Nature, Taos

The Dark Side of Autumn

One season has made way for the next. The vegetation looks a bit brittle out there although my garden keeps producing. We haven’t even had a light frost so far in Taos and it’s early October. I picked cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and beets this afternoon for supper tonight.

But I see other signs. The bees no longer feast on the Russian sage near the ramada. The sky is so darn dark when I get up early to write, it takes a serious effort on my part. The aspen are turning orange and yellow in the mountains. This weekend the Wool Festival was in Taos.


Yes, that’s him.

And then there are tarantulas. I spotted one near our front door. It was crawling on our house’s pink stucco. The cat took one look and went inside. I did, too, to get my phone to snap a photo and video. I posted them on Facebook and got the horrified reaction I expected from my friends elsewhere.

Yes, tarantulas are startling. (I later found the speedy spider in the garden near my foot.) But they are harmless. I don’t plan on touching one anyway.

And the one I saw was likely a male looking for a female, which will eventually mean his doom if he’s not snagged first by some hungry insect. When he’s done fertilizing the eggs in her burrow, the female will eat him or boot him out, where he will fall prey to cold and other hazards. Meanwhile the female lives for a few decades.

People have told me they’ve seen hundreds of tarantulas crossing the road. So far this season, I’ve seen this one and he told me summer’s over.

Note: The featured photo was taken at the Wool Festival.



Nature, Travel

The Wild Life

The signs were everywhere in and near Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Watch out for wildlife in the road. Elk viewing area here. Have you bear-proofed your campsite?

We camped at Rocky four nights. And yes, I did see elk, deer plus a number of birds that can live at such high altitudes, but no bear. I also heard a pack of coyotes near the campground. But this is what else I brought back.

Male elk in the pasture at our campgrounds.

Male elk in the pasture at our campgrounds.

MARVELOUS SINGERS. Day and night we heard the call of male elks, trying their best to lure females into their harem, as described in park literature. They’ve come down from feasting on green stuff high in the mountains to mate. The male elks toss back their racks and bugle. I fell asleep listening to them.

GAGA OVER WILD ANIMALS. People will stop their vehicle, often some big-ass pickup, in the middle of the road when they see elk. The drivers of the shuttles that haul hikers from one trail to another say it’s not the elks but the humans who create traffic problems in the fall.

FRIENDLY PLACE. The park may not have that wow-factor of say Grand Canyon, Arches and other red-stoned parks, but the mountains are powerful. The rangers were friendly. So were our fellow campers. One camper gifted us his leftover bottles of water, which we in turn gifted what was left to neighbors when we were packing up. The couple’s daughter later came over with two peaches as a thank you.


Rocky Mountain National Park

HIKERS PARK. One shuttle driver called Rocky a hiker’s park. The park service keeps it as natural as possible. We got caught up in it, hiking nearly five miles the first day, and then took it easier the next two, although the last was at an elevation well over 9,000 feet.

SMARTER IS WARMER. Last November we camped in our tent at three national parks — Grand Canyon, Zion and Arches — and nearly froze at night. Those sleeping bags were supposed to be good to zero degrees. Ha. But this time we were better prepared. The nights at Rocky did get down into the 30s one night, but our system of using double sleeping bags kept us warm.

LIGHTER IS BETTER. We used to hike a lot back East but at a much lower elevation. The boots I used then felt like blocks of cement on my feet at Rocky. I also envied the retractable hiking poles of fellow hikers. Guess what I am buying next?

SMARTER THAN THE AVERAGE BEAR. As warned by the rangers, we had to keep everything except our tent and sleeping bags inside our car and covered so the bears wouldn’t be tempted. We also had to lock our car because bears have figured out how to open doors. Two cars had their interiors totally trashed this summer.

SIGNS OF HUMAN LIFE. Numerous signs and messages caught my eye such as the one announcing the atheists of Boulder were responsible for keeping a section of roadway clean in that city. Then there was silly tourist stuff in Estes Park. I could buy a sign that said: Hippie Parking Only — All Others Will Be Stoned. But I didn’t. Then there were t-shirts with such sayings as “DUDE, I THINK THIS WHOLE TOWN IS HIGH, Elevation 7,522.” Nah, I didn’t buy that one either.

PHOTO AT THE TOP: That’s our lunch spot at Nymph Lake.


Gardening, Nature, Taos

Mine for the Taking

My sister Christine gave me the first pinecone. She was in California for a job interview and brought the sizable cone back as a gift. I’ve held onto it for years.

Then I started collecting my own whenever I ventured to a part of this country that had pines. I’d pocket one or two as a free souvenir of camping trips and family visits.

Then I expanded my collection to pods and nuts. I keep them in a large basket on the dining room table. I marvel how a dried piece of nature can stay so beautiful so long.

Last Thursday, I was in my favorite second-hand store in Taos. I stop by on a frequent basis to test my luck — after all half of my wardrobe came from this store. I found nothing I wanted to wear — or anything I wanted to read among the used books.

pineconesBut as I was ready to leave, I spotted two pinecones. These were not ordinary cones. They were 21 inches long and had a gentle curve. Both had wooden stems. I believe they are from sugar pines. One cone was in mint condition. The other had a couple of dings. For four bucks each. I bought the perfect cone.

At home I hosed the cone outside, let it dry and then placed it beside the basket of cones and pods. But after seeing the rather lopsided effect, I went back the next day for the mate.

It’s a silly thing really, collecting cones, pods and nuts. But I am also pleased just how easy it is to make me happy.


The Grand Champion Hen

COUNTY FAIR UPDATE: I’ve kept my streak going of winning the Grand Champion Poultry at the Taos County Fair’s junior livestock auction. During the two years previous, I bought a goose and a duck. This year it was an araukana chicken, which produces green-shelled eggs.

I bid on behalf of the newspaper, my eighth time. The money goes to a good cause — the 4-H kid who raised the animal — and in my case the kid gets to keep the animal. Sage, the hen’s owner, was rather shy but his mother was rather enthused I spent $300 for the bird, which per pound makes it one of the most expensive animals there. But it was a deserving hen.


My blue ribbon pumpkin

As for the vegetable exhibit, my medley faced tough competition but a pumpkin that magically grew in my garden — one of this year’s volunteers I wrote about earlier — took a blue ribbon. How about that?

And finally the photo above is the front of Orlando’s, a favorite restaurant in Taos, where I always order green and red chile — or Christmas as we say here.

Nature, New Mexico

Looking Skyward

I am lucky to have an unimpeded view of Northern New Mexico’s big, big sky. There are no tall buildings on the mesa. No crowded neighborhoods. No trees, alas. Our sky hangs above for all to see.

Our sunsets are famous, of course, with deep reds, oranges, and pinks like the one I shot above. Photographers and painters go nuts over them. So do the tourists. I’ve been here almost nine years, and they never fail to impress me as well.

In the summer, during monsoon season, we get strong afternoon thunder storms with chain lightning, including bolts that flex horizontally across the sky.

We have skies as blue as bluebirds’ feathers. And interesting cloud formations. On a recent walk, my friend Virginia pointed to a cloud formation she called “mare’s tails” — cirrus to others —  and said we should get rain within a few days.

Then, there is our night sky so dark the stars are exceptionally bright. I’ve seen meteors shoot across the sky, including one that fell far away onto the mesa in a grand display of sparks.

Photo of April 4 eclipse courtesy of astronomer Gary Zientara

Photo of April 4 eclipse courtesy of astronomer Gary Zientara

We had a lunar eclipse early April 4. I got myself out of bed to see the earth cast its shadow on the full moon. I wasn’t disappointed. The moon had a rosy tint, hence, its Blood Moon name.

Gary Zientara, an astronomer who lives in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, took the photo of the eclipse in progress on this post. He writes a column called Star Lite for The Taos News, where I work.

Sometimes I hear about a great celestial event and unfortunately the sky is clouded or it’s in another part of the world. Other times we get lucky. I remember the Hale-Bopp Comet that was visible to the eye for a long time in the late ’90s.

But then there is the unexpected. Once in college I was running an errand in the center of town. I stopped at a park bench just as the light dimmed for a solar eclipse I didn’t know was going to happen. I sat there until it was over, careful not to look at the sun, but enjoying the experience nonetheless.