Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where's Don when you need him?

Quixote, that is! We have a really amazing wind project going up down the road. No reason cattle and antelope can't graze under these giants. By the time it is finished, there should be close to 50 of them, each generating up to a megawatt. They aren't comissioned yet, so they will probably miss all the lovely spring wind this year. There's always next year!

Chain of events

As I mentioned in my last post, it's dry and Africa-hot here. The drought has taken a toll on wildlife and they are coming into the rural towns to raid yards for any edible cultivars. Despite wire cages around the bases of trees and fruit-producing plants, I have a browse line in my yard. That and the ample scattering of deer pellets tells the story. The stealthy devils only come in at night.

Sunday night our amazing chicken-dog started acting odd. After a few nervous, whiny spins near the front door, she grabbed her stuffed frog and scratched the door to go out. Something was up! I peeked out and there was a good-sized deer peering over the 4' fence trying to decide if there was enough re-growth after his last meal in our yard to make a leap worth while. Of course, 4' is nothing to a deer, except it keeps the javalina out so there is more for the deer to munch.

Thinking that there was a meaningful enough barrier to keep the dog from making contact with the deer, I opened the door. Ms. Ferocious darted out, frog in mouth and gave the deer the frog-dog muffled anti-deer mutter-bark. Despite the comedic aspect, it was successful -- at least for a while. The deer were probably back before midnight after our Wiley Coyote sacked out.

The sad part is that our small town straddles a state highway. The speed limit in town is reduced to 35 miles per hour, which is somewhat helpful. We still get a few too many of the thru-traffic drivers who decide the signs are for suckers and keep their lead feet on the accelerator. Two of them, in separate incidents, met hungry deer the hard way this weekend. The deer lost.

Poor deer. Stupid drivers. We can take some solace that the drivers probably experienced maximum inconvenience for their folly. See, we have no cell phone reception. Nearest hill with reception is a couple miles out of town. We also have no pay phones and no mechanic or road service. You hit a deer, and unless you are driving a stout vehicle, you're probably stuck until the tow truck comes from the big town, about 45 miles away. That's provided you can break the code and contact them. Locals aren't too fond of being awakened at midnight by a speeding outlander who hit our deer.

Remember us if you are one of those holiday weekenders who ignore the signs and blast through small towns on lonely state highways en route to your sanctuary du jour. We live here for a reason, and it's mostly to minimize our contact with idiots like you.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Our weather crisis

Everyone thinks of Arizona and New Mexico as hot and dry. Well, normally that's not quite true. Southeast AZ and southwest NM weather is usually not technically 'desert' weather. Normal rain in much of the area is 10 to 12 inches, with higher precipitation totals at elevations above 6000'. Last year was especially nice, with reports of 40+ inches at homes around 7000' in the canyons.

But not so this year. It is the dryest I have experienced in 20 years of living here. The winter rains, usually 30% of the annual total, were a bust. We got less than half an inch of the 'normal' 3+ inches between 1 December and 31 March.

To add to the enjoyment, the spring winds, usually a March-April phenomenon, have persisited. Most of the Memorial Day weekend, winds were gusting at 20 knots or more, with a steady 5+ knots. Add the single-digit humidity and temps nearing 100 degrees, and people and plant-life start to get cranky. I'll post next about what it does to the poor deer.

DRY may not be as exciting as floods and tornadoes, but it sure feels like things aren't right. Hope we get our summer rains next month or the whole place is going to blow away with these hot winds!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Fire season continues and we hold our collective breath -- literally at times because of the dense smoke. Again, major fires in the valleys east and west of us. To the east, 44,000 acres and growing. Nearer and to the west, 10,000 acres and growing. On Monday afternoon the wind blew from the west. I could smell the smoke in my office with all the doors and windows closed. A quick dash into Target on the way home resulted in sniffles and red eyes. Visibility was about half a mile.

The photo shows the fire east of us at about 1 pm yesterday. The plume in the center is about 75 miles away. After I put my camera away and started driving, I noticed that the plume doubled and darkened as the afternoon winds kicked up.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Reflections on Faith

I've been pondering this post for a while now. Though I am not religious, i.e. church-going or claiming one Christian sect, I do believe in a higher power and a lot of other stuff that is related to that. In general, my beliefs are Christian and I try to live out my beliefs consistently and prayerfully. I am also a scientist, which some believe to be inconsistent with being a person of faith. I will take a stab at what has been brewing in my head, so here goes.

Most of us have faith. We have faith based on beliefs and experiences. Faith that the sun will come up tomorrow, gravity will continue to hold us down, the electricity will be on today, the people in the space shuttle will get 'there' and back. We cannot function without a worldview that includes faith in the routine of our lives.

Some of these things we take as fact are based on the current science. As recently as 100 years ago, some of these matters of faith were considered folly or insanity. Other 'facts' of science from years past have been disproved and replaced with new theories -- remember relativity, the flat earth, the earth as the center of the universe?

As a scientist, I make observations on my own experience. My primary observation is the abundant order in our natural world. The complex evolution that ensures that cats give birth to cats and apple trees make new apples is a miracle. I absolutely understand the science that makes it happen. But what is the ordering force that makes the science happen?

I am often amused at the debate between creationists and evolutionists, as I reconciled the issue for myself years ago. I literally compared the timeline in Genesis with the timeline in my earth history class. The only discrepancy I found was the length of time, and then it hit me! Who am I to presume how long or short God's day is?

I have had some very intense personal experiences that have given me faith that there is a higher consciousness and that when we calm our mind and listen, we can connect with it. That still small voice has saved my life, literally, at least once that I am certain of.

So I marvel that people who take much on faith -- the full faith and credit of the U.S., faith that the elevator inspector wasn't on the take, faith that their spouse is not cheating, faith that all people deserve a chance to be free -- will scoff at others who have faith that we are not the highest consciousness in the universe because there is no scientific proof. How silly that sounds to me. For a million years man was able to exist without scientific proof that water is H2O and required for our metabolism to digest and eliminate food, remove impurities through sweat and urine, etc.. See where I am going? Not having some threshold of peer-reviewed proof does not mean it is not true.

To require proof of a higher consciousness is not a standard these people require for virtually every other belief that makes up their day-to-day 'faith'. How convenient to require proof for the basis of morality, goodness and selflessness. To refuse to attempt this element of faith without proof is perhaps a convenient excuse for living selfishly. If we are all part of a higher, ordering force, then regardless what you call it, order calls for charity and morality. Charity and morality require standards, introspection and self-discipline. Without these as part of our shared belief system, the world will again disintegrate into barbarism as it has so many times before.

Am I out to lunch?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review: HOME GROWN

HOME GROWN by Denys de Saulles is a great book for the novice to mid-level home gardener. It has a lot of info on 130 basic fruits and vegetable that a home grower would want, along with cultivation and pruning information on one or two pages per variety. Several pages on pest management, too. There are also wonderful illustrations so if you inherit something and you're not quite sure what it is, you can identify it by sight.

It is the best one-volume gardening book I've seen. I've had mine for over a decade and still use it as a basic reference. This is NOT a new book -- copyright is 1988 -- but it is still a great guide. I recently bought a second copy from Amazon, and they are available for about $7 including shipping. What a bargain!!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bacon bit bonanza

Today's entry is the website for my other blog, Frugalprep. I just wrote about my adventures in bacon-bit land. The process gives you wonderful bacon bits, ready when you are, for a low cost. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Irrepressible Iris

I have grown fond of bearded iris, despite their short bloom season in the high desert. They require little from their caretaker. If the winter rains are sparse, a couple of waterings are enough to last them until the monsoon. The brief show of blooms is beautiful and fragrant, but in dry years like this they seem also to be... deer-delicious. My very favorite iris has a deep purple edge with snowy white:

I awoke one day after a deer raid on the yard to find all but one bud had become deer salad. I do appreciate having one left. Here is the full view, with three stems cleaned of their buds -- one in the right foreground and two behind the solitary survivor. Hey, it's hard to make a living out there this year!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fire Season

First, a book review, then a commentary on our fire season.

Our retirement home is in a small community in New Mexico. A few years ago an interesting young man spent occasional weekends in our area. Turns out he was the fire-watch on our nearby Forest Service fire tower. Also turns out he was a writer, formerly of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal or some paper of renown back east. He has written a book about the summers he spent on fire watch in the Gila National Forest, titled...Fire Season. His name is Phillip Connors. I read the book. Parts of it were wonderfully familiar as he narrated the changes from the cool winds of spring to the hot, dry tinderbox of early summer in the high desert. Other parts recounted the philosophical evolution within the national leadership and the development of the forest service within our Department of Agriculture, the agency responsible for our national forests. Still other parts of the book reflect the joys of solitude, to which I can relate. Overall I recommend the book, which is about $15 from Amazon.com.

As for our fire season this year, it is in full swing and will be until the monsoon arrives, probably in early July. Our valley is filled with haze and smoke from the three large fires in the adjacent valley and on the border with Mexico. Some of the fires are more than 10,000 acres and not contained. We have already had two small fires on our side of the mountains. We haven't had rain since last November and the humidity has spent too long in the single digits. The predominant colors of our landscape are tan and brown. We have six or more long weeks to go before promise of rain, hoping we can not lose thousands of acres to wildfire -- and with them, burned or starving animals and the devastating erosion that comes with fire followed immediately by the rainy season. This leaves no time to sprout a few sprigs of grass to slow the erosion, so ash and soil cascade off the mountains leaving rocky scarp behind. The muck buries the streams and fills the river. Life is tough for our critters for several years after such a fire. Keep us in your prayers.