Morning Rain

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I awoke to an rare and unfamiliar presence;
a coolness and a calm that seemed foreign.
There was a faint sound and the curtains moved
in a slight breeze. The light was subdued. There 
was a pleasant smell in the air. Those were my first
sleepy realities…my first slow acknowledgement of
the blessing of the morning rain.

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The Indians have a name for this:  a Female Rain.
There is something feminine and kind. There is
something womanly about it — no thunder or
lightning. No bullying wind. Just a nourishing
and healing rain that slips in and caresses you
and stays for a while. I lie still and take it all in. 
Part of me wants to sleep but I have to get up.

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We are in serious drought times now and the land
has suffered. The fires have been burning in the
distance. The flowers and trees have not come
into bloom or blossom. It will be a starving time for
the wildlife when the hard winter snow comes. 
But for now — I wake up slowly and enjoy the
blessing of the day. The Coyotes sing with joy.

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The Home Place — 2021

 

The Mourning Dove

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I have a widowed Mourning Dove
Who seems lost without her mate.
She walks alone upon my garden wall,
calls from the parapet in grief.

I found him, or rather the evidence
of his fate, by the Mahogany tree.
Predation is a constant threat for
Doves. They seem not to know it.

She seems to be in denial. Waiting.
I watched this pair in the early spring.
They struggled in indecision — trying to
make a nest; first here, then there.

They chose my canale – no place for a nest.
Storm water would have done them in.
I chased them away. Discouraged them.
Then they found the Mahogany tree.

They planned a life together, as many do.
But unexpected partings take their toll.
It is the way of things. We know it.
I know it too well. But doves do not.

She stays close. Still revisits the tree.
I see her every day at my pond.
Once or twice she had a companion
but it didn’t last. Still a solitary soul.

She is waiting for something. Doves are
a symbol of peace. Sometime messengers
of God. They know their way home from
many miles away. They mate for life.

She is a pretty little thing. I wish her well.

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The Home Place — 2021

 

The Goblin Colony

Sometimes you arrive at a different sort of reality. Or so it seems. As my posts go, this one might be a little odd.

I have been out roaming and enjoying our spring weather. Part of that is cabin fever from my solitary confinement during this pandemic. I made it through okay and feel a bit liberated after my vaccinations have taken hold.  My wanderlust took me back to my favorite mountains — the volcanic relic of the Jemez Mountains. The mountains piled up during three successive massive eruptions and subsequent collapses of a super volcano about 1.1 million years ago. The Valles Caldera is the obvious evidence of the last collapse. The pyroclastic flows and tons of volcanic ash and ejected basalt and rhyolite piled up into the impressive Jemez Mountains, a true “Sky Island” of green surrounded by desert.

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I have been up into the mountains many times. They are about a 30-40 minute drive from Albuquerque  — which is an  interesting trip in itself.  The mountains are rugged but not impossible to explore. The weather changes rapidly and there is a frequent danger of forest fires from lightning strikes or careless campers. There are still hot springs in places and some fumaroles in the caldera. Most of the mountain slopes on the southern flanks show barren spots with exposed tuff – consolidated volcanic ash.

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The tuff is like a cement pavement — absolutely solid in most places. The surface becomes scaly and pock marked on some vertical surfaces.  I took Forest Road 10 up through Paliza Canyon. It is the accessed by the road that goes through the village of Ponderosa  New Mexico. You are on the right track if you pass the (NFS) Paliza Family Campground. Continue up FR 10 from there. You will climb into the mountains and after a short distance you will be tempted to pull over and explore a barren section of tuff outcrops and eroded forms, mostly on the left. I was tempted to do so, and did.

The risk is two-fold. First, there are lumber trucks on the road that may not expect to see your car so find a safe place to pull over. Secondly, the “pavement” of the outcrop is sloping toward a narrow ravine and can be slick if you are not wearing proper shoes. I had the benefit of a hiking stick and I would recommend it. This would be an opportunity to get up close and personal with tuff if you have not encountered it before. It is not like granite or limestone. It is technically an igneous rock laid down as a sedimentary rock. It is like a gritty sandstone. You will see a lot of pock marked surfaces, possibly from pockets of super-heated gases. I noticed Ponderosa Pine, Douglas Fir, and Gambel Oak growing around the edge of the outcrop.

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The volcanic ash that forms tuff is super heated to as much as 1300 degrees and is emitting gases and steam as it accumulates and, of course, igniting anything that it lands on.

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Pock marks and cavities in the tuff formations.

Continue climbing higher into the mountains on the forest road you will see interesting stone cliffs and palisades on the higher slopes. You eventually come to a small marker on the right next to the road that says “no motorized vehicles” and an inconspicuous worn path leading up a small slope and away from the road. There is sort of a pull off if your car is small enough. Sight lines are pretty good for passing traffic — if there is any. There should be a sign saying take water and wear sturdy high-top shoes or boots…but there isn’t. The marker can be easily missed if you are gawking at the scenery.

Once you are off the road and on the trail you will wonder what the big deal is about. There are nice views off to the distance and a few odd boulders. The trail starts reasonably flat but then heads steeply down There isn’t much to see from the top. The trail forward can be slippery due to its loose surface and after heading down a distance of a couple hundred feet you start to see what the big deal is. There are things out there. Many things.

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There are several different types of strange formations arrayed across the hillside. At first you don’t know exactly what you are looking at. Then you think you are in the ruins of some ancient man-made shrine or structure. It looks something like a ruined Stonehenge or a broken down Roman temple. Only after a few minutes do you grasp the fact that this is a natural rock formation created by eons of wind and water erosion.

Goblins — some of these things look like goblins or what we might think of as trolls or goblins from kids’ books. They seem to have bizarre facial features — almost like a Picasso painting. Strange but still discernable. The body shape is also oddly familiar. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of them on the exposed slope. They remind you of the Easter Island statues all staring off into the distance.

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This is getting a bit creepy. That one just turned his head — or did he.

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Of course, you want a closer look — if you are brave enough and sure footed. The way down to the level of the goblins is mostly unmarked and a slope of loose, unconsolidated volcanic ash grit. You can see tracks where others went down.  Why are there no tracks leading back up? Heading down, the grit gets into your shoes and you slide with every step. You start to think about those ant lion traps you used to see as a kid where the ant wandered into the sand funnel and could not get out — and is devoured by the ant lion.  Again you wonder — Why no tracks leading out? You realize that once you start down the slope there is no easy way back up the loose grit. You stop and sink to your ankles.. That goblin is still looking at you. You descend going from a tree to a rock to another tree. It is steeper than it looks. Finally you are down and see that there are plenty of foot prints and little trails among the goblins. Up close you see they are made of natural stone — not carved by a prankster but eroded over eons.

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Looking around you start to see columns – like from a Roman temple or some sort of stone circle or Stonehenge..

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Fairy Chimneys  — the common term for these  columns seems to be Fairy Chimneys. I guess the Fairies live underground.  The forms rise straight up, vertically and purposefully out of the ground. Only a few have fallen over and they seem pretty sturdy and stable if left alone.

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They, too, seem to be frozen in a march down the slope.

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Some seem to have strange goblin heads. Some look like totem poles. For a while it seems like you are in a different reality or on a different planet.

After a exploring a while you start to wonder how to get back to the car. There is no apparent trail out of the Goblin Colony. There are a couple trails that lead back to the bottom of the slope but it is a long and difficult scramble up the steep and unstable gravelly incline. There are a few trees to grab and brace yourself against. You catch your breath.  This is a high elevation bushwhacking climb up a treacherous slope. You are close to 8000 feet of elevation. You see encouraging marks where others have struggled up the same way. Eventually you make it back to the trail — your pulse is racing.  You catch your breath and rest a minute. The trail back to the car is easier.

Back in your car and resting with the AC on you think about your adventure. Will people believe this?  It isn’t really well known or in the guidebooks. From here, you can turn around and head back down the mountain if you are done or it is late. If you still have some adventure left in you, you can continue up the hill a bit and follow the curving route to an interesting overlook. It is best to pull off the road as the place is on a sharp curve. You are on top of one of those impressive palisades that you saw from a distance while driving up. The view goes back down Paliza Canyon toward Ponderosa. There is a nice breeze and it’s shaded and you notice some people have camped up there. This would be a special place at night with a starry sky or a full moon. There are hawks soaring at eye level just out of reach on the thermals.

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Now you can turn around — or if you are still willing, you can follow the forest road all the way over to where it meets highway 4.  At the highway, turning right will take you past the caldera, to Los Alamos, and Bandelier National Monument. To the left you will head toward Jemez Falls, Soda Dam, and then to the village of Jemez Springs (cold beer and food) and eventually back out of the mountains, past Jemez Pueblo to  the way you came in.  Jemez Springs has galleries, hot springs, and overnight spa accommodations if that sounds good. There is also an old ruined Spanish mission and pueblo dating to 1621.

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This has been a little more of a travelogue than I usually do but after being cooped up for over a year it seems that many of us are looking for a chance to get out and explore a little.  Now, I may have made the route seem a little tougher than it is. I’m 72 so a younger person might not find the going as difficult but be cautious. On a very hot day it might be worse. I was there in mid May. Rumor has it that there might be a several mile long hiking trail from Paliza Family Campground. I have not camped there but it looks well maintained.

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The Home Place — 2021

Rio Grande del Norte

The Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico is an amazing place in terms of geology and the ancient ways of the people and the animals that live there. I visited recently and what I found was an amazing sense of serenity and solitude. It isn’t easy to get to but it is well worth the effort. You may see Elk or Big Horn Sheep but maybe not another human being for most of the day.

The View From Here

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is one of our newest monuments, located near Taos, New Mexico. The Rio Grande is a wild and scenic river flowing through a deep gorge. What I find most striking is the solitude and quiet of the place (with some exceptions). This is simply a photo collage of scenes from a recent trip in May 2021.

The Taos plateau is a flat expanse of desert to the west of Taos NM and the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the tail end of the Rockies coming out of Colorado, rise to the east. Driving west out of Taos the plain seems featureless except for the distant peaks from extinct volcanoes. Then, suddenly, the bottom falls out — the gorge is revealed almost without warning.

We visited on a stormy Monday and several times over the next few days and followed the gorge north toward the confluence…

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Kiowa Ranch 2018 — Waiting for D.H. Lawrence

Our thoughts bewitch us at times. A certain rough edge
of our perception snags an errant and unsettled
hint of trespass.  Like time is standing still. Such was
the case on my visit to the Kiowa Ranch.

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The old throne chair, now in ruins, still sits on the porch
as if waiting for some wandering king’s return.
That was his chair, back then, and it saw a lot of use
almost a century ago.

Every day the current cat comes from somewhere
and sits on the arm of the chair and waits.
He is of the present generation of cats. It’s his job now.
Passed down. It is his chair now. He waits.

He has a spot worn into the arm of that old chair.
He listens and surveys the view, near and far;
to the somber hills and to the distant peaks:
to the Sangre de Cristos — the Blood of Christ.

The “master” left in 1925. He returned only once – to be
finally laid to rest. This was the only place that D.H. Lawrence
and his wife, Freida (the Baroness von Richthofen),
ever owned. It was called Kiowa Ranch, back then.

It seems fitting as a resting place for a restless soul.
This small ranch, near the village of San Cristobal,
a mere fly spec, was his treasured home.  But
San Cristobal is the patron saint of wanderers.

Frieda lived on at the ranch into the 1950s.
The cats knew her. Georgia O’Keefe was here.
Aldous Huxley was here.  A constellation of stars
once graced this old porch.

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Accommodations were challenging and rude, at best.
But this place stood in opposition to the “roaring 1920s”
and I think that was the deliberate point of it –
a point of departure – of escape.

Lawrence was contrary if he was anything at all,
and as remote as the ranch. Getting there, even today,
is a challenge. It was far different from what he knew
before, in England and Europe.

How was he viewed by the local Hispanos?
He was the stranger on the hill. He was a writer.
Some days they might have faintly heard him hammering,
trying to fix the barn or the fence for Susan, the lone cow.

Lawrence liked to write outside under a huge Ponderosa Pine.
He would drag a table outside and write in the open air.
He remembered: “One goes out of the door and the
 tree-trunk is there, like a guardian angel.”

The tree is still there, waiting too, a guardian angel
along with the cat and the chair and the porch and
the house,  just as it was when it shaded the writer
at his table. It still drops pinecones where he worked.

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Georgia O’Keefe made a painting of the old tree —
lying on her back during her time at the ranch.
It is tall and strong and could likely endure and
wait another hundred years.

New Mexico agreed with him and offered a cure
for his soul and his ever-weakening TB affliction.
He completed five novels and several short stories,
and a collection of travel essays, all under his tree.

Wanderlust returned and he headed back to Europe.
He stayed near Florence and in France. Soon years passed.
His affliction returned. He died in France in 1930.
He never again saw the ranch.

Years later Frieda had his ashes brought back to the ranch
and interred in a small shrine that sits on the hillside
above the old cabin with the porch and the chair
and the cat and the tree  – all patiently waiting.

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The Home Place – 2021