Thursday, December 30, 2010

Little Skywalker for Skywatch

The little paw prints on this sand dune at White Sands National Monument just seemed to walk right up into the blue sky. You can click twice to enlarge.

For sky photos from all over the world, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What's Your Storm Story?

When we lived in New Hampshire, digging out was a regular winter chore

Our son, Ben, spent Christmas with us here in southern New Mexico and was planning to travel back to his home in New York City from the El Paso airport on Tuesday, Dec. 28. Even though the big blizzard was over, the cleanup was not, making any kind of travel a big mess. At first, his connecting flight from Dallas to New York was cancelled, but he was able to book a different route and left El Paso yesterday for Chicago. However, once he arrived in Chicago, the flight to New York was again cancelled.

He faced a choice--four days in Chicago until he could get a flight to NYC, or a return flight to El Paso so he could finish out the week with his family. He chose us! However, this meant that he traveled almost 2500 air miles yesterday (and is still a long way from home). We went to El Paso and back twice, giving us around 5 hours on the road. His luggage could be just about anywhere, even in New Jersey, as I believe that was one of his proposed destinations for a short while.

It was a long day for us all, but we ended up with some extra holiday time together, even if Ben has no clean socks. I know that there are lots more Christmas holiday blizzard stories out there--what is yours?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Yucca Seed Pods

I don't know why we are having the weather that we've had the last few weeks, but we've felt very lucky. While the rest of the country is struggling with torrential rains and blizzards, we are having relatively mild temperatures and mostly clear blue skies here in the Chihuahuan Desert. 

At White Sands National Monument yesterday, families were sledding in the sand, which made it look a lot like very clean snow. At other times, when the sun came out from behind the light clouds, I could imagine that I could smell the ocean but, of course, it is far away from southern New Mexico. 

It's tricky to take photos out in the dunes, especially if you aren't there early or late in the day when the sun is low in the sky. When we visited in the mid-afternoon, the clouds were helping to keep some of the glare off the sand, but it was still difficult to see potential shots on the little screen on my camera. I just kept pointing and shooting and hoping for the best. 

Here are some shots of a yucca plant and its dried pods. 

I'll have to work on my Photoshop skills to fix the blown-out background of this photo sometime

Friday, December 24, 2010

Adobe Christmas

Merry Christmas to All!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Moon, for Skywatch

Merry Christmas to all you Skywatchers out there. To see sky photos from around the world, please visit Skywatch Friday.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa and Me, Part 3

This post first appeared on my family history blog, Remember.


Well, you've seen Santa terrorizing my tiny little brother-in-law-to-be (see Santa and Me, Part 1 and Part 2). Now it's my turn. Here I am, in one of my mom's spectacular home-sewn coat and hat sets. I might not have been screaming my head off but, believe me, the fear is there under the surface. I am pointing out my parents, in the hope that they will remember to come and get me off. this. man's. lap.

A year or two later, I am still calling out to my parents, with hope and fear and thoughts of abandonment. 

However, I continued to believe in Santa, as this corny staged photo shows. My dad got me to explain to my dog, Pete, how Santa was going to bring the presents to our house--right down the chimney, of course!

Generation after generation, we continue the Santa tradition, and I'll bet you do, too. Here are grandchildren Isabella, Mason, and little Chris. Mason does what all frightened children do--he grabs onto his ears, just in case Santa has thoughts of stealing them away.

Santa terrorizing Mason

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Santa and Me, Part 2

This post first appeared on my family history blog, Remember

In the previous post [on the Remember blog], we last saw poor baby Ronnie looking at the bearded guy in fear and disbelief. This first photo shows his older brother, Billy (who became my husband much later), looking as though he is willing to give this business a try. He's not sure how the whole thing will work out, though. 

Here we are, the following year. Although Santa is really trying--note the present little Ronnie is holding and the bells the Santa is jingling--the youngest brother is still showing the good sense to be very afraid of the red-suited guy. 

Billy, who discovered that the presents he listed for Santa actually showed up under his tree the previous Christmas, is anxiously waiting to get a word in edgewise. 

The same attitudes prevail a year or two later. Billy is starry-eyed, possibly thinking of a Red Ryder BB gun; while Ronnie looks like he is hoping that he doesn't get another darned bow tie in his stocking this time!

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Very Retro Christmas Tree

I volunteer some time each week at an amazing place called the Institute for Historical Survey Foundation. I've been meaning to tell you about it, but it is just the hardest place to describe. Part museum, part archive, part art storage; it's like a library gone mad.

This wonderfully retro aluminum Christmas tree with its exquisitely handmade ornaments is a part of the collection. It sits in front of a faux bookcase, just one of a huge number of historical objects chronicling our cultural history.

You can read more about the place on its website. Just a warning, though--part of the site seems to have been hacked, so don't click on any downloads on the pages for "images" or "publications." What a shame that some person has interfered with this amazing resource! I'll let you know when the site has been updated and "scrubbed." It might take some time, as most of the work in this amazing place is done by volunteers.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Downside of the Pecan Harvest, for Skywatch

The orchard is almost obscured by the dust kicked up during harvest

We're having perfect weather here in Las Cruces; it's cold at night and early in the morning and warm in the afternoon. It has been perfect for the pecan farmers, too. There was a nice hard freeze a while back that made all the leaves fall so the trees were ready to give up their pecans.

There is a lot of machinery involved in pecan harvesting: Machines that sweep the ground, machines that shake the trees, machines that gather up the nuts and leaves and shake out the detritus.

We get lots of pecans falling into our yard from the surrounding orchards, so we have a plentiful harvest as well, with nuts enough for the entire year.

The one drawback to nut harvest can be seen in this early morning photo: It's a dusty business. Today, in addition to all the flying dust generated by the nearby machinery, we had a gusty wind all afternoon. At times we couldn't see the mountains at all, and everything in the house is now covered in a fine grit.

It's worth it all, though. Pecan candy! Pecan shortbread! Pecan pies! Just in time for Christmas treats!

Visit Skywatch Friday to see skies all over the world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Santa and Me, Part 1

Note: This post is from my family history blog, Remember.

It's a firmly established tradition, the photo of the kids with Santa. It's also a given that the children in the photos will be scared to death, having been passed from loving arms into the lap of a stranger who looks like no one ever seen in a little kid's life.

I've been gathering up our family Santa photos from the 1940s and 1950s. Some are of Bill and his little brother, Ron; and some are of me. I'll show them here over the next couple of weeks.

The photo covers from Bill and Ron's Santa experiences were very retro. One was even done by Leonard Weisgard, who became familiar to me as a children's book illustrator when, much later, I became a children's librarian. Here are three of those covers:

And here is the first in a series of photos of the frightened children in our family, learning about this most peculiar of Christmas traditions. We start with poor little baby Ronnie, who can't believe his eyes:

More old photos to come...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Matachine Dancers

We were lucky to see a performance of matachine dancers from the nearby pueblo of Tortugas. Because this was on the eve of the day honoring La Virgen de Guadalupe, the dance was considered to be a rehearsal and we were thus allowed to take photos. 

I did my best with the limited light. I know this is a poor photo, but I hope it gives a little of the feel of the ceremony. The dancers are dressed in elaborate Aztec-inspired costumes adorned with noise-making beads; they dance to the hypnotic rhythm of a drum. At the point in the ceremony where this photo was taken, the little boys hold a picture of La Virgen, and will shortly turn it in a circle to face each of the dancers in turn, who will kneel and cross themselves. 

The dance took place in a small plaza under the stars on a cold evening; the shadows of the dancers were thrown up on the surrounding adobe walls. I could almost imagine myself back to the times of the first matachine ceremonies hundreds of years ago. 

For more information on the background of the Matachine Society, see this article on its history and the symbolism involved in the dance.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dining at La Posta

Friends took us to dine at La Posta in Mesilla last week.  Located in an adobe compound that was built in the 1840s, it's a fascinating place to wander through. The buildings include several gift shops and displays of tropical plants, fish, and birds. 

Everything was colorfully decorated for Christmas. Our dining table was covered with flowered oilcloth and we sat under a viga-and-latilla ceiling in front of a fire in the kiva. There was so much to look at! 

The food was so-so, I'm afraid, with none of that great New Mexican chile heat that we have grown to love. It was still a great place to visit, though. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

V is for Very Nice Sunrise with Telephone Wires (for Skywatch)

To see photos of skies all over the world, please visit Skywatch Friday.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Las Cruces Report, Early December

Biker Santas, 2009

I love our December weather. It's cold at night, and chilly enough in the mornings to wear the wool sweaters I brought from New Hampshire. By afternoon, though, the sun is warm again, and we are back to shirtsleeves. If we get too hot, we only need to step into some shade for some sharp, cool air.

A hard freeze has cleared off the leaves from the pecan trees, and harvesting along our road has already started, with the big mechanical tree shakers out there bringing down the pecans. In the fields, mostly empty now, the cotton harvest is winding down. From here at the desk in our study, I can see a lovely big field greening up, planted with some kind of winter cover crop.

Josefina's Gate in Mesilla, 2009
There are way too many holiday activities happening--too many, that is, if we tried to go to all of them. A couple of nights ago the city had its Christmas tree lighting, complete with carolers, horse-drawn wagons, and hot chocolate. We hope to go to the Christmas eve lighting of the luminarias on the Mesilla Plaza this year. It's a beautiful scene, often photographed.

The nearby Tortugas Pueblo will be holding its Our Lady of Guadalupe Fiesta this coming week (December 10, 11, and 12), with candlelight processions, an all-night vigil, a pilgrimage to the top of Tortugas Mountain, special masses, a community feast, and traditional matachine dancers.

The high school football season has come to an end, with Mayfield High School winning the state championship, but there are plenty of basketball games at the University for us to cheer at, as well as craft fairs, and concerts all over the place. The Las Cruces Farmers Market, voted one of America's favorite markets, has scheduled some extra time for shoppers.

Here are some more December happenings from the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum, around the city, and around the state.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Secret Knowledge of Water

No water around here...

... or is there?



The Secret Knowledge of Water; Discovering the Essence of the American Desert, by Craig Childs.

I have always loved to read. When I was a child I read anything and everything and carried home armloads of books from the library. When I finished with those, my mom would hand me some of the books she used in her classroom. The books I read in those days always stayed with me, unlike some of the books I read now, and then accidentally re-read, having forgotten them!

There was a book, Our California Home,* used back then in California fourth-grade classrooms, that absolutely enchanted me. It presented the history of the state through its use and control of water. I never forgot the opening chapter, where a thirsty child on a hot summer night went into a bathroom gleaming with chrome and porcelain to get a drink of cold, sparkling water. After slaking her thirst, she let the water run over her hands and arms. It turns out that my childhood imagination embellished the memory, as when I went back to read the book again (that good Beez found me a copy on Alibris) the hot summer night scene was much smaller and less significant than I remembered it.

I have just finished the book, The Secret Knowledge of Water, and it was another beautiful experience. Childs shows us how desert lands are defined by water, rather than by their lack of it. He introduces us to hidden desert waters, fearsome floods, and to tiny springs that disappear underground during the heat of the day, only to reappear at night, fish and all. I loved this book so much that, when it was over, I read every single item in the pages-long bibliography; marveling that I had learned a bit about desert hydrology, hyporheic invertebrate assemblage, and geomorphology.

And I had loved every bit of it. Read this book and you will never see deserts in quite the same way again. I know that sounds trite, but it's all I can tell you.

*Our California Home, by Irmagarde Richards. California State Series, Sacramento, 1933. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Forest Fire! For Skywatch

On November 16th we were driving across part of New Mexico from Clovis to Las Cruces.  Once we got to Roswell, we could see a large column of smoke that turned out to be almost a hundred miles away in Ruidoso. As we later drove through the little mountain town, those flames seemed awfully close. 

The sinking sun colors the smoke as night begins to fall

Too close to the town! This was shot from the main street.

The fire was contained by firefighters and burned just one acre, with no injuries to humans or damage to structures. 

See photos of skies around the world at this week's Skywatch Friday.