It Must be Spring

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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One Thousand Desert Winters

sundagger

The calendar on the wall kept watch alone

for one thousand desert winters

and one thousand desert summers.

Faithfully measuring out the seasons.

The rabbits and rock doves had their own calendars.

The coyotes took note of every moonrise.

Lizards were thankful for the morning sun.

Years passed, stars fell and crickets chirped

but no one watched the calendar.

 

Someone once kept a holy vigil.

They watched the calendar and the changing seasons.

That was long ago and for reasons we can only guess.

Things change slowly here in the desert. One can lose track.

Was it a secret place? Was it a sacred place?

This space of discourse between sun and stone

was witnessed by a silent scribe. Watch closely…take note.

Each morning was important – day in, day out.

The morning sun sent its dagger deeper, striking out the

old season and bringing forth the new.

 

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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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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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So Now Comes The Wind

tumbleweeds

So now comes the wind —
Our winter’s downhill neighbor
testing the hinges.

From beyond, somewhere
in a distant mountain place,
it comes to life.

It finds its power —
it scours the dead and dying —
it tries to take you.

But you bow your head.
You divert your swollen eyes.
It passes over.

A born acrobat,
Tumbleweed pulls up her skirts
and scatters her seeds.

It takes what it wants
leaving man and beast behind
tumbling into Spring.

 

The Canyon & Waiting for the Snow

We are supposed to get snow today and tomorrow but the forecasts are a little confusing. They make it sound like a major catastrophe is bearing down on us and then we get an inch and a half of snow and it is gone in six hours. This is New Mexico where the weather is mostly the same from day to day within the slow seasonal cycles so anything that varies from the norm gets a lot of attention.  I’m actually hoping for a little snow — not eight inches.

I recently spent a couple days at Grand Canyon — just before Christmas. That is a wonderful time to visit because there are so few people there and the snow decorates the canyon walls. So, as I await the coming blizzard (or snow shower) I’ll post some Grand Canyon pictures.

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The weather was a little unsettled first day at the canyon but the second day was clear with a beautiful blue sky. The lack of clouds or atmospheric variations tended to wash out the depth of the canyon and it was hard to get good distance photographs. I was there partially for the architecture of the 100 year old park buildings so I enjoyed that as much as the canyon shots.

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While not exactly empty, the park is not anywhere as crowded as it is in the summer and you can take as much time as you want and see it on your own terms.  One thing I noticed in the snow is the foot prints of the other visitors. They apparently ignore the safety railings and climb out on the farthest and most precarious perches. This is dangerous in warm and dry conditions but in snow and ice it is a little foolhardy. Sometimes the footprints went out to the edge but didn’t come back. I wonder how many people go missing.   Anyway, the park was mostly empty except for me, several bus loads of Chinese tourists and some hardy winter backpackers.

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Well…the clouds have moved in so I guess it will start snowing soon. I’m ready.

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