Winter Solstice 2015

Another year has passed and tonight at 9:48 (Mountain Time) winter will arrive.

 Photo Credit: VicWJ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: VicWJ via Compfight cc

Now Winter Nights Enlarge
by Thomas Campion

Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o’erflow with wine,
Let well-turned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.

Healing Waters and a Meteor Shower

The last week of autumn in Santa Fe has been snowy and cold, cold, cold.

On Sunday Dave and I escaped with a brief road trip to southern New Mexico. After a morning spent shoveling snow we took off late in the afternoon.   We sped south on I25 first passing Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, home to a small population of Mexican gray wolves preparing for life in the wild, and then Bosque del Apache, another wildlife refuge where wintering sandhill cranes were likely hunkered down for the night.  By the time we crossed into Sierra County, the waxing crescent moon had sunk below the horizon.

Sierra Grande Lodge Photo By: Paula Nixon

Sierra Grande Lodge
Photo By: Paula Nixon

Just a little over three hours after pulling out of our driveway we arrived at the Sierra Grande Lodge in Truth or Consequences.  The charming old hotel  sits on a  natural geothermal spring that “flows out of a rift along the Rio Grande that appeared more than 50 million years ago” according to the Sierra County website.

Wasting no time, we sank into the 107 degree water in the lodge’s outdoor tub and turned our eyes skyward pointing out constellations to each other.  December’s Geminid meteor shower was soon to be at its peak.

An hour and a couple of shooting stars later we climbed out, sore muscles soothed—refreshed and relaxed.

By the time we returned to Santa Fe Monday night, the next snow storm had blown in, palm trees and steaming, mineral-filled water a fading memory.




Starbucks’ Best Idea

You want it in there?

The barista peered into my stained, but clean reusable cup.


I bought it at a Starbucks in Casper, Wyoming almost three years ago and have seldom used one of their paper cups since.  It cost a dollar, is made of hard plastic, looks just like the standard cup, and gets me a ten-cent discount every time I use it.  In between flat whites I use it to store snacks in my backpack or for free refills at the drinking fountain in the airport.

I can’t figure out why I never see anyone else in line at Starbucks using one.

This US Today article, published at the outset of the program, was skeptical it would change behavior.   Starbucks revised their initial goal of  serving 25% of their drinks in reusable cups by 2015 down to 5%.

Maybe these newly designed cups will inspire a few more coffee drinkers to make the switch, but I suspect it will be a lot like the plastic bag ban in Santa Fe.  For a while the city tried the honor system, encouraging but not penalizing those of us who forgot our reusable bags.  It didn’t work and this summer they implemented a charge:  ten-cents a bag.  Suddenly we got a lot better at remembering.



Gaudi and Nature

“The great book, always open and which we should make an effort to read, is that of Nature” —Antoni Gaudí

Door Detail-La Sagrada Familia Photo by: Paula Nixon

Door Detail-Sagrada Familia
Photo by: Paula Nixon

Still woozy with jet lag, Dave and I stopped as we emerged from the metro tunnel to take in our first view of La Sagrada Familia.  The day was sunny and hot, busloads of tourists swarmed, and sidewalk vendors clicked bright red castanets attached to their fingers, hoping to entice us to buy a souvenir.   I gazed up and tried to find the words to describe it.

The unfinished cathedral, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, with its numerous bell towers is prominent on the Barcelona skyline. He took over the project in 1883 when the original architect resigned.  It became his life’s work.

Dave photographed it from all sides and every angle he could get to—outside the fence.  Entry tickets were sold out for the day.  It was a good thing.  I wasn’t ready to fully appreciate Gaudí’s masterpiece.

Another metro trip and we emerged in the much calmer Gracia neighborhood and lined up for the tour of Casa Mila, a Gaudí design originally built as a private residence/apartment house.  We started on the roof, took pictures of each other standing in tile-wrapped arches, and admired the fanciful chimney and vent covers.

Chimneys at Casa Mila. Photo by Paula Nixon

Chimneys at Casa Mila.
Photo by Paula Nixon

By the time we descended into the attic, framed with catenary arches, I was enchanted.  Originally used to hang the laundry, the space is now filled with exhibits outlining Gaudí’s design methods and highlighting his influences, many directly from nature.  I studied the skeleton of a snake housed in a glass case.  It looked strikingly similar to the arches we were standing under.

A few days later, rested, with tickets in hand we returned to La Sagrada Familia.  Two hours, three hours, I lost track of  time trying to take in the intricacies of Gaudí’s design—doors covered with leaves populated with beetles and butterflies; columns designed to mimic the structure of trees; gargoyles, in the form of lizards and frogs, represented creatures displaced by the construction of the massive cathedral.

Back  home I continued to think about Gaudí and his devotion to nature.  In Gijs Van Hensbergen’s 2001 biography of the architect he addresses the extremes that Gaudí went to.  “When preparing the decoration of the façade, what [he] wanted was an exact copy of nature, so he roamed the parish for years looking for the right models.”

This search for the perfect models went beyond humans and extended to animal depictions as well:

“Chickens and turkeys were chloroformed, greased and quickly cast in plaster before coming round again. [A] donkey was trussed up and lifted in a harness, where it could be more easily modelled. A dead owl found one morning was quickly used by Gaudí as a perfect emblem for Night.”

The architect’s life was cut short when he was killed by a trolley car in 1926, leaving La Sagrada Familia unfinished.  But the work continues.  By the time we turned in our audio tour headsets late in the afternoon the tile setters and stone masons had returned from lunch to pick up where they had left off–bringing to life the vision of Antoni Gaudí.









Crossing the Ocean

by Cale Young Rice
A dark sail,
Like a wild-goose wing,
Where the sunset was.
The moon soon will silver its sinewy flight.
Thro the night watches,
And the far flight
Of those immortal migrants,
The ever-returning stars.

Yesterday Dave and I returned from a trip to Spain.  As our flight approached the East Coast, I tracked our path on a satellite map of the world.  Night was descending on Europe, pursuing us across the Atlantic.  By the time we reached New Mexico, it had caught up with us.

On our drive home from the airport we craned our necks to watch the first quarter moon, hanging low in the western sky, disappear.   In the east Orion signaled the changing seasons, welcomed us home.

Weekly Roundup – Starry, Starry Nights

xkcd-a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language

xkcd-a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language

The sound of car tires on gravel always seems especially loud before the sun is up.  This morning Dave and I pulled out of our driveway, as quietly as possible, a few minutes after five. We had the highway to ourselves (almost) and a grand view of the full moon.

Earth’s pale satellite was sinking slowly into the juniper-dotted hills south of Santa Fe. Stars winked out as the sun rose behind us, turning the sky pink—New Mexico at its most enchanting. Just before the moon disappeared we passed a herd of wild horses, some with foals, grazing pastures greened with abundant May showers.

It’s my favorite time of year for stargazing. Late evenings and a river of stars bring back memories of standing barefoot on the still-warm concrete driveway in our dark corner of Kansas looking for the pointers in the cup of the Big Dipper. From there it was easy to find  the North Star, Polaris.  It’s not the brightest object in the sky, not even close, but according to this EarthSky post it’s still visible on a full-moon night if you live in a dark enough place.

We love our dark skies in New Mexico, but it takes ongoing vigilance to keep them that way. This recent Santa Fe Reporter story talks about our state’s ’star power‘ and how best to experience it, from low-watt light bulbs to star parties.

At the beginning of summer I always promise myself that I’ll learn more of the constellations. This year there are several new cell phone apps—a handful of them reviewed in this New York Times video—to help accomplish my goal.  Each has it’s selling points, but I am going to hold off for the time being and focus on my new, low-tech planisphere (a Christmas gift) and a small flashlight—its lens painted with red nail polish.

For another view of the universe we are lucky to have the Hubble telescope, recently turned twenty-five. This gallery has a collection of some of the amazing photos it has captured over the years.

Before it gets any later I’m going outside to see if I can spot the North Star.

Have a great week and enjoy these last days of spring!





Weekly Roundup – All Things California

Some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive. The water I will draw tomorrow from my tap in Malibu is today crossing the Mojave Desert from the Colorado River, and I like to think about exactly where that water is. —Joan Didion in “Holy Water”

 Photo Credit: dougfelt via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: dougfelt via Compfight cc

I was in California last week where much of the news was focused on the drought.  This article in Grist, one of the most informative I’ve read, clarifies the facts and debunks some of the myths surrounding the water crisis.

Diana Marcum, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on Californians impacted by the drought, puts a face on the crisis in this Los AngelesTimes story about a farmer trying to make a living on a small farm, growing pistachios.  We feel his frustration and pain when he and his wife have to make tough decisions after their water allotment is cut to zero.

But California is not alone.  This article in Business Insider makes clear that many of us, across the country and around the world, will likely face similar water issues in the coming years.

Enough bad news.

 Photo Credit: ms4jah via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ms4jah via Compfight cc

Imagine seeing one of these birds with its nine-foot wingspan come in for a landing in your backyard. The endangered California condor lives in Arizona and California and is rarely, if ever, seen in New Mexico, but one made its way to Los Alamos (about 30 miles northwest of Santa Fe) last week.  My favorite part of this story in the Santa Fe New Mexican is that the yard belonged to a birding enthusiast who had traveled to the Grand Canyon hoping to see recently released condors with no success. What are the odds one would show up in his yard?

Enjoy your weekend and spend some time outside!






Weekly Roundup – February 8th

Encuentro Beach, Dominican Republic Photo Credit:  Steve Nixon

Encuentro Beach, Dominican Republic
Photo Credit: Steve Nixon

It wasn’t quite beach weather last week, but it was too warm for New Mexico in February.  I watched with alarm as the piles of snow from the prior week’s snowstorm evaporated within days.  The recent drought summary from NOAA indicated that conditions have slowly been improving.  We’ll see if that trend continues.  After all,  Punxsatawney Phil  predicted six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day.

New Mexico has gotten a lot of press for its coyote-killing contests over the last few years so I was pleased to see a new billboard on Interstate 25 between Santa Fe and Albuquerque (visible from the southbound lanes near Algodones) that says, “End wildlife hunting contests.”  This week the state took a step toward that goal when a bi-partisan bill (SB 253)  cleared the Senate Conservation Committee by a vote of 6 to 3.  The  Albuquerque Journal  voiced their support of the bill in this editorial.

Next weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science project that helps identify and track bird populations around the world.  Last year observers in 135 countries identified nearly 4300 different species.  The count takes place February 13th -16th and is open to birders of all ages and levels of experience.  I attended a presentation on Saturday by the Santa Fe chapter of  Audubon New Mexico  to brush up on  identification of our local birds and to learn more about the count.  It sounds easy enough, fifteen minutes (minimum) observing and counting and then, submitting results at  More detailed instructions are provided here.

Have a good week and take some time to go outside!




One Hundred

 Photo Credit: Kurayba via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kurayba via Compfight cc

Yesterday’s post about the California drought was my one hundredth.  A little late–I had planned to reach that goal by the end of 2014.

No matter.  I’m there now.

Thank you. Whether you subscribe, or follow on Facebook, or just check once in awhile to see if I have posted anything new, I appreciate it.

Your comments and observations are welcome and I’m still looking for guest posts.  Let me know if you have a story, or poem, or photo that you are willing to share.

Next up:  my cousin James and his backyard chickens!

The California Drought and the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

I spent the last week traveling in California.

On the drive from San Diego to Sacramento through the San Joaquin Valley no sign of blossoms on the fruit and nut trees, but the fields and hills were green.   Near Wasco flocks of sheep grazed, knobby-kneed lambs staying close to their mothers.   Dave made a u-turn so I could get a picture of this wary ewe and her baby.

Heavy autumn rains had started to ease the drought in some parts of the state until the spigot shut off in December.  Why did the rain stop?   This story on Friday’s edition of The California Report says it could be due to the return of the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge or Triple R, a high pressure system trapped over California that keeps conditions dry.  This atmospheric phenomenon was identified and named by Stanford PhD candidate, Daniel Swain, in 2013.  He says in a recent post on his blog that this year’s condition is not quite the same . . . yet.

Whatever the reason it looks like California could be headed into a fourth year of drought.