Friday, January 30, 2009

Unintended Consequences

Crows cover the lawn,
Filching fallen feeder food --
Not what we hoped for.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Downtown Hartford, Ct - Tuesday @ 9:15 a.m.

Jaywalking bussers
Illegal turners on red --
Ironic gridlock.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Haiku Rant Number I

Traffic jams gridlock
At construction locations

While cops look away.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Public Public-Art

Mars and I have amused ourselves for years photographing the outdoor sculptures and decorations of Santa Fe, New Mexico -- some of it official "public" art, some not even officially art.

Many, like Frank Howell's shamans, are permanently installed but change their perspective based on the changing light and season.

Other more ephemeral objects only appear when the angle of the sun and the eye of the photographer coalesce to make them visible.

Some require us to look up to see more.

While others are below our normal line of sight and ask us to see less.

But all of them require audience participation -- some more than others.

Pink-pawed panther bust
Unsung costumer long gone --

Hands-on public art.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Qui Transtulit Sustinet

Our property has been reclassified as part of the Wethersfield Flood Plain -- "any land area susceptible to being inundated by floodwaters from any source." And our daughter-in-law Monica has given us sunflower rootstock and hollyhock seeds from her New Mexico gardens to transplant in our yard. Her part of the world is considered high desert -- "a dry, barren area of land.....characteristically desolate, waterless, and without vegetation".

What could possibly go wrong?

They have an average rainfall of about 16.5 inches. We had at least twice that amount during the week in November when we put our new southwest vegetation into the ground. By now the desert deserters have been exposed to more precipitation than they and their forebears have ever experienced in all of their combined lifetimes.

Our newly acquired aquatic status of course does not mean that the land will be any wetter than it has been in the past. When we bought the place in 1977 we were told by our insurer that we were "on the edge" of the wetlands. There is an actual functioning catch basin at the innermost corner of our plot. And anything over one inch in the rain gauge pretty much makes our backyard impassable to anyone not wearing waist high Wellington boots. Two or more inches and the whole yard becomes a mud-sucking marsh. Talk about a natural resource that we take for granted.

As told in novels and movies such as the "Milagro Beanfield War", the desert southwest is a story of the scarcity of water -- where it comes from, how much is available, who owns it, and who has access to it. The key to producing vegetation out there is to connect it to some external form of hydration, initially irrigation canals and nowadays black, rubber drip irrigation tubing -- thousands of artificial arteries snaking across the arid, high desert land. Just as there are children growing up today who do not realize that water doesn't really grow in plastic bottles, there are desert plants that have never felt a shower of nature’s moisture -- both of our newest additions likely included.

Over the years I have learned to make certain accommodations to my property's propensity for water retention. I never plant seeds within one week of any projected precipitation. If it does rain I notify my downstream neighbors to be on the lookout for surprise volunteer vegetation in the most inappropriate places on their property.

This of course makes starting a garden in April basically impossible. June is identical to April in average rainfall (3.8 inches) and second only to May (4.0). The best time to plant seeds in my yard is February.

The answer is an arroyo -- "a steep-sided gully cut by running water in an arid or semiarid region." You can't swing a dead javelina in New Mexico without hitting one. They are bone-dry 99.9 percent of the time, and Marsha and I frequently hike within them. Other than an occasional corrugated metal pipe there is no indication that you are in anything other than an extremely well delineated desert land walking-trail.

Because of altitude the heavy rains occur on the tops of the mountains. The dry, hard earth, being unfamiliar with the concept of downpours, refuses to absorb the water. The rejected H2O sloshes around until it builds up enough mass to make its own path -- destroying everything in its wake and then pointlessly disappearing into the end of the gulley. (Grossly inefficient but really cool to watch if you happen to be next to, as opposed to inside of, the arroyo.)

Even though "el mundo real" arroyos are created by nature I am certain that I can construct a reasonable facsimile in my own backyard. The idea would be to divert away that part of the deluge that would otherwise come into contact with the native desert plants. This would create, over time, an arid, lifeless, nutrient-free pod of earth within which they could live and thrive just as they did in their native homeland. And as they continue to grow, and begin to spread across my garden, I could readjust the gully to create more and more acres of hostile, barren soil to support their far-reaching offspring.

When we were in New Mexico last October we took part in a memorial tree planting ceremony at the house of one of our daughter-in-law and son's friends. The house was in a newly developed area where the land was still in pristine moistureless, parched, infertile condition. While some of us were busy filling up the tree holes with high-quality purchased soil and pre-packaged mulch, one of the local gardeners was explaining to my wife Mars her secret for successfully relocating her own plants -- she always brings the dirt from her old house to the new one and uses that.

I could easily get Monica to share some of the native soil in which her southwestern flowers grew up -- but that wouldn't really be transplanting, now would it!

Our Connecticut state motto tells us, "Qui Transtulit Sustinet," -- which of course means "Grow Native! And if that doesn't work, then keep screwing around with the environment until it does."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Moyen Chien

The average dog is a nicer person than the average person. (Andy Rooney)

Folklore suggests that the word "Cheyenne" comes from French fur traders, who took it from their word "chien," meaning "dog" because the Indians were using the canine animals for pulling their travois.

La Cheyenne -- the "La" from her mom "LA Josie" whom, we were told, has roots in the City of Angels -- arrived in Monica and Bram's life on December 20, the first Saturday of Mars and my Christmas vacation with our Santa Fe resident daughter-in-law and son. She is a two-year old greyhound from a litter of eight, each with its own "La"-prefixed American Indian name. -- the database of greyhound racing -- reports that none of the brood made it to the big leagues.

Greyhounds begin training at about a year old. They run and chase by instinct, so initially their training consists of chasing a lure dragged along the ground. As they mature, they are taught to run on circular tracks, with the artificial lure suspended above the ground Most begin racing at about a year and a half, and continue to four years old. Some will race beyond their fifth birthday, and a select few past their sixth. Because they are generally well cared for and in excellent health, most Greyhounds live to twelve years or older. (

But only the winners advance to the majors. La Cheyenne raced four times -- all in 2008 -- finishing fourth, eighth, fifth ("blocked far turn") and second ("Won place photo"). And ran her fastest (33.38 seconds) in her final competition.

Not good enough!

Without formal, grand scale racing, there would be no way to sustain and to continue to nurture the 46 different female families of racing greyhounds that exist, and comprise the most diverse genepool of any breed of functional canine. Racing greyhounds are galaxies removed from any other sighthound breed in genotype, phenotype and athletic adaptation. Racing -- and breed custodianship -- has compelled the emergence of this truly phenomenal breed of sighthound. (Op. Cit.)

Thanks to the efforts of rescue organizations such as Greyhound Companions of New Mexico, many of the also-rans are released for adoption, where they are initially placed with an experienced foster family to ease the transition. La Cheyenne was with her Albuquerque based interim hosts, who also have two rescue greyhounds of their own, for a week before Monica and Bram met her. During that time she had been spayed, microchipped, tested for heartworm, vaccinated, and examined by a veterinarian.

La Cheyenne welcomed us at the door by offering herself for petting. She was still partially under the effects of anesthesia. When the other hounds were let into the room they greeted us with jumps, licks, and other assorted forms of dog contact. Cheyenne strolled into the maelstrom but seemed unsure whether to join in or not. She left willingly with Monica and Bram, but without much enthusiasm. And -- due to inexperience, not unwillingness -- needed to be lifted into their car.

[Racing] Greyhounds live in climate-controlled kennels, usually on or near the tracks where they race. They are turned out several times daily for mild exercise and play, exercised on sprint paths and taken for walks. (Op. Cit.)

La Cheyenne had been introduced to curbs and steps by her foster family but still took a few days to negotiate them without aid or prompting. On her initial walks through Monica and Bram's neighborhood she submissively followed along never even tugging at the lead. Gradually she began to explore more on her own -- but always on a leash. (Because of their natural chasing instinct, race training, and forty-five mile per hour speed, they can never be let loose except in a confined area.)

She laid in her bed a lot. Greyhounds are short distance sprinters who would gladly spend the remaining 23:59:26.62 of each day resting their muscles for their next effort -- whenever, or not.
And La Cheyenne willingly, but passively, received the pets, scratches, rubbings, and verbal stroking of her adoptive family -- not yet exhibiting any puppy-like, unallayed expressions of joy at just being with the people of their pack.

The racing greyhound is the physical manifestation of greyhound racing - as form is compelled to follow function. (Op. Cit.)

With help, the rest learn to become something even more special -- moyen chien -- an average dog.

This is not an illusion.

Thin stem shadows fall
On invisible white walls.
The trompe l'oeil of life.

(please click on the picture to make it larger)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Larger Than Life

"Brobdingnagian" is one of my favorite words -- even though, or perhaps because, I totally misunderstood its meaning the first time that I saw it used.

I had never read Gullivers Travels -- still haven't. Instead the term was introduced to me several years ago in a newspaper article decrying the deleterious effect of highway billboards on the appearance of our local landscape -- in particular an advertisement for an "adult toy store" featuring a "Brobdingnagian" female head.

I drove past the sign every day. And looked at it each and every time. So I knew intuitively that the previously unfamiliar name obviously meant a super-sized, spokes-slut exhibiting definite man-eater tendencies.

Well I got the super-sized part right anyway.

Based upon this I may still have a slightly skewed sense of the word - one more akin to "The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman" than the less innuendo-laden meaning intended by Johnathon Swift.

Needless to say it was that expression which immediately entered my mind when I saw the banner publicizing the "Native Couture -- A History of Santa Fe Style" exhibit at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe.

And if my initial view of the banner didn't exactly agree with either Swift's or my definition of "Brobdingnagian" it was close enough so that a different camera angle and some after-the-fact "Photoshopping" made it so.

It made sense to me. Isn't the whole point of style to put you out ahead of the field?

(click on photo for a more Brobdingnagian effect)

Santa Fe Style

Dry harsh emptiness

Tamed by turquoise and conchas.

Art overcomes life.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Sometimes snow reveals the truth.

Archbishop Lamy,
Converter of Santa Fe --

Prelate or penguin?