Thursday, July 28, 2011

Harsh, Hot, and Beautiful; for Skywatch

We go early. We wear sunblock, hats, and sunglasses. We carry walking sticks and water. 

We watch the trail carefully for all the slithering, stinging, and biting creatures who live in the desert. 

We admire the volcanic vistas and rejoice in the immense desert skies overhead. 

We know that anything could be over the next rise: A badger, a javelina, a tarantula, a rattlesnake. 
Not many people, though.

It's harsh, it's hot, and it's beautiful in the Chihuahuan Desert. 

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

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Meeting the Rattlesnake: What Happened Next

The "park" part makes it sound so tame, doesn't it?

Yesterday I was telling you about my son Ben and his first ever meeting with a rattlesnake. In the wild. On a trail.

Beez and Ben: Ready for anything

When he heard the rattling and saw the coiled snake a couple of feet in front of him, Ben's first reaction was to back away quietly. His second was to trot back down the trail to get Beez and me so we could come and take pictures.

After we took a bunch of photos, we continued carefully past the snake and on up the rocky trail to finish our walk. Thinking about the possibility of that rattlesnake having a few relatives in the vicinity, and realizing now just how hard those well-camouflaged guys are to spot, we walked loudly and clunked our walking sticks ahead of us, every step of the way.

Such a rocky trail. So many possibilities.

And then I remembered that in all the excitement of getting a photo of a for-real wild rattlesnake, I had left my bottle of water behind on the trail.

On the trail on the other side of the rattlesnake.

You must realize that we were out hiking in the desert in the summer. It was early in the morning, but the sun was getting hotter with every step. I needed that water. So, my good son Ben volunteered to go back through the snake's territory for the third time to get my water and meet us back at the beginning of the trail.

Third time's the charm. As Ben told us later, he cautiously approached the spot where the rattlesnake had last been seen resting in the shade of some sage. He was tiptoeing along, hoping to get by without disturbing the heretofore patient snake. Just as he came up to the very spot where the snake had first rattled at him, four things happened simultaneously:

1. His cell phone vibrated in his pocket

2. A disembodied robotic voice said (also from his pocket), "You have now walked three miles"

3. Ben's body rose several feet up into the air, and...

4. He involuntarily shouted out with the shock of all these things happening.

He tells us that while he was still airborne, he realized that the snake might be startled by all these goings-on. Why, that snake might even have lost patience, what with all the recent disturbances in his quiet desert home.

Here's my favorite part: With admirable understatement, Ben said when he landed that "he decided to run a little bit."

We don't know what the snake thought, but here is his picture again.

One of the heroes of this tale
(remember, click any photo twice to enlarge it)

By the way, if you are in the mood for more snake adventures, you just might want to read Mr. Zee Goes Up, which appeared on this blog way back in 2008.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Intrepid Naturalists Meet a For-Real Rattlesnake

Click to enlarge

We took our son, visiting here from New York City, for an early morning hike at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park the other day. We brought cameras and binoculars and cell phones; lots of water; hats, sunglasses, and sunblock to protect us from the sun, and hiking sticks.

When Ben wondered if he really needed to carry a stick, we just smiled and said, "Snakes." We said snakes in the way that people will who are real desert amateurs and have never seen a rattlesnake outside of a zoo and who wonder to themselves about the efficacy of hiking sticks in snake country.

He believed us and brought the stick along. Good thing, too.

Now he really believes in walking loudly and carrying a big stick. The stick preceded him by a step and startled a rattlesnake, who politely rattled to let Ben know he should stop and look around. Note that the sound was the first indication of the snake--this guy was so well camouflaged that I found it hard to see him, even when I knew he was right in front of me.

Ben came back down the trail to get us and we approached cautiously to take photos. The sun was glaring on the camera screen and I wasn't sure what I was getting, but I snapped away blindly and hoped for the best.

He was such a polite and patient snake.

Tomorrow: What happened next...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Meet Flavia: A Child You Won't Soon Forget

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. [No. 1 in his Flavia de Luce series]. 

It's surprising to find an adult novel with an 11-year old protagonist, but Alan Bradley's series introduces us to just such a little girl, Flavia de Luce. She's witty, she's great with the English language, she's a self-taught chemist with an interest in poisons, she's a nightmare of a little sister, and... she's altogether unforgettable. She made me laugh. A lot. 

She's also a bit of a lost child, missing her dead mother, emotionally neglected by her philatelist father, and unmercifully teased by her older sisters. Here is how the novel opens, with Flavia telling about the terrible situation in which she finds herself:

It was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door. I breathed heavily through my nose, fighting desperately to remain calm. I tried counting to ten on every intake of breath, and to eight as I released each one slowly into the darkness. Luckily for me, they had pulled the gag so tightly into my open mouth that my nostrils were left unobstructed, and I was able to draw in one slow lungful after another of the stale, musty air.

I am such a fan of Bradley's use of language and the way he uses Flavia's narration to set an ominous scene in just a few words. Here are some more examples:

On the chimneypiece, [was] an ormolu monstrosity, its brass pendulum, like the curved blade in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” tock-tocking away the time and flashing dully at the end of each swing in the subdued lighting of the room.

... [the rear wheel of my bike] gave off a noise like a den of enraged, venom-dripping rattlesnakes. I pretended they were right there behind me, striking at my heels. It was glorious!


The strong scent of Father’s colognes and shaving lotions suggested open sarcophagi and conopic jars that had once been packed with ancient spices. 

By the way, did you guess which cruel persons had locked poor Flavia in the closet with no means of escape? Not to give away any plots, but I will tell you that the culprits were her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, mockingly referred to as Feely and Daffy by our heroine. Don't worry, little Flavia has a chemistry lab hidden deep in the bowels of the old country house. Little Flavia knows her poisons, and little Flavia has a plan. 

I hope that you will read this book, the first in the series. It is followed by No. 2, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag; and No. 3, A Red Herring Without Mustard.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Beautiful Spot, for Skywatch

Click twice to see the full-size photo

High up in the Organ Mountains, far above the Mesilla Valley, you will find the beginning of the Soledad Canyon Trail. It is a beautiful spot to be in; to stand quietly, to listen to the hawks and the doves and the cactus wrens, and to look across the river valley at mountain range after mountain range stretching toward southern Arizona. 

The only other sound we heard when we were there was the ranger's truck as he drove up to close the gates for the night. 

After that, nothing but the soft winds and the cooing of the doves.

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chickie Update

My son is visiting from New York. He was kind enough to help pose chickens when asked. We're all about providing non-Manhattan-style experiences here.

These were the girls at the beginning of June. They were young teens at the time, and eager to do some scary things to the guest room carpet on the day they escaped from their dog crate/baby chick pen.

Front, left to right: Albertina, Lizzie, and Meg.
Hocky is at the rear in this photo. She didn't like having pictures taken of her beak.

Now they all live outside in a chicken coop, where sensible hens like to live. This is Albertina the Pecker, a Barred Rock. 

This is Lizzie, the Rhode Island Red.

 And this is the lovely and shy Meg, an Americauna. Meg has green legs that will probably match the green eggs she will eventually lay.

Some sad news: Meg's sister, Hocky, died a couple of weeks ago and was buried with full honors. She was a brave girl and lived her life to the best of her abilities. When she was around a month old, her beak began to show a deformity. It only got more severe as she got older--the beak was crossed and eating was a trial to her. She would peck with the top part of the beak and only occasionally would food get into the bottom part of her beak and down her throat. Hocky grew very tame, as we held her and tried to help get food into her eager mouth. As the others grew, Hocky stayed pretty small, although she never gave up trying to eat. She was lively and cheerful and friendly right to the end. One morning she simply didn't get up to greet us, because she had passed away during the night.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Supper Out

We ate at La Posta in Mesilla, New Mexico the other night. We like to take out of town friends there, because the chile is mild enough for the most gringo of palates and because the atmosphere is so wonderful in the century-old adobe rooms.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What's Not to Love, for Skywatch

Here in southern New Mexico, land of 

little rain 
big sky 
and sizzling green chile

We love our water
We love our blue skies
And we love our chile fields

When we see all three together
We stop and take pictures 


See beloved skies all over the world at Skywatch Friday

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Around Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee is always such a nice surprise. After driving through the desert, you follow the road up over some mountains and there--you are in a place quite different than what you have been seeing. There's a canyon, and beautiful trees, and little houses perched on the sides of hills and reachable by lots and lots of stairs. There are pots of bright flowers everywhere.

The people look a little quirky, their clothes seem a little brighter and more artistic, and the shops are brightly painted without and full of lovely handcrafted things within. 

It's a nice place to walk your dog. There are doggy pickup bags stationed here and there, and thoughtful storekeepers put bowls of fresh water outside their doors.

 You get the sense that the people of Bisbee have a sense of humor that makes them ready to smile. 

The signs on the little cars read: Easy Financing and No Haggling

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Roadside Shrine, New Mexico: Nuestro Señor de la Vida

Driving down the back road between Garfield and Hatch...

... we came to the Chile River Farm. 

Next to it, someone had built a little roadside shrine.

This carved rock was next to the shrine.

 Inside, this is what we saw. The candles were burning...

... and the windows gave a view of 
the heavens above the chile fields.

Monday, July 11, 2011

No More Carpets!

Looking into the hall; the floor could use some sanding, for sure

It wasn't easy, but we did it ourselves, and on a pretty hot day. We pulled up the carpeting in the dining room, the hall, and front bedrooms. We cut it and the pad into pieces, and trucked them all to the dump. No more stinky carpet harboring dust and germs and heaven knows what-all!

Underneath? All hardwood floors. You will see that the hall, above, needs some refinishing, but I think that the guest room, shown below, is in pretty good shape. 

The house really feels a lot more Old West-like to me now. These old wood floors kind of creak when you walk across them, reminding me that this house is pretty old, as western places go. Oh, it's nothing like the "oldest house in the U.S. built by a European" (Santa Fe, c.1646); or the really ancient Acoma Pueblo of New Mexico, continuously inhabited since the 12th century; or even our former old colonial home in New Hampshire (Candia, 1770). But this old adobe has been sitting right here since 1950 in the Mesilla Valley, surrounded by chile fields and pecan orchards and looking up at the mountains. At 61 years old, it's catching up with me!

The guest room; you can see that Little Pete was bustling around and giving us plenty of help
Best of all, it's feeling more like home all the time as we make the changes that make it truly ours. What's next? Why lots of colorful paint, of course. Someday soon I hope to write a post called "No More White Walls!"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Red Red Cherries and Blue Blue Skies, for Skywatch

Click twice on the photo to really get a good look at those cherries

I've never seen such red cherries on a tree. This photo was taken at the Cherry Festival in High Rolls, New Mexico a few weeks ago. If you ever get a chance to go, be sure to buy a gallon or two of the incredibly delicious and refreshing chilled cherry cider.

It was a beautiful ride that day from the hot Mesilla Valley, through the Tularosa Basin, past White Sands, and up into the much cooler, pine-scented Sacramento Mountains. 

For skies all over the world, be sure to check out Skywatch Friday. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Prince of Tides

She had a serenity that both troubled and attracted adults. Grownups always suspected that she was judging them and finding them ridiculous. They were usually right. She found adults both too large and too loud. She was perfectly happy being a child and taking her time about things. She worried that she had taken too much time with her father and that he had died without knowing how much she loved him. This knowledge troubled her and helped make a naturally quiet girl even more withdrawn and introspective. She would lie in the hammock in the front yard and stare out at the river. Her blue eyes looked fierce and seemed to burn with the fury of pure water or wildflowers in storm. But there was no fury there. Only the love of a father she would never see again, a father who did not know her and never would. 

These words are part of a story within the story of The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy. Someone at the Houston Chronicle said that "reading Pat Conroy is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel."

That's just about right. Why wouldn't you read this book as soon as possible?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Tombstone Flag

Tombstone, Arizona

Happy Fourth of July!