Posts Tagged ‘Albuquerque’


May 25, 2014

Why is human nature so perverse?

Praying for rain, hoping for rain, wishing for rain, deploring the drought, finally it rains.

Now on the third successive day of grey skies and autumn chilliness, instead of continued joy at the moisture, there’s a sliver of … what is it exactly?
For the absence of sun, or for coolness when I’m ready to wear my light summer clothes?

I’m remembering the first summer I lived in Sapello, an historically wet period that hasn’t been matched in the quarter century since. I never did get into my light clothing that year. I wore long sleeves and often a cotton sweater the entire summer season. I have pictures – old fashioned print ones, not digital to be shared here – of the flooding sheets of water carving gullies in my driveway and turning the lower pasture into a lake.

It’s unlikely that this summer will prove to be anything like that one in 1990, which followed the coldest winter in decades and completed a most memorable weather year. My rational mind knows that several weeks of continued rainy weather will only just barely put a dent in our parched conditions. My spirit is delighted to see a return of the long-missing summer pattern of overcast nights, clearing mornings and afternoon thunderheads spilling precious rain. The little, irrational corner of being that feels chilly will just have to suck it up and put on a sweater.

I used to know that outdoor activities like riding my horse needed to be completed in the morning.
I used to ensure that rain boots rode in the trunk of my car (boots in the boot), and that I had an umbrella always on hand, from May to September.

Those days and those habits are long gone. Is it time to bring them out of the closet of memory, press them into freshness, and begin wearing them once more?

I’ve been seeing a different mid-sized bird at the feeder the past few weeks. Orange chest, tan belly, orange spot on the top of a head striped with deep brown and a bit of white, patterns of brown and white running head to tail on the back.

I am a ?

I am a ?

Can you tell I’m not a birder? I seem to remember having lent my bird identification book out and apparently not gotten it back. At least, it’s not on the shelf where I expected to find it.

Another view

Another view

I do wonder if these new visitors are indicative of a shift in weather (and wind) patterns that has broader meaning, perhaps an alert that we’re resuming the nearly forgotten routine of summer afternoon rains?

Cute, n'est-ce pas?

Cute, n’est-ce pas?

For now, I can only note that my day unfolded with repeated short downpours across a wide swath of northern and central New Mexico, perfectly timed. When I needed to load the car, it was clear. While I ate lunch in my favorite Chinese restaurant, it rained. Shopping in the big indoor mall in Albuquerque, it rained. During the two hour drive home, it drizzled, but when I needed to bring my purchases into the house, it was clear.
Who could ask for more?

Japanese Rituals and Tea

March 16, 2014

A dear friend commented on my essay on English tea, that this elaborate meal is very different from an Asian tea – leading me to consider my experience with traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. The first time I benefited from participation in this ancient ritual I was not quite thirteen years old. My mother and I were traveling from the U.S. to Vietnam by ocean liner, a zigzag course from San Francisco to Hawaii to Osaka to Manila to Hong Kong, where we were to land and meet my father for the last leg by plane to Saigon. My mother got bored with life on the ship and decided we should get off in Osaka, and spend a week in Japan before flying to Hong Kong.

Not one to enjoy noisy, busy cities, I found Tokyo interesting but overwhelming. In particular, an hour spent inside a large department store left me feeling frazzled, and as though I were picking people out of my hair and off my skin. Near to the store was a public garden and within the garden a large building which proved to be a cultural museum. Just at the time my mother and I arrived at the entrance to the museum, a young woman in a beautiful kimono announced that a tea ceremony would begin in five minutes. Joining the group that followed her, we walked into a spacious central room where we were invited to be seated on cushions on a tatami floor. In rows, facing an open area, we waited, some talking quietly until the hostess politely shushed everyone.

The walls and ceiling were carved wood, decorated sparingly with niches containing a vase, or a statue, or a calligraphy scroll. The impression was of richness but also a quiet simplicity. Despite being part of a relatively large group (we must have been thirty people) I felt as though a space had opened around me, allowing me to relax and expand. Perhaps it was the size of the room, or its dimensions that created the sense of airiness which I found so soothing.

The tea master entered silently, gliding to his place facing us, a low table and a brazier arranged so as to be within easy reach, yet artistically angled to present to us, his guests, a broken line reminiscent of waves breaking across the tatami sand. The master bowed to us, and we somewhat raggedly bowed back. That is, the Japanese in the group bowed gracefully and in unison – we few Westerners belatedly realizing what was expected, followed as best we were able.

The hostess knelt to the side of the tea master, again gracefully angled to enhance the pattern presented to us. She passed items to the master in perfect rhythm with his movements, and without any visible requests. I concluded that she knew the ritual as thoroughly as he did. Each gesture of each of their four hands was controlled, graceful, careful and complete – a dance of fingers wiping bowls, rotating the tea canister, positioning the kettle, showing off the items used to scoop the tea powder, to stir it, and finally rotating the bowl of tea to present its most beautiful face to the guest for whom it was intended. In turn, the hostess brought a bowl of tea to each of us, then returned the drained vessel to a row behind the master. When we had each had our few sips of thick, bitter, refreshingly energizing, green beverage, and all our bowls were lined up facing us, the hostess and master bowed to us and we – this time collectively, no laggards – bowed back.

The master rose and left the hall, and the hostess signaled for us to also stand. The Japanese rose gracefully while we Westerners found our own, often inelegant ways to our feet. We were escorted back to the entrance hall of the museum, and quietly invited to tour the rooms, which included ancient tea ceremony implements, and gorgeous kimono. I did my best to carry the silence, the stillness, the ritual formality and peace of the ceremony with me as I studied the displays. I still remember how tempted I was to scold the few Western visitors who burst into conversation near by, criticizing the tea as not being what they expected, barely drinkable, not something they would ever willingly have again.

Unlike with English teas, which I’ve enjoyed many times in many lands, I have only experienced that one fully formal Japanese tea ceremony. An acquaintance who married a Japanese, and lived many years in his family home, recently invited me to a tea ceremony that she arranged for a small group of friends at a lovely gallery in Albuquerque. The rituals of turning and admiring and wiping the bowls, of slow-moving hands doing a dance with the tea implements, were familiar despite the many long years since my visit to Japan. At the same time, I was aware of the difference between the formality of the museum ritual, and the “welcome to my home” informality of the ceremony in New Mexico. What they had in common was the creation, through gesture and tradition, of a sense of peace, harmony, stillness, contemplation.

I left the museum on that long ago day, better able to exist within the rush and burble of humanity surrounding me. The ceremony created within me a place of quiet and privacy to which I could retreat, and which I could to some extent then carry with me out into the rest of the day. I’ve learned in later years that other cultural customs also developed in Japan, to provide a sense of privacy to people who live in close proximity, in rooms divided only by paper. For example, the occupant of a room must acknowledge someone who enters before the latter may speak. If unacknowledged, the visitor knows to silently withdraw. Only if the reason for entering the room is of grave importance will the visitor remain, still and silent, until an acknowledgement is offered.

Living most of my life in a very different culture – one that seems to rush to fill any silence with words or music or some sort of noise – I’ve chosen to live in a rural location, in a small house with many large windows that minimize my separation from the trees, grasses, birds and wind surrounding me. Within this retreat I enjoy tea, sometimes green, often strong and black, which I drink from a hand crafted mug. I have my own rituals – the water must be boiling, the tea of good quality, the pot a pretty one. Neither English nor Japanese, nor the Russian of my father’s tea preference, but a blend of all three and a link to cultures and countries and lives I’ve been privileged to encounter.

In Full Glory

In Full Glory

One of a Kind

November 2, 2013

It’s a gorgeous, sunny, crisp yet warm autumn afternoon. I’m driving down from my home at 7500 feet towards Albuquerque. Down as in south, down as in descending to the city’s 5000 foot altitude. I pass from full-color glory of cottonwoods in deep gold, dotted here and there along arroyos which occasionally run but are now dry, to clusters of trees beside small streams which show a mixed blend of yellow tones. Here and there on hillsides I see an occasional, rare in the desert, sprinkling of red leaves where scrub oak is doing its part to show off. Wishing I had time to stop and take pictures at each of the scattered sites, I slow down and drink in the brilliant color enhanced as it is by a bright sun and a postcard-perfect clear blue sky.

An Arc of Gold

An Arc of Gold

Much of the land is once again brown, grasses dried and earth showing little sign of the week of heavy rain that caused flooding in New Mexico as well as Colorado. Oh, you didn’t know that we had floods? Not surprising. When it comes to national reporting, New Mexico doesn’t exist. Our flooding was not mentioned; our drought is equally overlooked, although we have officially been the driest state in the nation. Only when Los Alamos lay in the path of wildfire, and last year when the biggest wildfire raging in the country ate tens of thousands of acres southwest of Santa Fe, did New Mexico make the news. “Listen my children, and you will hear…” stories like those handed out to tourists in a booklet entitled “One of Our Fifty is Missing”  –  but that is the subject of another posting.

On the Prairie

On the Prairie

The rain is gone. One week in August, then a torrential week in September that dumped more than the land could absorb – now we’re once again living with drought, seeing long stretches of dun and tan prairie grasses, and encountering bears on the edges of our communities, some even making their way into the center of large cities in search of food. Acres of monochrome are suddenly interrupted by a line of golden cottonwoods. Looking out across the prairie, those trees beckon with the promise of a water course. Many of these small rivulets are dry, their banks eroded by the flash floods which accompanied that week of September rain, sometimes to the point that tree roots are exposed. Tree roots reaching down deeply, to what little is left of moisture; tree roots anchored in brown to give life to riotous gold.

A Survivor

A Survivor

I pass yet another cluster of trees about ten miles south of Santa Fe, and see cars pulled off the side of the road. Looking more closely, I spy a group of artists, easels lined up, some standing, others on camp stools, each of them trying to capture autumn glory. I wish I could stop and join them! Instead I continue down the highway, across dry flat lands, then down one last hill. Spread out before me is the bosque of the Rio Grande, a wide and many-miles-long swath of cottonwoods, in every possible shade of yellow. It is almost too much to take in – acres of dancing golden tones sating the eye to the point that I must look away, watch the highway and the traffic, overfull.

As I enter Albuquerque, I find myself searching out the occasional red of an intentionally-planted maple (they are not native here) and wonder if the householder responsible for the tree is, like me, originally from the East Coast. I delight in the rare splashes of red in equal measure as I responded to the occasional golden cottonwoods earlier in my trip.

Rosy red

Rosy red

I remember autumn in New England, red upon orange upon grape upon wine, each color seeming to stand out and be enhanced by its subtle differences from its neighbors. I never tired of those shades of red in the way that today I ceased to be drawn to the yellows in the bosque.



I perceive that, because there were so many different types of trees producing multi-hued woodlands, autumn in the East, with its continuous experience of changing colors, did not become “too much” in the way that miles of yellow upon yellow have exhausted my ability to be inspired. I ask myself how much variety is enough to keep me from becoming sated? Is it actually variety that is important, or uniqueness? A clump of cottonwoods in a landscape of tan grasses is unique. A brilliant red maple stands out against an orange-toned oak whereas, in an acre of similarly colored trees, each cottonwood loses its distinction.

Do we not all strive to find our own unique color, to stand out from those around us?

Some of us are more strident, others quite subtle, but all of us seem internally driven to find a way to express individuality. Undoubtedly one of you readers will have objected that the acres of yellow in the bosque, the totality of which I found to be ‘too much’, would have delighted you with its abundance. The open, empty plains that I find soothing were frightening to my mother. On her one visit to New Mexico she felt unpleasantly vulnerable, as though naked and exposed. I, by contrast, feel invaded, almost assaulted, by the intensity of human activity in urban areas.

Standing Out

Standing Out

Going out for a walk after orientation class has ended, I find a patch of grass littered with slim, deep red leaves. I don’t know what sort of tree they have dropped from – I’m not an educated botanist. I do know that I’ll keep the handful I collected on my desk in the training room, until they turn brown and brittle. And to have them longer, I’ll photograph them to upload to my screen saver, along with pictures of cottonwood and of maple branches lit by late afternoon sun.

Red Delight

Red Delight

I may feel sated in the bosque; I will delight in retaining reminders of this colorful day, replete with images that speak to my soul while teaching lessons about the value of individual differences.

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