Season’s End – Fall 2020

Heritage Squash — Los Poblanos Farm

Seasons come and go but the slow erosion of the fecundity and frenetic activity of summer, in the season we call fall (for some reason, or autumn if you prefer), is a special time of quiet and reflection. Things start to slow down.  The Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese have already arrived to spend the winter. Around here, by the end of October it has gotten a bit cold during normal years but not yet frigid or frozen. This is high desert country so nights get quite cold but the sunlight at this elevation (5500 feet) and normally clear skies will have people out in shirtsleeves and even shorts up to about Thanksgiving.

This year, 2020, is an exception, as it is an almost all possible ways…our pandemic year. Today, October 26, is our first snowfall. It is actually a snowstorm – snowing all day and most likely well into tomorrow. So, this year we are having an earlier winter than usual. We are in a drought and urgently need the moisture, so everyone is happy.

My cat isn’t. Archie just earned outdoor privileges and he looks forward to going out (under supervision) to sniff and scratch and roll in the dust and climb among the potted plants. Today was a shock – it stopped him in his tracks and would not venture out the door.

I took the opportunity to get out a few times over the last couple weeks to get some fall pictures. The colors were very nice but a little subdued because of the drought. What I am focusing on here is more of the spent and last surviving flowers of fall. The seed heads often show an amazing level of natural engineering. So that is pretty much what this posting is about.

Pomegranates at Los Poblanos

Four-winged Saltbush seeds cover the stems and almost looks like it is cloaked in chenille. Giant Mullein stands tall like a candelabra. There are whole meadows of Mullein up in the local mountains. It is not native but was very early introduced from Europe or Asia. The Indians discovered that the seeds could be used to paralyze fish.

I actually don’t know for certain what that red flower is . It might be aa variety of Indian Paintbrush but where I’m familiar with it the plant is never as large as this. Purple Asters are almost gone everywhere but these were still blooming along the Jemez River. These wild Asters get a fuzzy dandelion-type seed head and spread in the wind. There is a bright yellow variety that grows most places but seems to bloom earlier. The thistle, too, was blooming later than normal.

Whatever it was it was blooming its heart out. It might be a form of Chamisa. We have dozens of yellow flowers this time of year. I had a few bunches of wild coreopsis/tickseed come up in my yard this year for the first time. Below is Chamisa mixed with Asters growing next to my front door. I think Chamisa is known as Rabbitbrush in some areas but here it blooms profusely all through the fall and earned a different name in Spanish. I don’t plant any of this stuff but I just sty out of its way when it wants to come up. This is the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert and much cooler than the lower Sonoran Desert people see in Arizona. Something is always trying to bloom.

Some spent or almost spent and dried flowers waiting for the birds or wind to scatter the seeds. The Apache Plume, below, is in a pink form. I usually see it as white when wild . It is grown commonly as an ornamental and sometimes just shows up.

The fall tree colors were a little drab from the drought and it all seemed out of synch and did not all turn together as in some years. Our bosque forest, along the Rio Grande, had some beautiful individual old cottonwoods.

It is still snowing and drifts are starting to pile up. Certainly not a blizzard but more persistent snowfall than usual. Winter is officially almost 60 days away….but here we are. I decided not to trudge out to the mailbox through the snow. All I get is election ads and people wanting donations. That can wait.

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Dingle Peninsula 2020

I have a project that will require some photo-video work so I’m trying to remember how this is done from a decade ago when I last did any video work. This is primitive and a bit redundant in places and I see a spelling error but this is a first attempt…for now.

It is on YouTube so here is the link.

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Garden Colors – Early June

It’s 95 degrees and 15% humidity here this afternoon. The sun will get you if you don’t take precautions. But the flowers are showing off. There is a little breeze and quite pleasant in the shade.

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The pond is looking pretty good. The lilypads shade the water and that keeps the algae at a minimum.

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The Fire-Breathers — Mexican Bird of Paradise — have taken over the show. The Hummingbirds like them.

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My Spanish Broom is showing off in spite of being injured by a late frost. It is huge, maybe twenty feet tall.

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Mojave Sage is not appreciated as much as it should be. In detail, it is very pretty but most people see it as flowering mounds.

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My mystery flower keeps blooming. This is a volunteer that just showed up in a flower pot (how convenient) but I don’t know what it is. The leaves come in threes and are lance-shaped. I have at least one other volunteer like this in my front yard growing next to a wild yellow aster. They pick nice places to grow. If you know what it is, let me know.

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At any rate, I hope it comes back next year.

My Desert Willow will be blooming soon and I see some wild Mexican Hat coneflowers coming up. I planted coneflowers but the rabbits ate them.

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Isolation at Mid-passage

 

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I’m becoming bored with all this self-isolation business. I live alone so it is like solitary confinement. My big social event of the week is to put on my mask and go buy groceries. So, I am sitting here festering and fidgeting. Also, it seems like inertia has set in. I can count on one hand the number of actual face-to-face conversations I have had in about six weeks. Reruns on TV are getting old and PBS is into their pledge break. Oh, woe is me. The silver lining is that I’m healthy and not spreading the virus and not spending money except for a fortune on groceries. But I can do this. We may only be at mid-passage with this pandemic so buck up my fellow pilgrims.

My camera is always at the ready so that is part of my diversionary tactics. I have a large, 1,500-gallon goldfish pond in my front courtyard that attracts wildlife like a watering hole in the Serengeti. The birds come in shifts. The Quail arrive and leave then the Doves come and drink and take a bath, Hummingbirds are doing dogfights overhead. This is prime hummer territory — a pond and stream and lots of flowers — so they try to drive other hummers away. The finches and grossbeaks hang out by the feeder. Usually, the quail will make a second visit at dusk.DSCN1129 (2)

The Quail (Gambel’s Quail) have babies somewhere but they are staying well hidden. We are having a snakey year and the snakes will take the chicks. Roadrunners will eat the snakes and lizards and the baby chicks. Crows will eat the baby chicks, So the Quail start with big families but they diminish sometimes to just a few. We have Scaled Quail, too, that look like little Samurai warriors with their white topknot and armor-looking feathers. I actually have not seen Roadrunners yet but we have a young Coachwhip snake and plenty of lizards so they will be here, eventually.

The few flowers in the courtyard are struggling and I’m maybe overwatering them out of boredom.  This is high desert country so they need to be watered and sheltered from the sun so I grow them in pots most of the time, That sometimes discourages some of the desert cottontails but not often enough.

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My big yucca is showing off with two tall spikes that are now taller than the house. The smaller wild yuccas have bloomed out already. The Mexican Feather Grass is trying to take over while my 20-year-old Pyracantha is trying to die.

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I have plans for this garden. at twenty years old, planted four owners ago, it is time to rethink and refurbish. My Spanish Broom is the largest I have ever seen and over-dominates the courtyard. I’m giving thought to an Asian inspired garden. At 5500 feet elevation and only eleven inches of annual rain, it will not be a true Japanese Garden but it can lean that way. The pond is there and some of the existing plants can be preserved. Meanwhile, my Agave is peeking over the garden wall.

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There is a little nature trail near me out toward the Rio Salida and the Ojito Wilderness. That is the western edge of the Rio Grende Rift and some of the deformity is visable along with some geologic faults. It is both pretty and striking so I go out there occasionally and watch how seasons change.  We have cold desert nights so many of the native plants are a bit slower to start up. It is usually May before they get busy.

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My most recent visit, in late May, was just right to catch some of the cactus blooming. This is the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert and cactus here must be cold-hardy. We don’t have the Saguaros of the low and hot Sonora Desert. We have a few varieties of Prickley Pear, Cholla, and some little Hedgehog-type cacti. I have Prickley Pear and Cholla in my yard but the desert cottontails eat the Prickley Pear down to nubs in the winter.

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The Cholla cactus were not even thinking about blooming  I will have to go back out there in a week or so.

People are not out and about very much and I seldom see anyone when I go out. The Rattlesnakes have been very busy and are more frequently seen this year than any time in the last six years so that will keep me on my toes. There are also news reports of an aggressive mountain lion over on the Sandia Mountain trails and there are bear cubs roaming around and coming into town. Because of the quarantine and self-isolation, there have been far fewer people out on the trails. The Elk herd was very much in evidence up in the Jemez Mountains a couple of months ago.

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Ireland — Part Two

Part two of a nearly three-week trip to Ireland as the pandemic wave swept across Europe:  Dingle Peninsula to Dublin.

When last we visited together we were in Part One in Scartaglen, in County Kerry, and about to go out on to the Dingle Peninsula for a few days. The Dingle Peninsula is as far west as you can go in Europe (Dunmore Head: 10° 28′ 48′ W).

Dingle Peninsula

We were told that County Kerry and especially Dingle Peninsula would be “different”. The Dubliners called it the “Wild West” and a place where it might be harder to understand the strong Irish accents.  We were already in Kerry for a couple days and were spending most of a week on the peninsula but if there was a difference of that sort, we missed it. Irish Gaelic is commonly spoken on Dingle and were heard plenty of it but everyone speaks English as well. Compared to driving on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car, any difference in Dingle was pretty minor. The roads are very narrow, however. The stray sheep on the road was a bit different.

We bypassed Tralee on the way to Dingle, thinking we might spend a few hours there later in the week. With the Coronavirus shutdown, that did not happen so Tralee in on the list for the next trip.

Ballyferriter

Our destination was Ballyferriter near the farthest edge of the peninsula. We had an Airbnb cottage rented for five days and hoped to do some hiking along the country roads and pathways that make up the Dingle Way, a circular route that goes around the peninsula and connects to Tralee. The weather did not cooperate so we only did short walks and dodged the rainstorms.

The movie Ryan’s Daughter was filmed up the hill behind our cottages and the Star Wars scenes centered around the beehive huts was filmed at Dunmore Head, close by, The village of Ballyferriter has a festival on May the fourth on most years to celebrate Star Wars…but not this year. When we arrived the Atlantic was still roaring from the recent storm (named Hannah) and we could hear it roaring in our cottage about a quarter-mile away from the beach, The beach closest to us was Clogher Strand, a small rocky beach not suitable for swimming, we were told. We had no intention of swimming.

The Blasket Islands were a short distance offshore and the island we could see from the beach was called The Sleeping Giant for obvious reasons. The ocean calmed down a bit before we left.

Ballyferriter is a small village. It has a church, school, restaurant and hotel, grocery store, and a couple pubs, maybe three. On some days there are probably more sheep than people. We had hopes of visiting pubs and we started out okay but things were getting a little crazy by the time we got to spend a few days in Ballyferriter. The pubs closed all over Ireland so our two visits to Kain’s and Murphy’s pubs in Ballyferriter were the end of it. This was on weeknights and there were few people out and even fewer with the pandemic scare. There are more Irish pubs in the US than in Ireland. (There are probably more “Irish” in America than in Ireland.)  There is a craft brewery about halfway to Dingle town but it, too, was closed. I had some of their beer and it was very good. Guinness seems to rule the roost in Ireland’s pubs and I had several. I had someone pour me a “real” Guinness once in Dublin and I’m not sure what that meant.

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Dingle

Dingle is the big town and a seaport for fishing boats and a few tourist excursion boats. There is a popular resident dolphin, Fungie, who lives in the harbor and enjoys interacting with the boats as they come in or out. He has gotten to be a tourist attraction. Dingle is where the big grocery stores are and the shops for buying the local craftwork. Wool is the big item — sweaters, scarves, mittens, everything. Dingle was also one of the old ports that took pilgrims to Spain for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella and the tomb of St. James going back to the middle ages. The Dingle Way was part of that route as it went into Dingle.

Castlegregory

One day it was so cold and windy and rainy that we decided to take a trip over the far side of the peninsula to Castlegregory, which was sheltered a little by the high mountains and seemed to be having less rain. The road crosses Conner Pass, one of the highest mountain passes in Ireland and the scenery and views were stunning. At the top, we stopped to take pictures and saw a ram that was all on his own on the mountainside. One false step and he would be tumbling down the side but he seemed quite happy and unconcerned.  This was just after lambing time and there were a few sheep taking advantage of the extra work that the farmers had to do and were out exploring on their own.

Castlegregory is closer to Tralee and seemed to be a little more developed. It looked like there were some vacation homes along the beach in places. The bay was a lot calmer and was suitable for smaller fishing boats.   Saint Brendan was born in Tralee or perhaps along the bay near where Castlegregory is located. St. Brendan and fifteen of his monks sailed in an oxen-skin boat to America (don’t you know) and returned safely to Ireland sometime before 570 AD. St. Brendan’s name is applied to a lot of things in this area (wells, springs, mountains, etc.).

Castlegregory has a nice beach area, a boatyard, a nice view of the mountains, and a church named for St. Brendan.

Gallorus and the Beehive Huts

Saint Patrick and Saint Brendan and the many monks and religious preachers transformed these western lands into devout Christian communities, added some monasteries and religious centers, and made space for devout hermit monks. One interesting relic of that very early Christian era is the Gallorus Oratory, probably built as early as the 600s AD of local stone. It is in the shape of an overturned boat and is the last remaining example of this type of early church.

The oratory probably served the small community of local Christians or perhaps a monastic community or both. Religious hermits were more likely scattered in solitary places or with tiny groups. The beehive huts, also dating to the 600s, on the far western edge of the peninsula and on the remote Skellig Islands were possibly inhabited by hermits at one time. When the Normans invaded Ireland some of the country people were driven off their land and took refuge in the beehive huts and likely built more..

There are only a few intact beehive huts, The pictured ruins are of an ancient stone fort and several beehive huts enclosed inside the walls. They were domed structures made of dry-laid stone that resembled a beehive.  Most seem to be on the heights overlooking the ocean.

Killarney National Park

After five days in Ballyferriter exploring Dingle Peninsula, we headed toward Cork City with a stop at Killarney National Park. I found out later that my two great-great-grandmothers were born in Killarney town but I didn’t know that during our visit. The Killarney area is very scenic and has been a tourist spot for a long time. The tourists back in the day were mostly the Anglo-Irish and English elite, not so much the common folk.

Of course, it was threatening rain during our visit so we were hoping to see some of the park before the rain put an end to it. By this time in our trip, the pandemic shutdown had begun and the government was advising people to stay at home. But this was a national holiday weekend leading up to St. Patrick’s Day so the park was crowded with people trying to squeeze in a last outing or day trip before self-isolation set in.

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We stopped at Muckross House first. This was a mansion built in 1843 by Henry Arthur Herbert, an MP representing Kerry and a political figure in Ireland serving as Chief Secretary (like Secretary of State). His wife was watercolorist Mary Balfour. The Tudor style house has sixty-five rooms. Queen Victoria visited in 1861 and the house was sold to Arthur Edward Guinness (AKA Baron Ardilaun, a former partner in the brewing business) who kept and protected the great house and associated lands around the Killarney lakes and mountains from development. The property changed hands a couple times and eventually, the house and 11,000 acres were given to the Republic of Ireland by the Bourn family. The property served as the beginning of the national park.

The mountains are some of the highest in Ireland.

Cork City

Our original intention was to be in Cork City, the second-largest city in Ireland, for the St. Patrick’s day celebration and parade.  Yes, that would be the parade and celebration that was canceled because of the pandemic. We went anyway.

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St. Patrick’s Day crowds in Cork City. The City Hall

Cork seems to be an industrial and hardworking town on the south coast of Ireland. I have the impression that there was a strong British presence there. It is a little bit “gritty” in a good way — not putting on airs or trying hard to impress. The center of town is built on an island in the River Lee but the city spreads to the areas on both sides of the river and up the hills. Cork was established as a monastic community and was occupied by the Vikings around 915. It continued as a seaport trading with Europe. The war for independence from Britain (1919-1921) left a mark on the city’s history. Terrence McSwiney, the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Cork, was charged with sedition by the British and imprisoned in London in 1920 where he died of starvation during a 73-day hunger strike in 1920. The city center was burned by mostly British “Black and Tan” troops in 1920. There were attacks and reprisals and guerilla warfare throughout County Cork and in Dublin and Belfast.

With the pubs and restaurants closed, we were struggling a bit for food and the continuing rain kept us from exploring as much as we wanted. We had some Chinese takeout a couple times and ate at a fast-food kebab shop. Our hotel had great breakfasts that we took advantage of.  A full Irish (or English) breakfast is a lot of food.

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The weather cooperated enough that we got to walk around a few hours a day. Even the churches were closed due to the pandemic. We got to see St. Patrick’s Church near our hotel, and then later attended part of the last mass celebrated at St. Peter and Paul’s Church, near St. Patrick’s Street in the city center.

The commercial area is St. Patrick’s Street.  The department stores and some shops and fast food places were still open. The English Market is sort of an indoor food-court and gallery of small shops. The food is interesting, especially the fishmongers’ shops.

While walking along St. Patrick’s Street on St. Patrick’s Day we were part of a small spontaneous holiday celebration. We heard cars honking and along came a caravan of four or five cars with riders waving Irish flags and shouting. The pedestrians on the street waved and broke into cheers. The unofficial parade went by three times with a few more cars each time.

Dublin and Home

The next day we took a train back to Dublin. There was a total of three passengers in our coach. A few more got on at a couple stops but it was mostly empty pulling into Dublin. It was a comfortable ride mostly through farmland and small towns. I grew up in Missouri and this part of Ireland looked a lot like rural Missouri…except for the stone walls between the fields. We took a taxi from the train station to our hotel only to find out that the hotel was closing due to the pandemic. Most casual traveling had stopped and the tourists were going home or canceling their reservations. The hotel made reservations for us at their “sister” hotel, The Dublin Westin. Alarm bells started going off because that was not within our budget. When we got there they honored our reservations at the original price and for the same number of days. They gave us a room on the third floor and the next day moved us to the first floor and by the time we left they had fewer than twenty rooms occupied in this large hotel.  We had five days in Dublin with not much to do but walk around and take pictures, go to the park, visit with hotel staff, and find a few coffee shops and restaurants that were still open.

Our airline flights were being canceled and rescheduled for several days before we even got back to Dublin. Finally, the email arrived that said our flight home was canceled and they asked us to call to set up a connection back to the USA. We already planned on flying Dublin to London, staying overnight, and then flying to Chicago and back home to Albuquerque. The final arrangements had us leaving Dublin a day early, spending the night in London, and flying to Dallas and then Albuquerque. It was a hectic trip. Travelers were being routed through Heath Row airport from as far away as South Africa because direct flights were canceled. The plane from London was not full so we could get a little more space. Everyone was trying to get home including about two dozen Mormon missionaries and scuba instructors and tour guides from around the world.  It all worked out until we reached Dallas where the airport folks seemed clueless that we were coming. Delays at the airport with the coronavirus screening, ridiculously disorganized customs check-in, luggage transfer, and then back through the TSA checkpoint (staffed by one guy) made us miss the flight to Albuquerque, which left a few minutes early as we were running to the gate.  We ended up catching the late flight home (our luggage took the first plane) and finally got safely home a little after midnight.

It was an interesting trip at an interesting time and it turned out much different than we expected or planned. It was very restful (until our trip home) but we did not see much of what we were hoping to see (mostly in and around Dublin). In spite of the anxiety over the pandemic, the Irish were as welcoming and pleasant as they could be. I will have to return once this health scare is over to see what we missed.

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London Prelude

We arrived in London March 2nd for a few days before heading to Ireland for several weeks. We had never been to the UK and would spend a few days in London and then ferry to Dublin.  It was rainy most of the trip but enjoyable just the same.

Kensington and Hyde Park

 

The neighborhood was in the west end near Kensington Palace. I had no idea where I was but we walked to the Kensington and Hyde Parks and just roamed around past the Prince Albert Memorial, through the park past the Peter Pan statue to the Italian Fountains and back to the hotel past Royal Albert Hall. There is a flock of wild Parakeets that seemed very tame and the swans liked being fed by visitors.

Hampton Court

We had a good day to visit Hampton Court, a short train ride out of Waterloo Station. This was very impressive and, although changed significantly since then,  it should where many important events took place during the time of Henry VIII.

The palace and gardens were expanded by the Stuart’s, William and Mary, and the Hanover Kings (the Georges) in a more modern (then) style as shown in the one photo.

King Tut

King Tut is getting a new home back in Egypt so a large collection of his treasures are in a traveling exhibit for the last time, never to leave Egypt again. We visited the gallery to see the exhibit of the amazing items that accompanied him to his afterlife. The exhibit explained the importance of ritual and religion in the items and the process of sending him on his final journey.


Roaming and the Ferry Trip

We took half a day after Tut to see parts of London. The exhibit was reasonably close to Buckingham Palace so we headed there. I was a little underwhelmed after seeing Hampton Court but was also raining nonstop which made it a bit difficult to appreciate as much.

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After a visit to a tea shop to warm up with tea and soup we got on a tour bus to see London without getting wet. We didn’t see much and would have done better with a underground map and a short list of sights.

After the few days in London we took the train across England and into Wales to Holyhead where we would catch the ferry across the Irish Sea to Dublin the next morning. We stayed in a small all inn and walked to the ferry port the next morning.   What we saw of Wales from the train was beautiful and I’d like to go back for a longer visit.

The ferry boat was the Estrid of the Stena Line, about one year old and very nice. I’ve been on a few ocean ferries and this was the best I’ve seen. We had a stateroom thinking it would be a small compartment where we would keep our stuff. Instead it had a queen size bed, a desk and a couple chairs, and a bathroom with a shower.


We made the crossing in about three hours and were in Dublin by about noon.

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