Transition Season at the Garden

Our Albuquerque Botanical Garden, part of the city’s Biopark, puts on a grand show for the holidays. The entire garden is lighted with fanciful figures and streaming lights through the trees. It takes weeks to get ready. I stopped by to take a walk as the fall season takes hold but we have not had a frost yet. My camera seems to be acting up so I took a bunch of pictures. I still don’t know if it is the camera or the photographer at fault. The last flowers are still cranking out blooms even as the workers are installing the holiday lights.

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The roses were particularly impressive even as we approach mid-November. There are several rose garden areas including one specifically for arid climate roses. I bought a new rose bush this past spring and it bloomed nicely at first but the sun did some damage. I had to move it to a more shaded position and that ended the blooms. My wild rose seems to do quite well but only blooms for a short period of a few weeks.

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There were other flowers still doing their best in spite of the calendar. Sometimes the seeds are as interesting as the flowers.

The late blooming mums are hanging on in a few places. The small flowers in protected places still are clambering for attention.

More of the seeds are grabbing attention.

I’m easily captivated by the large Prickly Pear Cactus. I have some wild varieties at home that are mostly thorns…but the rabbits still manage to eat them in the winter. The fruit produces a wonderful jelly if you have the patience and the proper gloves.

The Japanese Garden is always a treat and it seems a little different each time I visit. That’s true of any garden but particularly so of this garden, I think. My timing was right and I was there in the mid to late afternoon and the slanting sunlight was creating shadows and backlighting some of the views.

Regardless of the season the garden is protected by its own fire-breathing dragon standing at his post by the children’s castle.

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Hot Enough for Ya?

“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.

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A Transitional Season

The wind has picked up today and is so strong that the birds and small animals have taken cover. We are transitioning into the fall season but summer doesn’t want to let go. We are still in the last tattered shreds of our Monsoon season – it has rained almost every day this week. The Monsoons should have ended a few weeks ago but they got a late start so we are thankful for the lingering rain.

The wind is poking around in every nook and crack. I can hear it protesting in the chimney because it can’t come all the way into the house. I always have windows open, even in the dead of winter, so the wind is finding another way to get in.

chamisa-1The Chamisa is in full bloom so the sometimes dry and dreary desert landscape is cloaked in bright yellow. I’ve never seen it so thick and bright…but this is just my third year in the desert so almost everything is still a surprise. Chamisa is our Spanish name for the local variety of what some people call Rabbit Bush. If you have been out west you have probably seen it. Ours is usually small and neatly clumped as if someone tended and trimmed it every day. The rabbits, of which I have many, do not eat it but tend to hide among the clumps. The quail do the same thing.

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Fall, and October, means two things here just north of Albuquerque: Balloon Fiesta and the arrival of the Sand Hill Cranes.  The Balloon Fiesta is the first full week of October (including both weekends) and we will see several hundred thousand visitors pour into town. It is a beautiful time of year anyway and the 800 hot air balloons add to the color and delight. They have mass ascensions every day and on most days they fly to my neighborhood and land all around me. So far no one has landed on the house but they are in all the vacant land around me. They have an interesting procedure each morning…they send up a “Dawn Patrol”, five brave balloonists with flashing lights on their baskets just before dawn to see what the conditions are. If they are good then the other 800 will go up…if not they postpone or cancel the mass ascension and try to locate the five guinea pig balloonists.  It reminds me of the videos I’ve seen of Penguins in the Antarctic that shove a couple Penguins into the water to see of the Leopard Seals are waiting.

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The arrival of the Sand Hill Cranes is a little later in October but almost as spectacular. Most of them continue south to Bosque del Apache wildlife area but we have a resident population of several hundred just in my area. They are noisy birds and you most often hear them before you see them. If they are flying overhead you might not see them at all in the dazzling sunlight. When they are roosting near the river they sound like croaking frogs. I went to a Christmas event one year and the birds almost drowned out the carolers trying to sing Silent Night. At this point we still have a few hummingbirds but they will be gone soon. I had a falcon sitting on my garden wall earlier in the week hoping to grab a dove or maybe even a hummingbird.

I made a last-day-of-summer visit to our botanical garden. It seemed tired and a little worse for wear. The summer was exceptionally hot and dry from June to August. By the time the rain arrived most of the flowers and plants were too far gone. There were a number of bright spots and the Japanese Garden is always pleasant. They installed a special rose garden featuring roses that do well in the desert climate.  The roses looked pretty good in spite of the weather. The “Heritage Farm” section, a replicated Rio Grande valley farm, was selling apple cider from the apple orchard.

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I’m doing some garden work of my own. When you landscape your property with native plants they don’t always know that they are supposed to stay where I put them. Being acclimatized to the desert and doing what comes naturally, they send out little volunteers everywhere. If I left it alone I’d have a jungle of sorts. That’s what I had when I moved here and it took over a year to get it under control. The previous owners planted Russian Sage, a pretty plant but one that sends out root runners and then one plant becomes ten plants and then thirty plants if you don’t keep it under control.  I also have a 1,500 gallon goldfish pond that needs frequent care. I have sixteen large fancy goldfish and it is pretty to look at but also can get out of hand. I noticed the water level was too low a few days ago and started filling it with the hose. Something happened and I got distracted and then had to go someplace. The hose ran for about ten hours and when I realized what happened I had more than a foot of water above the normal level. Goldfish were swimming where no fish has gone before. It was still contained but the pond will not need any additional water for quite a while.

watson-2Watson, my elderly cat and almost constant companion going back sixteen years died this summer. He is often missed when I work outside because he stayed close and was a watcher, not a doer. In his entire life he caught one vole that I know of and a few lizards. He never quite understood the goldfish and was puzzled by the very idea that something could live under water. I miss him also when I write because he would curl up on a rug close by and fall asleep or watch out the door for anything interesting. He was also a snorer. I’ll find a new cat at some point but not for a while. Watson was on medications twice a day and that required me to stay home unless my daughter could take care of him. I’d like to do a little travelling before I get another cat.

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So now we are looking at changing seasons. We have a nice long fall season going up to late November or early December. Nights will be cool and there might be an early frost but daytime temperature will be in the 60s into the first week of December. This windy cold snap is a hint of what is in store – they say it will be down to 41 degrees tonight. We don’t have many of those golden Aspen trees – they are up in the mountains or farther north in Colorado – but in a while our Cottonwoods will put on a show to rival the Aspens.

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Well, I think I just heard that the wind blow away my watering can so I have to stop and retrieve it.

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End of Summer

I had an out-of-town visitor this week and we took part of a day and visited the Albuquerque Bio-Park’s Botanical Garden. It has been a hot and dry summer and the monsoon season seemed late in coming and has stayed a while longer than usual. The late rain didn’t provide much help to the parched victims of Albuquerque’s sun…plants, that is.

That being said, there was still a lot to see and it was an enjoyable visit.  Here are a few pictures….

 

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The View From the Observation Car

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I enjoy train travel. There, I said it for all the world to see.

For some reason there is a lot of complaining and ill-will directed toward train travel and especially Amtrak, the only nation-wide rail passenger service in the United States. I just completed a 2,000 mile round trip train journey from Albuquerque to St. Louis and it was an enjoyable experience. This was a trip for a family reunion and I had a nice long visit with family and friends — some from forty years ago.

One important point needs to be made….I had a roomette in a sleeper car. Sleeper car accomodations are, for me, the way to go on any long train trip. This is for several reasons: You get to stretch out and actually attempt to sleep in a bed. Secondly, you have a place to keep your stuff reasonably secured. Thirdly, your dining car meals are included in the price of the sleeper…and the food is 100 times better than anything airlines are serving. You still have to pay for alcohol. Fourthly, there is an attendant assigned to each sleeper car who takes care of your routine needs and keeps the coffee pot going and ice available. Introduce yourself by name and consider a tip for exceptional service. The attendant makes your bed at night and converts it into seats during the day. Fifthly,  on this trip I get to sleep through Kansas…the best way to go through Kansas in my opinion. On the shorter leg of my journey, from Kansas City to St. Louis, I used business class — which means I had a little more space and wi-fi as well as free coffee in the adjoining cafe section.  I’m getting a little robust in my old age…some would call it portly…and I’m considering a larger compartment on my next trip at least in one direction. Americans are not as small as they used to be and two large-sized adults in a roomette is pretty tight.

Cost is a factor but when I compared the round-trip sleeper costs to a round-trip airline ticket with reasonable departures and arrivals and only one out-of-the-way layover (Denver or Houston) the train was about $130 dollars more expensive. That was worth the cost to me. Of course time is a factor as well. If you have to be somewhere in a hurry, don’t take the train. The horrendous stories about late train arrivals are not as common as one would think. We got into St. Louis five minutes early and were back into Albuquerque about thirty minutes late. The delay was caused by a stalled truck on the tracks in Kansas. I left Albuquerque on a Tuesday and returned from St. Louis on a Friday. Sleeper car accomodations fluctuate in cost based on season and demand and there could be a very significant difference from one day to another. It pays to be flexible and schedule your trip for days when the costs are lower. That’s not always possible but it works well for retirees or for people with sufficient time and flexibility.

I enjoy the dining car experience because the food is good and because Amtrak practices open seating, which means that you will be placed at a table with other travellers. Don’t expect to eat alone…you will have company and often an interesting conversation. On this trip I met an interesting lady from Hawaii (also going to St. Louis), two published writers, a man who seems to have personal communication with the Lord…who gives him stock tips, and a fellow train buff on his way to Minneapolis. On other trips I’ve enjoyed the dining company of park rangers, film producers, bee keepers, and a man on his way to Osawatamie. The standard menu is pretty good but there are often meal specials like braised pork shanks with mesquite BBQ sauce, mashed potatoes, a roll, dessert, and iced tea. That was a lunch special and included in the sleeper price.

So…what about the view from the observation car? I’ll post some pictures but you really don’t have to be in the observation car to watch the scenery go by. There is a small snack bar on the lower level for drinks and light snacks or sandwiches. Since I enjoy photography I take a bunch of pictures. Here are some from the trip….It was monsoon season in New Mexico when I left so the clouds were often as interesting as the landscape.It was less cloudy on the way back.

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One doesn’t always see the most scenic side of towns or cities along the way but there are some interesting sights like prisoners in an exercise yard, a nice park pavilion, agricultural operations and a few interesting old houses along the way. Coming back on the return trip it was somewhat comforting to recognize the familiar mountain profiles and the far-off horizons of New Mexico.

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60 Feet Square

It is cool and a little damp which is odd being that this is a desert. Our windy season is mostly over but the temperature has dropped and we have had a few rainy and foggy days. Rainy day here means we might get a shower or two with just enough to wet things down a little. Happily, my rain barrel is full again.

I’ve had a miserable cold and I have been hoping for some warm sunny days so I could bake it out by soaking up rays. I have plenty to do outside but don’t feel like going out. This is a persistent cold virus that I’ve been fighting for two weeks and now heading into week number three…my first cold in about four years. People say it takes three weeks to feel better but still longer to feel right.  I actually know who gave me this cold and I’m plotting revenge. Nothing serious.

It was damp and foggy this morning but the fog burned off and it was sunny for a few hours. Now, a little past 2 PM, it is cloudy and cool again. The sun will be back in an hour or so. I took advantage of the morning sun and got out and worked on my pond and a little in the yard. I took a few pictures all within about a sixty foot square in the front of the house.

Watson, my faithful companion, just turned sixteen and mostly lounges around and watches me in the hope that I do something interesting. That doesn’t happen very often and he falls asleep.  The Lilac is blooming  and there are buds on some of the flowering bushes. It will all explode in blooming frenzy in about two weeks.

I’ve been having some algae problems with the pond and I seem to have a leak somewhere. That is often related to the amount of vegetation in the water. I need a warm day to get out there and do a thorough clean-up job. The fish seem not to notice.

The Mountain Mahogany is blooming — in it’s own fashion. You have to look close and fast because the flowers are small and don’t last long in variable spring weather. They have a faint scent that reminds me of nutmeg. There will be small tufted seed heads later in the summer.

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I have an ancient sagebrush growing out beyond the walled placita. One definition of “Sage” is someone who has attained wisdom. This old gnarled and twisted thing has seen a lot and has sheltered countless families of desert rabbits. It probably has acquired some wisdom but I have no idea how to measure that. I also have no idea how old it is but it certainly predates the house. It reminds me of those old Bristlecone Pines that appear to be dead but are still living — still have a pulse, in a manner of speaking. The contorted trunk has a lot of interest.

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There is a certain muscularity in the wood.

I have a family of Jackrabbits just beyond the rear wall in a sage and saltbush thicket. The Quail are calling but you seldom see them. Mourning Doves come a few times a day to call out and bathe in the pond or stumble around on the rocks by the stream.

Thanks to El Nino, we had a wet year last year and the drought was finally broken but things are always precarious here. We still had only a little more than twelve inches of rain…that’s a wet year. Up on the hill, near Loma Barbon, I lost a few juniper trees to the drought and even the Cholla cactus look defeated. The desert rabbits have eaten most of the Prickly Pear cactus and gnawed on a few Chollas.  Maybe there will be a turnaround this year. I have never seen a “baby” juniper seedling up there because the wildlife will nip it off. We could use a few coyotes up there but it must be easier for them to forage the outlying housing developments. They are getting lazy.

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Sparks Fly

The wind is relentless these last few days. Yesterday the sustained wind was somewhere between 40 and 50 mph for much of the day. Visibility is down to about a mile because of the tons of sand and dust in the air. Tumbleweeds are on the run and some are flying. I saw some at about thirty feet in the air as they launched themselves off of an elevated parking lot. Once airborne they can fly several hundred feet and small ones can just keep flying.

Needless to say, I stayed in as much as possible. I had an eye doctor appointment and had to pick up some cat food so I was out in it just long enough to get bathed in dust and stung by sand. Later in the evening I had to go out again and noticed that I needed gas in the car. The wind was still howling like crazy and I had to go chase the trash bins before I could go anywhere.

Finally, at the gas station, I staggered out of the car and headed to the gas pump. The air was full of sand and dust blowing by at 45 mph. I’m getting stung by sand.. I stuck my trusty credit card in the slot…once….twice…finally on the third try it worked. Of course the reader wanted me to input my zip code. When I did sparks flew from my fingers to the keypad with a snapping sound and somehow this overload of static electricity shut down the card reader program on the gas pump. The program started to reboot — which took about a minute to come back. I had to start over with my credit card again. The same thing happened a second time…more sparks.  Reboot… There was so much accumulated static electricity on the stationary gas pump from the windblown particles hitting it and passing by for fifteen hours or more that it took three tries before the charge dissipated enough for the electronics to operate properly. This was before I ever touched the hose or pump handle. A spark there could have been serious. Meanwhile, after about five minutes of standing in the sand and dust I was beginning to feel like a pin cushion getting jabbed by needles.

We have had windy days before but this was insane. As I went on my way I saw that a fire had broken out in the rear of a materials yard where gravel, sand, and stones were sold for construction purposes. With near zero humidity and howling winds this could get out of hand in minutes. The thought of flaming tumbleweeds bouncing through the bosque forest is scary. Luckily the local fire department was on the way but they were still there two hours later when I went back home. Any unchecked sparks from that fire would have been a potential disaster.

It’s still windy today but it seems to be dying down but still gusting to 55 mph. Humidity has climbed all the way to 23%.  We have blue skies and no dust clouds. Maybe it all blew away yesterday. I don’t see my trash bins.

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