Posts Tagged ‘drought’

Downside, Upside

June 21, 2015

 

Nearly fifteen years of drought in my northeastern corner of NM have not come to an end – but this spring into summer we have had rain, almost daily, steady and hard at times, short and sharp at others. More days have been cloudy, foggy and cool than the dry, windy and sunny we’ve become accustomed to enduring since 2000. Forestry signs indicating level of fire danger are in the lower yellow – moderate – range instead of the screaming fire engine red of extreme.

Ranchers are running larger numbers of cattle, and those herds are lazing about in lush greenery up to their bellies. Horses are grazing fat, and antelope scattered among the domestic herds are too somnolent to come check out, as in their more normally inquisitive fashion, the curiosity of a person walking nearby and waving a hat. I give up waving, and continue my way, remembering the morning I woke from a sleep-out under the stars, a ring of antelope surrounding me. Not this bunch – too lazy.

The rainy dampness and chill have greatly delayed me in initiating my outdoor walking routine. A rural dirt lane a few miles from my house has become my normal exercise site – a mile and a half round trip the standard, easily extended to two miles or executed in every shorter times, according to my increasing stamina. By this time last year I was already well seasoned and doing two miles in half an hour. Today, it took me the half hour to just go a mile and a half.

The delay in getting up to speed is partly due to rain, and partly due to my own reluctance to switch to early morning walking. It’s been my habit to finish my work day and then walk – and that habit had years to become set, as the drought mandated waiting until the cooler temperatures of evening made walking a pleasure. I’ve become accustomed to the evening walk as a way to wind down from work, to quiet my mind and prepare for evening chores and rest.

Back in the 1990s, when last we had wet summers, I practiced a different routine. Then my exercise was riding my horses and I knew the activity had to be completed before midday, if at all. Our then typical summer pattern was bright sun and light breeze until about noon, when huge white cumulus clouds would build up and move in from the west, to collect and darken and dump rain in the afternoon, often lasting into the night.

That pattern has, this year, established itself once more. For several months now, by the time my work day is done, the sky is totally overcast, the air is thick and wet, the ground is sodden and more rain threatens/promises to fill the night. No way to walk outside and unwind from the stresses of the day.

Ronni Bennett, who blogs on elder issues at Time Goes By, Time Goes By recently posted about habits – in her case the habit of ordering her coffee from New York because that is easier than going through the process of trial and error to find a blend, where she now lives in Seattle, that satisfies her as much as her long-enjoyed standard.Ronni makes the important distinction between habit and addiction and reminds readers that, while addiction is a serious problem, habit most certainly is not. Indeed, we cannot survive without habits. How exhausting to have to go through a day thinking out each step of all the cleanliness routines, the household chores, the mechanical skills on which we rely! Habit only becomes a problem (still not as serious as addiction) when we become locked into patterns and resist change.

Like my recognized delay in adapting to the changed weather by switching my walks from evening to morning. I’ve started the process (today was my second morning outing) and expect that by week’s end I will have a new habit pattern in place. I will not, however, have made up for the month’s delay in building my endurance and speed over my usual trekking path.

Even in drought, walking in the evening meant wearing long sleeves and lots of bug repellant. Now, in the wet, walking at night is truly not safe (West Nile Virus is here). Fortunately, I do not seem to need excessive protection in the early morning. Perhaps the mosquitos, so very much more prevalent at night than they were last year, have also not made a change of habit to morning activity?

Walking in the early morning feels self-indulgent, like I’m doing something purely pleasurable BEFORE meeting my obligations to my family or to my employer. Why is it that I feel I’m only entitled to do something for myself after other responsibilities have been met? I work from home, am supposed to put in a “normal” work day/week but the demands of the job do not allow me to take lunch hours, the day never ends before 6 or 7 P.M. and only rarely do I have an entire weekend off. Why, then, am I still pushing myself to start promptly at 8 A.M., as though I were clocking into an office assignment?

Tomorrow, a Monday, I intend to walk as the start to my day. Probably that means I won’t turn on my work computer until 8:30. Almost certainly I’ll feel a bit guilty, but I’m counting on that habit, also, being changed by the end of the week. Morning walks, better energy and also, almost certainly, better concentration are my new habit priorities. This older dog IS learning new tricks.

Visitors

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?
Resentment?
Regret?
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?

Let It Rain

April 19, 2014

It’s the end of a long, productive but tiring day and I had no idea what to write about for this week’s post.
I opened email from a dear friend, to find a single word – “rain”.

Perhaps because my last email to him announced happily that it was raining outside? For all of five minutes, it actually did rain, hard enough to be heard from inside the house.

Rain – its long absence from our lives, the urgent need for it – is on many minds. An elderly client stated that damp weather – like cold – makes her bones ache but she’d welcome the ache if it brought water for our thirsty earth.

Driving into town (I live about 15 miles out) earlier this evening, I remarked on the dusty, silted, sadly brown fields and talked about the Depression Era dust bowl with my companion. In that area of our community, on a windy day, the air is almost unbreathable, thick with topsoil being scoured from the land. Ninety plus years along, and it seems we haven’t made any progress at all toward preventing another dust bowl.

Hmm… the saying is that you attract what you give your attention to. Perhaps the problem is that too many of us have been giving attention to the drought, when what we should be doing is meditating on rain, snow, lakes, springs, moisture in all its myriad and lively forms.

Like the pond I discovered beside the road back into the mountains, en route to do an assessment with a client who lives in a tiny camper trailer on a twelve acre parcel of wooded mountain land. Several ducks floated on its surface, undisturbed by a chorus of frogs loud enough to be heard over my car’s engine. More than twenty years of living not far away from the area, and I’d never heard that the pond existed. My client informed me that it’s not a year around water, that by June it will be dry.

So think about rain. Think about all the different types of rain I’ve experienced.

The first that comes to mind is in Saigon. My usual form of transport was a cyclo-pousse (French for the combination of bicycle and push, describing a bike with a seat in front, sitting on two wheels).

Cyclo Drivers, Saigon 1957

Cyclo Drivers, Saigon 1957

The faster, noisier variety were called cyclomoto, did not have a carriage cover, and so could not enclose the rider. They were better adapted to carrying large loads.

Motocyclo - Saigon 1957

Motocyclo – Saigon 1957

During the rainy season, the cyclo driver would deploy, from behind the seat, a sort of umbrella cover to which tarps could be attached, ostensibly to keep the rider dry. You can see the cover, minus its surrounding tarp, on the central cyclo. Being enclosed did help a bit, but one still got soaked from below, as furiously fast rains pounded the pavement and rebounded up to a height of two feet or more. There was really no way to be dry if one went outdoors during the downpour. Fortunately, the rains came on a predictable cycle, gradually working their way around the twenty-four hour clock as the season progressed. One could even safely plan to hold an outdoor party at night, during the part of the season when it rained in the morning.

Any wonder that I questioned a local station’s weatherman about his use of the term monsoon for the nearly non-existent rains of the  summer season in New Mexico? Turns out the term describes patterns of air movement which, in wet countries, produce rain and which – rarely – do the same here.

Think about rain.

The British have a wonderful word – mizzle – for the thick, misty, almost-rain conditions associated with foggy London nights. I remember walking across my college campus (Swarthmore, in Eastern Pennsylvania) in a mizzle, bundled against a wet that somehow penetrated all my layers and left me dampened and chilled. There was a beauty to the campus on those wet nights, lamplight haloed by mist showing my way through the rose garden and along winding, tree lined paths. It took several cups of hot cocoa to thaw me, when I reached the warmth of the student center.

The first summer – 1990 – that I lived in my present home in Sapello, I wondered what I had done, buying a home in what felt like a flood zone. My previous residence, on eleven acres southeast of Santa Fe in the Galisteo basin, was almost 1000 feet lower in altitude, and definitely in a more desert-appearing landscape. We received the blessing of summer thunder storms during the years I lived in Galisteo. Great arcs of lightening would leap across the sky, crash into the Ortiz Mountains, and unleash water onto the prairie at a rate that could be absorbed. An occasional gully washer would plow a furrow down my drive, but was always sufficiently short-lived not to do damage.

The summer of 1990 in Sapello was different. It started raining in May and seemed not to stop, not to show the sun, not to warm enough to wear lightweight summer clothing. It rained and rained and rained. My uphill neighbor’s catch pond overflowed and sheets of water poured down across my property, overflowing the culvert and – twice – washing out my driveway completely. I had to have another neighbor come in with his backhoe to rebuild the drive, installing a larger culvert in the process. My horses’ hooves softened and began to rot, as they were unable to escape standing in sopping mud. I scrambled to create a cement pad and shelter for them, before they suffered serious harm. Try laying concrete in a persistent downpour!

Meteorologists tell us that the 90’s were an exceptionally wet period for this area, not a standard against which to rate our current situation. There certainly has not been a summer like 1990 in the past 15 years. I’m gently teased by a friend (native of a tropically wet climate) about my attention to our weather, to the condition of the prairie, to what I see on the distant skyline. He has yet to live through a wildfire summer. He tells me that a member of his church regularly petitions the congregation to pray for rain.

Please join me in a collective focus on wetness falling from the sky onto the lands of the Southwest.

In reciprocation, I will join you – if you live in the Midwest – in a collective focus on calm air and balmy days of recovery from the storms and ice of this past winter.

Together, may we find a better balance and harmony in all aspects of our lives.

**************

PS: Between writing yesterday and posting tonight it rained, intermittently, for several twenty minute periods. The air is cool and damp, the ground moist and there are a few puddles glistening on the highway. I see no stars nor moon tonight – rain clouds hover overhead.

Dieu nous benisse. 🙂

 

When Life Gives You Lemons

April 13, 2014

Ah, the wonders of modern reliance on connectivity!

I had set aside an important three hours on Friday morning, to enter client assessments into the data base system on which my job relies. Guess what? Not only could I not connect, the entire system is down. The only way I can complete any aspect of my work is by telephone – calling into the IT number from time to time, to learn whether the massive problems have been solved. With several thousand employees disbursed across the large state of New Mexico, there is no way – apparently – to alert all of us to a change in status.

Disaster preparedness lessons are certainly now being scheduled.

One of my duties as a Care Coordinator is to educate the clients on my caseload about disaster preparations – to help them think through where they will go if they must evacuate, what they need to have ready to take with them, how they will have their needs met in a new location, etc. The area where I live – and across which my clients are scattered – has been in severe drought for close to ten years, with this past winter being one of the driest on record. Spring is showing in town as forsythia flowering, but looking out my window I see only the dry brown of parched end-of-summer. Driving into the nearby mountains yesterday, there was no hint of green on bare branches of scrub oak, which should already be leafed out.

Like most of my neighbors, I watched TV news of feet of snow being repeatedly dumped on the Midwest, and wondered why the prevailing winds could not let some of that moisture drop on us here, rather than sailing by, overhead. Surely the scientists who can put a man on the moon can figure out how to redirect moisture flows here on earth and distribute needed water more evenly!

When will those individuals supposedly concerned with the nation’s welfare stop bickering about the reality of climate change in the abstract, and focus instead on solving the very real problems of weather extremes being experienced right now? These extremes are causing disasters of varying sorts, every season. That is a fact, not an abstract.

Does it matter whether one believes or not that there are major, impending climate alterations for which mankind is responsible? Not at all, if the priority is to address the very real drought – and the equally real polar vortex – being experienced in different regions of our country.

Stop bickering, and just fix it, already.

Meanwhile, it’s an interesting experience to observe a huge non-profit brought virtually to a standstill for an entire day, because somehow its computer networks have failed. I don’t know as of this writing whether it’s the servers themselves, or access to the Internet, or some other issue that prevents us from emailing one another, or using any of our data base systems. I only know that it is obviously dangerous to build a service delivery system around an expectation that all information one needs to perform ones job can be accessed via the computer.

I’ve ranted here before on the limited vision of techies who build their systems in the midst of large cities with good Net access, and who then expect those of us living in the mountains and “on the frontier” to be able to use those systems. I have to admit I’m perversely glad that serious problems have arisen today right in the center of New Mexico’s largest city. Maybe now, the voices of those of us who are frontier people will be heard!

Maybe now, as well, local stores will consider making the ability to do simple arithmetic and to give change a job requirement once again. They’ve had to shut down serving customers when we’ve had power outages that turn off the cash drawer calculators. Oh, that’s right, the store’s inventory tracking is based within those calculators, and heaven forbid they make a sale that isn’t tracked. After all, doing business is about making money, not about serving customers – right?

Inability to distribute food or other essential goods because the power is off, or the computer is down – now that is a recognizably man-made disaster! No need to get into the debate about man’s contribution to the current climate extremes being experienced – just look at the many local mini-disasters we most certainly cause by ignoring the fallibility of our mechanical creations. Millions of vehicles recalled, dams that crack and flood, power grids that rupture… Haven’t we collectively figured out that if it can be built, it can fail?

No, I guess not. So today I don’t work as expected. Or rather, I will schedule extra clients to visit, collecting information in an old-fashioned, hand-written file folder. Whenever the technical problem is fixed, I’ll have a backlog of data to enter – as will many of my co-workers. I do hope the upsurge in computer usage doesn’t cause a new crash! Is that potential disaster being planned for, as the current repairs are undertaken? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, if the present computer problem isn’t fixed before Monday, I’ll actually have a whole weekend off, for the first time since January 1.
Make lemonade.
Drink lemonade.
Enjoy lemonade.
YES!

A Snowy Contemplation

February 9, 2014

Have you noticed the unique silence that accompanies a fall of snow? The white blanket covering the ground somehow muffles ordinary noises of a country stillness, so that the world is – for a short time – truly quiet. I see birds at the feeder, fluffing themselves to shake dampness off their feathers, but they are not noisily jostling as they were yesterday. Even my dogs lie in, enjoying their heated porch rather than running barking at the rising sun.

From my Window

From my Window

Not much snow fell, not much more than a promise of wetness to our parched land. But the sky is still grey, except where the rising sun has broken through a cloud bank to paint a few slashes of peach and gold. Perhaps a few more drops will bless the earth from the clouds in the west. That is the direction our winter wetness comes in from. In summer it is often the reverse – systems stretch up from the gulf off Texas to give us summer rains. This past year, Texas did not share, and after a good start in late fall, the weather gods have chosen to send all the moisture either north of us into Colorado, or farther east where the blizzards and cold have caused major havoc.

Have you noticed how people’s temperaments are affected by the climates in which they dwell? It is an almost universal truth that cultures in hot, wet environments become gregariously noisy, even in Asian regions that one tends to think of as possessing a pattern of restraint. The silence of traditional Japanese people passing each other in public (it snows in Japan you know) is vastly different from the voluble street harangues of Vietnamese pedestrians in a country where the difference between hottest and coldest weather is less one of temperature than of moisture – monsoon season, or “dry” season when the humidity is perhaps 60% rather than 85%.

I knitted my first sweater in Saigon, when I was fourteen, and wore it twice on “cold” dry season days. Not days really suited to wearing a sweater, but I did so want to show it off. By the time I arrived in a cold enough climate to need a sweater, I’d outgrown it. A pretty dark cherry red pullover, with cap sleeves and a mini-turtleneck, the sweater went with me on to college and to Boston and eventually here to the desert, where I finally gave it to the daughter of a friend to be worn during what used to be our very coldest weeks of January. Used to be – it got down to 30 below at night and not much more than 5 for a daily high over at least a couple of weeks each January, even as recently as 20 years ago when I moved to my present home. For the past ten years, the night time temperature here has not dropped below minus 10, and the sun has warmed us comfortably every day. Pleasanter living than the mid-west’s polar experiences, but dire for our drought.

A snowplow has been by, and the school bus’ flashing lights indicate it has picked up my neighbor’s boys. I see cars making their way down the road that curves toward town, heading into the start of another workday. But still it is silent here around me, in a way only snow produces. It won’t last, neither the silence nor the snow, so I cherish it.

Have you noticed how people’s expressions of temperament change with their circumstances? A man courting a woman asks cautiously will she do this, would she help him to do that. Having won her, he issues orders – we will do this now, you must do that. The woman still has choices. She can simply agree, or she can learn in what way to express her own preferences so that she is heard. It is not significantly different in non-traditional relationships – we learn each other’s ways of being and how to express ourselves to influence the nature of the relationship. We learn how to help one another grow, and sadly, we also often learn how to block or stifle one another in an expression of frustrated, never-outgrown teenage envy.

Have you noticed how, entering a new relationship, there is a tendency to ask oneself, “Should I trust this person? How far? With how much of the truth about myself?” Past personal history of support or betrayal, extent of confidence in one’s self, willingness to risk, curiosity about different life styles, what a friend of mine simply calls open-mindedness, can all blend together into a force that shapes how a relationship develops. That is the common way.

How differently the issues of trust, of exploration and communication and growth of understanding unfold, if one considers a new relationship from the perspective of why the Divine ( God, or Fate, one’s Master, one’s karma, one’s wise inner self, or a Higher Power) “has brought this person and this experience to me at this time.” All the ambiguities of trusting in another person are released to the trust that we are alive for a reason, and that we can understand that reason, learning and thriving in our understanding.

Like the rare silence of a snow-covered early morning landscape, achieving an understanding of ourselves in relationship is a blessing. The moments of silence are brief; I woke early to enjoy them. The opportunities to intuit “what we’re here for” are also brief. I wake early to contemplate them.

The line of cars I see driving to work has warmed the thin snow covering on the road, and it is already turning to splashing slush. My big dog is out and barking to let the world know he has started his new day alertly. His two little companions romp patterns into the snow of my long, curving driveway. Outside, and in, the world is no longer silent. A new day of life has begun. What will I learn? What will I hear? What will I come to understand? What will I teach? What will I give, and what will I receive? Soon enough, I’ll have answers. Soon enough, too, I’ll have another opportunity to practice trusting that what is, is so, for a reason I may or may not be able to fathom. In trusting, I live. To cease trusting would be death – and I’m a long way from ready to die!

Across the Pasture Gate

Across the Pasture Gate

Another wave of snow clouds is sweeping in, flecks of white are drifting across the window. I will delay, just briefly, starting my own work day. Because I can do so, I choose to savor for a few moments more the regained silence (dogs still, birds quiet, no cars passing on the road), the blessing of extra drops of precious water, and another opportunity to consider why I am where I am, and for what inner purpose my outer life has taken on its latest form. Thank Thee, Master, for these gifts!

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.

Neighbors

Neighbors

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.

An Appreciation of Habits

October 6, 2013

Interesting how many unthinking habits are revealed when the pressure tank in the well fails, and a household is without water! Over the years, we’ve been waterless several times, for different reasons. The most difficult was the winter it got down to 30F below and someone forgot to leave faucets dripping, resulting in a frozen water line. That time it took 4 days to restore water flow, fortunately without associated broken pipes. Four days of not being able to flush toilets, or easily wash hands. Of hauling water in three gallon bottles, doling it out in dribbles for washing with a cloth in the sink, “birding off” as a friend used to call it (another acquaintance used to refer to the same process, I know not why, as a whore bath).

This latest episode of being without running water lasted only a little over 24 hours, in warm enough weather to need to shower, not just dab and dry. I gained experience at showering without access to running water back in my early teens, when we lived in Saigon.

Our House, a Very Very Very Fine House - Saigon, 1956

Our House, a Very Very Very Fine House – Saigon, 1956

Water only flowed in our housing compound for about two hours a day. The live-in maid would fill large vats with a hose from a standpipe, then carry buckets up to the bathroom whenever someone needed to bathe. Showering became a matter of pouring a bucket over oneself, soaping, pouring another bucket to rinse, and drying off. In the steamy heat, two or even three showers a day were necessary. A five person household used a vat of water just for bathing. The second vat supplied water for cooking and mopping and hand washing.

In those days, I also learned how to throw a bucket of water (the third vat’s supply) with just the right force, at just the right angle, into a toilet to force it to flush. In recent days, I learned I am still able to shower by the bucket, but have lost the knack of the toilet flush. Or maybe modern toilets are less amenable to alternative flushing procedures? In any case, the knowledge of how to manage without running water rose up from depths, at the same time as I caught myself automatically reaching behind to flush the toilet that had no water in its tank. Knowing there was no water did not stop the unthinking hand gesture.

How many other actions of daily life, including much less mundane ones, do we unthinkingly perform? How many aspects of our routine do we take for granted? And what about people… how often do we take them for granted? Or respond to them out of habit? Or respond to a present situation with an inappropriate habit learned in childhood?

Regrettably, my mother was only able to experience disappointment with life. She had a unique knack for projecting that disappointment, ensuring by her actions that anything I looked forward to with happy anticipation would fit her world view, and therefore not materialize positively in my life. My childhood was one of fearing to express what I wanted, since to do so was to assure it would not happen. Put differently, I became ingrained with the behavior of waiting for the other shoe to drop. As I matured, left home and began living my own values, I gradually freed myself from maternal negativity, and experienced lots of positives. Life brings mostly what one looks to receive from it – and I look with curiosity for new opportunities, good friends, and spiritual growth. I’ve been blessed to receive an abundance of all these.

So – how surprising to discover, in recent days, that a corner of my being is busy defending itself against a shoe dropping, in relation to my upcoming new employment! Why am I suddenly hearing myself reason that I should delay certain purchases because one should never “count chickens before they are hatched?” In ten weeks of living and working on the Maine coast at a home without electricity, I ‘forgot’ the habit of reaching for a wall switch when I entered a dark room. So why do I, after 50 years of living away from my mother’s fearful negativity still subconsciously duck and cover in response to upcoming positive and desired changes?

The Habit of Following Along

The Habit of Following Along

Well, at least I recognize the old emotional habit and can now practice setting it aside. I hope I have more success breaking that pattern than I’ve had with the one that leads me to look up to the right as I leave my living room. For nearly 20 years I had a clock on that right-hand wall – it’s been gone for 2 years now but I still glance there to see the time. And then laugh at myself. I suspect that being able to laugh at practicing an outdated habit is a step in the direction of letting it go, so I will chuckle to myself if I fall back into emotional duck and cover. What better way to switch over to a positive attitude?

And I do intend to retain the habit of washing with minimal water, although not the bucket method needed so recently. Collecting the water that accumulates until a suitable temperature is reached, and turning off the shower while soaping up, have become common sense habits in our continuing drought-plagued environment. Hmmm… I wonder, if someday I move to a place where water is abundant, will my water-saving habits endure?

A Good Day

August 23, 2013

It seems to be perversely part of human nature to never be satisfied.

Through months becoming years of drought, we in the northeastern New Mexico high-mountain desert worried about the lack of rain. Our brown grasslands, swirling dust devils, raging fires and smoke-poisoned air were prominent in every conversation.

Until just a month ago, when suddenly, for some of us, things changed.

Water began to come out of the sky, in thick sheets, on almost a daily basis. Not everywhere, not for long periods of time, but enough where it did appear – including where I live – to turn the prairie green and yellow – green weeds shooting to chest height, yellow wildflowers making wide swaths of color especially where run-off water has pooled.

Rain Gate

Now I hear complaints of pollen-allergies, and worries about the burrs and needle-like seeds that will permeate everything – especially the fur of four-legged pets – as soon as the short-lived grasses and flowers dry out this autumn. People hustle to find mowers and weed eaters, to chop down the lush growth, the absence of which was so recently bewailed.

Today, the sun is shining, there’s a cooling breeze, hummingbirds are hovering over the purple thistle flowers, and a dove is pecking seed from beneath my bird feeder. A few puffs of cloud float in a dust-free postcard blue sky. I’ve had to use the snips designed for nipping small limbs from trees, to cut down the largest red-root weeds blocking the steps to my home. A friend has promised to come mow, before I have company over Labor Day weekend. Not all my acres, just the area immediately around the house, so I can get to the bird feeder and the outside water hydrant without wading through chest-high weeds. So my guests can get into the cottage door without scratches to their legs and prickers in their clothes.

Nothing I can do will prevent the forthcoming torment to dogs and cat. Daily brushing, sessions of picking out burrs, even a close shearing of coats (canine at least) can reduce but not eliminate the pending assault by things that stick and sting and burrow into skin and paws. It’s been so long since we’ve had rain, and weeds, in summer that none of the current crew of pets has experienced what is in store for them. They are all too young.

Green Pastures

I am not too young. I remember, ten years ago, the last time we had summer rains and weeds and wildflowers and enough grass for horse hay to be a reasonable price. I remember the quill-like needles that result from those pretty yellow wildflowers dropping their petals, drying and disseminating their seed. I remember the cockleburs, brown and clawing, so sharp they pierce the leather of my shoes as I walk by them; so sharp they even caused my horses to limp until the spines were picked out of their hooves.

I remember, but today I will not complain. Today I enjoy the sun and the cool breeze and the green vistas and the dancing yellow flowers. Today I am grateful that we have had rain, and a respite from dust and fire and smoke. Today is a good day to Be.

Laughing in the Rain

June 18, 2013

I’m told, and I acknowledge, that I tend to be too serious. I do have a sense of humor, but it’s of the subdued rather than the rowdy kind. Word play (though not necessarily puns) can get me laughing until the tears flow, and I chuckle readily at Maxine’s wise pronouncements. None of which has anything really to do with the topic of this post – or does it? I’ve written about the drought, about living with wildfire, and now I want to write about the visible effects of the one hour of rain and hail that came down at my place last week.
Pasturn runoff
Just a short time ago, on the United World College campus nearby, the students put on a show to entertain their parents and friends the evening before graduation. A brief but strong shower began just as the show was ending, and the audience came out of the auditorium to a covered patio overlooking lawns and the parking area. We locals ran out into the rain, laughing and dancing, delighted to get wet, while the visitors stood in huddles and worried about the plans for an outdoor graduation the next morning. We were right to reassure them; the graduation proceeded under sunny skies.
Now as I write, I am looking out my window at pasture land, still mostly brown but streaked here and there with green. New shoots that never made it up in the spring are showing themselves just in time for the summer solstice. There are thunderclouds overhead and storm warnings being broadcast on the evening news.
Meanwhile, on my kitchen windowsill, a small pot contains a sprouting avocado pit whose shoot is growing almost visibly. Each morning the small plant is an inch or more taller. I set three pits in water several months ago, hoping that I’d get one to grow. If you’ve tried to start an avocado, you know it’s not easy to get one to take root. In 1992 I succeeded, ending eventually with a tree that reached to my 8 foot ceiling. About two years ago, the tree succumbed to root rot and died. Now I’m trying again. An optimist, I see my started plant put out its daily inches, and I cheer it on to become a worthy successor to the old tree.
What does growing an avocado tree have to do with humor? The optimism of setting a seed to sprout, knowing maybe one in ten will do so; the optimism of watching for green shoots in a barren landscape after a single hour of rain; and the optimism of expecting blue skies for a graduation all reveal the kind of humor I find funny. Lighthearted commentary on the foibles of nature (human and otherwise), I find funny – like a joke my spiritual teacher told at a seminar. Apparently an older student complained of suffering from furniture disease. My teacher hadn’t heard of such an illness and asked about its symptoms. “That’s when your chest falls into your drawers.”
What I don’t find funny – but apparently many people do – is put-down humor, such as made Don Rickles famous. When I taught inside the New Mexico Penitentiary, I learned a verbal sparring the men called capping – a sort of focused one-upping that depends on witty use of words and images. Like teasing, it is funny so long as it doesn’t cross a line and become mean-spirited. The challenge is to know where that line lies. It moves. It has no more substance than a line in the sand in a windstorm.
There’s a line between drought and wetness. We certainly haven’t crossed it, barely even taken a half step in that direction, although in the last week we’ve received as much moisture as in the past eight months combined. Enough to put us on target for maybe six inches total for the year. Definitely not the end to a drought. There are people who, as soon as we get a rain, are convinced a turning point has arrived. They want to start washing their cars and watering lawns, demanding that water restrictions be lifted. I think of them standing firmly on the wrong side the common sense line. Though why we call good sense common, when it’s as rare as rain in the desert, I’ll never understand.
Some of the experts currently prognosticating are saying we are not in a drought at all but rather returning, after fifty years of abnormally wet weather, to the more usual level of rain and snow fall in this region. They get their information from tree rings and other natural sources. They were already providing this explanation a few years ago, when the pinyon trees around Santa Fe were attacked and destroyed by bark beetle. The trees had moved into lower altitudes than they have historically been found, apparently because of the wetter conditions, and now are subject to stress and attack in the renewed cycle of dryness. I recall the explanation being offered. I don’t recall many people listening. I do have amusing visions of pinyon trees as an army moving across a moonlit terrain, an inch each night so as not to be noticed, until they arrived at those lower altitudes where they set up camp. Sadly, they were not able to retreat back to safety in the same stealthy manner. Their dead copses still litter the landscape.
It isn’t funny to live without water, although such a situation provides ample material for jokes. In Saigon, in my childhood, we had running water for only an hour a day, during which we stored what we’d need in large vats. A shower (of which several were needed daily due to the steamy heat) consisted of pouring a bucket of water over oneself, soaping up, then pouring another bucket to rinse. Unless it was the rainy season. Then we could easily take the soap, strip and go stand in the garden to get a lovely soaking and cleansing. Visitors hearing about a garden shower might ask, “baby or bridal?” Locals (we were kids, remember) would giggle as we replied, “neither.”
I’m convinced a sense of humor is essential to living – with climate extremes, with other people, within society. Without humor, who would have the patience to start ten avocado pits and see only one take root? Who would continue to vote, expecting the next batch of politicians to somehow be different? Who would dance in the rain?
Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Ima
Ima who?
Ima doing my best to make you smile.

Finding Balance

June 15, 2013

Recently, two quite different groups have asked me to write articles regarding local events. One project is a report on a fun activity of the local amateur “ham” radio (ARES) community in which, on Sunday, June 23rd similar groups all around the country compete to see which one can make the highest number of successful radio contacts, from a field location and “off the grid” of power supply to the radios. San Miguel ARES will be up in the Rockies, above the village of Pecos, running radios off solar panels. ARES functions as a network of radio operators who provide backup communications in emergencies. The San Miguel group coordinates with the county’s Office of Emergency Management, to assure communications in case of wild fires or other catastrophes, more of which seem all but certain to affect us in the near future. The group provided invaluable communication service already, for the Pecos/Tres Lagunas fire. Its members are part of the county emergency planning effort, addressing in particular the concern that a wildfire in the Gallinas watershed could contaminate the water supply to the City of Las Vegas (NM, not NV!) for years to come. The Pecos wildfire (now close to complete containment) came near enough to cause a separate fire-fighting crew to be assigned to protect the watershed.

My second writing project is an essay about the impact on local farmers of the drought, and the seeming failure by the Las Vegas City Council to respond to the threat of severe water shortage. “We won’t run out of water, we never have,” as one councilman put it. Well, we’ve never been in such a severely depleted water situation at this time of year, either. Less than one inch of moisture (including the rain in early June) since the start of 2013.

The group asking for the water story began as an anti-fracking coalition in San Miguel County. I live a short mile from the border between San Miguel and Mora counties. Mora, one of the poorest counties in the state of New Mexico – one of the poorest, probably, in the nation – has recently made a name for itself by passing an outright ban on all fracking activity within its borders, despite a state law that grants oil and gas exploration extraordinary freedoms.

The San Miguel group has begun to morph into a broader coalition intent on protecting water, air and earth. It includes some of the area’s historic ‘rabble-rousers’ intent on overcoming apathy and implementing needed environmental and social protections. They have a challenging task, given the historical perspective reflected not only by the city councilman, but by the populace of the region as a whole. When you live in an area so poor that economic recession in the larger scope of the nation goes relatively unnoticed (not even the Great Depression had much impact on daily life in this area), a survivor mentality takes hold. Little is perceived as likely to alter ‘how things are’ unless or until the threat becomes so immediate (as with the effects fracking would have on Mora County) that it becomes tangible in enough lives for there to be a protest.

When groups face seeming unconcern, they tend to take a confrontational approach. Understandable, though not necessarily the route with the best chance of success. I spent the better part of a day going line by line through a twenty-plus page document, the proposed Oil and Gas Regulation for San Miguel County, finding every place where the wording was inadequate and needed to be changed in order to prevent fracking from destroying my home environment. I provided appropriate alternate wording in my edit. I handed out written copies of my work, and it took me every second of my allotted fifteen minutes of testimony to the County Commission, to specify all the changes the proposed law needs. It did not feel good to be told, by an anti-fracking group member as I stepped away from the podium, that “all I was doing was rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.”

That person’s insistence that only an outright ban like the one in Mora County, was an acceptable decision, probably represents her belief that nothing short of blunt confrontation will “work” to bring about change. I, on the other hand, tend to look for a middle ground, a compromise, which achieves protections and feels like a ‘win’ for both sides. I’ve been trained that way, and perhaps – as a Libra – already oriented that way from birth. It remains to be seen, in what is shaping up to be a serious legal battle, whether Mora’s outright ban will be more or less successful than San Miguel’s pending new proposal, similar to Santa Fe County’s enacted ordinance, which tightly regulates fracking. It remains to be seen just how effective confrontational activism can be at overcoming generations – nay centuries – of a “duck your head, go quietly about your life and survive” mentality. And it remains to be seen how quickly the small San Miguel ARES group can again organize itself to be of service in an upcoming crisis.

What is certain is that both groups are addressing a serious threat to the safety and well-being of all of us in this area. I saved my home from wildfire in 2001, when we had our own conflagration, without resources to help us fight it because those resources were all focused on the larger fire around Los Alamos, burning at the same time. With power turned off, so wells were unavailable, all of us neighbors used what we had -two backhoes and a grader, rakes, shovels and huge amounts of energy – to prevent the fire from reaching a 5000 gallon propane tank. Four homes and a barn were lost, but a wider community of twenty or more families was saved.

What is equally certain is that finding a balance between wants and needs, between gaining income and saving a rural lifestyle, between “the big guys and the little guys”, between confrontation and concession, between use of or destruction of the water, air and earth upon which we all depend – finding balance is essential.


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