The FOS and DST

To Whom It May Concern:

As a cat owner, if that term can be used, I have become aware of a certain aspect of the Feline Operating System (FOS) that seems in need of an upgrade or at least a patch. The FOS has five main operating modes: Exploration, Observation, Expectation, Anticipation, and Procreation. For the sake of household tranquility, the Procreation module has been disabled in many domestic house cats but remains functional in those residing in feral status. Although there may be some hand-wringing and consternation about certain aspects of the Procreation module, that has nothing to do with my current letter of concern to you. There is also a sleeping or resting status that has some bearing on the other FOS modules and my predicament.

There seems to be at least a sequential hierarchy in the FOS based on my observations.

The Exploration module seems to be the first to kick in whenever a cat is introduced into a new household. This sometimes takes several days and during that time the cat seems to be largely invisible. In fact, the cat is not invisible but selects a particular hiding spot, a vantage point for exploration of the premises when the resident human or humans are not awake. I know this because the dish of cat food is empty, there is evidence left in the litter box, and my kitchen cabinet doors are open when I get up in the morning.

The Observation module is the next stage, based on my experience. The newly introduced cat will make its presence known and will carefully observe the human activity in the household. This module is the backbone of the FOS and the one most often in use. The cat will position itself in a location where it has unobstructed sight lines of household activities. In some cases, this will be on top of the refrigerator or the middle of the kitchen table. The cat seems to be programmed, or hard wired, for watching from an elevated position. Human attempts to modify this behavior are met with opposition on the part of the cat and are sometimes accompanied by retribution in the form of scratching on upholstered furniture. The human or humans soon learn to ignore the elevated observation position as much as possible. The cat soon learns every aspect of the human routine from feeding, sleeping, waking, resting, bathing and grooming, and even waste disposal. The Observation module seems to provide data, stimulus, and a feed-back loop for the Expectation and Anticipation modules.

The Expectation module is triggered when the Observation module sends a message that the human is preparing to do a specific task or that the cat has a basic need for food, water, or waste deposition. This module allows the cat to invoke pre-learned responses to events happening around it. When the human picks up car keys the cat will wait respectfully for a pat on the head which soothes the human as he or she leaves the premises. This is most commonly followed by the cat going into sleep or resting status. There seems to be a special function built in for hairball expulsion, but this is a less common and occurs at night and on the human’s bed. As you may recall, I’ve written to you before on this particular issue but your response (“A cat’s got to do what a cat’s got to do”) was somewhat unsatisfactory.

The Anticipation module is also triggered by input from the Observation module. It is similar to the Expectation module but with a higher degree of intensity and speed. For example, when the doorbell rings the cat will automatically go into this module based on behavioral cues learned from the humans and its pre-learned responses. In some cases, the cat might revert to the Exploration module and become invisible to all but the trained human eye. In some cases, the cat might become stalled in the Observation module. In many cases the cat’s movement will become swift and erratic and accompanied by a tripping episode or some other loud encounter with the resident human. There are many other examples of the Anticipation module coming into play, especially around the human’s feeding time or other expected activities. The cat will respond quickly to certain cues such as the human shaking the edible cat treat container. Cat treats, once dispensed as a gratuitous gift by the human, will occasionally be reciprocated by the cat with some form of dead household vermin or pest left in a conspicuous place as a gift for the human. These gifts, and occasionally the expelled hairball, will elicit a loud reaction by the human the next morning.

Of particular concern, and the reason for my letter, is the FOS and the cat’s failure to anticipate and respond to Daylight Savings Time (DST). It would seem to be an easy fix to adjust the FOS to spring forward or fall back on the appointed days. My telephone and laptop computer have this figured out. True, I must go and adjust my clocks twice a year and replace the batteries in smoke detectors, but I would think that something as sophisticated as a cat behavior module would be easily adjusted based on the calendar setting. My cat insists that I wake up and perform all my tasks and bodily functions on its pre-learned schedule rather than the DST clock-time that governs my work and relationships with other humans. The cat is slow to adjust to the DST schedule changes and can be downright obnoxious, especially in the morning when I hear slamming of cabinet doors, upholstery scratching, and the sound of hairball expulsion as I’m trying to get a few more minutes of sleep. Licking, biting and pulling of my hair is not welcome at 7 AM, at least not by an irate cat. So, in closing, I respectfully request that you take this respectful suggestion and my plea on the part of cat owners everywhere and provide a DST fix to the FOS at your earliest opportunity.

Most Sincerely Yours,

A Cat Owner



Books – And Where to Put Them

I’ve always had books – possessed books. Some I have yet to read but it is reassuring to know that I can read them. Other things get in the way. I know that’s a little odd but I’m sure I’m not the only one with this affliction. Now, I have a goodly share of books and when I go to the library I stop by the “free books” cart and often bring home one or two more. I went to the American Library Association (ALA) convention in Las Vegas a couple years ago and came home with sixty-five books….most being advance reader copies. Some of those became best sellers. By the way – I heartily recommend the ALA convention for anyone who likes books or is interested in the world of publishing.

About four years ago, when I was down-sizing and selling my house in the Midwest, I went through my book collection and disposed of several boxes of books and also several large bookcases. It was going to cost me a dollar per pound to move my stuff 1,000 miles to the desert so I was pretty ruthless in getting rid of some of my belongings. I was surprised that some books were too precious to dispose of even though I had read them years before and would not read them again. There was some sort of bond between me and these books. Who possessed who?

Now that I’m in a smaller space, storage is an important issue. I have five or six short bookcases – small, squatty and portable things dispersed in several rooms so that now I can’t find anything when I want it. I have a couple boxes of books in the garage that never found a place on a shelf. So here I am looking for a better solution.

I built myself an office – essentially converting part of an unused porch into a bright and cheery “Green Room” — and I spend most of my time there. The sliding glass door opens to the rear portal of my house and I frequently have Roadrunners or desert cottontails looking in. It has a brick floor, my vintage craftsman library desk, Windsor desk chair, a wicker reading chair and foot stool, and a functional (but unsatisfactory) short bookcase. You know the type – the folding bookcase that you buy at Target stores or at Wal-Mart. So, I’m looking for something bigger and permanent that fits into this somewhat eclectic, but small, office space.


I’ve started noticing bookcases in other people’s homes. Are they organized in a certain way? Do they seem private or open to visitors? Are they displaying books or storing books? What else do they have besides books? How big are the bookcases and do they have more than one? A friend had a carpenter come in and install a wall of polished walnut bookcases in the living room – a built-in and permanent feature. She has all sorts of things on display, including books, art objects and a framed letter from Queen Elizabeth II. As a collector myself, I can imagine putting things out on display and I seldom take a walk without carrying something back home. But a display case is not really what I’m looking for in this instance.

As the family historian, I have five three-ring binders of family material. I’ve been bouncing around in genealogical circles long enough that people contact me about one thing or another and those binders are packed in a box in the garage and not readily available. I have outdoor and gardening books, field guides, fishing books, design and architecture books, art and photography books of every shape and size. People give me books as Christmas or birthday presents. Most of my current collection is history books and biographies – some over 100 years old. It’s not going to be easy making sense of this.

I went to look at Architectural Digest magazine…I usually have four or five lying around. That was pretty fruitless because I’m obviously not the AD type – or at least my little office isn’t. My crazy collection would not be very appealing to the eye. My next step is to go ransack a few antique stores to see what they might have.

Books are like friends in a way. You want them to be comfortable and have a permanent place in your home. I’ll let you know how this comes out – any suggestions are welcome.

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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.



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.


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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The Impermanance of Place – Plaza Del Cerro

The Shadowed Wall
What lives were once protected
behind these shadowed walls?
What joys were shared and hopes declared
and private pains endured?
What voices spoke to say a prayer or
comfort childhood fears?
What buttons sewed?
What wondrous weavings wove?
What feasts enjoyed? What cheerful toasts proposed?
What missing friends or long-lost parents mourned?
Like brushstrokes on canvas, these past lives
paint shadowed lines on old forgotten walls.

The house where I was born still exists….barely escaping a wrecking ball for a new interstate highway. The house my grandmother grew old in and where I lived from the age of two to the ripe old age of five still stands. The next house, where I lived until early twenties is still there. The house where my father was born and grew up is still going strong. Indeed, the stone  house built by my seventh great grandfather, in the 1690s, is still there and lives on as a house museum. Reading this, one would think that home places last forever but I think my story is more the exception than the rule. Some of the old places are gone and we are sometimes better for it. The TB infested tenements that were home to my Irish immigrant ancestors are gone. My German-Pomeranian immigrants first lived in a small house in an orchard — now a 1950s tract-house subdivision and school. Nothing lasts forever. Change is the only constant. There’s always something new just out of sight.

I recently had the opportunity to visit some small communities in northern New Mexico. These places have been there for hundreds of years. The Spanish first arrived around 1595 but the Pueblo Indians go back 800 or 1,000 years or more. The ancestors of the Pueblo Indians were a relatively sedentary people rather than nomadic but they still roamed around the four-corners area for many generations living in stone (or later adobe) towns for a couple hundred years before moving on to better farming lands. The old places were emptied and left behind.  Many of these are now tourist stops but they were living and breathing communities at one time.  These places were occupied and loved and fought over and changed hands just like almost anyplace in the world.

The Arriving Spaniards were familiar with adobe. The very word is Moorish, introduced into Spain during the Muslim caliphates of  al-Andalus.  Adobe was possibly the most common building material throughout the drier regions of the world. That is the problem…it doesn’t hold up well when it gets wet and needs frequent maintenance. I have a couple adobe bricks in my yard that are slowly returning to the soil…it’s taken about twenty years of exposure and they are mostly just rounded clumps. They will be gone before long.

Mudding an Adobe Wall – San Francisco de Asis, Ranchos de Taos

Without regular maintenance, an adobe building will disintegrate over time. The traditional maintenance method involves applying a coating of mud over the exterior of the building to seal and protect the adobe bricks. When that coating cracks or washes off, you do it again. And then your kids do it and later your grandchildren…as long as the structure is occupied. Applying a new coat of mud to a large church or public building is quite a job and, hopefully, the community volunteers to do the work.  In modern times, people with good intentions began applying cement and stucco instead of mud thinking it was more durable. Modern stucco seals in the moisture and causes the adobe bricks to fail….just the opposite of what was intended. A traditional mud coating breathes and allows moisture to escape.

The Plaza del Cerro in the village of Chimayo offers, in one place, an interesting catalogue of the declining life cycle of adobe buildings. The plaza was constructed in 1749 to defend against attacks by nomadic plains Indians…who just discovered the horse. Outlying settlers moved into the village and built a defensive cluster of attached adobe residences around a large central plaza. Access to the plaza was through narrow openings between some of the houses.  There was a reliable water source from an acequia and the central plaza was divided into small garden plots or livestock pens.  In times of danger it was reasonably self contained.  That was life in northern New Spain in 1749.

In 2015 the place is the last surviving example of a fortified village plaza in New Mexico and it is seriously endangered….not from Indians but from neglect and indecision. The structures remain in private hands as does the various original garden plots, now overgrown, in the plaza.  In it’s current condition a visitor would need to be told what they are looking at because it isn’t obvious. The place is losing touch with its historical context and its integrity as a cohesive village plaza.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are some very well maintained structures and one side of the plaza is in reasonably good shape. Someone is taking care of it. Pitched roofs and dormers and some of the details were later additions but one can see the concept of adjoining residences forming a defensive wall. Across the plaza there are a few other maintained structures including a bed and breakfast and a local museum.


Most of the other perimeter structures are vacant and not in good shape. The plaza interior grounds are overgrown and choked by weeds. Here and there you can see where there was a fruit tree planted but now largely neglected. The acequia that once brought water into the plaza was dug by local pueblo Indians prior to the arrival of the Spanish settlers.

The progression of deterioration and collapse is depicted in the following pictures of different buildings around the plaza perimeter.













Eventually the building becomes a pile of debris. Vigas or anything worth salvaging is carted away and there is nothing left but cobbled rubble and dirt.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne interesting building on the plaza perimeter is the Oratorio de San Buenaventura, a family chapel built in the early 1800s and maintained by the local Ortega family. This small chapel exhibits features of the earliest church structures in New Mexico including a packed dirt floor (with burials) and a split cedar ceiling resting over vigas.  There has been some activity and limited technical support for restoration efforts for the Oratorio but the rest of the plaza is in trouble. Multiple private owners and failure to arrive at a consensus for a preservation plan keeps a general restoration or stabilization effort from forming. Outside partnerships for technical assistance and restoration and some financial support are needed.

Oratorio ceiling — Cedar over vigas

The Plaza del Cerro is certainly one of the most endangered historical and architectural sites in New Mexico. It has been there for over 250 years but will not be there much longer without some serious intervention. Several hundred thousand visitors stream into Chimayo each year to visit the Santuario de Chimayo with a large number of pilgrims arriving during Holy Week each year. They pass within a few hundred yards of the Plaza del Cerro without even knowing that it is there.

Santuario de Chimayo

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Wednesday Roam…Thinking About Clocks

About a week or so ago a writer friend posted a short piece about using a metronome in music. She is a musician — I am not, but her discussion continued to where she was thinking about time keeping, generally, and reminiscing about clocks.  That got me to thinking.

It made me realize that all but one of the clocks in my house are digital clocks. The lone exception is a smallish antique-looking mantel clock that runs on a battery and doesn’t keep correct time. It’s flawed somehow in its inner workings and lies to me every day. I change batteries from time to time and reset the hours and minutes every week or so but it immediately loses or adds time. As a clock it is worthless but I keep it anyway.  Sort of like penance. It’s an imperfect world.

I unconsciously went to digital clocks. I never planned to, but I think there is something accusatory about the face of a traditional analog clock. It shows a full twelve hour span of time and seems somewhat adversarial. It sits there and ticks off the minutes….”where have you been for so long?” or ”you should have left five minutes ago” or ”when do you think you will finally get up?”  I don’t need that kind of mocking attitude…I have a cat for that.

Digital clocks are quiet – no ticking. They only display the time for that particular moment that you are looking at them. They seem totally objective and unconcerned with my procrastination. “If you want to dilly-dally the whole day away that’s your call…it’s none of my business”.  The thing I dislike most about digital clocks is the sound of the alarm. The manufacturers seem to delight in making the alarm, well, very alarming. They buzz and screech or make some sort of indescribably irritating noise.

The sounds that I like best from a clock are the bells and chimes that ring out the hours. I remember a few from churches in Italy – Rome, Florence, Venice, Milan… Most were very noble sounding bells. There were dueling clocks in Perugia in Umbria — the town hall clock had one that sounded like someone beating a cast-iron plate with a hammer while the church across the piazza had a clock with a true bell but they didn’t always agree on the time. The town hall would clang out the hours and a couple minutes later the church bells would issue a correction. You knew you were in Italy. Here’s a YouTube video — the bells seem to be more in sync but you get the idea.  I warn you…it’s noisy.

I used to go SCUBA diving and got used to wearing one of those black waterproof dive watches. It would tell me all sorts of things and was always — almost always — correct. Once you figured out the controls using tiny little, elfin-sized buttons, you were all set. I could have military time, days and dates, stopwatch, and even regular digital hours and minutes.  I’ve had several of these watches over the years and the weakest part was always the wristband. The last one I had used an odd size (in width) wristband and when the band broke I couldn’t find a replacement. The watch worked fine.  I decided to buy a cheap replacement until I had the time and opportunity to find the right wristband. I chose an analog wristwatch with an expandable metal band like watches I had years ago. I actually liked the way it looked…my daughter called it “a big-boy watch”, not one of those black, rubber dive watches.  It has that accusatory face but they have tried to mitigate that by only having a few numbers with the hours mostly designated by tick-marks. It only has ’12’, ‘6’, and ‘9’. Where the ‘3’ should be is a little window that tells me what day and date it is, in English and Spanish — half the day I get English and the other half I get Spanish. I figure that the Spanish part indicates siesta time…that works for me. Oddly enough, the watch is made in Japan….go figure.

The original post that got me thinking about clocks is here:

Wednesday Roam — Water Wars and Aggravation

Some weeks it doesn’t pay to get out of bed.  It has been one step forward and two steps back here at the home place. Not all bad but just a lot of aggravation.

I’ve lived here for over a year and a half but my learning curve is still bothersome. There are several “systems” that are new to me — things I never encountered before that are major components of how things work. I had no idea of what an “evaporative cooler” was or how radiant heat worked when I moved here. I never had a well or a septic tank before.

I grew up in a place that got around 40 inches of rain each year and no one had a need for a sprinkler or irrigation system. Here, we get about 8 inches of rain and it is common to have some sort of irrigation system. I’m the fourth owner of the place and the first owner, way back in the late 1990s, installed an expensive sprinkler system. They had horses and were hoping to grow grass out of the sandy soil and sagebrush.  Twenty years later I come along and try to figure out what they had installed. My neighbor says the system hasn’t worked in ten years….or at least was not used for that long. The original owners left in a huff when the city told them that they not only could not install lights around their horse corral for night riding but they were not allowed to keep horses on the property over night in the first place.  Seems like they didn’t check the zoning rules before they built the house and brought in the horses….or figured they could bluff their way through.  It didn’t work.

So, here I come. I figured out how to turn the sprinkler system on but only one sprinkler worked and it sprayed water on the gas meter.  That made no sense to me.  I would periodically go and fiddle with the system controls and ponder why it didn’t work. My neighbor said I should have a manifold somewhere.  Manifold?  I searched the yard and found nothing other than what I figured was the access to the well and pump.  Finally I got the system working just by resetting the controls and starting from scratch.  This was just dumb luck because there is no manual or instructions to speak of and no map telling me where the sprinklers were. Suddenly I had things popping out of the bare ground and squirting water around the front yard. the little drip spigot by my fig tree started bubbling water. I suddenly saw potential.  Maybe I could get the fig tree to do something!!!  Maybe I could get the yard to have some living plants other than sage and saltbush!!!

I was happily planning out the future. I bought a few plants.  I discovered a second sprinkler system that is a manual sort of thing connected by a hose to the well hydrant. I raked and cleaned up the yard and removed the dead debris.  I planted a red osier Dogwood over by the driveway. I planted some blazing star bulbs and planted some native wildflower seeds. I turned on the hose/hydrant system to provide some water for my new plantings.

Nest morning I realized I forgot to turn off the hose/hydrant system. That was not good but I should be more careful. Live and learn. “Don’t get distracted and finish what you start” should be my motto.

I noticed that the goldfish pond was low so I turned on the hose and added some water to the pond. It was down about six inches and it’s a big pond so it takes a while to add the water. I went inside to get another cup of coffee. About midnight I remembered that the pond had been filling. YIKES.  I ran outside and turned off the water. Happily, the fish were still there. The pond was quite large and the fish were swimming places where they had never been before but that was okay. They were having a great time. My pump and filter system was under water…not good.  I pulled out a couple buckets of water but realized I’d be at it all night if I was going to use a bucket.  I went to bed.

Next morning I figured out how to drain the water using a large funnel and a hose at the waterfall where the pump returned the water to the pond. It took most of the day to get the water level back down to where it belonged.

Meanwhile, every day I was doing more raking and planting and the sprinkler and drip system seemed to be fine. Then one morning I noticed that two sprinklers were running at 9 AM when they should be off. Why is that? Apparently they had been on all night because there was a lot of wet mud and puddles of water. I tried to turn them off with the controls…nothing happened. I reset the controls back to zero….nothing happened. I unplugged the controls….nothing happened. Hmmm. I have rogue sprinklers.  Since I have no manual or instructions, I went to the trusty Internet.  There were lots of pictures of sprinkler systems and manifolds. I figured I needed to go out and take things in hand and turn off the water access to the whole system. Inside the manifold box there should be a valve that cuts off the water. I went out and got into the only box I could find and it didn’t look anything like what the pictures showed on the Internet….but there was a valve with a handle that did look like what they were showing in the manifold pictures. With some difficulty and some WD-40, I managed to get the old valve turned and the sprinklers died down to a dribble. Ah…success! Things were looking up. I called the local sprinkler company emergency service number (this was a Sunday) and they said I probably got it fixed temporarily and they could send a repair guy next week.  Great.

A couple hours later I realized there was no water coming into the house.  The valve turned off the flow of water from the well.  So I was back out in the yard and re-opening the valve and the sprinklers came back on but only at a low trickle.

There has to be a sprinkler manifold box somewhere. I got my rake and started scraping away some old brush and — Surprise! – there was another box under an old sage bush. The box hadn’t seen daylight in years. So…I opened it up and recognized what I had seen earlier on the Internet…except there was no shut-off valve. Of course….why would I think that there would be a shut-off valve? There was water inside the box…not good. I took a couple pictures of the box with my phone and jumped in the car and drove to the sprinkler store….which was open by that time.

“Yep…that’s a manifold box and you have water in it.” he said.

“Yeah…where is the shut-off valve?”  I asked.  “I have sprinklers going and can’t turn them off.”

“Did we install it?”

“I have no idea….it’s twenty years old…probably not.”

So we were not really getting anywhere. He wanted to be sure he wasn’t to blame — CYA.  Finally we took the picture on my phone over to the spare parts bin and found something that looked like what was inside the manifold box.  He showed me how to turn off each sprinkler valve until I found the right one.

Okidoke. Maybe this will work.  When I got home my daughter had arrived so I enlisted her help in my battle against the rogue sprinklers.

“Tell me when they go off” I shouted. I started fiddling with the sprinkler valves inside the box. Almost immediately I heard screaming. She was drenched. She didn’t know which way to run.  That is probably the last time I’ll get much help from her…

But…we got the sprinklers turned off, eventually.

As a payback for her help I took her for a short hike up in the foothills. She has been wanting to find out how to find the trailheads and parking areas to access the trail system. It was cool and windy but we had a nice short walk. We had a nice dinner and I think she almost forgot about getting wet.

Here are a few pictures of the foothills trails. It is spring and things are starting to bloom. Maybe next week will be better.  The sprinkler guy shows up on Friday.






“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.