Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year of the Tunnel

Tunnel end of growing season 2012

It did not seem that monumental at the time but this spring I committed myself to gardening again. I moved the neglected raised 4 x 4 beds and built a poly tunnel over the top of them. Except for the initial $150 in plastic and PVC and rope it was mostly sweat equity. But since the mechanics lien in November 2007 was placed on my property by the contractor I had hired to build the studio I have invested no sweat and very little time, money or effort in my property except to improve the rental unit for income. Why put anything into something which could be sold out from under you at any moment?

I am not sure what moved inside of me to allow this investment, minor though it may be. And at the time it seemed to be that where I had put the raised beds was just wrong. They were so in the way. A total pain to mow around. And they collected all the blowing snow in the winter. So they had to go. And for a moment I considered doing just that; chopping them up for firewood and spreading the dirt through the grass around the studio. But I wanted to give gardening in the highlands just one more try. And the tunnel project a social media friend shared seemed doable. Something to do over the summer while I waited the third summer for a decision by the District Court judge.

There are things in life that tie you down: put your life on hold. I have been through a few in my past and frankly nothing seemed as out of my control as waiting for a verdict on where you were going to live. And in the summer of 2012 I just could not think about it any more. I buried myself in the earth with my tunnel project. I probably was bad company because I could talk about nothing else, bugged all my friends about did they want more greens, and just snapped at anyone that mentioned the court case.

November, five years almost to the day, I got a voice message from Legal Aid. The second chair during the court case was now lead as first chair had moved on to private practice. It took a little time to place the name. Took me longer to steel myself to return the call. I was so thrilled with the verdict. But I am still plodding along to get an official release of lien from the contractor from hell. But I am my house have been deemed free at last by the district court.

And so as the snow falls outside I am planning next year's garden under the tunnel. And I am thinking again of all the home improvement projects I have put off for five years. Since I currently do not have a tenant to supplement my income, and the art market is still staggering I have to look at the really cheap projects first. Meanwhile I am restoring my credit and investigating a refinance of the house to lower payments and interest rates. Could do none of that with the lien on the property.

Looking back I see the tunnel as an investment in hope. And I see that hope paying off in the final judgement.  2013 will be what I want to make it. May my garden give fruit.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Snows of December

Manual Focus Required

I like winter. Really I do. I have enjoyed winter sports more than summer sports much of my life. For over two decades I taught skiing. And when a skiing accident ended that I adopted snowshoeing as my winter sport. Photography takes me out when others stay in. I live in the mountains because I like moderate summers and most months of winter.

I am, however, not fond of December snows. They just seem rude. They arrive with high winds and plunging temps. They come before I or anyone seems mentally prepared even if we have been wishing for snow for the ski area and the moisture it provides for the trees of our forest. And they come most years in one, two, three punches that hardly allow you to get your driveway cleared. The county plows struggle with the blowing snow and none of the drivers know where the bar ditches are. Hint - they are under the smooth snow just before the piles the plow has made on the edges.

Osha Road

And there are just more gray days with December snows. New Mexico seldom has gray skies. We are a land of sudden storms that quickly move away. But not in December. The gray seems to hang around and blend with the snow below. The sun shines weakly if at all. I begin to wonder if I have been transported to Alaska.

Four foot high plow pile

Claustrophobia begins to settle in. It is not helped by the narrowed areas of passage between huge piles of snow. Or that every time I clear my driveway I seem to lose ground. And the subfreezing temps with the scattering of subzero nights offer no hope of any of it melting away anytime soon. I feel trapped by the night, the cold and the blowing snow.

At least in the month of December. January we get a traditional couple weeks of thaw. Last winter it began early and extended well into February as the days got longer and warmer. Snows of March and April are not taken seriously. They drop the largest amounts of the wettest snows and are a life saver for our forests and the aquifers that provide our well water. But they are here today and gone tomorrow.

Chairs of Summer by J. Binford-Bell

They dump and move on leaving behind the sun and fun. I love the snows of the spring. They promise shadows and the flowers of tomorrow.

Shadows of photographer and dogs

The clouds quickly move away and reveal the sun and the blue sky behind them. That is a very, very rare thing in the month of December. As a ski instructor I always wondered why everyone fought to get reservations for Christmas here. And yet in much of the months of February and March the runs were empty except for those in the know.

The good news is there is not much of December left. When the chill icy wind is gone I can get out of my house for something other than shoveling snow and take pictures of shadows and blue sky again.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Off Pavement Again

Fix-It-Upper Near Maxwell, NM

My sister, Deborah Binford Baker, is up for the holidays with her jeep. And while all the tourists in Angel Fire are standing in ski lift lines we took off to our favorite places beyond Cimarron. There is Ponil Creek and the Elliot Barker Wild Life Area, Valle Vidal and its access through the Vermejo Park Ranch, and our new find this trip, the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge. Just two women with camera, three dogs and a spirit of adventure.

Lock Arrangement on Gate

The entrances to are favorite spots are all within a few miles of each other. And surrounded by huge ranches.  Some people have kept up their fences and some only the pretense of a fence. The Vermejo Park Ranch has shifted over from cattle to buffalo which are very difficult to fence in. Maybe it is just the people that are suppose to know they are fenced out. I seriously doubt the big boy below could be stopped by three strands of barbed wire.

Bull Buffalo on Vermejo Park Ranch

The Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge was a surprise. Surrounded by ranch lands it even raises some of its own crops to feed the wildfowl, hawks and eagles that are part time or full time residents. Winter is a good time for hawks and falcons because the branches of the trees are bare and they cannot hide as well.

Hawk on the lookout

MNWR is trying to restore the prairie with federal funds while the VPR is doing land restoration with private funds. And the Valle Vidal is also aimed at preservation of the national beauty of a fragile high plains area. Early ranchers destroyed a lot of the land through over grazing and a lot of the national wildlife through over hunting or decimation of habitat. With the drought currently in the area wild fires are taking their toll.

Burn scar on border of Vermejo and Valle Vidal. 

As photographers my sister and I are thrilled to be allowed access to these precious areas. We take only pictures and obey all the signs and fences and leave only footprints. Visit our Binfords Back County Photography page on Facebook and check out the albums posted by my sister or myself. Lots more photos there. And I will no doubt be posting more here in the days to come.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Memories of a childhood lost

Duck and Cover of My Youth

I am the generation of the atomic bomb so when people talk of the innocence of children and the efforts to keep them safe I really cannot relate. I was in the first grade when Dad, his crew and his bomber were reported missing in action over Korea. Mother cried herself to sleep every night and I had to be brave for her and my little brother. At recess I would go out behind the school and do my crying there. I thought my teacher looked like the Wicked Witch of the West (the Wizard of Oz I saw as a horror film), and I feared being locked in the supply closet (early onset claustrophobia).

So Duck and Cover was merely another torture especially since my father, who dropped bombs for a living, told me to add "Kiss your ass goodbye" to the drill. After Dad was returned to the living (just mostly a military administrative paperwork issue) we moved to Roswell, NM land of aliens and SAC. Dad was constantly being called out in the middle of the night to fly out and protect us from attack. I was not that sure if it was from aliens or the Russians. I liked Roswell because I had a lot of kids to play with who did not know I used to cry every recess and I knew which hanger the alien space craft was stored in.

But we moved back to Kansas City just in time for Crazy Judy's father to get drunk and kill the entire family and himself. Crazy Judy had lived across the street in the roofed over basement that was the base for the house her father never got finished. I would stand on the hill from which our side of the street had always waged war against Judy's side and just stare at the abandoned non-house. Everyone thought I was stranger than I had been when I left. I was thrilled to leave even if it was only to El Paso where the jet fighters flew no higher than 5 feet over the roof of our house and I found a true value to Duck and Cover by covering my ears and screaming to drown out the jet noise. Lots of them crashed it seemed so I always repeated and kiss your ass goodbye to myself.

To make a long story short - we moved a lot. And I learned to remake myself with every move. And I learned that I was the only person I could count on. Fathers could go missing in action or turn on you and kill everyone, and mothers could retire to their bedrooms and just cry. More experiences I survived reinforced that. And my father, who had survived his childhood, loved survival training as a pilot. Every chance we got we escaped to the forests and camped. And Dad taught us survival craft. I aced those badges in the Girl Scouts. Guns were always around because Dad was a hunter. We learned how to use them correctly. And when I was old enough and there was a series of robberies in the neighborhood he showed me where the bullets were kept if someone tried to break in when he was gone. Duck and Cover was replaced by evacuating the school because of a bomb threat. It wasn't guns in my youth before any gun control - it was bombs the angry and frustrated wanted to use to take control. And Rumbles of the gangs with their switch blades and bike chains. I can date my youth by the weapons of choice.

I now live in an area as close to those wilderness camping trips as I could get. I feel so much safer here than I ever did in a city. Bad things happen in cities. And I am armed, because I can only count on me ultimately. The Sheriff's department has a two hour response time. I have been armed and dangerous since the second grade when Dad taught me effective stick fighting to protect myself and my brother from some bullies on the base. There is a sense of empowerment in knowing you can survive.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Note to Self Regarding Snow

First snow of season
December 9, 2012

I was reminded that there had to be another snow before this or the snow we had to trudge through at the top of the pass to get the Christmas tree would not have been there. But if you live in snow country you know there is snow, and Snow, and SNOW. AND OMG SNOW. So the snow we got previously in, I believe it was October, was not Snow but snow and it didn't hang around nor leave us a promise to return any time soon. All of which gives you a false sense of security. We had all begun to talk of the non-winter.

The later the first Snow or SNOW comes the more unprepared you are. Especially if the daytime temps are in the 50's and nights are not even freezing. One gets a bit lax in fact. Like where I placed the snow shovel.

Against the garden wall

Or for that matter that I and the neighbor share a snow blower now and it is behind her house. Yes, it can dig itself out but we have to shovel a path to get to it. And the shovel is 20 feet away from the back door and through 10" of snow. Note to self: Put snow shovel on front porch. Have neighbor put her snow shovel on enclosed porch.

Another note to self: Put more firewood on front porch. My insurance company wants all firewood 30' from the house. And because of that and prevailing winds I built a wood shed in 2007 that not only keeps my firewood dry but visible. That was after the winter of 2006 when I lost three cords of wood under six feet of snow. The alee opening for said woodshed is through 50 feet of 10" of snow and in a divergent direction from the snow shovel in its current location.

It is to be noted that said insurance company does not like firewood stacked on the front porch but when a snow storm is coming I do not care. If they can make it through the storm to report me as cheating on the rules than good for them. I only maintain enough there for a couple fires and only when a storm is coming but I had forgotten just how much wood it takes to keep my house toasty warm with the temp at 3.5F and a howling wind. BTW I try never to know the wind chill. TMI.

It was that now infamous winter of 2006 that closed all passes out of this valley for four days while every single condo and vacation rental was full of tourists. I had always wanted, when I lived in the real world, to get snowed in and not be able to return to work for a few extra days but some people are different. And not having a full larder, lots of firewood, and not self-entertaining does create problems for the stranded and those that have to put up with he stranded. Since then I try always to have at least food for two weeks. And the wood shed has almost three cords of firewood all cut and stacked. And there is another half cord out by the fence on the windward side of the house. My theory being that it might prevent drifts across the backyard. It has gotten so bad in the past that the dogs have to go out the studio door. And no doubt today they will walk in my wake as I shovel a path to the wood shed. If only I could teach them to retrieve the snow shovel.

Note to self: Get second snow shovel. I had two at one time. Most recent tenants destroyed one and they were not even here in a winter month.

But the real big note to self regarding snow is - NEVER BELIEVE THE WEATHER REPORT. This was not suppose to be a big storm. Forecast was for 2 to 4 inches of snow at first. And then upped to 4 to 6. There is really 10" plus out there and the wind has created bigger drifts.

The first snow is always a shake down cruise regardless of how many years you have lived in the mountains.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Long Roads

This beautiful area of north central New Mexico where I live has been carved into counties as the population and terrain made it harder and harder to govern. What is now Taos, Colfax and Mora counties was once one huge county. Colfax needs carved again. I suffer the problems on living on its far southwest corner. I am in fact closer to the county seats of Mora and Taos than I am to that of Colfax.

In my blog Off to Vote Early I mentioned the difficulty of voting early. It is an hour and 45 minute drive in the best of weather. A couple March's ago it was a 36 hour drive because of snow. I listed some statistics for the County of Colfax in that same blog. Raton is the county seat and the biggest city but has a declining population due to the downfall of mining and the drought which is having a prolonged downward spiral on ranching. As of the 2010 census it was barely over half of the population of the entire county. And my side of the county has grown in population to the point it is over 1/3 of the population.

We have one District court and it is in Raton. We have two Magistrate courts and one is in Raton and the other in Springer. Both towns are on the eastern side of the county. Springer and Raton are a 45 minute drive from each other on Interstate 25. Angel Fire is an hour and 30 minutes from Springer. Here again in good weather. Want to get an eviction notice? You have to go to Raton or Springer. All calls for jury duty are to Springer or Raton which are considered to close to us to allow a paid hotel stay. All deputy sheriffs are dispatched out of Raton. Want to fight a ticket - Raton again.

There once was a part time magistrate court in Cimarron between Raton and Angel Fire but when they built the new court house in Raton they closed that one. And none of the municipal courts like the ones in Angel Fire or Cimarron can help with any magistrate issues even if it is just advice and forms.

So the question becomes of what happened to Circuit Court Judges? I bet more of us would show up for Jury Duty if we just had to pop down to a conference room at the Legends hotel. And the country would save on mileage costs to jurors. A why not local "legal" centers with clerks that dispensed advice on what forms you needed to file and provided said forms. Even received them for the action of the court. Would be really cheap to allow the Municipal courts to provide such services.

And while we are at it why not having joint holding cells in municipalities. Now if a sheriff or state police officer arrests a DWI on a county road he has to haul them completely back to Raton. There is that city again. With its downturn in population soon it will be only county offices.