Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

I think the new year is a great chance for people to feel that they can start over or better themselves in some way. I always panic a bit as it gets close to being a new year because time seems to go by so quickly. I always make myself feel better though by sitting down and making a list of all the things I have seen and done, all the friends I have made, all that I have learned in only 365 days.

The coming new year provides not just a chance to reflect on everything you have done but also for you to evaluate your life and see if you are where you want to be, if you're pushing yourself too hard or if you're maybe not pushing yourself hard enough. We are all capable of more than we can imagine if we'll only maintain the discipline that greatness requires and be true to ourselves. It sounds simple but it isn't.

I wish you all luck, peace and health for this coming year. I am hoping people, myself included, will give a little more love and compassion to this world, in how they treat others, and hopefully feel that they are receiving more compassion as well. That is my wish for this new year. God bless.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Snowed In

I awoke this past Monday, on Long Island, to a true winter wonderland. I served myself a nice piece of the Cranberry Cake that I had made (it's not so sweet that it couldn't be eaten as a breakfast treat!) and a cup of tea. 

Cranberry Cake from the cookbook, Cooking from Quilt Country by Marcia Adams
I was scheduled to work at Harborside Vet Hospital, the veterinary clinic where I have worked since I was 16 and where I gratefully find employment when I am visiting Huntington. However, since the snow was so deep and the roads so bad (Huntington had declared a "snow emergency!"), they ended up not needing me. I was not too upset at the prospect of being able to stay inside where it was warm for a bit longer! I sat again by the back window and watched the many birds feeding and playing in the backyard. They seemed to be enjoying themselves in the snow; there was tons of activity! I think because people weren't walking around so much and going outside the birds felt safer so more of them came out.

A male cardinal sits on the feeder while a mourning dove, junco and a sparrow forage below.
A female cardinal in flight
A blue jay with full extension in flight

Blue jay on a feeder
By the afternoon the roads had been plowed and traveled upon enough (at least by my house!) that it was not too bad that you could not drive. My dad and I shoveled for a while, ate some lunch and then decided to go see The Fighter with my mom, my aunt Lisa, and my cousin Lucie.

I love Mark Wahlberg so I was expecting to like the film but I underestimated how good it would be! I didn't realize it was based on the true life story welter-weight boxer, Mickey Ward. The fact that it was based on a true story made the film all the better. And Amy Adams is so feisty, I really liked seeing her in a role other than the typical girl in a romantic comedy. I don't want to say too much more about it because I don't want to give anything away. Just go see it! :)


The real Mickey Ward

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Day 27: Ancient Ruins, A Plane Crash & 29 Palms

We woke up and lounged for a little bit, enjoying the scenery and then packed everything up and left the campground. Today we planned on going further into the Grand Canyon National Park and either finding another campground that we wanted to stay at with the trailer or moving on towards Ramona, California to visit John and Stephanie at CowHorse Ranch. We are fortunate on this trip to have the flexibility and means to be able to stay in places we like for longer and leave places we don't like as quickly as we want!

Our first stop on our westward path through the park was at the Tusayan Ruins, an 800 year old Pueblo Indian site. The inhabitants of the area were given the Navajo name of Anasazi by early researchers, which mean "ancient enemies," and as you can imagine it is not appreciated by descendants of these people. The ruins site has a short loop trail along which you can walk and read interpretive signs about the Puebloans and their culture while looking at the remains of the structures their built. 



What remains of the Kiva
From the site of these ruins you can see the San Francisco Peaks which include Humphreys Peak, the highest peak in Arizona, which reaches 12,633 feet in elevation. This mountain range was considered sacred to the Hopi (one of many Indian nations within the Pueblo Indian category) because they believed that the spirits (katsinas) that brought rain and other blessings resided there.

Tyler and I enjoyed driving the road that took visitors to overlooks, ruins, trail heads, etc. There were a lot of places where you could pull over and have sweeping views across the canyon and deep looks down into the canyon.



At the furthest point from South to North rim the canyon measures 18 miles wide!
If you read my entry about Avalanche Lake just outside of West Yellowstone in Montana you will already know that in 1959 there was a huge (7.5 magnitude) earthquake that dammed up the Madison River, creating Earthquake Lake and killing almost 30 people (http://fierceasparagus.blogspot.com/2010/09/day-7-part-2-very-exciting-day-indeed.html). 


Evidently the 1950s was just a time in which a lot of things went wrong near National Parks! In 1956 two airliners flying over the Grand Canyon collided in mid-air, killing 128 people. At this time it was the deadliest aviation disaster on record. It was only after this tragic event that black boxes were installed on airplanes. Black boxes (which, despite their name, are orange to make it easier to find them in wreckage) contain audio recording devices that record conversations with the pilot so that if something goes wrong it is easier to analyze the problem and prevent it from happening again.

An article (a link to which is posted below this entry) written for Deseret News after a visit to the site in Juneof 2006 stated that, 
"In the canyon's vastness, the wreckage of TWA Flight 2 and United Airlines Flight 718 has always been a reminder of how small human endeavors are. But the wreckage endures. You can still see pieces of metal from the United plane hanging on the 800-foot cliff; you can see it from the river, when the sun glints off the metal, says Driskill, who visited the site in April. 'There are probably whole engines still embedded in the crack,' he says."


Photo courtesy of Deseret Morning News Archives.
We drove the rest of the way to Grand Canyon Village and poked around there for a little bit but being turned off by the large amount of tourists in this section of the park we decided against staying another night and instead headed towards Joshua Tree National Park.

When we crossed over the state line into California from Arizona the roads were in pretty bad condition. Since we were once again in the middle of nowhere it was a bit stressful because we did not want to have to deal with getting a flat tire but luckily it did not turn into an issue. We eventually turned on to a fun section of historic Route 66 that felt a bit like a roller coaster. I am not quite sure why the road went up and down so much considering the land around us was flat and straight but it was enjoyable so I am not complaining!



We were driving as the slightest changes occurred indicating the transition from day to night. As dusk approached we were driving in the desert with the open sky surrounding us, uncorrupted by light pollution. We barely saw anyone else on the road in this open expanse of land.


Notice the difference between the way the light hits the hills behind us as opposed to the ones in front of us!
Beautiful Desert Landscape
About an hour and a half from Joshua Tree we found a place to pull over and walk Hanz before it got too dark. I wanted to stop at this particular place because there was a long row of the most peculiar mounds of dirt. I have to try to locate on a map where we were exactly when we came across this strange sight because neither Tyler nor I could figure out how or why they were there!


The line of mysterious mounds... any ideas??
Hanz is investigating the mounds to figure out why they're here. He's a very thorough detective!
We arrived in Twenty-Nine Palms, which is just north of Joshua Tree National Park, just after sun-down. We had hoped to be able to spend the night in the park itself but it was quite a drive to a campground from the park’s entrance and we were not certain that we would be able to find a camp spot. We stopped at a gas station in Twenty-Nine Palms to ask some advice and the attendant told us the park was probably full because of the long weekend. It was too late to call an RV park and find a spot and we did not want to pay for a hotel room when we knew we would just be leaving at the crack of dawn. So we looked around for a good hotel parking lot in which we could spend the night; preferably one with several other cars so they would not know for certain that our travel trailer didn’t belong to a person who was staying at the hotel!

We quickly found something suitable; luckily there were several hotels to choose from. We settled in quickly and kept the lights off so as not to arise suspicion. We wanted to go to bed early anyways so that we could get an early start. I lay in bed for a little while, worried that the hotel would know we were inside and call the police, but I kept reassuring myself that they probably wouldn’t find out.

Just as I was drifting off to sleep a light flashed around in the window above our heads… agh! It was one of those pivoting lights on a cop car! I guess they had been more observant than we had hoped so they had sent for someone to check things out! Tyler and I lay extra still as the car drove by, did a loop in the parking lot, passed by once again and then left. I must have held my breath for a while afterwards, hoping he wouldn’t come back. After another half hour I took a deep breath and felt fairly certain he wouldn’t be back. Somehow we both fell asleep and didn’t wake up until just after sunrise the next morning.

For more information:
Jarvik, Elaine. "Vestiges of '56 Collision Still Embedded in Grand Canyon." Deseret News.
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/640191166/Vestiges-of-56-collision-still-imbedded-in-Grand-Canyon.html?pg=2


National Park Service brochure on the Tusayan Ruins: 
http://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/upload/Tusayan.pdf


National Park Service: Grand Canyon Guide
http://www.nps.gov/grca/parknews/upload/SRGwinter20010-11.pdf

Monday, December 27, 2010

White-Out New York (Sunday)

Sunday was a great day for me. I woke up fairly early and went out with my mom to exchange some clothing and accessories that I received for Christmas that either didn't fit or didn't work for me. Going to malls stresses me out because of the artificial light and terrible air circulation but we just went to Ann Taylor Loft in downtown Huntington and I found some great things to get with the store credit! Very exciting! The sky was white and ominous looking and we had heard we were in for a big snow storm so we figured we would also stop at the grocery store to grab a few things in case the weather went all "winter of 1996" on us! We had initially planned on seeing True Grit today but it was lightly flurrying when we went into Waldbaums and positively dumping this heavy, wet snow by the time we were going back to our car. It's okay, don't worry, we had enough ice cream to last us for at least a few days if we ended up getting snowed in!

Since it was only the day after Christmas I had not had much time to simply be able to relax and enjoy being home because everything before the holidays is insane. I was fine, then, with however much snow would fall because I had a warm house, a great book (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson!) and parents to catch up with.

I made some tea and sat by the window watching the snow fall and the birds frantically eat all the seeds they could in anticipation of the storm and the coming night. It is truly amazing how diverse the bird species are that regularly visit the bird feeders in my backyard. I saw dark-eyed juncos, black-capped chickadees, northern cardinals, tufted titmice, blue jays, a downy woodpecker, several types of sparrows, nuthatches, and mourning doves! And of course there are the squirrels, which feed on the bird seed as well as some peanuts that they happen upon in the yard. I could sit for hours and watch these creatures interact. The squirrels were cracking me up because they would jump up onto the feeders and grab some seeds and then hang upside down while they ate... maybe it's easier for them to eat while being upside down than it is for us!

A cute squirrel munching on some seeds.
My dad and I waited until there was a couple inches of snow and then we went out and shoveled. We didn't realize the wind would later nullify our efforts by blowing the snow around everywhere but it was fun for me so I didn't mind. Some time after dark the gusts of wind picked up and so did the rate of snowfall. I could see now that we were not going to get jipped on the snow end of things!

I went and sat again by the window, watching the birds flying around, taking turns on the feeders and foraging on the ground. As dusk approached it started to get darker outside but I didn't turn any lights on in my room. I wanted to be able to see outside for a bit longer and to tell when the birds would call it good and turn in for the night. Through the worsening storm the dark-eyed juncos won out as the most persistent bird in the backyard. They would scurry across the ground looking for seeds that had blown out of the feeder and when a gust of wind would blow, they would brace themselves against the force. It is amazing to me that they were able to stand without getting blown away considering how little mass they have!

Slate-colored junco
How interesting the world looked to me at that moment. The snow-covered ground was the same color as the snow-filled sky and the juncos matched perfectly with their slate-colored bodies and white breasts and beaks. I think they are beautiful.

This junco is perfectly camouflaged against the background of snow and stone.
Lulu, my crazy cat, also became interested in the life outside the window so she came over and peered outside with me.

Lulu silhouetted in the dark room against the bright snow.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Dear Readers in the Blogosphere,

I hope you all had a wonderful and joy-filled Christmas (or if you don't celebrate Christmas, that you just had a great day)! I am on Long Island until mid-January so I got to be with all of my east coast family for the special occasion.

On Christmas Eve my cousin Lucie came over and we made a delicious Cranberry Cake with Butter Sauce. I got the recipe for it from that amazing Amish cookbook that I love called Cooking from Quilt Country. My parents, Lucie, my aunts, uncle and I went out to dinner at a restaurant in Huntington called Dao and then they all came over to my house and we had the cake for dessert. It was a great hit!

Working hard or hardly working? :)
Today, Christmas Day, after a morning of stockings, presents, pancakes that only my mom can perfect and lots of smiles and well-wishing phone calls, my parents and I headed over to my cousin Aisha's house for dinner. About fifteen of us gathered together and ate a German inspired meal of Sauerbraten, red cabbage and mashed potatoes. We used to have a more traditional American meal of turkey and ham but as of last year we have evidently been on a German kick so we are eating the meal that my uncle's German mother used to make for the holidays. Even though I am not German and I do tend to prefer a more traditional menu it is still interesting to be exposed to a dish that is so popular in another part of the world. After all, Sauerbraten is a national dish of Germany! As long as it is made with beef and not the historically traditional horse meat I am okay with it! The large amount of beef used for the dish is marinated for a few days before it is served which is fascinating to me because I don't think I have ever made anything further in advance than the day before!

My cousin Aisha with her husband, Don in the kitchen getting ready to serve dinner.
I love Christmas. And not just the day. I love the Christmas season. I love the smells of pine trees and sap. I love the crisp air on your face while your body stays warm under a nice sweater. I love Christmas music. NPR plays interesting Christmas music from all over the world; I am partial to that of the Irish.

I love sleeping under layers of blankets so I stay warm except the tip of my nose is a little chilly; it's a great excuse to burrow deeper under the covers or maybe to delay getting out of bed for a few minutes more. I love cups of hot tea that seem to warm your bones and loosen your muscles. I love white Christmas lights and tastefully displayed ones with color. I am not, however, a big fan of the huge inflatable snowmen/ Santas, sorry! To each his own! ;)

Every since I was little I have loved this angel.
I love shopping for presents as long as I start early enough that it doesn't become a chore. You have to look for long enough that you can actually find something that speaks to you for each person on your list. I don't believe in giving presents because you have to; what is the point of that? It's all about sincerity.

I recycled a Vanity Fair magazine to wrap some of my presents!
I love Christmas decorations and seeing mysterious presents of all shapes and sizes with unique wrapping jobs. I love stockings hanging in the living room. My dad still has the stocking that his mother made for him when he was very young!

I love this stocking!
I think the anticipation of Christmas is almost better than the actual day only because when it's actually December 25th I know that soon the decorations will come down. I get so excited when people open presents that I have gotten for them! Luckily we get Christmas every year so I know it's never too far away from being that time again!

My mom always does a great job making the house festive!
I think it is good to reflect a bit about the holiday season and what it means to you as an individual and what you want it to mean to your children, if you have them. Yes, it is about gifts and food and family but it is also a celebration of the birth of Christ. No matter your religious convictions I think it is fair to say that Jesus had an admirable character and I think we could all better ourselves if we applied his principles of compassion and forgiveness and generosity to our every day lives. Ironically the birth of this simple man who gave away all of his worldly possessions has spawned a holiday that has become synonymous with consumption. So even though wish lists have already been made and presents given, I think it is good to reflect on this day and to realize how much each of us already has in our possession. I have a family that loves me. I have a warm bed to sleep  in. I have food in my belly. I am grateful.

Beauty in the details: the considerably large shadows cast by the small white lights.
I will continue the saga of the Fierce Asparagus adventures within the next couple days. Forgive my digital absence this past week and a half, the real world was calling!

Blessings and Peace to each and every one of you.
Over and Out!

Marisol

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 26- Navajos & The Grand Canyon!!

October 10th 2010, Sunday

When I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I left it with Rayne in Steamboat Springs, CO so that she could be wowed by it, as I was. About a week ago I started The Girl Who Played with Fire and if I thought the first book in the Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson was intense and gripping then with this second book I am positively obsessed. It opens with a bang, the first sentence pulling you in, and it really doesn’t let go so please do yourself a favor: if you’re going to read this book don’t do it if you can’t devote at least the next three hours of your life to it. We have been obviously moving around a lot and staying very active so I haven’t had a lot of time to devote to reading but whenever I get the chance I read a couple chapters.

In driving through the little bit of New Mexico that we go to see, and not liking it very much, we decided we did not want to pay to stay at a campground surrounded by dust and not much else so we spent the night in Farmington, NM in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart! It’s actually a very safe, *free* place to stay because they have security cameras. They actually encourage RV campers to stay the night because they’ve found that people tend to spend money in the store if they’re their overnight. Problems like, “Oops, we’re almost out of toothpaste” or “I wish I had some popcorn to eat while we watch this movie” could be simply solved by a quick trip into the store. We had planned on staying in Wal-Mart parking lots whenever possible also to cut down on costs since we’re not currently making any money.


This morning we quickly got on the road; I was shaking my head at the swarms of cars parked in the Wal-Mart lot so early in the morning. Who wakes up on a Sunday morning and forgoes lazily stretching out of bed, making a yummy breakfast and reading a newspaper with a cup of tea/coffee for a trip to Wal-Mart?! I mean, really people, come on!

Farmington, New Mexico is not really my kind of place. It is basically a city of about 45,000 people that just sprawls with big box stores and lots of traffic and confusing roads. Mining for petroleum, natural gas, and coal is huge in the surrounding areas. The Navajo Indian Reservation lands are close by so Native Americans make up a significant portion of the population.

In 2005 the US Commission on Civil Rights completed an investigation called, “The Farmington Report: Civil Rights for Native Americans 30 Years Later” (http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/122705_FarmingtonReport.pdf). This investigation was initially done in 1975, looking into the Farmington area after 3 Navajo youths were brutally murdered there in 1974 and there were complaints of discrimination and unequal treatment by the Native Americans. The three white high school boys who committed the killings were sent to reform school instead of prison. This most recent report was a follow-up, 30 years later, because there were several more instances of abuse and mistreatment http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9903E1D91331F934A2575AC0A9609C8B63.

Even after the report was published the Navajo community continued to experience acts of racial violence against their tribal members. Hopefully with the work the community is doing today these crimes will become more rare http://www.navajotimes.com/news/2008/1108/112008racial.php. Although, another incident this past April would suggest there is still work to be done http://newmexicoindependent.com/55674/swastika-branding-in-farmington-part-of-ongoing-violence-against-navajo-people.

On a happier note, Tyler and I were both very excited because today was the day we would go to the Grand Canyon. We took off, passing through Shiprock, a town named for a huge rock formation that looks like a ship emerging from the sand.

Shiprock!
Soon we crossed over the border into Arizona and Apache/ Navajo land. Arizona is kind of a funny place. It doesn’t observe day-light savings time changes but the Navajo tribal lands within the state do (however on tribal lands it is illegal to serve alcohol). To avoid frustration about the time Tyler and I took a general view of not caring what time it was exactly, made easier by the fact that we didn’t have anywhere to be at any particular time. We were headed to the Grand Canyon and we would get there when we got there!

At this point we were in the Painted Desert, known for the beautiful color variations and layers in its geologic formations. The actual desert is made up of easily erodible sediment from the Triassic Chinle Formation. The abundant iron and manganese provide the pigments for the various colors of the area (http://www.scienceviews.com/parks/painteddesert.html).

I love how boldly the colors contrast in the badlands of the Painted Desert.
The badlands of the Painted Desert are largely made up of Navajo and Hopi tribal lands. In traveling through this area I became fascinated with the history of the people who had first inhabited the area and I discovered some very interesting facts in my research. The first is that the term Navajo was actually applied to the Native Americans by the Spanish, the supposed “Navajo” actually referred to themselves as Diné, which means “the people.” The other interesting thing that I learned is that the Navajo/ Diné are traditionally a matrilocal tribe, meaning that when a man and woman get married they go and live with the wife’s family. Also, women were the only ones who could own land or livestock!

I am continually fascinated with history, but unfortunately I don’t think Native American history can be accurately discussed without it being fairly depressing. The extent to which they were crippled as a people is truly disgusting. Their children were taken away to boarding schools to be assimilated into white and modern American culture, and were punished for speaking their native tongue. Most people know about how the US government systematically killed off thousands and thousands of buffalo for the express purpose of weakening the tribes that relied upon them for food and materials, leaving the corpses to rot and waste. Something else that I just discovered was officially called the “Navajo Livestock Reduction.” In the 1930’s the US government put a livestock quota system in place. They said it was to prevent over-grazing and they went onto the Navajo reservations and killed off 80% of their livestock. To the Navajo, who view livestock as being sacred, this was absolutely devastating. I can understand the need to prevent overgrazing but the Navajo must have been specifically targeted for this enforcement because there are plenty of white Americans who overgraze their land and nobody says anything about it. This system is still in place today.

So anyways, we wound up the road that led to the Grand Canyon’s eastern entrance to the south rim. I wasn't expecting to already by winding around the canyon lands that lead up to the Grand Canyon and the views were spectacular, the colors beautifully muted pinks, browns, greens and beiges.

The amazing canyons around which we traveled to enter Grand Canyon National Park.
When we got into the park we found the first possible campground in which we could park our travel trailer. We had expected there to be a good amount of people because it is a very popular park but luckily the campground didn't have too many people set up in it yet.

After unhitching our trailer and getting slightly settled we immediately jumped back in the truck and drove to Desert View Watch Tower, an almost 80 year old structure, 70 feet high, with a platform at the base over which you could peer down into the depths of the Grand Canyon.

One of the beautiful views approaching the canyon opening.
Desert View Watch Tower
I really wish we had had the chance to look inside the watch tower! Supposedly there are murals painted inside by Fred Kabotie, a Hopi artist. 

Fred Kobatie working on a Hopi mural in the Desert View Watch Tower.
The views are amazing! There's really no comparison between seeing the Grand Canyon in photos and seeing it in person. The sheer depth of the canyon is truly breath-taking. I was amazed to find that the rock at the bottom of the canyon is over 2 billion years old! I mean, I hear that and I know it's a big number but I cannot even fathom how old that is! 

Tyler and Hanz checking out the view
Gorgeous view over the Grand Canyon!
It's so beautiful!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Photography Nostalgia

In working on a Christmas gift, that shall not be discussed so as not to give anything away to any unsuspecting individual, I went through many old photos. In doing so I stumbled upon some old pictures that I had taken when I was in high school and when I was starting to learn how to use Photoshop. I became obsessed with the program and, I admit, still am in total awe of the realm of possibilities for photos within it.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude's installation art, The Gates, was in Central Park for over 2 weeks in 2005.
I have always loved taking photos. I love portraits, as unposed as possible because I feel looking at them can be a real study in the essence of humanity. I love the lines in people's faces. I love the little quirks that make each individual just that, an individual, a unique specimen. Especially in a society obsessed with physical (and social) conformity these unique qualities can be overlooked. I think when someone alters their appearance to such a degree that they lose what made them individual (à la Heidi Montag) it's a deeply profound loss not easily regained.

I haven't done much portraiture but I hope to remedy that in the future. It's a difficult thing to do and something that I ponder rather frequently. How do you get someone to pose for a portrait shot without really posing? If someone knows they are being watched, even if they tell themselves to relax, I think there is still a tendency to pose to a certain degree. And I am always astounded at photographers who can go to far-off places and take beautiful shots of people in their every day life. I have contemplated doing that when I have traveled but always feel like the person is going to think I'm weird if I start photographing them because something about them appeals to my aesthetics. Or else I would feel like a jerk asking some destitute individual if I could take their photo because I would feel like I was insulting them, like they were part of a zoo or circus, something to be looked at, awed at, maybe even pitied. But that isn't what draws me to them, it's those little things that I mentioned, the little quirks that make people individuals. Or sometimes it's my wanting to document everything I see, good and bad, the things that make me proud of America and the things that we as a society still need to work on. I especially love to photograph the people and things that have been forgotten or that get overlooked, both in the social justice sense as well as in the "there's beauty in the small things" sense.

I have a deep appreciation for texture. I love the details in things. I love going to the beach and finding beautiful shells and rocks and then examining the sand and finding those same shapes and colors in a micro-form. I always want to keep them because I think they are so beautiful but how does one keep track of a grain of sand? I love the patterns that you find both on large and small scales in nature. I love when you can look at a photograph and you cannot tell if it is a picture of something on a grand or tiny scale. Or when you look at something close up and you can't tell what it is until the photo is zoomed out and then it seems so obvious, you should have realized what you were looking at!

I love the colors and texture of this huge plant I saw in Hawaii.
Shells and sea glass that I found on a beach in Hawaii... so much beauty in such a small package!

The broken stalk of a star-gazer lily on Long Island in early Fall.

A milkweed pod spills out it's fairy-like seeds to be swept away by a gust of wind.

A close up of a dandelion's full seed head.

These icicles hung in front of our back door several years ago on LI.
In the spring I am obsessed with the first flowers to brave the still chilly and frosty world. They are the pioneers that lead the way for all that comes in the soon warming weeks and months. Especially living up north the winter is wonderful because it strongly marks the time of year and distinguishes it from the rest, but come February the short days and slushy roads find me weary and I find myself holding my breath, hoping for the first signs of spring. I know spring will come but it's still such a relief when it arrives, as if one year it may decide it's just too cold for any one flower to take a chance and peek above ground. When I lived on Long Island often times that flower would be a crocus. The brilliant purple/blue of the petals was made all the more devastating in contrast with the snow. 

A brave crocus found outside my house on Long Island in early spring.
In Montana, where there is considerably more land in which wildflowers can grow, the pioneers of spring are more diverse. This past spring I saw the first wild flower of the year on my birthday, March 1st, when I was hiking in the woods with my boyfriend, Tyler, and our dog, Hanz. This one happened to be a buttercup which, interestingly enough, has a curious layer of starch that reflects the sunlight, giving the petals a glossy, waxy sheen. 

A Ranunculus (buttercup) found in the woods outside Missoula, MT.
I felt like I must have been doing something right in my life because not only was I blessed with seeing the first wildflower of the season on my birthday last year but I also saw the first birds performing mating displays (red-shafted northern flickers) and I found a coyote's skull in the woods! Certainly a birthday to remember! :)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Day 25- New Mexico & Apache Territory

October 9th 2010 Day 25 Saturday

After enjoying the morning at Great Sand Dunes yesterday we decided to keep going. We had to make sure we would be in California for my twin uncles’ 50th birthday celebration on October 22nd and we still had a ways to go!

From the Mosca, Colorado area, where Great Sand Dunes is, we headed south on Hwy 285 and then cut West on Hwy 17 towards New Mexico. The only exposure I had had to the state was that my aunt and uncle have a home there and I’d seen beautiful pictures from their time there but I’d never actually been. What I pictured was dry desert landscape scattered with tumbleweeds and cacti and a hot, unending sun. I was surprised then when we started winding up into mountains of conifers and aspens as we neared the border.

The border of Colorado and New Mexico wasn't as arid as I had expected.
We finally came to the sign announcing we were entering New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment.” Evidently it is also the land of shotguns!



Welcome to New Mexico! Land of Shotguns!
Soon after entering this 98 year old state the landscape flattened out and began to more closely resemble the land I had envisioned it being. We had initially wanted to go to Taos and Santa Fe but we wanted to be able to spend at least a week helping out at a ranch in Southern California where some family friends lived so we were constrained for time if we were going to make it to the Bay Area by October 21st. So we kept close to the border with Colorado and drove across the northwest corner of New Mexico. 


I would like the opportunity to return someday and check out Taos and Santa Fe because we did not form a very favorable view of the state with our short experience in it. The roads, at least where we were, weren't that great and it was overall a pretty desolate and lonely stretch of road. We would occasionally pass through settlements on the Jicarillo Apache Indian reservation scattered with dilapidated trailers and worn-looking people. It pains me to say that we passed a billboard boasting that something like "83% of our high school students don't drink and drive!" I did a double take. Was this a statistic to be proud of? Are you telling me that 17% of your underage high schoolers do drink and drive??



We came across a Navajo cultural exhibit that shared space with a Burger King. They had interesting examples of the dwellings that their ancestors had lived in but the irony of one of this fierce Indian tribe sharing land with a Burger King to celebrate their heritage and educate visitors did not escape me. That has been the most depressing aspect of our trip, driving through numerous reservations that all have looked run-down. I would really like the opportunity to speak with a Native American scholar because from what I have seen the state of Native Americans in the USA is extremely tragic, infuriating, and extremely complex considering the history and psychology of the issue as a whole. I have many more thoughts on the issue but before I share them I need to get some outside perspective. It's something you can count on being discussed at a later date, however.





It is a curious landscape in this part of the country. It is generally flat but there are sudden spikes of rock that jut out of the ground, some more dramatic than others.

It was generally a fairly bleak landscape but I like this photo that I took of the interesting geology.
It has been really interesting to contemplate how the world views of people might differ depending on where they are from and what kind of life they know. I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to many different lifestyles and ecosystems. For example, Tyler and I were discussing what it would be like to grow up here, so far from any "civilization" and from any life in general, and how that would affect the way you viewed the world and your place in it.