What I know of you for certain is only what’s recorded on your tombstone
and two grainy old photographs. Certainly, you were once a girl. A wife.
A mother. You were a survivor of interesting times. Of Huguenot stock.
You knew duty. Did you know love? Did you know peace?
You were the family nurse, then a widow, a “Relict”, they said for decades.
The custom then, it sounds harsh today: Relict. But do we judge you unfairly?
You were a hard woman for hard times and kept a Bible cocked and loaded.
You weren’t afraid to use it. It was your preferred weapon.
Two of five children quickly fled when they could. A darling little girl
died as an infant. How you mourned. A son went insane, locked up forever.
One last daughter, a constant companion to the end, disappeared
without a trace. Are there really two people in your grave?
Your grudges piled up, un-dismissed for a lifetime. Cloying sweetness
masked failed manipulation. Did you feel unloved?
I think you were loved in spite of yourself. Your son fled to
marry an Irish “Papist” …oh the tears…oh the horror!
With hope in his heart, he gave his daughter your name: Lucinda:
— Illumination —
and she lived up to the name in ways you could never comprehend.
“Be careful…It’s hot out there” I said. “Oh, but it’s a dry heat” she replied with a laugh. That’s true enough. It sits at 104 degrees with a whopping 4 percent humidity. When I moved here from the Midwest I thought that humidity that low was lethal. Our body is made up of water, right? Don’t we need about 60% humidity to live? Well, apparently not.
I remember Missouri days of 112 degrees and humidity of 80-90 percent. There are no words to describe that heat. Just the stupid question: “Hot enough for ya?” Even squirrels were falling out of trees. Birds sat with their beaks open…panting. Some people were dying in front of their TVs.
In the old days, long before AC, people would drag their beds out into the night. Residential boulevards in St. Louis — the ones with grassy center parkways — were nightly campgrounds. If you were lucky you had an elevated sleeping porch. If you were really lucky it was screened to keep out the mosquitos. The mosquito-borne St. Louis Encephalitis made its appearance in the 1930s as if the heat wasn’t enough.
It gets hot here in the high and dry New Mexico desert but the record is a wimpy 107 from a few years ago. The low humidity can trick you into thinking it’s not too hot. With a breeze and some shade, you might not feel so hot. You don’t sweat. The dryness sucks away any moisture. You must drink water and lots of it. The intense sun light, at over 5,000 feet will toast almost anything not in the shade. After a few years here I took a trip up the road to Colorado Springs and began sweating for the first time in years — I had forgotten what that was like. Later that year I spent the first week of September in St. Louis for a family reunion. I was moist, to say the least. I recall my Aunt and Uncle coming to visit us in St. Louis during the summer from California and listening to them complain and carry on about the heat. We didn’t know what they were complaining about — isn’t this normal everywhere in summer? No.
So, yes, it is a dry heat…but it is still hot. June is our hottest month and people will sometimes escape to cooler climates. I went to Steamboat Springs for a week and just got back. Tulips are blooming there and daffodils. It was in the low 50s in the morning and topped out in the 70s most days. When I was driving home my car’s AC died…I had been having trouble with it and it went belly up south of Fairplay. By the time I got south of Alamosa I could see the smoke. The Jemez Mountains were burning again. I wonder, sometimes, how there can be anything left to burn but driving up through the mountains you can see that there is plenty of fuel left. The Jemez Mountains, about 45 minutes north of Albuquerque, are too popular for their own good. People go there to cool off and camp on hot weekends or to picnic. They build campfires and then walk off and leave them. On a recent weekend, the Forest Service had to douse thirty abandoned campfires. What kind of an idiot walks away from a campfire in a dry and hot forest? The current fire, the one I could see thirty miles into Colorado, burned a little less than 2,000 acres (so far, it is still burning) and was started by an abandoned campfire. There is no excuse for that. The cost has reached $1.7 million to fight that fire.
Stay cool. Have a cold beer or some lemonade. Put out your campfire.
Sometime around 1085 people started moving north along the great road coming out of the desert. Eventually they arrived on the banks of the Animas and San Juan Rivers near present day Aztec New Mexico. We don’t know what they called the rivers or how they called themselves but we can be sure they probably came from the south, from the Chaco Canyon cultural centers or outposts about eighty miles to the south. We also don’t know what motivated their journey. Were they sent north by some authority to establish satellite communities? Did they follow a respected leader? Were they escaping overcrowding or shortages at Chaco? These people had a culture based on a strong religion, living in established towns, impressive and durable stone construction, farming, and efficient utilization of natural resources. They were essentially farmers who grew corn, beans and squash. They supplemented their diet with wild game and…
I took a couple hours and went out to San Ysidro Trails, a BLM public use area about thirty miles from where I live. This was my first visit although I’ve gone past it many times. The area is just west of the town of San Ysidro (NM) on highway 550. There is a sign and a small parking lot. The gate is locked so you need to request a key if you want to bike or do any off-road vehicle exploration. Check with the area rules on how to get the key and what is allowed. Take plenty of water.
The area is located just to the south of the Jemez and Naciamento Mountains and bumps up against the Jemez Pueblo lands to the north. The highway is the south edge and across the highway is the Rio Salada, White Mesa and the Ojito Wilderness. The trails area has two small canyons and there is usually some permanent water pools in the deeper recesses. I visited in early May and there was a surprising amount of water in the canyon…it is probably drier later in the year. That much water means there is wildlife in the area and there were plenty of tracks but in the middle of the day I didn’t see much. I heard a few things moving through the Junipers and sage but didn’t actually see anything. There were hawks circling in the distance, some songbirds and what I assume was some type of large grouse that took off in a frenzy when I got too close.
The name “trails” is deceiving because there are no real developed trails but there are lots of faint trails going off in random directions. The place is mostly sand and a little broken cobble with some significant sandstone (?) outcrops and canyon walls. Actually the geology seems puzzling. I saw sandstone and what looks like shale but also lots of igneous rocks scattered around including some obsidian. The Jemez Mountains are volcanic and there is a lot of solidified volcanic ash (Tuff) so I may be mistaking the tuff for sandstone.
I only had a couple hours so I started off following the footprints of some other recent visitors up one of the random trails. At first, on the macro level there isn’t a great deal to see: mostly junipers, sage, cholla cactus and prickly pear scattered on slightly rolling sand hills. The interest is in the details — there is a wide variety of broken stone mixed in with the sand and a variety of blooming wildflowers. There is a lot of cow poop but no cows. When there are cattle in the area I guess they are responsible for the random trails.
It takes a little bit of walking to get away from the highway sounds but eventually you are out of range and in an interesting desert landscape. This is the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert at about 5,600 feet in elevation. Keep your eyes open, this is rattlesnake country. You will also see some interesting stuff if you pay attention. I saw a small white horned lizard (AKA horned toad) no larger than a cricket. I didn’t know they came that small. He easily blended in to the sand and rock pebbles.
Keep walking in a roughly northeast direction and you will eventually arrive at the western canyon. As far as I know they have no other names beside West and East canyons. On the way I passed something I guess was an adobe shelter of some type – now just dirt mounds with a little wood and sheet metal mixed in. There also are a few old forgotten fences with rusted and broken barbed wire. There are gaps in the fences if you follow the animal and hiker trails.
The (west) canyon was a major departure from the sand and gravel. Intermittent rock walls are maybe fifty foot high at the most and there is a lot of tumbled down boulders. The canyon floor is lush green grass. I was running out of time so I just stayed at the western canyon. The eastern canyon is reported to be more impressive and is a slot canyon in a few places. I saw some hedgehog cactus growing in the canyon which is a departure from the usual cholla and prickly pear.
Heading back to the car is a little tricky unless you marked your route. If you just head south you will eventually get to the highway some distance east of the parking area. I need to make a full day of it and get over to the east canyon on my next trip.
We had fresh snow up on the mountain this week. Now it lingers in the crevices and shaded alcoves. It will be gone from my sight next week but I’m sure patches will linger at the top. They say the Eskimos have 100 names to describe snow. Where I was born and raised and lived for sixty-five years we had about four names for winter precipitation. We had snow, sleet, ice and freezing rain. Here in the desert there are a few new forms that I don’t have simple names for. My language fails me when I try to describe it. We have an odd type of falling ice pellets the size of rice grains that bounce and roll around on the ground or ping off your windshield. It is dry, not wet like sleet. I got caught in what was essentially a slush blizzard this past week. Not snow flakes and not sleet but coagulated gobs of slush falling and covering the roadway. Cars were sliding off the pavement and we had over an inch accumulated in just a few minutes. It was blowing and sticking on hillsides and vertical objects. Tumbleweeds were draped in the stuff. That is what produced the snow on the mountain. The most amazing thing is an early morning ice crystal display…not like a dense fog but millions of shining ice crystals suspended in the air reflecting the sunlight. Usually the sky is a clear blue and calm and full of winking, glinting ice crystals floating suspended in the air. This is desert and the sun and dryness will end it after a short while so you have to get up early to see it. There are probably names for these wintery things but I think naming sometimes takes away the mystery and wonder.
Today is the first day of April and spring is taking control in the valley. My Bleeding Hearts are blooming and the Lilacs are about the burst open. I took a walk through Albuquerque’s Botanical Garden this week and the place was an explosion of spring color. Some plants are slow to wake up but others are going crazy.
Rosemary, the herb, grows like a shrub here and some people have rosemary hedges in their yards. I always thought it was something that people nursed in a pot on the window sill until I moved here. It is not uncommon the see it escaped and growing along the roadside in places out in the desert. I was surprised to see that it has a delicate blue flower in the spring. I have a few modest plants growing in pots but they are not happy being confined and seldom survive the winter. I guess I need to set them free.
Our native cactus varieties won’t be blooming for a while but there were several exotic (to us) varieties blooming at the garden. We live in the northern reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert at a high elevation…5,000 feet or more. The lower Sonoran Desert varieties will bloom earlier than ours. To me, cactus flowers look incongruous with the plant. They are often showy and brightly colored while the plant itself is grumpy looking and thorn covered. Our twisted Cholla cactus varieties will have large, hibiscus-like flowers later in the year and the Prickly Pears will bloom and produce fruit that people use for jelly.
The Japanese Garden has a way to go before it is in full bloom but there are splashes of color mixed with the bare branches and evergreens. Azaleas are blooming in places…mostly a bold orange color. White lilacs and redbuds are blooming. One of my favorites is the Blue Atlas Cedar — an evergreen conifer but of a pale blue color.
I do a lot of container gardening so I like to see what they put together in their ceramic and stone pots. It is different by the season. Now, in the early spring, they have kale, pansies and snapdragons. I’m not a fan of kale but this pale variety looked good mixed in with the other plants in the blue container. I like azaleas but my rabbits would probably like them better and they would be hard to grow up on the mesa top where I live. The intense sun is my nemesis more than the heat and low humidity.
The weather has been perfect the last week or so and I’ve made some headway in my outdoor chores. The rock garden (AKA Rabbit Salad Bar) is looking better and I’m planting more aromatic plants that rabbits won’t eat. I discovered the Curry Plant at my local pueblo nursery. It has a strong curry aroma from the leaves and it can be used in cooking but it is actually part of the daisy family. It looks a little like lavender or rosemary but gets small yellow flowers. I have lavender, Mojave Sage, Yucca (red), and Agave in the rock garden right now along with the curry plant.
The goldfish pond is looking better but still needs a lot of work. As best I can tell all of my goldfish survived the winter. The pond never actually froze solid. Right now I have too much vegetation in the pond and need to remove about 60 percent of it but that is going to be a major effort. I’ll need to hire somebody to help with that. (ca-ching).
The storage building roof has been repaired — good for fifty years they say. I won’t have to ever do that again. I repainted the doors and the wood trim but it needs a little bit of stucco repair in the back…local critters must have tried to get inside. I’ll patch that up for now. Eventually the house and storage building will need to be re-stuccoed as well as the garden wall. Big bucks for that.
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Rabbits are at it again. We will have a bunch of babies. I’ve seen more coyotes the past few weeks than I can remember. They tried to lure my neighbor’s dog away, a big dumb pit-bull, and he was happy to go but the neighbors were able to corner him in my back yard and take him back home. Coyotes have sort of a Lorelei effect on dogs…they lure them away and they eventually become dinner. My lizards are lined up like soldiers on the rocks and the garden wall soaking up sun. Roadrunners will get them later in the season but they seem to be having a couple weeks of peace.
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My quail are back in droves again. They seem to be all paired up — no bachelors calling for a mate. Sometimes the women are fickle and will keep looking for a better match but things seem settled. We have Gambel’s Quail and Scaled Quail and the two can hybridize. Gambel’s have a dark plume on their head like a California Quail. Scaled Quail have a scaled feather pattern and a white tuft on their head. No babies yet that I’ve seen but the pairs keep running back and forth across the road in front of cars like it is some sort of game. They only fly in an emergency or if the car is getting too close.
No hummingbirds yet…at least none that I’ve seen. My flowering plants are still a month away from full bloom so hummingbirds are hanging back or visiting the valley orchards further south. I have never been able to tell the species apart — we only had one type where I used to live but there are six or seven varieties here.
Goldfinches are here in big numbers. I’ve noticed quite a variety in them as well. It might be different types or it might be that some birds are changing to summer plumage at different schedules.
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The windy season came and went. Tumbleweeds were flying and bouncing down the highway. I have a few tumbleweeds that I need to get hauled away along with some overgrown sagebrush and four-winged saltbush that are encroaching in various places. Shortly after I moved here I was bragging to my neighbor about the pretty green shrubs I had growing along the fence. They were bright green and had a uniform rounded shape…nice I thought. He informed me that I was growing tumbleweed. It gets thorny and brittle as it matures and then snaps off at the base and spreads seeds by rolling along in the wind. I sheepishly pulled up my pretty green shrubs.
Sometimes our language fails us in both words and concepts. My wife had a term she applied to some people she admired for their persistence and tenacity: “stick-to-it-ive-ness”. Not exactly the most elegant of terms but it conveys the concept, in her mind, better than anything else. I was, on a couple occasions, the recipient of that honor but perhaps fell short more than a few times. She certainly had that quality about her and outlasted my puny capacity quite often.
Men seem to value the sprint while women go for distance. There is something that seems almost as a biological and intellectual capacity in women to move on, ever forward, in an undaunted manner. Our species would have slithered into oblivion without that quality.
Down through the ages. with few exceptions, men have held the power. Men wrote the Bible and the Koran and other religious texts. Women made the ink. Men told the history of nations and sang songs of losers and winners. Women made the beer and carried the water. Men heaped praise and glory on their heroes. Women saw them all before they had their morning coffee. Men pranced off to war in fancy uniforms. Women bound up their wounds and cared for their orphans.
Only in the last decades of the 19th century did women begin to extricate themselves from constant servitude. Women were legally oppressed under English common law and the concept of coverture. Once married, a women essentially became part of her husband and ceased to exist as an individual. If unmarried, she could own property and conduct business and enter into contracts but not as a married woman. That power and authority resided in the husband. If you think back to the decades around 1800, it is largely single, unmarried women who stand out as writers and artists.
Men, for the most part, were perfectly content with the old customs and didn’t see a problem. Everything was fine…a well oiled machine. Why change? Some men still don’t get it. Surprisingly, some women don’t get it. But, nevertheless, they persisted. Women have made progress and have come to claim, inch by inch, equality with men in many fields. There have been setbacks and ongoing battles. There have been grave sacrifices. Nevertheless, they persist. My daughter enjoys rights and freedoms that her great-grandmother never dreamed of. We are talking of a span of about 100 years of slow and persistent progress. Women still have a way to go even in what we would consider our enlightened western culture.
In other parts of the world the struggle is just starting or is taking a slightly different path. Progress won’t look the same everywhere. I don’t advocate for many non-profit organizations or projects but I do stand behind the ideas and efforts of The Girl Effect. There has to be a starting place…if doors won’t open, use a window.