Weekly Roundup – Kids Rule!


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Earlier this year I was a judge for the third annual Mexican wolf pup naming contestThe drawings and essays submitted by kids from around the country amazed me with their knowledge and thoughtfulness.  Pictured above is one of the winning entries.  Eleanor’s name, Monty, was given to male pup (mp)1386 (his official identification) a member of the Prieto Pack, a family of wolves that runs and hunts in the mountains of New Mexico.

A former winner in the naming contest, Turner Burns, started a Facebook page, Kids for Wolves,  several years ago after meeting Atka, one of the ambassador wolves at the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC).  Today, he has over 4000 followers and uses his page to educate both kids and adults about wolves in the United States and Canada.  In a post earlier this week, he reminded me that I needed to make a call to my representative in Congress about a pending bill that would remove protections for  endangered wolves.

Atka is also an inspiration to Peyton, seen howling in this video with the Arctic wolf.

Run Like A Wolf

11 year-old Peyton is helping to save the wolves by running 13.1 miles this October to support the Wolf Conservation Center and raise awareness for the importance and plight of the wild predators. Please check out Peyton’s CrowdRise page and support his effort here: http://bit.ly/1FIrv2bWith kiddos like Peyton, the world is looking a little brighter, Thank you, Peyton!

Posted by Wolf Conservation Center on Sunday, June 28, 2015


But it’s not just wolves.  Every few days I see stories about kids finding creative ways to help wildlife, trees, homeless pets.

Best friends, Caroline and Claire, raised money with a bake sale and donated the money to Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco.

Caroline (a sixth-grader) and Claire (a fifth-grader) sent us a donation accompanied by this adorable note. Thank you!Inspired? We appreciate donations of any amount: http://fuf.net/donate

Posted by Friends of the Urban Forest on Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In New Mexico Dezirae saves her money from chores to give to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.

We are so thankful for Dezirae! This 15-year-old amazing teen saves her money from chores and donates incredible treats,…

Posted by Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society on Friday, July 3, 2015

It starts with field trips and camp outs: kids learning about  bats and butterflies, sunflowers and saguaros. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this little guy doing something great in the next few years!

Here’s a cute video of a kid telling us all about what he learned about bats with us here during Pollinator Week!

Posted by Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Thanks to each one of these kids for being an inspiration to us all!

Summer Vacation: Beignets and Bullfrogs

“Back in 5 minutes,” said the note taped on the door.

I checked my watch.  I had time to wait. Finally, I was going to see the inside of Caravan Book Store.  The small storefront on South Grand Street in downtown Los Angeles has a window full of old and rare books, but my visits were always off—too early or too late.

20150627_125059-1I perused the crowded shelves filled with treasures, but in the end returned to the front and bought Our Vanishing Wilderness, the first book that had caught my eye when I walked in. Filled with photographs of wild places and the creatures that inhabit them, the book was published in 1969—the year I turned eleven.

Flipping through its pages took me back to the family vacations of my youth.

In the 60s my folks purchased a small camping trailer and we began taking trips to the national forests in Colorado and New Mexico, an easy day’s drive from our home in western Kansas.   Once Dad located the perfect campsite, we kids were eager to finish the chores—gathering firewood and hauling water.  Free to explore, we climbed boulders, forded snow-cold streams, chased chipmunks.

At the Grand Canyon 1971

Grand Canyon 1971

In the 70s we started venturing farther, starting with a vacation to Arizona and Nevada.  We hiked the rim of the Grand Canyon, played on a beach at Lake Mead, were dazzled by the lights of Las Vegas.  A few years later we went to California, camped in an orange grove and saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

Our last big trip before I left for college was to New Orleans where we savored powdered-sugar dusted beignets, listened to jazz at Preservation Hall, and got our first glimpse of the  Mississippi River.  My most vivid memory of the trip occurred at some forgotten campsite in northern Louisiana where we spent a night on our way south. The landscape was unfamiliar to us—trees were draped in Spanish moss, long-necked white birds perched on the backs of cows, and water didn’t move.  After dark sitting around the campfire, the heavy air was split open with the voice of a lone bullfrog.  Soon another joined and then another until the night was filled with an entire choir, singing a hoarse serenade.

Written and photographed in the mid-60s Our Vanishing Wilderness marked the beginning of our country’s awareness of what we were about to lose. Within four years of its publication the Endangered Species Act was law and Earth Day an annual celebration.

Its words remind me to pick up my binoculars, to check on the pair of robins nesting in a piñon tree outside my bathroom window, and to never take for granted the croak of a bullfrog.

Feeding Bob – Feral Cats on the Big Island of Hawaii

Bob appeared on my lanai shortly after I arrived on the Big Island. I would have recognized him right away even if his picture didn’t show up every hour or so in my screen-saver photo rotation.

Photo Credit:  P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

He looked just the same as he did four years ago–short-legged and stocky, white chest and paws with gray tabby markings,  dark-rimmed green eyes, and a tipped left ear indicating he had been neutered.

Back then he traveled with a buddy, a large gray-and-black striped male.   Very shy, the neutered tabby would hang back a few feet while Bob stood at the screen door cajoling, wheedling, demanding. Once I put out food they would both eat. Bob was generous about sharing.

This time Bob came and went alone, stopping at my back door every few hours. I figured he was making the rounds to other cat-friendly lanais, but hoped he also had access to a regularly maintained feeding station. I fed him small portions of canned Little Friskies and a few cat treats. One morning he napped on the doormat while I sat outside drinking coffee and writing. He was friendly, but cautious, moving away if I came too close. He looked healthy, but had a cut on a front leg that seemed to be healing.

Two days before I was scheduled to leave, Bob showed up with not one, not two, but three friends. At first I was dismayed, not sure I had enough time to get in touch with one of my contacts to borrow traps, bait and capture the felines, and then arrange transport to and from a clinic for spay/neuter. I looked more closely. Every one of the cats had a tipped ear. Someone had already done the work.

All four took up residence on and around the lanai, napping on the chairs, alert to my every move. A few hours before my flight back to the Mainland I opened the last can of chicken cat food and emptied the bag of dairy-flavored treats. I wondered how long it would take them to figure out I wasn’t coming back.

Before each trip to Hawaii, I reassess how I feel about feral cats in a place with so many endangered birds.  So far, I haven’t come up with any better ideas than those I wrote about in a 2011 essay. Between visits I stay in touch with AdvoCATS Hawaii.  Over the last 15 years they have spayed/neutered almost 16,000 cats on the island. They were probably  responsible for fixing those that showed up on my lanai based on the emails we traded after I returned home.

It crosses my mind, just before I hit the publish button that maybe I shouldn’t share this post.  It seems a contradiction to be writing about efforts to save endangered Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and, at the same time, about feral cats that threaten endangered birds in Hawaii.  But that’s the world I live in, really the world we all live in. Everything we do, whether consciously or not, impacts nature, the physical universe. That’s why I write this blog, not only as a way to recognize and appreciate that universe, but also as a way to puzzle out my place in it.

Peach Pie: taste of summer

“. . . the ever-present landscape flows in and through a Santa Fe kitchen.  It comes in as a stream of brilliant sunlight; as the smell of piñon nuts whose mother trees can be seen across every acre of land; as the inescapable layer of dust which no one tries overly hard to keep out, and, of course, as the food itself.”
Huntley Dent  The Feast of Santa Fe

Last week I made two peach pies: a morning filled with peeling, slicing, rolling, dusting, and, finally, crimping.  Outside my kitchen window squawking scrub jays searched the piñon trees for the soft, sweet nuts tucked inside pine cones.  The smell of peach and cinnamon filled the air.

Yellow and fuzzy with a deep blush, Tony’s peaches from Valley Honey and Apple Farm have a short trip from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Purchased today, they can be eaten tomorrow. They are local, but not native.

Photo Credit:  P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Peaches, like the hollyhocks I wrote about in August, are native to China and traveled to the Southwest in much the same way–from Asia to the Middle East to Spain and, finally, to New Mexico along with apricots, apples and a host of other fruits and vegetables. Dent writes in The Feast of Santa Fe that by 1850 vendors were selling peaches and other seasonal produce on Santa Fe’s plaza.

So I wondered, did the cooks who bought those peaches make pies? Checking Fabiola Cabeza de Baca Gilbert’s historical New Mexico cookbook, The Good Life, I found only one mention of pie. In a description of the elaborate food preparations for a wedding feast, she writes about two helpers who baked ” . . .  dried fruit pies in the mud ovens. The fruit was cooked, sweetened and seasoned. Long strips of flaky pastry were place in bread pans, spread with fruit and covered with more pastry. After these were baked they were cut into squares large enough for generous helpings.”  My guess is that these pies were filled with with dried apples or apricots, traditional favorites in New Mexican cuisine.

Dent includes a recipe for little pies, or empanaditas as they are called in Spanish, filled with peach butter and piñons. The small turnovers are made with flour and lard, stuffed with filling, and cooked in a small amount of hot oil. Done right, according to Dent, they are a light and flaky treat, a Christmas delight.

We ate one of my peach pies the day I baked it,  warm from the oven topped with ice cream. The other one is in the freezer, saved for a cold winter night, maybe Christmas Eve.

Santa Fe Farmers’ Market – Rattlesnake Beans

Photo Credit:  P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

It was a week of travel, most of it in California: Carmichael, Chula vista, Escondido, Hollywood, Bakersfield, Mountain View, Richmond, and Arcata. Dave and I call it the western swing–his monthly review of construction projects in Arizona, California, Washington. As I list the towns and think back on the flights and rental cars I realize why I was tired yesterday, my first day back at home.

It was Tuesday, the morning I make my weekly trip to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. I try not to miss it, especially at the height of the season. If for no other reason, I would drag my sleep-deprived self down to the open air market at the Railyard for the tomatoes. They come in every shape and color: pear, cherry, plum, bright orange, dark purplish-red, and green-striped. Some, the best ones I think, are downright ugly, misshapen and split, bearing no apparent relationship to the perfect round specimens at the supermarket.

On my short drive to the market, trying to figure out why I felt so jet lagged after traveling from only one time zone to another, I realized that I had hurried out of the house without my usual mug of espresso laced with milk.

No time to turn back, I started through the row of tables making purchases, first, white corn and roasted green chile. Next, a quick stop at the indoor market for a cup of strong black coffee. I was starting to wake up, but struggling to juggle a cumbersome bag full of produce (I should have saved the corn for last) and a hot paper cup. I made quick work of the rest of it, not belaboring my selections:  a basket of mixed cherry tomatoes, a head of Bibb lettuce, a bunch of scallions, a container of tiny raspberries and four glossy, dark green poblano peppers. I had a list when I left the house, but had no idea where it was or if I had gotten what I came for (except, of course, the tomatoes).

Just before walking back to the car with my heavy load I decided that I had to  have green beans. Soon they’d be gone and I’d regret that I didn’t buy them when I had the chance. I hesitated, not wanting to walk back through the market, but then I spotted him, a farmer in a big straw hat, spray bottle in hand, spritzing the beans, onions, and squash at a nearby table. He had a couple of different kinds of string beans, but I  was attracted to the long green beans with purple streaks.  Rattlesnake beans.

Feeling more sociable after a half a cup of Guatemalan dark roast I asked about the the beans.  A lot like green beans, he said, the streaks disappear when cooked, but they are more hardy, not as easily overcooked–a bonus given my usual distracted state. So, how do you cook them, I asked, and he replied that he sautees them. In olive oil? At this he looked a little sheepish. When he is trying to be healthy, yes olive oil, but his preference is butter or bacon fat. Sold.

We wished each other a good day after we made the trade, rattlesnake beans and advice in exchange for a few dollars. As I turned to leave I noticed that his teal blue nail polish matched his shirt perfectly.

It’s good to be back home.

Road Trip: Truth or Consequences

August is the best month to visit Santa Fe. Petunias cascade out of hanging baskets on the Plaza, Carmen’s arias waft across the sagebrush and pinyons after sunset, and a patient waiter recommends the perfect glass of red to accompany the duck enchilada mole. For those of us who live in this charming city and run the risk of taking it for granted, August is a good month to escape, if only for a very short while.

Photo by: P. Nixon

Photo by: P. Nixon

Dave and I did just that on Wednesday last week. We shut off the computers, locked the office door behind us, leaving stacks of files on our desks, and pointed the car south on I25. I had packed the map of New Mexico and a cooler filled with sandwiches, chips, and iced tea in the front; the bottle of whiskey was locked in the trunk with the suitcases.

Our destination was the small town of Truth or Consequences in the southwestern part of the state where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was conducting a public hearing to discuss the fate of the Mexican gray wolf. We stopped once on the 200 mile trip at the Walking Sands rest area south of Albuquerque to stretch our legs, photograph the beware of rattlesnakes sign, and trade places in the car. I drove the last 90 miles watching thunderstorms move from west to east, sweeping across the San Mateo Mountains and  Black Range. Sporadic downpours slowed us down, but ended as quickly as they began.

We arrived in T or C, known best for its hot springs and 1951 name change, with just enough time to grab a taco at Maria’s before the start of the hearing. Two local police cars cruised the neighborhood next to the convention center while we looked for a place to park.

Photo by P. Nixon

Photo by P. Nixon

Fish and Wildlife was just beginning their Power Point presentation when we took our seats. About two hundred people turned out–ranchers, birders, hunters, campers, and concerned citizens. They represented farm bureaus, environmental groups, and, sometimes, just themselves. Seventy-six got the chance to speak, uninterrupted, for two minutes each, addressing their comments to a moderator and Benjamin Tuggle, Fish and Wildlife’s Southwest Regional Director.

Afterward Dave and I had a long soak in one of the mineral baths at the Sierra Grande Lodge, time to reflect on all we had heard.  Like most of the hearings conducted in New Mexico and Arizona over the past year the comments favored the wolves by about two to one with most of the speakers asking for continued  protection and expanded territory for the lobos.  Those against cited the loss of cattle to depredation, the pressure on deer and elk populations, and the cost of the reintroduction effort as reasons the program should not be expanded.

On Thursday we returned to Santa Fe–no time to make a side trip to the nearby Gila Wilderness where less than  month ago a family of wolves called the Coronado Pack was released.  Another trip, we promised ourselves.

It’s been a week and I am still listening to my recording of the hearing, transcribing comments, both pro and con, for a future post.  Luckily, there are still a few reporters who do that work quickly and accurately.  I found this account of the proceedings in the online edition of the Silver City Daily Press the day after the meeting.




Bluestem Pack – Summer 2014 Update

As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk, the law runneth forward and back;
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Rudyard Kipling

 Photo Credit: James Zeschke via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: James Zeschke via Compfight cc

The Bluestem Pack still runs in the White Mountains of Arizona–twelve years after the original family of wolves was released into the wild.  Last week a telemetry flight located the alpha pair, AF1042 and AM1341, and five pups born in 2013 a few miles south of Noble Peak. It appears they probably also have new pups, born in the spring of this year.

When I last wrote an update back in April, little was known about AM1341.  A few months after the Bluestem’s prior alpha male, AM806, was illegally shot in the summer of 2012, an unidentified male began traveling with the pack.  In January, 2014 he was  captured, collared, and assigned a studbook number, but it took a  genetics test to  confirm that he was the father of last year’s pups.

The pack has gotten into some trouble over the last two months.  One of the 2013 pups, f1332, has been traveling alone for several weeks and in June killed a calf.  A second incident occurred in mid-July when a wolf injured two horses; telemetry reports confirmed that it was AF1042, the alpha female.

Most of the Bluestem Pack’s 2012 pups (the last litter fathered by AM806) have perished, but one, F1280, survives and has become the alpha female of the Hawks Nest Pack.  The two wolves (AF1280 and AM1038) have established their territory in the north-central portion of the Apache Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona and were recently located a few miles west of Gobbler Peak.  In late July the field team documented the alpha pair howling accompanied by one or two pups.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted  public hearings last week  in Arizona and New Mexico  to take comments on  proposed  changes to the rule that governs the management of the small population of Mexican wolves  that live in the wild.  Fish and Wildlife’s final decision, expected in January,  will greatly impact the odds that today’s pups will be able to find mates and establish territories–to survive and thrive.

I attended the meeting in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico on Wednesday night and the comments mostly favored the lobos, but they still have a long way to go.  I’ll write more about the proposed rule changes and the  hearing in upcoming posts.

Welcome to Wolf Week!

Yes, it’s true.  I borrowed the idea from the Discovery Channel, but I promise no snarling, growling, menacing wolves here.

Mexican Gray Wolf at Wildlife West Nature Park Photo Credit:  Paula Nixon

Mexican Gray Wolf at Wildlife West Nature Park
Photo Credit: Paula Nixon

It’s a big week for the Mexican gray wolves native to the Southwest with two public hearings scheduled to discuss their future.  The first will be held in Pinetop, Arizona tonight, the second in Truth or Consequences (T or C), New Mexico on Wednesday night.  US Fish and Wildlife officials will conduct both hearings, giving the public an opportunity to voice their opinions about  proposed rule changes to the reintroduction program, which has allowed the wolves to be reintroduced into their historic range over the last sixteen years.  This recent article in the Arizona Republic provides more details.

Stay tuned for the story of Ernesta, a female wolf recently re-released to the wild with a new mate and pups; an update on the Bluestem Pack, successfully living in the wild for twelve years; and the tale of a road trip to T or C.










Don’t Miss the “Super” Super Moon

“. . .I looked out the window and it was the moon.  Big as a house! I never seen the moon so big before or since . . . ” Raymond in Moonstruck-1987

Tonight’s the night–the second of three super moons this year (the final one will occur next month, on September 9th).  With the earth and moon almost as close as they ever get in their  elliptical orbits the full moon will appear larger and brighter than normal.

August 8, 2014 Photo Credit:  Eli Nixon

August 8, 2014
Photo Credit: Eli Nixon

If you wonder why you don’t remember hearing about super moons until just recently, this Earth/Sky post explains that it’s a relatively new term for a “fairly routine astronomical event” (it happens approximately once every 14 months).

“Cosmo’s moon” is what we call it at my house–the name that Raymond gave the magical light  that he saw from his bedroom window in the movie Moonstruck.

Koshari the Bear: A Cautionary Tale

Where the Sandia and Manzano mountains meet the plains east of Albuquerque lives a bear named Koshari. Tagged three times by New Mexico Game and Fish in 2005 for nuisance behavior, he’s one lucky bear.

Koshari courtesy of John Weckerle

Koshari courtesy of John Weckerle

On Friday morning I took the long way from Santa Fe south to Edgewood,  down the scenic Turquoise Trail. My destination was Wildlife West Nature Park, a zoo where all of the animals are native to the Southwest and most have been rescued after being  injured or becoming habituated to humans, no longer able to live in the wild.

The park reminds me of my backyard on a much larger scale with a different mountain range in the distance–lots of open ground dotted with pinyon pines, juniper trees, cholla cacti, native grasses, and wild flowers.

The bear habitat is the next to last one on the loop around the zoo and I found Koshari napping directly in front of the viewing window–sprawled out on his back, four paws up.

by P. Nixon

Koshari’s Habitat by P. Nixon

Named for the Native American clown (Koshare), the black bear has been at the park for nine years, since he was two-years-old, just a youngster.  He came from the Navajo Lake area in northern New Mexico where he discovered the easiest and tastiest lunches came out of the coolers on houseboats.  His life was spared with a generous donation to construct a half-acre bear habitat at WIldlife West.

It’s all about food for bears and Koshari is no exception.  He is fed a varied diet–fruit, vegetables, meat, dog kibble.  As winter approaches, like his cousins in the wild, he increases his  calorie count,  eating upwards of 20,000 a day.  Although he doesn’t hibernate he does slow down, eating much less during the dark and cold months.

PleaseComeAgainEyes still closed, Koshari rolled over on his side, swatted a pesky fly, and covered his face with a paw.  Before leaving I dropped a couple of dollars in a donation box used for special treats for the bruin–one of the few acceptable ways to contribute to the feeding of a bear.