Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lessons Learned from the Mountain

Elusive Promise by J. Binford-Bell

I first saw mountains at age seven. I was a flatlander from Missouri and my father, then a major in the Air Force, was being transferred to the base in Roswell. As the land rose and rolled I glued myself to the windows of the train in total awe. It was love at first sight.

But loving mountains can be a cruel relationship. You have to take them totally on their terms. There is little wiggle room for negotiation. You build at their feet, at the closest, if you are wise, and with what is called a defensible perimeter. To build in the trees, as is very popular now, is folly. It is like wanting to live in the kindling of a fire pit as the former residents of the outskirts of Ft. Collins and Colorado Springs and Ruidoso have found out.

And even living at the base of a mountain is tough. Mountains create their own weather in the best of times. I have sat on my porch in the valley and watched the clouds materialize out of a clear blue sky and build to astronomical heights. They blot out the sun and drop the temperatures as much as 30 degrees in minutes.

I have wrapped my arms tight against the new chill and prayed for rain I knew we sorely needed. That the trees on the mountain had to have. And watched the huge clipper ships of the sky move east to the plains to dump the moisture. You cannot ignore the weather here on the mountain.

I have cursed late freezes and the early ones after struggling to raise something in my garden. I know that winters, if we are to have no fire danger, must include lots of shoveling snow off the driveway. And after the winter of 2006 and the six feet of snow that closed all the passes I learned how important a well stocked larder can be. I have learned that summer is a gift but you cannot be idle for this is the time to get things done before winter again. And this is when it must rain so you watch the clouds and tune in to shifts in the breezes. Weathermen are not to be trusted so you learn.

But the biggest lesson I learned is you cannot change nature. Oh, you can carve out roads and build houses but the mountain will always have the power. You have to stay on your toes.

As I watch the news of the fires this summer I am grateful that there is no smoke rising from the trees around my valley. And believe me I look. And like a bear I sniff the air. I bought in a valley away from the tree line but I know a fire on the mountain could still cause me to have to evacuate. Having been in that position before I pretty much know what gets tossed in the car first. And what I will strive to take if I have a bit more time.

And I know, beyond all shadow of doubt, that if I and the fur kids and my camera make it out, it is enough.

The land I live on will survive even if the house doesn't. And if I have to live in a trailer to be in my mountains I will.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Victory Garden

High Tunnel with sides raised

As I wrote in a previous blog gardening was do or die this year. When I first moved to my house in the high country some 17 years ago I immediately built two 8 x 4 raised beds and proceeded to provide for not must me but neighbors. What I could raise was a bit more limited than in other areas I have lived in because of the climate but we had a solid 90 to 100 day growing season. Last frost was generally around the 1st of June.

The great news was with temps seldom above 82 F in the summer lettuce and spinach did not bolt. I dreamed of an attached green house that would provide passive solar for winter months and allow me to get a start on plants to go outside in June. As I planned the green house grew and when construction began in 2007 the beds had to be moved. Long establish herbs like Tarragon had to be moved and did not survive their temporary containers. Despite efforts there was no gardening in 2007 or 2008. Two 4 x 4 beds just didn't seem to produce and last freezes seemed to have moved to the middle of June.

Low tunnel with sides up and beginning of high tunnel supports

This April I decided to give it one last go. I up and moved the beds so I could put a tunnel over them. The low tunnel worked fantastically. Plants were protected from late freezes (well, early freezes because I planted a full two weeks early). And with the night cover and day protection when the weather was foul the lettuce and assorted greens just grew faster. I decided to go ahead with the high tunnel.

As Youtube videos, articles, and my friend in Utah explained, the low tunnel could raise the temp four degrees and the high tunnel over the low another four for an eight degree gain. More importantly it seems combined with the raised beds the ground temps are raised. Tomatoes want 55 F ground temperature.

Side ribs up
Center pole and end ribs up. Almost time for plastic

S hooks at base of ribs for tie downs

Detail of roping over high tunnel

During the high desert cool nights the low tunnel plastic can be pulled over the beds and the high tunnel plastic put down. In the bow ends I have another raised small bed with tomatoes and a couple container gardens of squash. This year these are experiments. Between the two raised beds I have potatoes which are suppose to be a cold weather crop but their leaves were very easily damaged by our late frosts. My last couple years of gardening were just lettuce, greens, carrots, garlic and onions.

Bountiful crop

An extra bonus with the tunnels has been protection from spring winds and hail of our summer thunderstorms. More than one lush bed of lettuce has been shredded by hail. When I first tuned into the polytunnels being used on farms I figured it was a spring and fall thing. Supposedly you can extend your growing season two weeks either side. A hard fought for 90 days to 130 is well worth raising and lowering plastic morning and night.

But the tunnels cut down on watering and also seem to make plants grow bigger and faster. That is probably due to the warmer soil. I try to cover up before the temps of the day fall off, holding in the warmth.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Self Reflection or is that Absorption?

Self Portrait by J. Binford-Bell

I am  a graduate of multiple 12 Step Programs. In my thirties I decided I was a total mess. Something clearly had to be done. And since it was sanity or insanity I did it. I force marched myself through three programs. I don't do meetings any more. At least formal ones but it seems that all my friends are recovering alcoholics, or adult children of alcoholics, or recovering over-eaters, or are or should be in Alanon. So from time to time over coffee a step gets mentioned in shorthand or the quote on Acceptance alluded to or the Serenity Prayer paraphrased in a humorous way. And events constantly remind me I am not the center of any universe but the one of my own making which can be imaginary.

I live by step 10 - Continued to take personal inventory and when wrong promptly admitted it. But I am the first to admit I can abuse it too because if I am guilty then I have to power to change it. Powerlessness can be an issue. Sometimes powerlessness is easy. I was a really good Buddha this winter. Rolled with all the punches - renter from hell moving out, washer ruined, winter depression, month with no renter, new renter behind on rent, friends dying, etc.  I kept on keeping on. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

God, I hated all those trite little statements clear back to my childhood. Mom always had a few handy. Curiosity killed the cat being one of my least loved phrases. More than once I got slapped for responding with, "But satisfaction brought it back," loud enough she heard me. On Step four the third or forth time (you have to do one for each program) I finally admitted I had a smart mouth. Something Dad told me constantly. I don't listen. I am also lacking in patience. And I can be really intolerant of those that don't measure up to my own high standards. I am a perfectionist which is an asset or flaw or for my friends a liability. And humility is the lesson the universe is constantly trying to teach me. But I am really good at admitting I am wrong. Course my reptile brain immediately added, "but I am so seldom wrong."

There is a path through this swamp of words - my friends must be as perfect as me or at least as good at admitting their mistakes. Some friends have been disappointing this week. In part because of a stark contrast with those that have been really great. The disappointments have been because of an inability to admit their mistake(s) or to, at a minimum, say they are sorry. In at least one instance, the lack of taking responsibility means I get to fix it. And on their time frame. Did I mention stubbornness as a major flaw? Sorry, my bad.

This morning writing this blog I looked up a website - - which may help me diagnose the problem of the riding lawn mower. And I am trying to swallow my self-righteous attitude. I clearly need some distance from the problem and the friends so today I am going to Taos to shop for groceries and things for my high poly tunnel. I solved the problem of how to keep the plastic on the frame but make it so it opens up for air and light at 2 a.m. this morning. In all humility I have to admit it was a solution presented on one of the half dozen or so YouTube how to's I watched on the subject. Maybe the mower will be as easy when I get to it. And I promise to be more tolerant of my neighbor that wants to lay on hands and heal it.

Sorry if my self-absorption this morning bored you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Were You a Late Bloomer?

Magic by J. Binford-Bell

Facing my 49th high school reunion. And not joyfully. As I have written in this blog before high school was painful. If I had to pick a theme for those years it would be Bill Cosby's words of God in his skit Noah: "How long can you tread water?"

Leaving aside the "events" of high school, which would have been rough at any age, there was just me and who I wasn't. I felt so not ready to be there. And I was so not there in so many ways because my focus had to be on home and taking care of my family. But I was also so painfully shy, full of fear and 16 going on 80. A told a counselor decades later that I felt as if I lived behind a plexiglass shield about three inches thick.

Mother said I was a late bloomer. I replied that by the time I bloomed the rest of the garden would be under a foot of snow.

College saved my life. College and being a military brat. I learned what a force march was way back in the second grade from my father the Lt.Col. You just keep putting one foot in front of another until . . . well until you arrive. The question is recognizing you have arrived. And sometimes that is only seen in the rear view mirror as you move on to the next destination.

I was not sure what it was about college that changed everything for me. No, I was not the star on campus, though I was way more popular than I had been in high school and didn't care about that like I thought I would. I was a great student though I was also like a pig in a truffle shop. I gobbled up knowledge without regard for my major and drove my advisers nuts. Mother would say I bloomed. I think I just came into my own. Like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz I finally realized I did have courage. And I learned to play!

I called college my second childhood though in reality I don't know that I had a first. I am not sure I have peaked yet but I know I am never going to entirely grow up. What artist does? I am secure in who I am most of the time but I am enamored of the quest be it for knowledge or perfection in my art or some new way of expressing what is inside of me. I am a seeker.

And my 49th high school reunion, the first I will have attended, will be about healing the wounds of those years. I used to say I wasn't going to one until I was a best selling author. But success is not a Mercedes, or being too thin and too rich. Success is in being me.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

No Time

Self-portrait of photographer

A funny thing happens on the way to no free time: I get more done. Put it another way the more time constraints in my schedule the more use I make of what little time is available to me. The larger block of time available to be used as I want the less likely I am to use it to clean the house. Taking a totally free day with no obligations to do something like wash all the windows seems like such a total waste!!!

It has to be the artist in me. I am not an idle person. Nor lazy. I love the grand project. Given ample money I would gladly stucco my whole house. I have thought how to do it in easy stages. But nix that. No money.

To make money I have been pet sitting and taking on the odd job (smaller than a handyman special but larger than do it yourself). Both ventures can be rather lucrative from time to time but can really break up your day. Tomorrow I have three visits each to two clients. I could add another cat in the mornings or evenings but dogs can be a bit more exhausting. Running two dog clients at once means I have about 2 to 3 hours between return visits. Not enough time to paint. Cannot begin a big project because of having to break multiple times.

But what fits great between dog walks is gardening tasks, washing the dishes, changing the sheets, rearranging the closet . . . those little things I seem to have no time to do. Two hours is also a nice segment to sit down and do a blog, or post process yesterday's photos I took. Charge the MP3 player. Turn on the kindle to wireless and check out more books to download. Organize those icons on my Android Tab. I have three days of max on pet sitting gigs and it should be adequate to get all those little to do's I have not had the time to do done.

And before anyone mentions it I have taken the 7 Basic Habits of Highly Effective People course.

The bad part about getting me in get it done mode is that I get rather short with anyone that stands in my way. Like the neighbor that not only missed the set appointment for servicing the riding mower this morning but didn't bother to call me and tell me she blew it totally off. Probably a good thing she didn't call because she is one of those that takes 20 minutes to give you the details of her headache. I think this is a definite tell that she is lying - See first season of Lie to Me. It is a waste of time to lie to me.

Got the soaker hoses hooked up to get the front flower beds. Hopefully it will rain tomorrow and this will not have been necessary but it was on that ignored to do list I had no time for before I didn't have enough time to do any bigger task. Dishes are done, garden is watered, trash has been bagged up in the passenger seat of the car. Poem written for Magpie Tales.

And not this Monday Morning blog is done a day early. Not bad for no time today.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Another Year Older

Ripples in the Pond by J. Binford-Bell

Turned 67 yesterday. Birthdays are not like those of my youth. Of note was turning 21 twice. It was easier to fake ID's in those days. I made the mistake of celebrating my 21st birthdays at the same bar and the bartender remembered. "Happy 21st Birthday Again," he said. Most bars in Albuquerque during those days gave you a free drink on your legal age birthday. The key was to hit as many of them with your friends as possible.

Central Avenue was lined with bars. No way could you get to them all. So you picked a side - north or south. And a direction - east to west or west to east. I obviously picked the same side and the same direction twice. Hell, my 21st birthdays were a couple of years apart. Maybe three.

This birthday it was ice tea (not the Long Island kind) with dinner at Calamity Jane's in Eagle Nest. It only has two bars. One on each side of the street. The big gift of the evening was a fishing license. I now qualify for the senior discount. Last fall I got the Senior life time pass from the National Parks. Since most fishing is on state parks I was hoping that New Mexico gave something similar for seniors. NOT. I guess we would take up tourist space. So fishing our local lake will be $5.00 a visit.

My friend got me the fishing license so we could fish together. Her husband won't go. Men seem to get older and more stuck in their ways faster than women. Mother fished on after Dad died. They were both 67 so I figure I best get my fishing in while the fishing is good.

Tourists, the ones we save those parking spots for in the state parks, introduced Pike to Eagle Nest Lake which was once home to just trout and Coho Salmon and perch. No limit on Pike. They want them gone. So I am doing Pike research. I decided some years ago (right after the life altering ski accident) that learning new things was what life was all about. Friends on Facebook have given me tips on catching Pike which have the advantage of being good to eat (they are not liked because they eat trout) and I am told the technique for filleting them is a tad different than bass. Fortunately YouTube has instructional videos. I am still willing to help out New Mexico lakes even if they won't give seniors a break beyond the fishing license.

When I turned 21 both times we didn't have cell phones or personal home computers let alone tabs and laptops. So no Facebook or YouTube. Times have changed. But it is all just ripples in the pond of cosmic consciousness.