Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The fabrics of New Mexico’s lives

One of the joys of volunteering at El Rancho de las Golondrinas Living History Museum is hearing visitors wax nostalgic about memories evoked by buildings and settings from their or their families past.  (El Rancho has structures dating from the early 1700s into the late 1800s – many of whose real world likenesses were still in use in the 20th and even 21st centuries.
Recently in Sierra Village (c. 1890) Jim had the pleasure of talking to a woman whose grandfather lived on a doppelgänger of this family compound-farm in Southern New Mexico where he was a successful commercial cotton grower.  Among other things, she wistfully and proudly remembered how buyers would come from the east specifically to bid for his bales of the white, fluffy crop.
Since moving to Santa Fe we have become aware that the Navajo, now weavers of woolen objects, practiced their craft with cotton prior to the arrival of the Spanish, and their churro sheep, in the 16th century.   

We also heard at the Botanical Garden that a type of this fiber-producing shrub (along with quinoa, amaranth and other grains) grew wild at the high elevations of New Mexico, and that the natives harvested and learned to grow and use these plants for their clothing or dietary needs.
But we did not know much of anything about the story of New Mexican cotton either before or after the Navajo switched from that material to wool for their weaving.
“The most precious commodities of southwestern prehistory were turquoise, macaws, copper bells, seashells and cotton and the textiles woven from it.”  (Grasshopper Pueblo: A Story of Archaeology and Ancient Life By Jefferson Reid, Stephanie Whittlesey
Fortunately for historians, New Mexico is one of  “four known areas in the world where perishable textile material, preserved by excessively dry conditions, has survived in appreciable amounts to the present day.” The others are Inner Mongolia, Egypt, coastal Peru. (Kate Peck Kent, “The Cultivation and Weaving of Cotton in the Prehistoric Southwestern United States)   
While most evidence comes from the years between 1000 and 1400 A.D., the artifacts indicate that there was loom weaving with cotton in New Mexico as early as 700 A.D.  Among the relics recovered were corpses wrapped in cotton blankets sometimes with tools for spinning (the process of making thread out of raw fibers), cotton yarn, cottonseeds, seed beaters (instruments used to remove seeds), loom parts, weaving tools, and cloth bags.  The quality of work showed the “same skill in spinning thread and the same proficiency in weaving that appear in fabrics of later periods.”
Peck Kent concludes that the cotton plant was not indigenous – more likely a pre-Spanish import from northern Mexico believed to be what is now called Gossypium Hopi – a fast blooming (84-100 days) species that grows at high altitudes in arid conditions.
Similar finds occurred in Arizona and Utah.   Walter J. Fewkes wrote in 1909, “Fabrics made of cotton are common in the ruins of the Red-rocks, and at times this fiber was combined with yucca.”  Francisco Vázquez de Coronado mentions seeing natives of the region raising cotton and Pueblo Indians wearing cotton blankets and giving his 1539 expedition presents of cotton cloth. 
And writing in the Santa Fe New Mexican, historian Marc Simmons reported,  “Hernán Gallegos, accompanying a small expedition to New Mexico in 1581, wrote that the Pueblo Indians ‘have much cotton, which they spun, wove, and made into blankets for covering and clothing themselves.’”  For example two cotton blankets were sewn together to form the basic Pueblo woman’s dress.  The other frequently used material for clothing was finely tanned buckskin called gamuza.  This was quite a pleasant surprise to the Catholic but Puritanical Spanish who, in Mexico, had been exposed to Indians who were “scantily dressed, if at all.”
 “In addition to using native-grown cotton, early Pueblo weavers worked with apocynum (Indian hemp), yucca leaf fiber, fur, and feather cord,” according to the Michael Smith Gallery website.  “Tools found in many of the prehistoric sites indicate that cotton was spun with the same type of stick-and-whorl spindle still in use today. The resulting yarn was fashioned by finger processed into socks, bags, nets, and braids or was woven into cloth on a wide upright loom or a horizontal backstrap loom in which one of two beams holding the warp yarn is attached to a strap that passes across the weaver's back. Weaving on the loom was a man’s art and continued to be so until recently. Anasazi [ancient Pueblo] weavers knew a limited range of natural dyes, including brick red, brown, black, yellow, and pale blue.”
The Navajo learned about cultivation of cotton as well as weaving on the loom from the Pueblo Indians with whom they had a sometimes fractious, sometimes affable relationship.  They also learned the Pueblo technique of gathering cotton by pulling the bolls from the plant and drying them in the sun.  The dry seeds were then “ginned” either by placing the bolls on clean sand, or between blankets, and beating them.
Cotton was known in Europe by the 1400s, but was not commonly used until the 18th century.  But Columbus may have first discovered the textile’s practacality as explained in this footnote from Charles C. Mann’s book, “1491.”
“Given the choice between their own scratchy wool and the indian’s smooth cotton, the conquistadors threw away their clothes and donned native clothing.  Later this preference was mirrored in Europe.  When cotton became readily available in the eighteenth century; it grabbed so much of the textile market that French woolmakers persuaded the government to ban the new fiber.  The law failed to stem the cotton tide.  As the historian Fernand Braudel noted, some woolmakers then thought outside the box;  They proposed sending prostitutes in cotton clothing to wander Paris streets, where police would publicly strip them naked.  In theory, bourgeois women would then avoid cotton for fear of being mistaken for prostitutes and forcibly disrobed.  This novel form of protectionism was never put into place.”
Cotton was however used in Spain for some clothing in the 1540s as evidenced by the 250 Gambeson/Esquipil quilted cotton jackets and 4 quilted cotton head armors that Coronado had listed in the muster inventory for his expedition.
And the “Clothing Guide at El Rancho de las Golondrinas Living History Museum” list the major historically accurate materials as “leather, wool, and cotton”: “the daily costume of New Mexican women was a looses cotton chemise…a long scarf, made of silk or cotton…[and for men] cotton or leather breeches…collarless white cotton or linen shirt…cotton stockings.”
            Cotton City (2010 population 388) is a census-designated place in Hidalgo County, New Mexico, named for its cotton gin, which serves the area's cotton farms.
 In 1807 the Spanish tried to establish a cotton weaving industry among colonists but cheaper cotton goods from the U.S. brought in on the Santa Fe Trail in ended that idea in 1812. 
Then in the early 20th century – during New Mexico’s last years as a U.S. Territory and first years of statehood – the cotton-producing industry of the United States began expanding beyond the “Old South Cotton Belt” of Virginia to East Texas.  They established new production centers in western Oklahoma, the Southern Plains of Texas, and created large irrigated farms in California, Arizona, and in the Rio Grande and Pecos river valleys of southern New Mexico. 
 New Mexico’s agricultural experiment stations and land-grant college (now New Mexico State University) contributed significantly to this expansion by developing a variety of Acala cotton suited to these western growing conditions. 
The long, winding river valleys tended to be more moderate, with precipitation between ten and twenty inches a year, but sometimes had shorter growing seasons due to the elevation.  Summer temperatures were high and the crop-growing season was generally long, but in these arid lands farmers had to irrigate.  Fortunately, most of the rainfall came between April and June, the best time to give cotton seedlings a good start before the hot summer months ensued. 
 In New Mexico the largest areas of irrigated farming occured in the Pecos Valley, from Roswell, New Mexico, to near Fort Stockton, Texas, and in the Rio Grande Valley, largely on the lands of the Rio Grande Reclamation Project, in the Mesilla and Rincon valleys.   The completion of the Elephant Butte Dam in 1916 established control over the Rio Grande, eliminated periodic floods, and made agriculture a more stable and profitable venture.  Cotton fields occupied only 0.4 percent of the total crop acreage in 1919. In 1927 it had expanded to 59 percent. 
“By World War II the cotton-producing areas of New Mexico had become fairly stabilized. Of the approximate 133,000 acres of cotton in the state, about 54,000 acres were in the Pecos Valley and fifty-nine thousand were in the Rio Grande Valley. Although New Mexico cotton acreage expanded to over 200,000 acres in the 1950s, even with the additional acreage in the Pecos and El Paso/Rio Grande valleys in Texas, the production of the New Mexico/Far West Texas region was relatively small compared to the rest of the Cotton West. The region has proven to be far more influential for its development of the Acala 1517 cotton variety,” according to Cameron Lee Saffell of Iowa State University.  The 2007 cotton crop was valued at over $38 million with over 98,000 bales produced.  (Texas (25%), California, Arizona, Mississippi and Missouri are the leading producers.)
Among these farmers was the grandfather of Jim’s Sierra Village visitor.
Cotton has been part of the fabric of New Mexico’s lives since almost the beginning of those lives.  It is a pleasure to be part of a living museum that helps keep those memories alive for those that experienced them, as well as for those who are learning about them for the first time here at las Golondrinas.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Cuidado con tu cabeza

With one season of volunteering at El Rancho de las Golondrinas under our sashes (no belts allowed) we are starting to get used to being asked the same questions again and again.

Golondrinas is a 200-acre living museum with “unimproved” (i.e. dirt and stone) walking trails and two stairways without railings made up of steps of unequal height to take visitors up and down the uneven terrain.  Many, perhaps most, guests do not realize this as evidenced by, e.g., their choices of footwear such as flip-flop sandals and, in a few instances, high heeled shoes.  Jim normally docents at either El Molino Grande (the “Large Grist Mill”) or Sierra Village (New Mexico in the late 1800s) – both of which are up hill on the “far side” of the property.  Most tourists make there way to these locations after several hours of seeing other sights.  So for him the most common inquiries are: “Are they any ‘real bathrooms’ out here?” and “What is the easiest way back?”  Marsha rarely gets those queries since she is located in the weaving area within Golondrinas Placita – about the length of two skeins of yarn from the “real baños” and the parking area just beyond them.

However the single most asked historical question that we both get is “were the people back then really that small?”  We get that query both directly – and indirectly as in: “why are the doorways so low? or “why is the furniture so short?”

Here is what our Golondrinas training guide tells us about the doorways: “While on average, 18th century Europeans and the New World counterparts were slightly shorter [5’ 6” for men] than we are today, door height [around 5’] was not dictated by this fact.  Rather, the doors are small for a number of other practical reasons.”

Probably foremost is safety.  The Spanish Colonists of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were pretty much constantly under attack – mainly from the Comanche and Apaches who lived at least partially what could be called on a “raiding economy.”

As a result the early New Mexican architecture, which is of Spanish origin, is specifically designed for defense.  The Golondrinas Placita exemplifies this fortress style with a series of thick adobe-walled rooms built around a patio.  The rooms are connected in a row but not all of them have direct passage into the next one.  Some have a large window onto the patio for light.  Others have a tiny (10” x 10”) opening inset with mica up high on the exterior wall.

Access to the courtyard is either through a large wooden gate (portón) made up of two hinged doors – or through a single five feet tall puerta de zambullo (small door) built within one of the larger ones.  The double doors were opened to allow entry to animals, wagons, and groups of people – but otherwise closed and locked with a large metal bar. The Puerto de zambullo, which was only opened for "safe” visitors, allowed entry by one person at a time, at a slow pace, and bent over – preventing someone from storming in in full-on attack mode.

Nowadays las Golondrinas – and all Santa Feans both old and new – are more welcoming, with both gates opened wide to receive our visitors.

Most of the individual rooms have similarly sized five-foot-high, exterior, hinged wooden entryways from the patio – each with a high threshold that forces slow, careful foot movements as well as keeping the windblown rain, snow and dust from entering.

A second reason for the undersized doorways is retention of heat.  A smaller portal helps to maintain the warmth in the room when the door is open.  The early settlers hung animal skins across the doors and window openings to help keep the heat in and rain, snow, and wind-blown dust out.  Additionally smaller doors require less material and labor to construct.  The wooden planks of the doors (hand hewn with an adze) were fastened together with wooden pegs and goat hide glue.  Wooden hinges attached the doors to the frames.  The resulting doors could be quite heavy – so smaller size meant easier opening and closing.

As for the low-slung furniture. – let’s quote again from our Golondrinas training manual, “It is important to remember that the plane of existence in colonial and Territorial New Mexico was much lower than it is today in that everyday life in even well-to-do homes occurred much lower to the ground.”

From the eighth to the fifteenth century the Middle-Eastern Moors had a great influence on, and sometimes control of portions of, the Iberian Peninsula of which Spain is a part.  Arabic, for a while, was the official language and many Spanish words are derived from that tongue, such as: alcada (mayor), tambor (drum), entrada (entrance), Churro (the type of sheep brought to the New World by the Spanish), and adobe (the building block of New Mexico).

The Spanish colonials who settled here carried with them this vocabulary as well as other medieval and Mozarabic customs.  This way of life carried well in the 19th century – partially due to preference and also to the cultural isolation of the territory.   “New Mexicans typically sat, ate and slept on cushions and low stools throughout the 18th and 19th century.  [Some were quite lush with soft mattresses, pillows and textiles.]  This Spanish custom waned in the late 19th and early 20th century because of increasing American influence and affordable mass-produced furniture.”

Among these mass-produced items were doors from the east, which were what most of us would consider “normal” height.  The Mora House in Sierra Village, which emulates a circa 1890 home set in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, contains a front door with a mail delivery slot – a nicety definitely not needed before the days of USPS home delivery to such an outpost.

One of the main takeaways from all this – and what we tell our visitors to las Golondrinas even more than the history of the doors – is “Watch out for your head.”  Which is probably the same thing, “cuidado con tu cabeza,” that the early New Mexican hosts also reminded their own guests to do.

Confinement in The City Different

Casa Solana in the northwest part of Santa Fe about a mile from the center of town, where Monica and Bram live, was the site of a World War II  Japanese Internment Camp in which as many as 2,100 Japanese men at a time (4,555 in total) were imprisoned, between 1942 and 1946.  Similar New Mexico detention centers were also set up in Fort Stanton, Old Raton Ranch and Camp Lordsburg in New Mexico.  From the mid 1930s to 1942 the property had been the location of a camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Interestingly Allen Stamm – the house builder of Monica's and Bram's home and most of the Casa Solana area – was part of a posse assembled the day after the Pearl Harbor attack to keep watch over the local power company, the railroad bridge near Lamy, and a Japanese gardener in Tesuque (two nearby towns).  Stamm later bought the property for $98,000 in 1953 when it was auctioned off by the New Mexican Prison Board.

Last Saturday we attended a performance presented by the "Confinement in the Land of Enchantment Project," which "documents the histories of Japanese American internment in the state and seeks to inspire thought and conversations about issues of citizenship, identity, and civil liberty."  The play was held at our local branch of the Santa Fe Library in conjunction with a month-long exhibit on the subject.  About sixty people were in the audience.

There were eight performers including the playwright.  The play began with the actors taking turns telling the history of the Japanese immigration to America while photos were projected onto a large screen behind them.  When the narrative came to December 7, 1941 the script changed to a series of personal narratives – some from letters, some from interviews – that told the story of the detainees, their families, and how the surrounding community of Santa Fe interacted with the camp.  One actor told her personal story of how her Japanese parents who lived near Pearl Harbor witnessed the event, and how the Governor came to their house the next day, dumped the contents of their drawers onto the floor and left without saying a word.  The author related that the day the FBI took her father away was the last time that her entire family was together. 

After the play there was a discussion with the audience – which included one of the interviewees for the play, an Hispanic native of Santa Fe, who shared of some of her memories of the "Jap Camp" that she passed by on a daily basis.  And of an instance when incoming prisoners tossed candy to the children who were watching their arrival.  The woman mentioned that today she has a good friend who lives in Casa Solana and how fertile the soil is on her property because of all the gardening work that the detainees did over those four years.  Then became emotional as she described "flowers popping up everywhere" today, and the memories they bring back to her.  Another woman, who grew up in Portland Oregon, mentioned how she discovered that her family doctor back in the Beaver State had been imprisoned at Santa Fe.  And a young man told with pride and sadness how his Japanese grandfather served in the U.S. Army's 442nd Infantry Regiment during WWII, at the same time that the speaker's great grandfather (the soldier's father) was in the Santa Fe camp – a not uncommon situation.

It was a well done, moving, and sometimes wrenching history lesson.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Three Days in Taos

After attending the “Stills and Collins” Saturday night concert and volunteering at the las Golondrinas Renaissance Faire the next day, on Monday we drove north to Taos, New Mexico to get away from home for a few days – and while there spent much of our time at other people’s digs: a former ranch that was one of our temporary staying places when we first came to northern New Mexico twenty-six years ago; the early 20th century 4,000 square-foot, asymmetrical, adobe Pueblo and Mission Revival residence of a renowned Russian artist and his family; the early 19th century adobe of a mountain man, wilderness guide, Indian agent, and U.S. Army officer who became a frontier legend in his own lifetime; a hacienda built during the Spanish colonial era that is now a living museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places; and a 21st century community of passive solar houses that is made of both natural and up-cycled materials “living off the grid.”

Stephen Stills, formerly of Crosby, Stills, & Nash (and later Young), and folk music legend Judy Collins were apparently “an item” in the 60’s resulting in CS&N’s recording of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” featuring the unforgettable lyric “Doo doo doo doo doo – doo doo doo doo doo doo.  Doo doo doo doo doo – doo doo doo doo” (admit it, you’re hearing it in your head) – and her break-up song “Houses” (You have many houses, one for every season.”)  Now they are touring together performing these and other songs (some solo and some together).  And one of their stops was the Camel Rock Casino up the road apiece across from the large, eponymous, red stone Camel Rock.

Not being gaming house people it was our first visit – so we took a warm up lap around the gambling area with “over 500 of your favorite slot and video poker machines” plus with “table games” on special nights, before we settled into our chairs in the “10,000 square foot event center that easily accommodates wedding receptions, conferences, corporate parties, concerts and more.” 

We both are fans of her, much more than him, and of less amplified music – which is how we remembered both CS&N and JC, but not how it was to be that night. Fifth time we have seen her and her multi-tiered voice is as good as ever.  His never was that good.  Still, overall a good experience.

Sunday we were both volunteering at the very busy 11th Annual Santa Fe Renaissance Faire at El Rancho de las Golondrinas – the museum’s most attended event – with a surprisingly large number of visitors who were just as interested in Spanish Colonial history as they were in the jousting, light & heavy weapons armored fighting, and kid’s Fairy Village.  Marsha had the unusual opportunity to coach a partially armored heavy weapon combatant through some basic weaving, while Jim began his morning being visited by a snow-white unicorn (actually a rather tall stallion with an invisibly attached horn) being ridden by his white clad princess to stretch his legs and visit the goats in Sierra Village.

We took the High Road to Taos, stooping at Trujillo and Ortega Weavers in Chimayo and enjoying a decadent “lunch” of hot fudge on pistachio ice cream at the “Pink Sign” just within the Taos town line.

We stayed at El Pueblo Lodge – originally built as a small ranch in 1912 – now with additional units and suite accommodations spread out over several buildings, many of adobe construction.  Marsha discovered El Pueblo through AAA for our first trip to northern New Mexico in 1992.  Its appeal to us was location at the north end of the town’s main drag within walking distance to “downtown Taos” (essentially one street and a side Plaza), price, outdoor pool & hot tub, and free breakfast (coffee and donuts).  The price is still comparatively low and the breakfast has gotten much, much better.  The location, Taos’ size, pool and hot tub are still the same.


On Tuesday we strolled down the street to the Taos Art Museum located in the former house of Russian artist Nicolai Fechin, his wife Alexandra and daughter Eya.  A somewhat successful artist in Russia Fechin emigrated to New York City, where he became quite successful, and then in the 1920s to Taos with the encouragement of the town’s doyenne of the arts (and pretty much driving force for everything social) Mabel Dodge Luhan who felt the dry climate and altitude would be good for Nikolai’s tuberculosis and the landscape inspirational for his painting.  He purchased his house in 1928 and remodeled it by enlarging the porch; adding and widening windows to take advantage of the views; and carving many of the fittings of the house and its furniture, using typical Russian design elements such as triptych windows and intricately carved doors.  The result “reflects a modernist sensibility combined with Russian, Native American and Spanish traditions.”

From there we journeyed farther on down the road to the former residence and now museum of Christopher “Kit” Carson – perhaps Taos’ most famous and celebrated resident.  The house is a modest single-story adobe structure, built in 1825, that is an east-facing U shape with a central courtyard. The oldest portion of the house consists of the front three rooms, and the next room to the north. The interior of these rooms has been furnished in the Spanish Colonial and Territorial styles of the Carson period, while other rooms house museum offices and displays.  Some improvements, such as wooden supports and floors have been added for visitor safety and comfort.  Carson was (as the museum brochure describes him) “an enigmatic and complex man who participated in, and helped pave the way for, almost all of the major historical events of America’s westward expansion” – to his credit and detriment.  Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West by Hampton Sides is an extremely well written history of Carson and the westward expansion.

After refreshing ourselves with falafel, and other middle-eastern delights we drove out of town to the Hacienda de los Martinez located on the bank of the Rio Pueblo de Taos– a large landed estate built during the Spanish colonial era and now a living museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places.   Don Antonio Severino Martinez bought the property and then four-room adobe dwelling in 1804 expanding it to twenty-one rooms around two inner courtyards, or placitas. Like the Golondrinas Placita within which Marsha docents and weaves it was constructed as a fortress for protection against attacks by Plains tribes, such as Comanche and Apache raiders, when there was a threat of violence, the livestock were brought into the courtyards of the hacienda for safety.  The buildings are interpreted as the 1820s under Spanish colonial rule. For example, the weaving exhibits display wool died with vegetable based tints (as are those at las Golondrinas); the hacienda's interior walls are white washed with tierra blanca, a mixture of micaceous clay and wheat paste; and the dirt floors are sealed and polished with oxblood.  Martinez Hacienda is one of the few remaining Spanish colonial haciendas open to the public year round in the United States.

Having OD’d on the past, the next day we visited Earthship Biotecture, pioneered by architect Michael Reynolds – a hoping-to-be community of passive solar houses made of both natural substances like adobe, and up-cycled materials such as earth-packed tires.

We took the self-guided tour of the exterior of some houses and the entire visitor center – including that building’s roof containing the capture mechanism that begins the rain-to-potable-to-gray-to-black-H2O.  (Marsha was assured by visitor center greeter that even out here in the desert rainfall is sufficient – although “a few of the owners did have to buy water last year.”  Earthships have also been built in Haiti where that is less of an issue.)   The rooftop was easily accessible since the north side of the building is embedded into the hilly earth.  Many of the buildings incorporate glass bottles for style and are adorned with structural elements similar to those of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, whom we studied in an Elderhostel program in Barcelona and whose works we find attractive and appealing.

There are currently twenty or so residences built on the large, semi-remote desert property on the west side of the Tres Orejas (Three Ears) Mountain 1.5 miles beyond the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.  Some dwellings can also be rented for evenings or longer.  Earthship #96590 – a comfortable solar heated and solar photo-voltaic electricity powered, green, two bedroom, one bath, 1,800 sq. ft. home located on two acres – is currently on the market for $149,000.

Oddly our real estate agent did not bring us out here when we were looking last summer.

Rain curtailed our visit to the DH Lawrence Ranch, the 160-acre property where the English novelist and his wife lived in the 1920s.  Lawrence was clearly blown away by the Land of Enchantment – “In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new.”

Now that’s our kind of place.  Next time for sure.

Friday morning around ten we went to the Post Office to pick up our mail, which we had held there during our absence.  Standing at the counter we thought we heard the “cock-a-doodle-doo” of a crowing cock emanating from behind the window clerk.

“Do you have a rooster back there?” Marsha asked.

“Yes”, answered the postal employee impassively– with an implied “of course we do” in her voice.

“Only in Santa Fe,” commented Marsha as we left.

Some New Mexico Fauna

I think that I may once have seen a hummingbird moth in our “butterfly garden” back in Wethersfield, Connecticut.  It snuck up beside me while I was working in the flowerbed one sunny summer afternoon.  Alerted by its whirring sound I looked up just in time to see it leaving.  Not knowing about such insects I thought it must have been a tiny, perhaps young, hummingbird – which of course was one of the fauna, along with colorful butterflies, that Marsha and I were hoping to attract with our patch of nectar-bait flora.  The moth was about the best we did.


Out here now in Santa Fe, New Mexico I have actually been on the lookout for this plump, clear-winged, and (unlike most moths) day-flying Lepidoptera.  We were told by a docent at the city’s botanical garden that we could expect to see the little guys hanging around our newly planted purple four-o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa, the marvel of Peru) – which, as their name implies, open their flowers just in time to provide a nice end-of-day snack for the little fake-hummers
While we haven’t witnessed that particular insect happy hour, both Marsha and I have seen the buzzing bug hovering around our red penstemon bush – one of the drought tolerant plants left by the previous owner in our front garden along with: another penstemon; (this one low growing); several lavenders; a potintilla; something that may be a Russian Olive tree that we keep pruned at a slightly lower height than the bushy penstemon, which it is immediately behind; and some volunteer pink evening primrose.  We have added three cactus, an agave, another penstemon variety, two yucca and the aforementioned four o’clock – all also requiring little or no hydration.

We are enjoying learning about the existence of these unfamiliar flora.  But just as much, if not more so, we are also taking pleasure in the new animals we are seeing on a daily basis both in our yard and on our walks around the neighborhood and in the desert.


First of course are the real hummers that began appearing at our nectar feeder about one month ago after the nesting and fledging of the new little ones was completed.  We have discovered that ours is a Rufous hummingbird who, typically for the breed, is  quite territorial and belligerent in defending its turf – or at least the space above it.  Which is to say if you want more than one hummer at a time, and one of them is a Rufous  – then you need more than one feeder, not to be placed too close to the others.  Something we are in the process of taking care of thanks to our local Wild Birds Unlimited store.

 Based upon what we have seen of the solitary humming moth it seems to act pretty much identical to its slightly larger avian role models, so we suspect that it will also exhibit the same possessive trait towards our penstemon.  We do not however plan to expand out garden to accommodate a bigger crowd.


Meanwhile, beneath our feet, is a plethora of the Official State reptile Cnemidophorus neomexicanus – the New Mexico whiptail lizard.  They are literally everywhere – on our placita patio, on our exterior stucco walls, in our gardens, strolling on the sidewalks and walking trails, and scurrying across the desert caliche.  About 3.5" from snout to vent, slim, light brown with seven yellow or cream colored stripes and numerous light spots, blue or gray-green tipped tail, and a slim, pointed snout – other than the color you would fully expect these cute little guys to stand up on their hind legs and try to sell you protection for accidents in your home or automobile.  But you would be wrong on two accounts.  (1) They are more interested in eating insects than providing liability coverage.  And (2) – none of them are guys.

The whiptail – along with several other types of the four-legged reptile – is parthenogenic, that is absolutely no male assistance is required to produce other little lizards.   Which is of course a good thing since there are in fact no males available.  Interestingly, although only one set of genes is involved in the creation process, the offspring are not clones of the mom.

Cuteness may count in selecting who gets to officially represent a nation or territory or an insurance company – but we are hoping that the whiptails excessive numbers and omnipresence are the principal reasons for its official state status.  And why other New Mexican reptiles such as red racer snakes and diamondback rattlers don’t have similar honorifics.

 Or did not, we hope, even make the short list.