit meant for hanging around alone on a hot day in front of a fan with no witnesses, I got back to the house. I had a moment where I thought I might be able to gather up the cats and stuff them into a carrier, but they were all hiding. It felt terrible to leave them behind, but I was betting on their resourcefulness and left a door open for them to get out when the house blew up. It wasn't a great plan for their immediate future, but it was the best I had.

The two little dogs were most willing to be scooped up and tucked under my arms. I almost left without my cell phone (I will never wear shorts without pockets again), but grabbed it on the way out the door and went back through the puddles and away from the house, this time noticing that the emergency guys had already gotten there in record time and were blocking off the road. Scared as I was, I had a big fashion realization: Their hazmat outfits were a lot more suitable for the occasion than mine.

I got back into Joe's house, dropped the dogs, and begged for a glass of water so I could talk and explain myself. My poor neighbors. Their house doesn't have much of a view in my direction and they had no idea what was going on.

You know, other people might be able to tell this story in 25 words or less, but I guess that's just not in my nature. There will probably be more tomorrow. And lots of pictures, of course.

Bertie's outfit was also a lot cuter than mine

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

So I Cast a Spell, and Then...

In yesterday's post, I told you about my irresponsible behavior on the porch, leaving off just as the storm was intensifying. Here is what happened next, as best I can remember:

I moved through the house, closing the doors. I realized as I crossed the very wet and slippery kitchen floor that a lot of rainwater was coming in, so I started closing windows, too. By then, the hail was hitting so hard that I began to worry about it breaking the windows, so I started pulling curtains to help contain any possible broken glass.

The car alarm went off. As I rushed through the living room, I scooped up the car keys and turned the alarm off. I didn't really stop to wonder what had triggered it, because by now there was a horrible sound overhead--it was just like a freight train moving in circles up over the roof. That made me think that I had better get to some part of the house that didn't have trees above it. I think by then that I was twirling, and trying to think what to do. There were so many trees!

And then I heard a horrible loud hissing sound. I always think snakes! but that wasn't right. With the freight train overhead, I really couldn't figure out where the hissing was coming from, because it seemed to be coming from all directions at once. Arriving in the guest room to look for the source of the hissing and to close the window there, I glanced out and several very frightening thoughts hit my brain in a scary, scary way, all at the same time: I could hear the car alarm going off yet again, but I could no longer see the car; a huge tree maybe 8 feet out from the window had just fallen away from the house and toward the car (I never heard it fall because of the freight train); the falling tree had torn the gas meter off the gas pipe; AND THE LOUD HISSING WAS THE SOUND OF THE GAS ESCAPING, JUST LOOKING FOR A REASON TO EXPLODE!

Now this is the part where I was beyond scared. My poor brain was sending me frantic and conflicting messages, faster and faster: We're going to blow up! We're going to die! Call 911! Don't use the phone when there is a gas leak! Get the (4) dogs out! Get the (4) cats out! Don't let them get run over! Getoutgetoutgetout!!!

Terror setting in; I forgot to focus on objects beyond the screen--but I like the photo and the fact that I was still shooting, at least at that point. Note: Those plant pots were soon to blow away


Tomorrow: Help me!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Librarian Needs Spelling Lessons*

Here is a picture of the storm that was taken while I could still open the front door
I was sitting out on the porch, watching a big monsoon rainstorm come in over the city in the distance. From time to time, strange white column-shaped clouds would form and reach down to the ground. I was watching these through the binoculars and wondering if they could possibly be tornadoes, when my neighbor pulled into his driveway and came over to the gate to tell me that he had just seen a tornado touch down when on his way home.

No, no, no. We moved far from Tornado Alley when we came to Las Cruces from Clovis, my mind protested. Couldn't possibly be a tornado. Could it?

Now, I have been reading Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, a book about a young wizard who doesn't yet understand how to control his powers; moreover, he uses them out of pride, and just naturally gets into trouble. Well, stay tuned for a real life lesson, right from the pages of Earthsea.

Knowing how much we needed rain, and idly thinking wouldn't it be great if I could cast a weatherbringer spell and summon some of that moisture over here, I tried holding my arms up in that classic wizard pose--but not too high, as the neighbors here are already worried about the-lady-who-drinks-wine-while-watching-the-sunset, and that nut who is always scampering around in her nightie, taking pictures of the sunrise. So, I got my arms just a teeny bit raised (while remaining seated in my rocking chair, of course) and tried to make some sparks shoot out of my fingers toward the distant storm.

You're not going to believe this, but it worked! The storm veered in my direction, and there I was out dancing in the rain, feeling like a goddess, and eating a few pieces of hail for good measure. Suddenly, the rains and winds and the general violence quotient strengthened about tenfold, and I realized it was time to grab my book and my binoculars and get inside before I blew away.

I could hardly open the door, but managed to take this one photo before things got way out of hand.

Tomorrow: A freight train passes through, and what is that awful hissing?


*Thanks to Auntie Bucksnort for the inspiration for this post title

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Blue, Blue July Sky for Skywatch

I didn't do anything to the color in these photos--this is the color of our blue, blue July sky here in the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico.

Blue sky with sunflowers

Blue sky with onion harvest

For skies of all colors all over the world, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Desperate Grandparents Take Desperate Measures

I am fascinated with this sign and must always take yet another photo of it whenever we pass by the Baylor Canyon trailhead at the base of the Organ Mountains.

Mind you, I am fascinated, yes, but not so much so that I wish to risk my life taking this hike. It is hot there on the trail in the summer--so hot and dry that you can't imagine being able to carry enough water to get you up over the pass--never mind back down again. And I would need an extra backpack to carry the necessary snake bite kits. I'm serious.

Now, Beez just sees this sign as a come-on. He tells me again and again how much he wants to take this hike when he is finally retired in a few months. I can imagine that I might want to accompany him some day. Maybe part of the way. Maybe in the dead of winter when the snakes are asleep. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Maybe not.

However, we got a laugh when checking out the hiking log at the beginning of the trail. Just in case you can't read the first hiking party registration, I'll post an enlarged section of the photo below.

Gotta love that grampy!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Las Cruces Report: Early July

July sunrise in the flooded orchard
It's hard for me to believe that the farmers have already made their third cutting of alfalfa. I'm used to two cuttings for the whole season in New England; and those are always a race with the weather. Here in the Mesilla Valley, except for the monsoon rains, the farmers deal with dry weather most of the time--good for harvesting and drying hay, and good if you have enough water for irrigation.

The chile plants are a couple of feet high and the corn is truly as "high as an elephant's eye." The cabbage crop has been harvested, and the onion harvest continues. I tried to get a good shot that would show just how labor intensive that harvesting onions looks to me--this was just a small portion of the field and there were trucks parked all around it with many workers out there in the heat, laboring to fill those big boxes. It sure smelled good, though.

In the gardens around town, we are seeing the most beautiful butterfly bushes in pinks and blues. Of course, I want to get some to plant. The brilliantly-colored canna lilies are just about to bloom, too.

We'll go to the Farmers Market on the weekend to see what's happening there.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What I See in the Morning*

Fragrant odor of the dawn,
Sweet incense to waking souls
While the fresh dew spreads the lawn
And your spirit day controls
Let me, underneath this tree
Standing, be possessed of thee.
~James Herbert Morse

This is what I see each day when I let the dogs and cats out for their morning constitutional. It is so beautiful and cool at this early hour.

I'm really posting this for those of you who picture the desert as a sandy, empty, and desolate place. Who knew that a place called the Chihuahuan Desert could look like this?

I feel so lucky to live here.

*Maybe I should have called this post What I See in the Morning Before I Put on My Glasses. Looks a little blurry, doesn't it?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Riding in a Herd

Last weekend Stahmann Farms of La Mesa, New Mexico (just a bit south of Las Cruces) hosted its first-ever family bike rally. Part of the road that goes through their pecan orchards was shut down for safety with the help of the police.

Here is what the road looked like without anyone on it before the rally. Our family has always called this trees-over-the-road look a "tree roof."

And here are the bicyclists taking off. There were about 150 of us. Beez and I were among a handful of gray-hairs; the rest were young families with little kids.

The newspaper account of the event can be seen here, and Beez has all of our photos on his blog right here including a photo of himself (in the brown shirt, 5th photo down).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Monsoon Morning for Skywatch

I wish that my photos could show the full magnificence of this rain shower falling in front of the Organ Mountains. It was pretty early in the day and I had to run to get these shots before the brief rainfall faded away.

For skies with all kinds of weather, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lunch at Delicias del Mar

I was brought up on tacos made with beef, so the idea of fish tacos just never really interested me. And then, Beez and I finally tried them in a little restaurant in Sacramento a few years back and we loved them. We were never able to find that restaurant again, though...

I've already told you about eating breakfast at Delicias Cafe in Las Cruces; this time we tried the fish tacos a la mexicana (with the fresh Mojarra filets grilled, not fried) at their sister restaurant, Delicias del Mar--click the link for the complete menu. We are so glad we went and will go back often.

This under-$10 lunch was huge--in addition to everything that you see here, there was a good-sized bowl of a spicy tomato, fish, and vegetable soup. Of course, any time soup is served, I worry that I won't have enough room for the meal and try to just take a couple of tastes. However, this soup was so delicious that I really wanted to finish the bowl, and figured we could pack up what we couldn't eat of the main meal to take home. Days later, we are still eating out of those to-go boxes.

Something new to me was the sweet corn salsa, served along with the regular hot red salsa and fresh tortilla chips.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Beginnings of a Cactus Garden

Golden Barrel Cactus

We live in an adobe house in the Chihuahuan Desert, so of course we should plant a cactus garden! However, this kind of gardening is very new to me and the rules are the opposite of everything I've learned about planting and gardening, which is to dig deep, add humus and other goodies to the soil to help it hold moisture, leave a little well around the plant to help water go right to the roots, then cover the area around the plant with some nice mulch, to slow evaporation and to keep the soil cool and moist.

Mexican Fire Barrel

Not so with a cactus garden. Here, you drill into the rich, but adobe-hard clay soil; add one part sand to one part chopped up soil, even out the soil around the new transplant to discourage too much water getting to the roots; then spread some nice hot-in-the-sun gravel around the new planting.

Of course, I've left out the part where you must persuade the very user-unfriendly spiny plant to leave its container and maneuver it into the hole that you have prepared for it. The man who sold us the cacti was most helpful with this part: He suggested making a kind of collar out of a piece of rolled up newspaper to wrap around the plant while tilting the pot on its side and gently sliding the thorny fellow out and into place. It worked!

Some kind of Euphorbia? Help! I've lost the little label

Now comes the hard part for a former New England gardener who has always equated abundant water with plant love. I will be watering the new cacti so few times until they are established that I have had to schedule the waterings on the computer. It will be weeks between waterings, and this is the right thing to do, as the most common cause of garden cactus failure is overwatering.

Monday, July 5, 2010

About Those Monsoons

We all talk about the monsoon season in the summer here, but I've never understood the actual mechanics of this weather phenomenon. Here is a quote that explains the monsoon season from Understanding the Southwest Monsoon, an article by the University of Arizona's Zach Guido for the Southwest Climate Change Network:

In Arizona and New Mexico, monsoon storms typically begin in early July after several complex and dynamic weather phenomena collide. By July, the Four Corners region has baked in the sun for months. Air has risen like a helium balloon, creating a low pressure trough in the lower atmosphere. Off the coast of Baja California, the sun’s energy has boosted ocean temperatures to around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. But the ocean has a moderating effect on the air and has kept it at temperatures below those over the deserts of the Southwest. This temperature imbalance becomes large enough that a change in the high and low altitude atmospheric movement occurs. The winds aloft over the Southwest, near an altitude of 30,000 feet, take a U-turn westward, opposite their trajectory for nine months. They carry with them moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. At approximately the same time, the near-surface air over the Gulf of California rushes northward into Arizona and New Mexico, carrying with it moisture from the gulf.

The moist air flowing into Arizona and New Mexico hits the mountains and rises. As the air ascends, it expands and cools. The air temperature decreases, falling below the dew point temperature—the temperature below which the air can not hold all the moisture and condenses to form rain. Thunderstorms begin. Vegetation grows. Humidity increases over land. Then more rain falls, creating a cycle that continues until the temperature difference between the land and sea is reduced, sometime in early fall.

Although the article was written about the monsoon season in 2008, it contains plenty of useful information about monsoons in general in this part of the world. The rest of the website contains constantly updated information about weather patterns, models, and changes in the Southwest.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Clouds in the Morning

We have clouds in the morning now. You wouldn't think that would be something to get excited about, but it means that we are now in monsoon season. In a place that gets only eight inches of rain a year, every rainfall is a celebration: I hear laughing voices outside whenever it rains.

More about the monsoon next week. In the meantime, have a great weekend and a Happy Fourth of July. And a happy Canada Day to all you Canadians, one day late.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Flames in the Night for Skywatch

They say that to become a good photographer you should shoot a lot and keep only the best of your photos. However, I must tell you that I still want to show you these not-very-good photos of one of our recent wildfires. I have done the best that I can with my skills at present and I realize that the results leave a lot to be desired...

In the first picture, the leaves at the top of the photo are blurry because the wind was blowing quite briskly and I was making a relatively long exposure. To see the wildfire, you should click on the picture to enlarge it, then look to the right of the telephone pole. The other lights are coming from the usual city night lights, and that long strip of light in the right side of the frame is from the headlights of a passing car.

In the second picture (enlarged to the point of blurriness), I have cropped out all the other distracting lights from the city, but left in the telephone pole for reference. The flames that you see are up in the Organ Mountains. They eventually came within one mile of the luxurious homes in the Soledad Canyon area of Las Cruces. I kept getting up to watch in the night, and was amazed and saddened to see how the fire leapt from spot to spot, even moving down the mountain, which seemed counterintuitive to me.

Now, a week later, the two wildfires are out, having burned over 7000 acres. No (human) lives were lost, no buildings were burned.

It still looked a lot like terror to me.

To look at skies all over the world, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday.