Monday, September 28, 2009

Air It Out

Someone aerated our lawn while Mars and I were away in New Mexico.

"Aeration is the removal of small cores of soil to allow air, moisture and applied compost down to the root zone. The core aerator will take a one to two inch plug of soil and grass, and replace it on the surface of the lawn."

It's a good thing.

"* Oxygen gets to the roots and the soil allowing it to 'breathe'
* Organic fertilizers and nutrients get access to the root system
* Water is able to better soak the soil and reach the root system
* Tight, compacted soil is loosened up allowing the root system to grow."

This was not a random act of landscaping kindness. Earlier this year I had contracted with our organic lawn care company to perform this service at a time to be determined by them.

The morning after we got back we checked our answering machine messages. There were three aeration related ones from the landscaper -- all of them asking the same questions, and each one requesting the answers before they could proceed.

"Do you have an in-ground irrigation system? Do you have an electrical dog confinement system?"

If we did, we were to clearly mark these areas so that the core aerating equipment did not take a one to two inch plug out of either of them, and/or electrocute the operator in the process.

We have neither.

Apparently they concluded that our yard was safe because when we went through our accumulated mail we discovered a bill for the service. Later that morning we walked through our yard and noticed several holes and a number of soil and grass plugs -- although not enough to indicate deliberate lawn maintenance as opposed to seasonal squirrel acorn stashing.

Truthfully I had pretty much forgotten about the whole hole-poking exercise. And even if I hadn't, increasing the air circulation for my fescue would have been the furthest thing from my mind as we wandered the high desert landscape of northern New Mexico -- just as it was the furthest thing from my sight.

You just don't realize how omnipresent the color green is in our New England neck of the woods until you spend time in a space with considerably less water and considerably less of a lawn fetish.

The Phoenix/Scottsdale part of Arizona, which we visited several years ago, seems determined to recreate that familiar verdant ambience for its ever increasing number of eastern transplants.

New Mexico is not.

There are however areas of grass in the Land of Enchantment.

At the newly opened New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe I learned that this state had the greatest geographical diversity of any territory in the United States.

"The eastern third of New Mexico is covered by the Great Plains. The Great Plains run from a high plateau in the north south to the Pecos River. Rivers in the high plateau have cut deep canyons into the landscape. This area is used for sheep and cattle ranches.'

"To the south, dry farming and irrigated agriculture is possible. South of the Canadian River, along the eastern edge of New Mexico, the land is referred to as the High Plains or Staked Plains (Llano Estacado). These High Plains run along the Texas border in New Mexico.'

"In the central part of New Mexico, the Rocky Mountains extend into New Mexico from Colorado to the north. The Rio Grande River cuts through the Rocky Mountains from north to south. East of the Rio Grande, is the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountain range. Wheeler Peak, the highest point in New Mexico is found in this range. To the west of the Rio Grande are the Nacimiento and Jemez Mountain ranges. The fertile Rio Grande Valley provides suitable farmland using modern irrigation techniques.

"The Basin and Range Region covers about 1/3 of the state and lies at to the south of the Rocky Mountain Region. This region extends south from around Santa Fe to Mexico and west to Arizona. This area is marked by rugged mountain ranges, such as the Guadalupe, Mogollon, Organ, Sacramento, and San Andres mountain ranges, separated by desert basins. The Rio Grande River flows north to south through the Basin and Range Region and exits New Mexico in the south to form the border between Texas and Mexico."

We drove along the edge of the Great Plains when we visited Las Vegas, New Mexico. There was grass, but the predominant color was still plain old tan.

There are however occasional pockets of manmade green sod.

Monica and Bram (daughter-in-law and son) have a pre-existing small lawn in the backyard of their Santa Fe house. But their front property is xeriscaped with native plants and a minimal drip irrigation system. As is the vast majority of their neighborhood.

Many of the small municipal parks in town are covered with it. The one near the B & B where we spent two nights was watered heavily each morning for at least one hour.

There are golf courses.

I found a website entry entitled "Lawn Aerating Tips Santa Fe NM" that advocates for the use of plug aerators.

Still, unlike Connecticut, the overwhelming geographic aura in New Mexico is sand-colored panoramic vistas.

No wonder, on return, that our home base seemed viridescently claustrophobic and threatening. Emerald colored objects impinged into our social space -- constricting our view, absorbing our oxygen, demanding our attention, and requiring our continual care.

No wonder that we regularly go to New Mexico for our own personal core aeration.

Monday, September 21, 2009


It was six a.m. on September 7 in Santa Fe New Mexico. Mars and I were in bed, eyes closed but ears open, trying not to hear the high-pitched chorus of coyotes that seemingly surrounded our temporary abode in the hills just north of the "City Different".

Audrey the dog, whose care was the raison d'etre for our southwestern vacation and whose own raison d'etre is to "Guard the house -- good girl!" slumbered silently on the floor beneath us.

The castrato sounding yelps came randomly and stacked themselves one upon the other -- sometimes overlapping, sometimes freestanding -- like the man-made stone cairns that decoratively demark the hiking trails in the nearby wilderness areas. Or the way unexpected and unrelated events are stacked together to create a vacation

This sabbatical began at Acoma Sky City, the nine hundred year old pueblo village located atop a 370-foot tall sandstone bluff one hour west of Albuquerque. It was Mars and my second visit there -- the prior one several years ago. As one might expect in a deliberately isolated area -- insurmountable heights discourage walk-in traffic -- little has changed since 2005. Or from the middle of the Twelfth Century.

The oral heritage of the pueblo says that the Acoma people came to the high rock in search of HaK'u -- "a place ready to occupy", or "the right place". They called out "HaK'u!" as they wandered, and when this land echoed the word back they stayed -- adapting their farming habits to the climatological vagaries of the area, and their religious beliefs to the "forced conversion" by Catholic missionaries.

Later that afternoon we visited the "Bubonicon" sci-fi convention at an Albuquerque hotel to see Monica and Bram (our daughter-in-law and son) who were there selling comic books/graphic novels produced by their "indy" publishing company. It was our first such experience although we had seen similar gatherings satirized or at best presented with tongue-in-cheek seriousness by the mass media.

There were strangely costumed people -- from Goth characters to large furry animals to less heavily attired wenches -- as well as those more conventionally dressed. The artwork was aptly described by an eight-year old attendee as "disturbing". However the convention-goers, some of whom might not have seemed sociable in another setting, were clearly comfortable with each other and their surrounding milieu.

The next day in Santa Fe we visited with Aga, my favorite New Mexican jewelry maker

As described previously Aga is a thirty-something Polish emigre who creates necklaces, earrings, and bracelets made of amber and turquoise. Her designs and craftsmanship are very good. But her marketing is excellent. She remembers all of her customers, or very convincingly pretends to. She tells her female customers, in this case Mars who happened to have on an Aga creation, "You make the necklace look beautiful." And she toys with the guys, "I like it for men to remember me", she told me one time.

Bram, who was equally impressed by her "marketing", introduced us to Aga several years ago and Mars and I regularly visit her shop on the town plaza. This encounter was unexpected. We came upon her selling from one of a set of tables at a market in a small park in the downtown area.

"Do you still have your store?" I asked.

"Oh yes. Thank you very much for asking. My sister is there today. I like it out here. I am a geeep-sy." she replied -- tilting her head and drawing every ounce of romantic Romany possible from that normally pejorative appellation.

Mars bought some necklaces and earrings as gifts. Another return customer purchased a $450 piece. I watched in amazement.

Every day in Santa Fe we went for a hike with Audrey the dog in the arroyo near her house. Audrey runs unfettered outside. She stands guard all day and vigorously protects the property from any interlopers, whether long eared rabbits or coyotes. On walks she wanders off-road into the underbrush and climbs up the surrounding hills while simultaneously keeping tracking of her companions whereabouts in order to join up with them periodically -- a good free-range example of what canine trainer Barbara Woodhouse calls "following up front".

Her tan and white coloring blends in with the high desert land over which she roams, as does her personality and lifestyle. A fortunate life for a former rescue dog.

We spent less time with our Greyhound "grand-dog" Cheyenne, with whom unfortunately Audrey does not get along. (Add dogs to Audrey's list of unwelcome intruders).

Cheyenne is also a "rescue dog" -- in her case from a dog-racing track near Tucson, Arizona. She has lived with Monica and Bram since last Christmas.

We were able to go for one hike with the three of them. Bred, born and trained to run, Cheyenne can never be off-leash in an unfenced area lest she spot some small, fast-moving, furry thing, take off after it, and keep going.

However, on a tether and on a hiking trail she is a heads-down, serious trekker. At least until the roll of thunder is heard. Then she is equally dedicated to leaving the immediate area.

The two-legged ones of us also went for a second walk in the woods at the "no dogs allowed" Audubon Nature Center in Santa Fe. The trail was well marked and easy at the start, then converted to an uneven, less clear-cut path as we climbed higher. This portion of the hike was delineated by small hand-built rock cairns. Most were simple piles of stones designed to look manmade so as to be distinguishable as trail markers. Some were more ornate than necessary having been added on to by previous art-minded travelers. Monica, Bram and Mars contributed additional rocks.

At what would become our turning around point, we came upon a virtual gallery of purely decorative stone structures located off to the side of the passageway -- an exemplar of the main reasons that people are attracted to Santa Fe: art and the outdoors. We went off trail and wandered among them.

There were six or seven constructs -- none with less than ten rocks, several with more than I could count. The exhibition was located down a small hill alongside what appeared to be one of the perpetually dry riverbeds that exist in this part of the country -- a safe location and a space that would be enhanced by the primitive works of sculpture without losing its identity to them. (Disturbing nature to make it look better is allowed out here.)

Mars decided to construct a similar mound of stones at the starting point of our daily arroyo walk with Audrey. Over several days we selected the building blocks from various places along the arid steep-sided gully and carried them back to the construction site, halfway up one of the surrounding walls. It seems like a good location to us -- away from the minimal amount traffic that passes through. Time will tell, but many things do last.

Mars and I initially vacationed in New Mexico seventeen years ago to celebrate twenty-five years of marriage. We knew not much about the area other than (what we thought at the time were) the abstract paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe. The colors, lighting, and scenery turned out to be more realistic than not. And we both felt totally at home in these totally unfamiliar surroundings. We have returned just about every year since then.

This time we marked our forty-second anniversary with Monica and Bram at a quiet dinner of Vietnamese food and pieces of dark chocolate that they brought over to Audrey's house.

Mars and I will be back again -- ultimately to stay. HaK'u.

Photos by Mars
For photo-essays of our latest trip to New Mexico and other things please visit
For more on the adventures of Cheyenne the Greyhound and other things please visit

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Others Are Coming

Haiku is a poetic form and a type of poetry from the Japanese culture. Themes include nature, feelings, or experiences. The most common form for Haiku is three short lines. The first line usually contains five (5) syllables, the second line seven (7) syllables, and the third line contains five (5) syllables. Haiku does not rhyme.

On our recent vacation Mars and I were hiking every day in an arroyo in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As we walked I was trying to compose a haiku about the experience.

Over a two-plus week period ours, and those of the dog with which we walked, were basically the only footprints visible on the dry, dusty earth. So I was trying to conjure up something about "leaving our mark on nature" or "the permanence of man's imprint on the natural world".

But all I was able to think about was the indentations that flying golf balls make when they flop down onto the green, and the golf etiquette that asks those of us who play the game to leave the course in a better condition than we found it.

The Most Basic Rule of Golf

Repair your ball mark.
Bend down. Gently move the grass.
Others are coming.