Almost Alive

The less rain the more tumbleweeds
break loose from the fields
during December wind, roll the road
like a mass migration of animals,
pile up against the fences,
sacrificing themselves so those
who follow can bounce on over
and keep moving until they reach
the eaves of proper houses out there
on the edges of those little towns
where inside the elevator owner
prays for at least a sprinkle
to keep the winter wheat green.
—Randy Phillis Plots We Can’t Keep Up With

Somewhere in a box sitting at the back of a closet is a photo that goes with this poem—an old black and white with curled edges.  You can’t tell from the picture, but the little ranch house on Fairview Street with two elms in the front yard is painted green.  On the north side of the house in a shady flower bed next to the fence a few tiger lilies, planted by the former owner, bloom each summer.  Next door, just a few feet further north, Mr. Farrell, tends to his tomato plants and uses his shovel to kill the fat green worms that eat the leaves.

But the photo was taken in the late winter or early spring before the lilies have poked their heads out and the space is filled with tumbleweeds, piled against the fence—stacked so high that they have spilled over into the backyard, surrounding the clothesline poles and swing set. The invasion turns into an adventure once the wind stops blowing and Dad corrals the wayward weeds in a wire cage, set up in the alley, and lights a match.

It was the late sixties and two kids who had yet to meet would both remember those tumbleweeds years later. She would look up the Latin name (Salsola tragus) and discover the story of immigrants who, inadvertently, carried the Russian thistle seeds with them to the Midwest.  He would write a poem. Two different paths to the same memory.


Oxlips and Violets

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet muskroses, and with eglantine.
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night.
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delights.
And there the snake throws her enameled skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes
And make her full of hateful fantasies.
—William Shakespeare A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 2. Sc.1

It was a hectic week with taxes and travel.  To make up for the missed Monday and Tuesday posts here are a few lines of Shakespeare’s.  His birthday is tomorrow.

Several months ago I discovered the book How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare by Ken Ludwig.  It turns out it works pretty well for adults too!

Forest Man

Jays land on the muscles of his branches, breasts high,
Churning their infinite tones.  Spiders trace a path
along his long legs, up the dusty window of his body.
The forest man spells of pine and chocolate mints.
Lauren Camp

The piñon trees in my yard and around town are dying.  Not all of them, but enough of them to be alarming.  Too hot, too many years of drought—I will miss them and wonder where the birds will go.  Check out the entire poem here.


“Why don’t you turn at the next corner,”
she said, “and take another road home.
Let’s go past that farm with all the
different colored lilacs.”
Leo Dangel

Did I mention I was going to take a break from poetry or at least blogging about poetry for the weekend?  I needed time to gather the books of poems strewn around the house–on the kitchen table, under the bed, buried in stacks of newspapers–and to think about where I was after seven days of verse.

Four Kinds of Lilacs seems like a good place to pick it up again.  I’ve been in Santa Fe for almost twenty years, but I’m always surprised when the purple clusters begin to show themselves in April.   In western Kansas where I grew up they lag by several weeks (or at least they used to), making them the perfect May Day flower.  As a kid, I filled baskets made of colored construction paper with lilacs and candy, dropped them on neighbors’ porches, rang the bell, and ran.

Friday night I stepped off the sidewalk and into a flowerbed downtown to catch a whiff of a just-opened blossom.  It smelled like spring.


An Abundance of Pinon


Photo by Paula Nixon

Photo by Paula Nixon

Most of the piñon trees around my house have open cones this year, some with the dark brown pine nuts still ensconced within.  I hadn’t noticed them until I talked to Rick Winslow, a wildlife biologist with the NM game department, about a bear scat filled with piñon shells I found in the yard–turns out bears love the buttery nuts as much as the squirrels and jays. Winslow mentioned there had been lots of  piñon in the area for the last couple of years, which didn’t fit with what I thought I knew about New Mexico’s state tree.

I had heard the piñon pine produced once every seven years, but it really depends on the weather, how much moisture we get.  The recent years of drought have killed some of the trees, another setback.  But in the last couple of years with closer to normal rainfall, they have responded by putting on cones.

Bumper crops are few and far between (that explains the seven year theory), but this year it’s a “bull market for piñon in Northern New Mexico” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican.

The last big crop we had was in 2005.  I remember being surprised that autumn by a flock of boisterous Clark’s nutcrackers appearing out of nowhere, taking up residence in the pine outside my kitchen window.  The sleek white birds with black wings crashed the party, scaring off the piñon jays, usually the bossiest birds in the trees. Once the cones were empty, they left as quickly as they came. No sign of them yet this year.

Last week I started to gather a few of the nuts in a small bowl and spread a bedsheet on the ground and shook the branches to release those still in cones.   I was hoping to accumulate enough to roast for my sister-in-law, Kelli, who is an aficionado. The few I cracked open with my teeth (not recommended) were dried out and brown, not the plump, light-colored nuts I was expecting so I abandoned my efforts.

Maybe there are some good ones out there, but I’ll leave those for the industrious chipmunks to discover.   I’ll be checking out our local roadside vendors or ordering from New Mexico Piñon Nut Company‘s  online store. Sold unshelled, it’s a challenge to extract the tasty nuts.  Wiki-How offers a few different techniques.  The one that looks most promising  involves a can opener. I’ll let you know how it works.





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!

May Flowers

Snapdragons. Photo By: Paula Nixon

Portland snapdragons
Photo By: Paula Nixon

I was in Portland a couple of weeks ago.  It’s a once a month thing.  Dave looks at a construction project and I get to walk around a nearby neighborhood with killer flowers.  In late March it was tulips and daffodils and grape hyacinths.  I took dozens of pictures.

On the April trip I was just going to enjoy the cool, quiet morning, no photos, but before I had walked a block I had my cell phone out taking shots. Bearded iris, delicate stems of lavender, and trees with blossoms I couldn’t identify.

I think my love of flowers came from Mom.  She has been planting and nurturing them as long as I can remember.   Sweet peas along the back fence on Fairview.  Geraniums in the front planter on Windsor.  Most recently, dahlias and larkspur in her backyard in Colorado.

But I’m not much of a gardener, especially since I moved to New Mexico—content to leave the landscape as is.  My ‘yard’ is mostly natural with native plants, piñon and juniper, chamisa and prickly pear.  A couple of patches of iris, a few scraggly lilacs, and a forsythia bush, planted by a former owner, survive, and in wet years thrive.

Tulips. Photo by: Paula Nixon

Photo by: Paula Nixon

I’m perfectly happy to enjoy other people’s labors: the rose garden at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, hanging baskets filled with trailing petunias on the Plaza, and my neighbor’s morning glories that have migrated to my side of the fence.

I keep track of what is blooming in the city and where, so when Mom visits I can take her on the tour.  Last month we drove around admiring the decked-out trees: peach, pear, redbud.

To my surprise I found tulips blooming in my backyard when I returned from Portland.  I planted the bulbs long ago in an old whiskey barrel.  They’ve never done much, but this spring some mysterious combination of snow and sunshine awakened them.  For a week I have enjoyed their beauty wishing Mom was here to see them.



Here’s to Spring

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another.
The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month.
Fisherman’s Luck by Henry Van Dyke

Yellow tulips. Photo: Paula Nixon

Yellow tulips.
Photo: Paula Nixon

I just returned from a short trip to California and Nevada where spring is not holding back.  In Los Angeles hibiscus, azaleas, and birds of paradise were in full bloom; mounds of scarlet bougainvillea, visible from the freeway, decorated the hillsides.  On a morning walk in Boulder City, red roses spilling over onto the sidewalk tempted me to stop.

Back in Santa Fe, the arrival of spring is more cautious.  The willows are decked out in bright green and tiny purple crocus poke their heads up out of last fall’s leaf litter, but the robins, now visiting my birdbath daily, sometimes find a layer of ice if they show up too early.  After nearly twenty springs in northern New Mexico I would be more surprised than not if it didn’t snow another time or two.

But the countdown is on.  With each passing day there is a minute or two more of sunlight. Another tree unfurls its leaves and within weeks I’ll fill the glass feeder with sugar water to welcome back the hummingbirds.


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.









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.