My Houston Flood

And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground.  Exodus 9:23

Photo Credit: The National Guard Flickr via Compfight cc Texas National Guard soldiers arrive in Houston, Texas to aid citizens in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey. (Photos by Lt. Zachary West , 100th MPAD)

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017 – This morning the sun was shining in Houston when I turned on the news.  Maybe the worst of Hurricane Harvey has passed.

Back in the nineties I lived in Houston for a few years.  By day I worked for an oil company.  At night I took continuing education classes at Rice University.

One evening, sitting in a philosophy class listening to a lecture on Exodus the wind began to blow outside the classroom window.  Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt as I watched the big oak trees bend.  A crack of thunder made me jump and a bolt of lightning lit up the sky.

Outside the rain was coming down, hard and steady.  I ran to my old BMW certain I would be able to drive the short distance—less than two miles—home.  Before I got out of the parking lot, the car started to make a knocking sound, taking on water.

I scuttled back into the building and called Dave on a pay phone to let him know I wouldn’t be home anytime soon.  I had lots of company:  the lobby was filled with dripping students and teachers, waiting for a break in the storm.

Forty-five minutes or so later, Dave showed up in his slicker and galoshes.  I was thrilled to see him until I realized he expected me to walk home, in the dark, in the rain.  But there was really no choice.  We set out on our journey, looking for the safest route, but found water running in the streets, eddying around sign posts, rivers up to our knees.

The next morning the streets were clear.  The only signs of the evening’s deluge were a few tree branches in yards and mud on the sidewalks.  Dave and I shuttled the car over to see Louis, our mechanic, who found no permanent damage.

My tiny, localized flood was one short, scary evening.

The people of Houston are used to tropical storms, heavy rain, flooded streets, power outages.  Harvey is something different:  endless days of record rainfall, entire neighborhoods under water, displaced people, losing everything.  It will take years to recover.

I’ve checked in on a few friends I still keep up with in Houston.  They are all safe.  This storm has made me miss them.  They were the best part of the years I spent in Texas.

It’s hard to watch from a distance and wonder how best to help.  This  article in Consumer Reports gives a few suggestions from providing housing through Airbnb, to donating blood, to adopting pets from Texas shelters.







The Red Wolves of North Carolina

Note:  The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is working on an environmental impact statement which will determine how the red wolf population and habitat will be managed going forward.  They are accepting public comments through July 24th, 2017.  The Red Wolf Coalition (RWC) prepared this guide to writing an effective letter.

On April 28th six red wolf pups were born at the Museum of Life and Science (Museum) in Durham, North Carolina.  Two did not survive, but the four remaining pups are now almost twelve-weeks-old.  They live in a woodland habitat with their parents, F1858 and M1784.

Red wolf pups
Photo Credit: Ryan Nordsven/USFWS

Ancestors of red wolves originally roamed the southeastern United States from Florida to Pennsylvania and as far west as Texas.  Cousins to the gray wolf, they have the same long legs and rounded ears, but are smaller and have a reddish tint to their black and gray coats.

In the wild they live in small family groups consisting of the adults and juveniles, one- to two-years-old, who help raise new pups.  They mostly hunt small mammals, rabbits, raccoons and the occasional deer.  But like other wolves in the U.S. their numbers dwindled dramatically in the 20th Century due to habitat loss and conflicts with humans.  They were listed as endangered in 1967 and became extinct in the wild in 1980.

The wolves at the Museum are part of a decades-long effort to restore the population.  In 1987 the first red wolves were released back into a portion of their native habitat in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge.  Today there are less than 300 red wolves, most of them living in captivity with a small population of 40-50 in the wild.

It’s a familiar story.  Eleven years after the first red wolves were released in North Carolina, Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced in Arizona and New Mexico.  The Mexican wolf program was based, at least in part, on the red wolf program. Both populations of wolves face ongoing challenges in their recovery.  Advocates continue to fight to increase their numbers in the wild and to expand their access to more habitat.

Female 1287 at SSP site Museum Life and Science (Durham, NC).
Photo credit: B. Bartel/USFWS

I’ve followed red wolves from a distance for a couple of years, but when I read about the new pups on  RWC’s Facebook page I found myself engaged in their progress via “pupdates” posted on the Museum’s zoo keeper’s blog.  Complete with photos and videos, the posts provide a window into  the first weeks of a wolf pup’s life.

A few of the notes:  At two-weeks the pups’ coats were getting lighter in color and their eyes were beginning to open.  A week later Mom moved one of the pups (carrying it in her mouth) outside the den, but returned it later that day.  At four-weeks Dad brought them a knuckle bone to chew on.  At five-weeks they were more-widely exploring the enclosure, climbing up the cliff to another den site, sometimes sliding back down.  They were also beginning to eat solid food, regurgitated for them by Mom and Dad.  By six-weeks they all had teeth.  A week later they had learned to howl.

And then on a Monday morning in mid-June, three of the pups escaped, probably through an enlarged spot in the fence (just big enough for a seven-week old pup to squeeze through).  While it must have been a grand adventure for the pups (until they realized they couldn’t get back in), it had to be a heart-stopping event for the zoo keepers.  Luckily, the little rascals were still contained within the Museum’s perimeter fence.  Dad took it in stride and provided food for the pups at the fence line.  Two pups were recaptured within hours, but the third spent the night outside.  By noon the next day she was back in the enclosure with Mom, Dad and her three siblings.

Juvenile male red wolf waiting to be released
Photo Credit: R. Nordsven/USFWS

Updates are less frequent now as the pups put on weight and grow into their feet.

Next week they will be three-months-old and the USFWS will close the comment period on a proposed rule change that will impact the future of all red wolves.

Here’s hoping these pups and their parents have an opportunity to live out their lives in the wild, chasing rabbits and falling asleep with full stomachs under the stars.

Photos in this post are from the Red Wolves Flickr Track the Pack photostream.  To see F1858, M1784 and their pups check out the “pupdates“.  Many thanks to Sherry Samuels for her posts that have allowed the public to get to know this family of endangered red wolves!




Appointment with a Wolf


F638 or Jasmine as she is known at the Albuquerque BioPark lives ‘off exhibit’ and is not visible to the public so it took a special request to see her.

Jasmine in her living area. Photo courtesy of Albuquerque BioPark

Jasmine in her living area.
Photo courtesy of Albuquerque BioPark

But before I get ahead of myself. . .

Back in 2013 I wrote my first post for this blog about a family of endangered Mexican gray wolves called the Bluestem Pack.  By then they had lived in the wild for eleven years.  They were on their second alpha female and third or fourth alpha male and had raised lots of pups that went on to find mates and establish new packs. To this day the Bluestem Pack still runs in the White Mountains of Arizona.

The original members of the Bluestem Pack were born in captivity.  The near-famous (at least in wolf circles) F521, the alpha female of the pack, was born at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs in the late 90s. In 2002 she and her mate along with seven of their offspring—five new pups and two juveniles–were released in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.  The juveniles were born into F521’s first litter of four pups in 2000 (at the Sevilleta Wolf Management Facility), but only two of them were released with the family.  One of those wolves not released was F638.

It was a hot August afternoon. The zoo was quiet, the kids back in school. I arrived early so I could visit the public wolf exhibit before my meeting with the zoo manager.  The Albuquerque BioPark or Rio Grande Zoo as it used to be known has participated in the species recovery plan for more than thirty years.  Sixty-nine wolf pups were born at the zoo, helping reestablish the nearly extinct population of lobos native to the southwestern U.S. and Mexico.  But it has been almost ten years since the zoo had a new litter of pups.

That could change next spring. The zoo has two new residents, Kawi a two-year-old female and Apache a five-year-old male.  Their enclosure, visible from above, is large with pine and cottonwood trees, boulders and logs, wild grasses.  It can be hard to spot them, but on this day the two were chasing each other around the perimeter with Kawi pausing for a brief belly flop in the horse trough.

Back at the zoo’s administrative office I met Lynn Tupa, the zoo manager, and we returned to the wolf exhibit, this time walking on the backside of the animal exhibits—even quieter than the front of the zoo.

Lynn unlocked the gate to access the wolf habitat, a secured area with access to the public exhibit and two other, smaller naturalized habitats.  The wolves have minimal exposure to humans, so they are wary, but Lynn had told me Jasmine is curious and she approached the chain link fence, stopping a few feet back, when she heard us.  Long legs, big paws, a multi-colored and grizzled coat, inquisitive eyes—a rare up-close look at a lobo.

Jasmine is sixteen years old—ancient in wolf years—and will live out her life here. She was never released in the wild, but did have one litter of pups in 2006, her contribution to the survival of endangered lobos.  She is past the age of breeding and lives with a much younger male wolf. They keep each other company.

Within moments my visit was over.

I thought about Jasmine and Kawi and Apache as I drove away.  Jasmine’s family has contributed much to the growth of the small wild population, but too many of the lobos running in their native habitat are now related to the Bluestem Pack.  New blood is badly needed if they are going to continue to survive and thrive.

That’s where Kawi and Apache come in.  Winter is mating season and if all goes well they may have a litter of pups in late April—a new wolf family with the potential to run free in the pine forests and grassy meadows of New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, back where they belong.

Note:  Many thanks to Lynn Tupa at Albuquerque BioPark for providing access and answering my questions.  Also thank you to Peter Siminski, the official studbook keeper for the Mexican wolf recovery project, for filling in the blanks about F638’s history.

For more information about the current status of the wild population of Mexican gray wolves check out these two recent articles:  Cornered by Elizabeth Miller in the Santa Fe Reporter (June 15-21, 2016) and Line of Descent by Cally Carswell in High Country News (August 8, 2016).


Green Chile and the End of Summer

Whether you are Hispanic or Indian or Anglo, the land belonged to the corn and chile before it belonged to you.
—Huntley Dent in The Feast of Santa Fe

Roasting chile. Photo by Paula Nixon

Roasting chile.
Photo by Paula Nixon

Vendors have staked their claims in parking lots along Cerrillos Road. Their pickup trucks are filled with burlap bags stuffed with freshly-picked green chile hauled up I-25 from Hatch and Socorro.  They appear in Santa Fe every year in the final weeks of summer, gas-fired roasting cages primed and ready to blister batches of chile on demand.

I bought a bushel of Hatch, medium hot, from Octavio in front of Jackalope.  We’ll eat it through the fall and winter in the traditional ways, but will also use it to add pizzazz to a pot of corn chowder or to gussy up a cheeseburger.   I’m hoping I stashed enough of the little baggies in the freezer to carry us through until the next harvest makes its way north.

A few years ago I had lunch at the San Marcos Café and Feed Store on the Turquoise Trail—a burrito topped with a simple, but divine green chile sauce.  Back in my kitchen I tinkered until I came up with the recipe below that comes close to theirs.  With a little adaptation it also works with dried red chiles.

Quick and Easy Green Chile Sauce

1 tablespoon oil (I use canola)
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups water or chicken stock
2-3 green chiles, roasted, peeled, and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt, to taste

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan.  Add flour and brown, whisking constantly.  Add water or broth, chile, garlic, and salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for twenty minutes, or until sauce thickens, stirring frequently.

Delicious on enchiladas, chalupas, huevos rancheros. Buen Provecho!

One Endangered Bird, Too Many Deer, and a Hungry Bear

I’m always on the lookout for wildlife stories and one good source is the “State-by-State” section of the USA Today, which I see a couple of times a month when I’m traveling.  The micro-stories cover all topics, but it’s a rare day that I don’t find at least one good animal story.

Here are the best ones I found last week, ranging from Hawaii to New Hampshire.

Hilo, Hawaii:  A dozen birds native to Hawaii will be released in November to end over a decade of extinction in the wild for the species.  The corvid is part of the crow family and will be reintroduced at a natural area reserve aviary, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported. 8/30/16

The ‘alala or Hawaiian crow is threatened by a long list of things including habitat loss, feral animals, and overgrazing cattle according to my Audubon guide.  After the initial release, more will be scheduled in the coming years.  It’s a collaborative effort between the state, US Fish and Wildlife, and the San Diego Zoo.  Teaching the chicks to hide from predators in the forest is one of the methods they are employing to increase the crows’ odds of survival in the wild.  Here’s hoping the reintroduction is successful!

Photo by Paula Nixon

Photo by Paula Nixon

Prineville, Oregon:  Residents are using streamers, balloons, pinwheels and CDs hanging from trees to scare off the city’s abundant deer, officials said. 8/31/16

Augusta, Maine:  The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife  approved an increase in “any deer” hunting permits.  There will be more than 45,000 permits issued this year. 8/31/16

Different responses to the same problem—too many deer.   In Prineville citizens are not in agreement about the deer population that hangs out in their town.  Some like the hooved visitors; others are decorating their yards in an effort to scare them away.  The city council opted not to fine those who feed them, but do strongly advise against it.

In Maine more hunting permits will be issued this fall after last year’s mild winter led to more deer surviving.  Hunters can shoot “any deer”— males or females.

Goffstown, New Hampshire:  A man said he spotted a hungry black bear trying to run off with his bird feeder outside his home, WMUR-TV reported.  The animal dropped the feeder but later snacked on some seeds in Jason Alexander’s driveway. 8/31/16

Bear stories are my favorite and this one comes complete with a video.  I hope that Mr. Alexander puts his bird seed away until the hungry bears return to the mountains for the winter.


The Hollywood Mountain Lion

Photo by Paula Nixon

Photo by Paula Nixon

On Monday last week I took a short walk on Hollywood Boulevard.  It was clear and hot and the only sign of wildlife was a pigeon pecking in a patch of scrubby dirt.   I glanced down at the stars lining the sidewalk, but was distracted by the hills visible to the north beyond Highway 101.  Somewhere up there, less than five miles from the Starbucks where I stopped for an iced coffee and a reprieve from the blazing sun, lives P-22.

His story is amazing, a mountain lion crossing two major freeways to travel from the Santa Monica Mountains into Griffith Park, a 4000-acre park in the heart of Los Angeles.  It’s a feat that’s hard to fathom especially if you have ever driven through the city—it doesn’t matter what time of day or night, the roads are filled with delivery trucks, semis, school buses, and cars, hundreds of thousands of them.

But somehow P-22 managed it and took up residence in the hills above the city where he found abundant deer and no competition from other mountain lions.

Miguel Ordeñana, a wildlife biologist, recounts the thrill of finally verifying the existence of the then-unidentified lion in 2012 after numerous ‘unconfirmed sightings.’   “An LA Story” is featured in the Summer 2016 issue of Earth Island Journal.  Once P-22 was captured, collared, and released back in the park he became even more of a celebrity, seldom seen, but living large in the imaginations of millions in LA and beyond, spurring talk of a wildlife bridge over Highway 101.

I have followed P-22’s tale for the past couple of years via National Geographic’s Instagram feed and was captivated by Steve Winter’s photo of him in front of the lighted Hollywood sign at night.  It wasn’t an easy shot to get—lots of time and patience—he shares the details here.

In the new book When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors:  People and wildlife working it out in California Beth Pratt-Bergstrom also relates P-22’s story along with her guess as to  how he got across all those lanes of traffic, “He probably did what most of us do when confronted with the Los Angeles freeways:  floor it and hope for the best.”

Pratt-Bergstrom compares P-22’s journey to that of astronaut Neil Armstrong.  Funny, but that’s the only plaque (a circle instead of the usual star) that caused me to pause on my walk.  It’s at Hollywood and Vine and honors the Apollo 11 crew, the first to walk on the moon.





Summer Vacation

For most of us the childhood dream of  ‘summer vacation’ is probably more ideal than  reality.  A few days off to explore–the mountains, the beach, a national park, maybe even a trip out of the country–then it’s back to the routine.

When I was a kid growing up in Kansas I waited all year for that week or two. For my family that often meant a trip to Colorado or New Mexico.  In 1966, before we started camping, we stayed at a rustic cabin in Decker’s Corner in the Pike National Forest not too far from Denver.
Decker's Corners, 1966. Photo by: Paula Nixon

Decker’s Corners, 1966. Photo by: Paula Nixon

I was eight and taking my first pictures with an old Brownie camera given to me by my Uncle Douglas. For this post I considered cropping the trash can and Coors box out of the photo, but decided it was part of the memory–the trip wasn’t a perfect one.  We arrived just in time for the fourth of July and the locals celebrated not only with fireworks, but also by firing their shotguns into the air, making my parents uneasy.

Twenty or so years later Dave and I took another trip to Decker’s.  We were living less than forty miles away and it was an easy place to get to for an overnight camping trip.  We took off late on a Saturday afternoon, somehow managing to forget our tent poles.  We gamely rolled out our sleeping bags on top of the flat tent, but didn’t last the night fearing we were too close to a dirt bike trail head.  We woke the next morning in our own bed. I haven’t been back to Decker’s since.

This summer, instead of one long vacation, we have taken a couple of short trips to new locales: a weekend in Silver City and the Gila Wilderness and a jaunt along a short stretch of the Oregon Coast.  It’s always an adventure to see how unknown places square with our ideas of them once we finally get to visit.

Otherwise, it’s been a summer of rediscovering old favorites:  a trip to the Albuquerque BioPark to see a new pair of Mexican wolves, Kawi and Apache, and weekly visits to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market where tomatoes and corn have finally arrived.

Although the end is in sight, there’s still lots of summer left to enjoy.

Early this morning I got up to watch the Perseid meteor shower, one of my August favorites.  Twenty or thirty streaking stars later, I went back to bed thinking that I should go outside more often in the middle of the night to enjoy the dark skies, cool air, and quiet.

I may be groggy all day, but it’s worth it to squeeze every last bit of summer out of the season!

Meeting Turner

Paula & Turner Photo by: Jessie Burns

Paula & Turner
Photo by: Jessie Burns

Turner Burns is a busy sixth grader.  I met him last week during a short break he had between the end of the school day and a concert he was performing in that night.  He lives in Philadelphia and I was in the city  for a couple of days while Dave attended a convention.

We met in Washington Square near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (honoring  those who fought in the Revolutionary War).  Turner, his mom, Jessie, and their golden retriever had enough time for a short walk through a nearby rose garden.  We talked about wolves and watched as  Keeper, the retriever, stopped for a long roll in a patch of clover.

Turner started a Facebook page called Kids for Wolves back when he was just seven.  He was inspired to tell others  about wolves after a visit to the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York.  Two years ago when I  wrote  a story about Turner he had almost 2000 followers.

He has been a big supporter of Mexican gray wolves, participating in wolf pup naming contests and giving names to two pups, Keeper and Nike (m1277 born in 2012 and m1329 born in 2013).  His artwork was also featured on the 2014 New Mexico Wilderness Alliance’s wolf conservation stamp. The sale of the annual stamp raises funds that are used for conservation efforts and education projects.

Turner continues to advocate for wolves, keeping his readers informed about ways to make a difference—signing petitions, making calls to government officials, spreading the word to others.

It seemed fitting that we would meet in such a historic place, the neighborhood that was home to some of our country’s earliest magazines and newspapers.  Turner is making the most of our new ways of communicating.  He now has almost 5000 Facebook followers.

In a recent post he wrote:

I was brushing my teeth tonight when I thought, “One post a day keeps extinction away.” If everyone who follows this page posts a petition or news, or just shares information about wolves with another person [they are] making an impact towards saving a lot of wolves . . .

Well said, Turner!


Good Garlic

. . . if you grow good garlic people will love you for it.
Stanley Crawford

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

“Are you Stan?”  I blurted out the words before I had time to think it through.

Tuesday morning at the farmers’ market—I have not yet settled on one shopping strategy.  Should I look at every string bean and head of lettuce and then return to make my purchases, or should  I buy whatever strikes my fancy on the first pass.  Both have their merits but on this day, at the height of the growing season, I opted for the former and found that the gorgeous tomato with purple streaks I had admired as I walked by the first time was in someone else’s hand when I returned.

My tomato regret was forgotten by the time I got back to Crawford’s garlic stand.  I had noticed the  mounds of fragrant bulbs as I strolled by and somewhere along the way, without consciously working it out, all of the pieces had assembled themselves in my mind by the time I returned.

Mr. Crawford, seated at the rear of the stand behind the lug crates heaped with garlic, was gracious.  He nodded in answer to my question and inquired who I was.  Slightly embarrassed, I introduced myself and told him I had read his books about farming in New Mexico—ten or fifteen years ago.

Crawford’s garlic bears little resemblance to the dried out bulbs from the grocery store that I make do with too many months of the year.  One of my favorite ways to appreciate this local treasure is to  top thick slices of fresh-baked farmhouse or sourdough bread with a mix of chopped heirloom tomatoes (purple streaks optional), a clove or two of peeled and minced garlic, a sprinkle of  salt, a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar.  This summer treat is best savored outdoors, sitting in the sun.

On my next trip to the market I’ll take my copy of A Garlic Testament for Stan to sign and I’ll try not to ask any stupid questions about vampires.


A Surfeit of Skunks

Thunder, lightning, and a good rain finished off a busy July weekend in Santa Fe.  By the time Dave and I went out to make a quick run to the post office it was dark and wet and quiet, no sign of the gibbous moon.

Dave spotted the slow moving ball of black and white fur before I did.  In the headlights it first appeared to be one creature.  He slowed to make sure it didn’t spook and run in front of the car.  Then we saw it was really two, three, four small skunks.  A family, he said.  A double date, I replied.

The group kept a wary eye on us and moved slowly, all bunched together, up the street.  I didn’t even consider rolling down my window to take a photo.  Cute as they were, I didn’t want to alarm them.

Finally, they found an opening in the wall and scurried into some unsuspecting resident’s yard.  It was then that we realized there were five.  Dave was probably right: a mother and her kits.