The Wendesday Roam – #1 **

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I took a short roam around the place this morning trying to get a better attitude. It usually works for me. I’m irritated about my truck that waited for two weeks after the warranty ended to have transmission problems. I think they make them that way….there’s a little timer inside that knows when the warranty is over. Of course, they didn’t have the parts.

I usually do a walk-about every morning just to take inventory — see what new things arrived or left or started blooming in the night. Today’s was a pretty morning with fog rising off the river down in the valley and a few hot air balloons.  We are seeing more balloons lately as local balloonists gear up for the Balloon Fiesta in early October.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI fed the fish in the pond and they were happy to see me. It is so nice to be enthusiastically greeted in the morning.  They get excited at feeding time whenever that Big Thing shows up and food appears. I’m guessing that in their fishy brains there is some sort of template that prompts their excitement when I show up. The little ones have started doing it as well.  I have a couple hundred tiny fish plus my sixteen big goldfish. The pond has been behaving itself lately. Most of the algae that I had earlier is gone. The filter and skimmer can go a week or more without cleaning.  The water level drops a couple inches each week so I need to add some water today. I figure a bunch of those little fish are baby goldfish but they are not showing color yet. The rest are mosquito fish. I have snails and the occasional frog.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I’ve mentioned before, we are having a wet year — closing in on the record for rainfall. This comes after a long and severe drought. I lost my small pine tree this year. I guess it was too stressed by the drought although I fed it and watered it this spring and summer. It was doing OK but then turned brown in the course of a few weeks. My help was too little, too late I guess.  But, as a result of the increased rain, those native plants that survived the drought are now rejoicing in the wetness. This is probably as green as I will ever see the desert. I’m a firm believer in natural landscaping. I leave things alone, for the most part, unless they are inside my courtyard or close to the house.  The predominant wild plants are Four-winged Saltbush and several varieties of Sage and Chamisa.  These all have their own shade of green.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chamisa will turn bright yellow in a few weeks. Mine are all mostly green and are looking pretty good. They die back in the winter unless protected and come up new again in the spring so they are never very big but often look like someone has kept them carefully trimmed. This pictured one is an early bloomer.

My quail are busy raising their young and doing quail things. My two quail friends, bachelors without mates, finally got lucky and settled down and became responsible parents. They used to follow me around wherever I went.  Now I only see them occasionally under the feeder or going in or out of the sage and saltbush thickets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInstead of quail, I now am closely monitored by several Sage Thrashers (Oreoscoptes montanus). These birds seem to be the disciplinarians of the area and keep close watch. They let me know when I’m doing something wrong and I’m almost always doing something wrong. They are related to Mockingbirds so they are not afraid of being in close proximity. They take particular umbrage whenever my cat, Watson, ventures outside. They will fly at him like dive-bombers if he gets very far from me. He gets peeved because all he wants to do is look for lizards….he isn’t much of a bird man.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWatson doesn’t go out by himself…he is high on the Coyote’s entre menu and is fourteen years old and partially declawed. Large owls and hawks will also go after him if they can. He thinks he should be allowed to go out by himself and has snuck out twice but luckily nothing happened to him. He is usually content to sit in the window and watch the parade of wildlife go by….rabbits, a couple rock squirrels, lizards and a Roadrunner on most days. More often than not he forgets what he is doing and falls asleep.

I will be going back to Missouri on Sunday (Road Trip!!) and will spend a few days catching up with friends and relatives.  I have a bocce game scheduled with my old bocce playing friends.  There will be a “Huzzlecoo” one evening with some of my old work friends from my long-ago. I’ll spend a couple days with my brother and sister-in-law in St. Louis. The purpose of the trip is to move my daughter, Jill, to Albuquerque where she will start a new job in a few weeks. With her move, my closest ties to central Missouri, a place where I spent some 38 years, will pretty much be over.  I’ll talk about the trip later.  Today, I need my truck out of the shop (!!) Uh-oh…attitude…attitude…take a deep breath. It’s starting to rain again….good.

**I’m going to try to make this a weekly series: The Wednesday Roam. It won’t be much…just perceptions or discoveries and things that tug at my thoughts. I promise not to make this a travel blog but there will be some of that as I roam around my habitat and occasionally break out. Not all of it will be related to Wednesday’s happenings but I’ll try to keep it reasonably current.

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Watercolor Desert

I awoke to rain this morning and it has been raining all day. This has been a steady drizzle coming from a seamless gray sky. My usual landmarks; the Sandia Mountains and the Jemez Mountains those other mountains and mesas farther away, are invisible in the opaque mist. It is a little disorienting. The world seems closed in. The birds have all taken refuge somewhere…wherever birds go.  The only sounds are the dull white-noise of the drizzling rain and the staccato of the water falling off the roof through the canales…those boxy channels that drain water off of flat roofs in the desert southwest.  I have two large rain barrels that produce a low drumming sound…I can tell that they are full to capacity. They say we might have more intense storms this afternoon.

This is our monsoon season, the only wet and cloudy season we have. We have been in serious drought the last few years but this year, thanks to El Nino, we are making up for it. I don’t know how our rainy season will affect the long-term drought but we are closing in on the record for rainy years.  This is my first full experience with the monsoon season. I moved here a year ago and only saw a little of it — mostly the spectacular lightning storms that put on a big show but didn’t offer up much rain. This year it has been more rain than lightning. Albuquerque, some fifteen miles south of where I live, had a recent urban flash flood that stranded cars and prompted heroic rescues of stranded drivers and pedestrians.  I heard that Phoenix had a similar situation. My only crisis is trying to walk out to the road to retrieve my mail. My road is only partially paved…what actual pavement it once had is mostly a memory.  There is a slight depression that collects about six inches of water and turns my mailbox into an island.  I pull on my rubber boots and galumph out to the mailbox and try not to slip on the wet mud.  Usually the mail isn’t worth collecting and certainly not worth taking a bath for.

The one thing that I wish I could convey is how the desert smells in the rain. I am surrounded by sage, chamisa and saltbush that grow wild. In my front walled courtyard I have a small honeysuckle thicket and Pyracantha and Russian Sage along with desert willow and Mexican Bird of Paradise and trumpet vine. Everything puts out its small contribution to the rainy desert smells. There is a Pinyon pine just over the wall that makes a bigger contribution. Only the Russian Sage and honeysuckle and trumpet vine are showing blooms. Everything else is bloomed out but the plants still have a scent in the rain. There is no wind today so it all just hangs in the air. It is all very subtle and very pleasant.

At a Loss for Words….#1 Trip to Cabezón Peak

My world is suddenly very busy and I’m not finding time to write or even think about writing much. Still, I need to keep at it….right? So…since a picture is worth a thousand words…I’m reposting some blog posts from my other photo blog: I Spy With My Little Eye from BlogSpot.   Once things get settled (I’m moving my daughter and trying to get her settled in a new city and a new job) I’ll get back to new blog posts. I’m sure there will be several of these photo blog posts.

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Trip to Cabezón Peak

Cabezón Peak is an old volcanic plug that is visible for miles in the north-central area of New Mexico. The mountain rises to 7,785 feet and is about 2,000 feet above the surrounding area.  Cabezón is Spanish for ‘Head’ or maybe “Pigheaded”. It is quite similar to Devil’s Tower up un Wyoming. There is a ghost town not far from the base of the mountain.

I’ve been wanting to go see it up close and my daughter, Jill, and I drove out to visit it — about an hour drive. The area is an old volcanic field with many smaller features clearly visible for several miles. We climbed most of the way up to the base of the plug — a vertical basalt monolith — but didn’t try to do the entire hike around the peak. The peak is climbable but with great difficulty and some special technical equipment may be needed.  We were not interested in that.

So here are some pictures we took on the trip….we were the only people there.

The road to Cabezon — it gets much worse

 

A trail goes around the vertical basalt plug
once you climb up the terrace – a
steep and treacherous climb.

 

A smaller volcanic plug in the distance

 

View from the shoulder of the peak — lots of volcano relics

 

 

Coming back down

 

We were being watched

 

Toro! Toro!  This is open range

 

Heading back home  

The Act of Counting

Powerful and sad

Raven's Wing Poetry

To be black in America is to at times commune with the unnaturally dead.
— Cornell W. Brooks

Should I count my blessings:
that I don’t have bullets
buried in my back,

or that among the worst things
I’ve seen while
wearing this brown skin

are a drooling, satin-doll fetish
for my “high-yellow” skin

or the occasional “nigger”
hurled in my direction?

Mike Brown can’t count
anything anymore, not even
bullets in his body –

unless you consider crisp stars
like scattered salt in a black sky sea,
or glassy Empyrean gates,
or imagined angel wings.

I could count ropes,
rapes, bullets, chains,
accusations, catcalls;

white boys unwilling
to introduce me
to their parents;

the assumptions about
how I got my job or education.

I’ve ran out of fingers
and I’m tired of numbering sins
no one asks us to forgive;

I only say
that no one should count
on…

View original post 496 more words

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d…“

“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d…“ My apologies…I’m no Walt Whitman. He was writing about the death of Abraham Lincoln almost 150 years ago. One hundred fifty years is a long time but some of those lilacs or roses or daffodils are still out there long after the dooryard fell into decay. The folks who lived behind the door and planted the roses were laid to rest many years ago…generations ago. They were pioneers. They moved into a new land and tried to put down roots. Some survived and prospered…or at least made a go of it. Others tried and failed.

If you are a rambler out in the world you sometimes come across what remains of an old homestead. Maybe there will be a stone foundation. Maybe there will only be telltale corner stone blocks. The wood is gone. It might have fallen into decay or carried away by fire or storms or by people who needed an extra couple of of boards because that new baby or grandma needed a room.  Maybe there is a chimney. Often the garden remains.

I am fascinated by these old places. I once stumbled upon a relic of an old homestead totally overgrown in the Missouri woods.  What caught my eye was the large patch of daffodils blooming out where they don’t belong.  On further inspection there was an ancient scrubby lilac budding out nearby. The daffodils had gone back to nature and spread well beyond their original allotted space. The old Lilac was struggling in the shade but this was spring and it was doing its best. Most of it was dead but it had good roots. It was obediently standing guard where it was planted.  There was a rough stone foundation nearby.  A few yards away there was a small pile of logs and boards and rusted parts of a wagon wheel. The wagon was inside the barn when it collapsed. I always wonder what the story was. Maybe it’s a simple tale of boom and bust. People pick up and move to better places. But why leave the wagon in the barn?  Maybe it was disease…like the Spanish Flu or cholera or something else. I wonder how long ago the place was deserted. The nails were square…hand made. That puts it back a long way.  Maybe someone lived here during the Civil War era. Maybe he didn’t come home and she moved away. It is an unknown story.

I’ve hiked a few trails in the Missouri Ozarks and come across other lone chimneys standing out in the forest. Sometimes there are rose bushes overgrown into large thickets nearby. I wonder about the farm wife who took the trouble to plant the roses. Did she bring them with her? My mom would have done that. Whenever she moved she would take cuttings and have the same roses at her new place. It brought a sense of continuity.  Some of those old fireplaces are roughly made but others are made of cut stone and are nicely constructed. Somewhere there was a stone cutter and a stone mason close by.

In Big Bend National Park there is a ruined house sitting in a slope over the Rio Grande River. This was the home of a cotton farmer who chopped out a living in the heat and sand, blessed by the river water. This family had one of the southern-most homes in the country. Mexico literally loomed over them from the cliffs across the river.  They made a living there for a while but eventually they moved away. lt was a long way to market.  Only the ruined walls and some broken glass shards remain.

I’ve seen some others out here in the desert where I live now. Some of these are old tumble down adobe structures. Here they are not overgrown…they just melt away. There are ruins of buildings made of stone. I’m not talking about the Pueblo ruins that are scattered across the southwest. They have their own stories and mysteries. Sometimes you will find something, maybe an old shepherd’s shelter or an abandoned farmstead. I recall seeing stagecoach stations sitting roofless and with gaping windows and doors. Somebody made a life out of those places.

Sometimes you might find something you don’t understand.  Some of those people of past generations left a message behind for someone to find. Maybe we can figure it out, like this one: a religious sign left by a Spanish shepherd.

The Indian stone markings are harder to fathom. The ancient Pueblo people kept Macaws that they obtained through trade with people in Mexico. Sometimes you will see an engraved image of an odd looking bird. Other images are not so easily identifiable.

On my most recent ramble, out among the volcanoes just west of Albuquerque, I came across an unusual man-made assembly of stones. These were purposefully collected and laid out in a certain way. It looked like a grave, except it was too small, only about thirty inches long. Maybe it was a grave for a small child or infant. I didn’t disturb it – I didn’t want to know if that was what it was. But it seemed more like a marker for something else: An attempt to mark the spot for some reason. This place is so remote that people don’t often come this way and I was way off the usual trail. This is part of Petroglyph National Monument, a place where local Indians left hundreds of engraved drawings on the volcanic blocks of basalt. There is a long tradition of leaving messages at this place. The stone marker was not recently made; these stones have been here for a long while, maybe centuries. I took a couple pictures and sent them to the local National Park office that has jurisdiction over the volcanoes. They responded that they were unaware of it or what it could be and would have a resource person go out and investigate. I haven’t heard back. I’m still wondering and maybe they won’t have an answer. I’m really hoping it’s not a child’s grave.

Just a Little More About Ferguson — Then I’ll Sit Down and Shut Up

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson is tragic and, I think, should not have happened. I think that there were other peaceful ways to handle the situation. Even if Michael Brown was involved in the theft of a bunch of cigars from the convenience store, that is not a capital offense. I also do not condone or lend support to the rioters. They were not there for Michael.

I do support the protests as long as they are reasoned and rational and focus on the issue of law enforcement officers’ unwarranted use of deadly force. We don’t yet know the full story of what happened on that street in Ferguson. More information needs to come out and I think it will.

I don’t know what the reason is for the increased use of deadly force by police officers. I do not think it is all race based. Race is not always the triggering motivation; however, race can be an element in the mix that results in these incidents.

These shooting incidents have not suddenly appeared. They have been going on for some time. I was raised in and around Ferguson but now I live in Rio Rancho, a suburb of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Police in Albuquerque have shot and killed over 30 people in recent years…about 25 since 2010. Some of these persons were mentally ill and not totally responsible for their actions. Some were attempting or threatening suicide. Some were dangerous criminals and were a threat to police officers and the public. But, because of a veil of secrecy, not much information was shared by the police. The local police department managed to keep case details confidential through an interpretation of the state open records statutes. The Albuquerque residents have calmly accepted the status quo even though the families of the victims tried to pursue cases through the courts. Some families won settlements and even then things were kept pretty quiet.

Last spring, James Boyd, a homeless and mentally ill man holding a pocket knife was shot multiple times up in the Sandia foothills where he was illegally camping.  He did not confront the police; he was asleep when they converged on him with rifles and dogs. There was a lengthy and confused confrontation and he ended up dead. Video of the event has been all over the internet. This was not the last deadly force incident in Albuquerque….there have been several more since then. The James Boyd death incident did wake people up and brought them out to the street in protest….finally. Some of the protests went over the top and there was property damage and protestors briefly interrupted traffic on the interstate.  It was more of a running game of tag with the police than a riot. The US Department of Justice issued a report after a lengthy investigation going back several years that stated that the Albuquerque police displayed a pattern of excessive force. There were many examples given in the report — not all were deadly force incidents.

My concern is why is there passivity on the part of the public?  Isn’t anyone keeping track or listening to the families of the victims? Where are the cub reporters? Holding a pocket knife that can’t do any harm to a police officer unless they walk into it is not a capital offense. Stealing cigars isn’t either. I worked in criminal justice for twenty years in a correctional agency — both institutional and probation/parole. The police behaviors documented in the DOJ report on the Albuquerque police department would not have been tolerated in a modern prison system for six months let alone six or more years. The landslide of lawsuits would have almost buried the prison administrators and changes would have been made. Incarcerated inmates are not passive people. They will raise a protest and file lawsuits and gain the ear of federal judges if things go wrong. (That is not to say that every lawsuit is worthy of serious attention. Many are frivolous but they have to go through due process. Someone will read the case.)

What about police training? You can Google “criminal justice degree” and come up with every shape, size, length and variety of program.  From my time in criminal justice I know several former administrators who are teaching classes. Some have had good career experiences and some have not. They have a certain perspective because they only dealt with people who were judged to be guilty of a felony. Are they the best people to be teaching future law enforcement officers? I don’t know. Some are very good….but I don’t know.

So what about Michael Brown? It looks like what happened to Michael has happened to others before him. Trayvon Martin was not the same situation as Michael Brown but how many Michaels, James’s  and Trayvons are waiting in the wings? How many Zimmermans or other frightened and heavily armed citizens are out there? How many rattled and confrontational police officers? Is there a “shoot first, ask questions afterward” mentality that needs to be addressed?

And what about race? I don’t know what the statistics are but I would not be at all surprised if national statistics show that Blacks are being shot in these incidents at a high level. I think it is more complicated than that. How many homeless or mentally ill people are being shot? How many are just frightened kids running away? Is it a power and authority issue? Is there a militarization issue? It doesn’t look to me that race is a huge factor in Albuquerque. Rather it seems to be an inability or unwillingness to try to defuse situations and sometimes a confrontational attitude.

I have been saddened and in some ways educated by the Ferguson situation. On several different occasions involving different interviews I’ve heard it repeated that Black parents have to sit their young boys down and explain the correct passive posture and role they must take if stopped by a police officer. I’m White and grew up where the shooting and riots took place and my parents never had that talk or even thought that they had to.

“Let’s Hope This Doesn’t Get Outta Hand….”

“Let’s Hope This Doesn’t Get Outta Hand….” A local resident expressed hope during a time of despair.  I’m reading the news.  I guess most people have heard about the shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent rioting and other shootings in and around Ferguson, Missouri. I was raised there but lived just outside Ferguson. My backyard fence was the city limit. We were sort of sandwiched between Ferguson and Dellwood, two of almost 100 municipalities that make up the St. Louis suburbs. Back in the 1950s there were thousands of families moving out from St. Louis into the new suburban subdivisions. We moved in 1953. Sometimes this is called “White Flight” but much of it was actually pent up housing expansion for young families after the return of the soldiers after WW-II. There was a tremendous housing shortage and a baby boom going on so there had to be this explosion of new housing.  Before we moved there was one room in my grandma’s house for all four of us.  At the same time there was an influx of rural Black families coming up from the South looking for the very same things that those young White families wanted: a decent home, good schools and jobs. We had Cub Scouts and little league parades down Chambers Road.  We borrowed a local farmer’s wheat field for ball games.  Our parents were busy with BBQ and PTA and crab grass control. Most of the dads were gone all day, working in St. Louis. Most of the moms stayed home. The new interstate that cut a swath through the neighborhoods of north St. Louis meant that it was an easy commute if you worked downtown.  Those neighborhoods were irreparably damaged but it was all in the name of progress.  The southern Black families were moving in there anyway so the concept of ‘neighborhood’ was pretty much irrelevant to the city planners.  With the new highways, more White families discovered they could live farther out from the city and still commute to work. The city was bruised and hemorrhaging but during the 1960s, when other American cities erupted in riots and racial violence, St. Louis was mostly quiet.

Back up in the northern suburbs things were going along just fine. The baby boom overwhelmed the school system so there were too many kids in the classrooms, but new schools were being built. The dads had other job opportunities. McDonnell-Douglas (later Boeing) had a huge facility over by the airport so many dads didn’t even have to go into the city.  More jobs moved out of the city into the suburbs.  Things were just fine….hunky-dory.

I can recall one year I had a birthday party at the Ferguson municipal swimming pool. This was in a nice, well-manicured park with a big fishing lake with ducks swimming around.  We would go there for picnics or to fish but this swimming party was a little odd…it only happened once and I only went to that pool one other time. I recall my mom saying that the pool was for Whites only; Blacks were not allowed at the pool. This was probably around 1958 or so and is the only example I can recall of ever encountering a segregated facility.  I remember feeling awkward about it and perhaps that is one reason why I didn’t spend time in that pool but I wasn’t much of a swimmer either so it wasn’t at the top of my list of things to do.  Ferguson was all White as was Dellwood and my neighborhood and most neighborhoods as far as I could walk. There were no Black kids in my school and no Black families at my church.

Over on the other side of Ferguson, somewhere, was Kinloch, a historically black community that had been there for generations – probably since after the Civil War.  Kinloch was a place unto itself – it was as if a southern Black community was picked up by a tornado and dropped in the middle of St. Louis County. It was not an urban Black community by any means.  People had little frame houses. Streets were sort of paved. Everyone had a little garden plot and maybe some chickens. It had a matriarchal social structure and culture. There were a few ladies who seemed like they ran the place. I know that one lady, at least, carried a pistol. That was a different world…almost a different planet from where we were.

Our street and close neighborhood were unincorporated and patrolled by the St. Louis County Police…but we never saw them.  There was seldom any reason for a police presence. We would walk about a mile to the West Florissant and Chambers road intersection where there was a A&P grocery store and some strip malls. That was in Dellwood.  There was a Ben Franklin store where we would go to buy penny candy. I liked those paper strips with the colored sugar dots and you could get a strip for two cents.  They had lik-m-ade, which was sort of like eating Kool-Aid out of the package. Your face and lips would be brightly colored depending on the flavor you got.  They also had some exotic Dutch candy there that we could get sometimes — Whoa…weren’t we sophisticated.  Candy cigarettes were always popular. The old lady that ran the store was sure we were shoplifters and would follow us around the store and sometimes she had other old ladies who would do the job for her. We never took anything but she was convinced that we were all little thieves.

Dellwood didn’t have police…they had Cops. These guys had a sort of swagger and attitude that the County police didn’t exhibit. I recall one time they brought my brother home after some sort of horseplay got out of hand. They were not bullies but not friendly, either. One time I volunteered as a Boy Scout to help locate a stray dog that people thought was rabid (right…send the kids out). We met at the Dellwood police station and were given walkie-talkies to report back if we saw the dog. While we were waiting, the Cop decided it was a good time to demonstrate to the assembled kids his ability to suppress and overpower an adversary and he selected me as his dummy.  It was not an enjoyable experience.  I had no encounters with Ferguson police.  At the time, Ferguson seemed more civilized than Dellwood…it had that nice park.

I grew up and moved away from my neighborhood in the 1970s. I was a public welfare caseworker for several years and would come back to visit some of the poorest families in the area. That’s when I became familiar with Kinloch and the pistol-packing matriarch. I respected her and I was always treated well.  I moved out of St. Louis in 1976 and I really didn’t give the area much thought after that. I knew that it went through a gradual transition to a Black community but that was happening in a lot of “close-in” suburb municipalities. Some White families stayed and are still there. I know some that are still there. Things seemed to be okay on the surface…different but okay.

The police shooting of Michael Brown popped the cork in Ferguson and Dellwood and some other areas close by. So far, I think there have been two or three nights of rioting and looting and at least two other people shot.  Al Sharpton has made an appearance. People are trying to calm things down but there are small armed groups roaming around and causing trouble and the police are reacting with tear gas and SWAT teams. From the news stories, I don’t recognize the area. We never had a Wal-Mart when I was there. I don’t recognize the street names or the apartment complex names.  Some of the churches where meetings are being held sound familiar. If it was a poor neighborhood, riots and looting will make it even poorer. Businesses will move out and other businesses will not move in.

That local resident’s wish…”Let’s Hope This Doesn’t Get Outta Hand….” has blown away on the wind with the tear gas and the smoke from burning stores.  Perhaps things have been “outta hand” for a while.