28 September 2010

Hiking Adventures: Some Interesting Local History

Mullein and Rebar, Magdalena Mtns., NM, Sept. 2010

Autumn in New Mexico... well, I can't write anything original about it, so I'll just call it absolutely enchanting. Most days are crystal clear, and the shifting light reveals new details in the landscape that awaken my inner vision yet again. Knowing time is short till winter sets in, I've been getting out for good hikes whenever possible. Last week I cruised up to Kelly and then hung a right on a rough dirt road to see what I could find further afield. After parking, I hiked a steep road up past 8,500 feet towards what looked like a mining site, taking in the magnificent view of the crest between North Peak and North Baldy. Hints of gold and russet tell of autumn, and the ridge was so tantalizingly close that I considered plowing towards the top....

I then came across a sign, fallen and clearly out of commission for a good long while, indicating that I was at what had once been a research site for military munitions storage. I took a picture of the sign so I'd remember the name of the site (no, not because it's so picturesque) and, upon Googling various combinations of the terms, finally found a document entitled "Environmental Assessment and FONSI for the Joint United States/Republic of Korea Research and Development Study for Improved Underground Ammunition Storage Technologies Tests, Magdalena, New Mexico." [FONSI stands for Finding of No Significant Impact," meaning the proposed project would  not significantly affect physical, cultural, or other aspects of the site.]

This report describes in full detail the purpose and nature of the experiments conducted there and actually answers the first question in my mind: Why would the Army Corps of Engineers pick such a remote, hard-to-reach site? Well, the obvious answer is so that they could blow stuff up in peace, but apparently the geologic structure of this area, its relative proximity to New Mexico Tech, and ready-made testing chambers in the pre-existing Linchberg Mine helped tip the scales. Some of the debris left behind, including the heavy steel plates twisted by heat and shot full of holes, suggest the tests were rather comprehensive, but what of all the unused equipment and supplies left behind? The document states that "Posttest, any disturbed ground caused by construction will be recontoured, and construction debris removed from the test site... and disturbed areas will be reseeded with native grasses" (p. 62). The contractor's plan would include restoration which "would provide for a reasonably natural appearing final condition of the area" (p. 27).

Um, yeah. Are they just not done yet (16 years after issuing the FONSI report) or...? I'm not complaining too loudly because this site offers some very cool photographic opportunities, but it's still not right to leave all the crap up there just because it's remote and the locals have no real means of recourse. Just sayin'...

21 September 2010

"Bits of Silken Down"

Thistledown, Patterson Canyon (near Magdalena), NM, Sept. 2010
"The milkweed pods are breaking,
And the bits of silken down
Float off upon the autumn breeze
Across the meadows brown."
-Cecil Cavendish, The Milkweed

The meadows here aren't brown yet, and the photo above shows our far more abundant thistle rather than milkweed, but yes, the breezes have an autumnal tinge even on these warm, sunny September days. Summer doesn't want to let go yet -- we have had refreshing summer-like rainstorms the past two afternoons -- but the "bits of silken down" seem to be everywhere lately, just another sign of the ripening and dispersing that marks the close of another season of growth and abundance. Even my garden has been fairly abundant this year, with enough onions, Roma tomatoes, basil, and oregano to make my own spaghetti sauce and almost a dozen butternut squash ripening for storage so we can taste summertime during the cold, windy days of autumn and winter. Each year brings a better harvest as I get the hang of New Mexico "gardening," which involves endless wrestling with the elements and workarounds for issues like cold nights (not good for tomatoes or peppers) and the lime deposits from our hard water that endlessly clog the drip-system emitters that are essential for adequate hydration of these plants we're trying to grow in a less-than-hospitable environment.

The thistle, however, enjoys this land just fine thankyouverymuch...

20 September 2010

"Dancing the golden sunlight..."

Aspen Leaf, Magdalena Mtns., NM, Sept. 2010
"The wind-blown leaves turn
Dancing the golden sunlight
across the tired floor."
- Matt Dimmic

From town, no yellow tinge in the aspens is yet visible in the Magdalena Mountains looming to our south, and as I ascended the tortuous road toward South Baldy yesterday I saw no hint of gold until I reached 10,000 feet. Even there only the occasional aspen is beginning to change, yet as a few golden leaves drifted down to the forest floor during our hike on the North Baldy trail I sensed summer slipping away. Autumn in New Mexico is especially exquisite, with almost cobalt skies, brilliant backlighting and deepening shadows as the sun descends toward its winter basin. As beautiful as it is, I always feel torn between awe and ache. D.H. Lawrence expressed the latter perfectly for me:

"The autumn always gets me badly, as it breaks into colours. I want to go south, where there is no autumn, where the cold doesn't crouch over one like a snow-leopard waiting to pounce." (D.H. Lawrence, Letters)

This year I needn't dread winter quite so much; thanks to new windows and a central heating system I won't need to wear several wool sweaters and a hat inside my own home, and Dad and I will soon be heading out to bring in wood for a fireplace that will finally be more for warmth of feeling than (inadequate) heating. I will also try to take a new perspective both generally and through my photography, perhaps not as enthusiastically as the following but at least trying to see things differently:

"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show." (Andrew Wyeth)

It's worth a try, anyway... not like we have a choice, right?

17 September 2010

"God Is in the Details"

Spiderweb, Patterson Canyon (near Magdalena), NM, Sept. 2010
... and in the capacity to see and marvel in them. When this capacity diminishes, when I can't see or appreciate the innumerable small but amazing details in the world around me, I know I'm slipping toward the abyss. So being able to see and then take the above photo of just another small woodland feature that most hikers would have walked past, and marveling at how a ground-spider's delicate web catches the morning light and spins it into shards of rainbow, represents for me a step away from the abyss.

A loved one's death is stunning. Shocking. Unfathomable. Seven weeks after my mom's death I still find myself floating in a fog sometimes, barely aware of sensations either around or within me, and I think it's the mind's way of protecting me from a reality I still cannot bear or even really fathom. Other times, random times, kind of stupid times like brushing my teeth or waiting in line somewhere, it hits me: she's gone. Oh my f-ing God, she's. Just. Gone... and then the fog comes and softly envelops me again, and I have grasped another shred of the reality, just a shred so it's bearable. Just barely, but enough.

And once in a while, lately, I find myself noticing the small amazing things around me, and I can begin to believe it's going to be okay. Never the same, but okay.

14 September 2010

Pie Town Festival, Part 3: A Whole Lotta Eatin' Goin' On

Whoever won, the kids' pie-eating contest was fun for everyone, especially the contestants

 Of course the main focus of last Saturday's Pie Town Festival was pie, and the pie-eating contest is for a special kind of person who REALLY loves pie. I thought about entering myself but then remembered (with some relief) my gluten intolerance, so I was more than happy to stand by and photograph the event. The kids went first and were treated to chocolate cream pie, which the winner scarfed down in just a few minutes. The adults had a more challenging apple crumb pie that took the winner close to five minutes to devour; the contest in the photo below on the right stated it had "too much pectin" but still gave it a thumbs up. Some contestants were having so much fun that they had to stop eating to indulge in fits of laughter, and almost everyone mugged a few times for the many cameras along the sidelines.

Much to my surprise, neither of my kids wanted to do the kids' pie-eating contest (Laz said he would have done it if it had been an apple pie), but they had their own impromptu hot-dog eating contest, scarfing their lunch both because they were hungry and because Grampa showed up at our table with, yes, apple pie. They then promptly ran off to the playground to burn off some energy with the other kids, missing the festivities but having so much fun that they slept almost all the way home in the car.

13 September 2010

Pie Town Festival, Part 2: The Great Horned Toad Race

"I haz a ride!!"
"Tally-ho, noble steeds..."

The idea of a horned toad race seems rather silly at first glance, and sometimes first impressions turn out to be the truest. To kick off the race the organizers put all 32 entries in a bottomless bucket placed at the center of a large circle, then lifted it up and turned the critters loose. Whoever made it to the edge of the circle, in any direction, was the winner, and as it turned out the tiny critter in my previous post won almost immediately. Most of the other toads stayed in a pile, with a few breaking off from the pack to start for the edge (singly or, as above, paired up like steeds with jockeys), then pause as they noticed the noisy crowd at the finish line.

Why were we all so intent on watching and photographing such an absurd event? Because it was also a heck of a lot of fun, and for the many out-of-state visitors it was surely a first, providing a great story to take home from the Land of Enchantment.

"Dude, I'll just skip that whole finish-line thing... Spot looks hungry..."

12 September 2010

Pie Town Festival, Part 1: The Great Horned Toad Race Contestants

"Dude, he's small but he's got a lot of heart!" Pie Town Festival, Pie Town, NM, Sept. 2010

No time to write today but here are some of the contenders in yesterday's Horned Toad Race at the Pie Town Festival. I'll have more pics and some race-time commentary (*wry grin*) tonight or tomorrow. This was a totally weird and fun event, emblematic of Western New Mexico for sure.

08 September 2010

In Flight

Rufous Hummingbird, Patterson Canyon, NM, Sept. 2010
I learned first-hand on Monday why photographers pay dearly for "fast" lenses (large maximum aperture, e.g., f/1.2): even in bright sunlight I found it nearly impossible to successfully photograph the dozen or so hummingbirds buzzing around my friend's feeder. Of the nearly 150 images I shot maybe a dozen came out okay, and only a few really capture the essence of these feisty little guys. I have an all-purpose zoom with a maximum aperture of f/4 to f5.6 (depending on zoom level), and that just won't let in enough light for me to speed up the shutter enough to stop-motion these birds' hard-working wings. Lucky for me I find the blur compelling because it strongly suggests the motion... I was, in any case, pleased to get any decent shots at all because these birds are just so much fun to watch but also so beautiful to behold. I'll miss them when they leave next month.

Rufous Hummingbird, Patterson Canyon, NM, Sept. 2010