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New Mexico

Travel

Nature’s nature, wherever you live – Sandia Peak, New Mexico

August 13, 2012
Sandia Peak, New Mexico

10,8000 above sea level

I was reminded in a comment here that newcomers to my blog might, as a result of recent posts, land themselves in Carlow expecting to see massive canyons and unusual critters.

What a surprise then to arrive in our little county and find old trees and small villages, hills and green fields, long flowing rivers with bubbling weirs, large bales of hay and boney bottomed cattle plodding their way along tiny lanes on their way to milking parlours. Quite different from my recent travels in New Mexico and Nevada and not a hummingbird in sight!

Wildlflowers in New Mixico

This is primarily a gardening blog with a few recipes, green tips and home life thrown in. It’s about growing your own food, cooking and living in communities or in a manner that has as little impact on our planet as possible. But nature’s nature, no matter where we live. Whether it’s by the coast or on top of a mountain, in a desert or a valley, there’s always something different to see and hear.

So as we drove to the top of Sandia Peak in north eastern Albuquerque, a mountain 10,800 feet above sea level, we were to view nature in a different form.

The View from Sandia Peak, New Mexico

Sandia Peak overlooking New Mexico

Unlike the flat desert area surrounding us, the peaks are covered with trails and felled or fallen trunks, bleached white rocks of various sizes are scattered everywhere and roots clutch on to the side of the mountain like knarled, wizened old hands.

 

There are several trails around the forest, but with three children in tow, the eldest of whIch was a reluctant participant, we chose a short one that led from the gift shop and cafe on top of the mountain.

The trail on Sandia Peak

If truth be told, for all his whining and winging, I kind of agreed with our 13yr old as I too was slightly reluctant to venture too far from civilisation.. I’d been chatting to the assistant in the shop about the likelihood of seeing a black bear and was cheerfully told that it was quite possible! There had been quite a few sightings recently – she’d seen four this year on the road to the top, including a mother and cub. I picked up a guide paper to see how to keep ourselves safe should we come across one, only to read there are cougars in the woods too! How excited Mr G and the children were at the prospect of seeing these wild predatory creatures! As a mother however, they were the last things I wanted my family to come across on our short stroll!

Yellow flower

 

Nevertheless, the forest that stretched before us was too enticing to miss. The trail wound us around the edge of the mountain where the views were breathtaking before leading us to a well crafted stone stairway – an unexpected sight at 10,800 feet!

stone stairs

Although a short climb, the steps left us slightly breathless as we weren’t used to the altitude. It was with relief that we stumbled over a few scrappy tree roots and into the delightfully scented pine forest (not least because our middle daughter was intent on finding out whether the path we were walking along overhung the interminable drop!)

In the forest at Sandia Peak

I adore walking in forests (even with threats of bears and cougars) there’s just something about the light and shadows don’t you think? We tried to encourage our children to hush for a brief while so we could hear the unusual birds or look out for chipmunks, but sadly not to be. The girls chattered their way around, joyful to see the pretty wildflowers and chased after the grasshoppers whenever they spotted them. Maybe the noise was a good thing though as it was sure to have prevented a bear from accidentally bumping into us.

wildflowers and trees

The path was well travelled (though we only came across a couple of other visitors to it) and not too lengthy. The cooler mountain air was a refreshing change from the stifling heat of the city and before long we found ourselves back at the cafe where we were able to watch hummingbirds at close proximeity. The clip doesn’t catch the load hum they make as they buzz around, it can be quite startling when they whiz past your ears!

I’ll be back to my normal vegetable gardening blogging soon, most certainly with a new perspective, but in the meantime I hope you’re enjoying  the flowers, trees and wildlife 5,000 miles from our usual home.

Lifestyle

Could the American Dream be Wrong?

August 7, 2012
A bit of fun but are children growing up with the right signals?

A bit of fun but are children growing up with the right signals?

Having spent a short time in the U.S. my brain has been in conflict. I’m living the American dream but at what cost?

Thanks to Mr G’s permanent job, we’re living in a rental house with four en suite bathrooms (our own with a shower you could party in as well as a jacuzzi bath), a laundry room, garage that opens with the press of a button from inside the seven seater car (so no getting wet if it rains or arguments over who’s going to open the door) and a truly enormous fridge. The beds are huge, there are insect screens on every window and door, ceiling fans in every room as well as air conditioning and three gardeners that arrive every Friday to trim the postage stamp lawn.

I’m no longer a tutor or a gardener, I’ve become a Desperate Housewife.

Middle Class Albuquerque

The view from my window in an Albuquerque suburb

The sun shines here everyday and even on the odd occasion when the clouds burst and drench us with their thundering monsoon downpours, it’s still very hot.

Shopping is a dream if you have the cash. Malls are full of labelled shops – Vans, Converse, DC and Ralph Lauren, Apple, Samsung and Gap, there are no imitations here – it’s the real thing, it’s inexpensive and it’s impossible not to get caught up in.

1lb Pure Beef Burger

1lb Pure Beef Burger

And food … Well what do you want? Burgers, sushi, ribs or burritos, frozen yoghurt, salads or smoothies – all are available in drive thru – as are the banks and the pharmacies. The longest walk you’ll ever need to do is around the hypermarkets where the aisles are longer than a GAA pitch.

I’m blown away by the friendliness of everyone I’ve met. From genuinely lovely neighbours to helpful but unassuming shop assistants.  America offers the ultimate in politeness. It’s clean, litter free and the people take pride in their surroundings.

angry birds cerealsOur children have noticed the differences between here and our Irish home, “he called me sir”, “is dammit a curse mammy?” “everyone’s so friendly, it’s nice”. Then there’s the small business’… the sprinkler’s broken “see you at 2pm.” Our air conditioning isn’t working properly,“we’ll be there first thing in the morning ma’am.”

This country knows how to look after you and make you feel like you’re the most important customer they’ve ever seen or heard. It’s a delight to be in.

I’ve no doubt there are millions who aren’t experiencing the kind of luxuries we are. We’ve moved into middle class America, but my, what a contrast to recessionary Ireland. A country where you’re counting your lucky stars to be working, where high streets are starting to look like they have more empty shops than full ones and you daren’t mention you’ve had your kerosene tank filled in case someone comes along and empties the contents.

Maybe I haven’t been inside the ‘real’ America long enough yet. The one you hear about where everyone carries guns, where parents are nervous about sending their kids to high school because they’ll be exposed to drugs they’ve so far been sheltered from. Not the hash or coke touted around in Irish schools, but meth or heroin that totally blot out the harsh realities of the day-to-day consumerist lifestyle that the less fortunate miss out on. I’m not so sure though, talking to family and people we’ve met on our travels, or my husband who’s spent several months here already, my perception isn’t too far off the mark. My reasons for feeling unsettled aren’t too unjustified.

So what’s the problem? Why the conflict? What have I to complain about? Surely my new Wisteria Lane world is a heavenly existence? Why can’t I relax and enjoy every second of this kaleidoscopic bubble?

It’s simple. I see very little green.

I’m not just talking about the emerald greens of home. The multi-shaded hues we’re accustomed to seeing when we step out of our front doors. I’m talking about the environmental green. If it weren’t for twitter I could easily forget that our planet’s in turmoil. Granted, NBC news regularly mentions the drought that’s causing devastation for farmers across central America. Corn and bean crops are wilting under the relentless searing heat that beats down daily. Already food prices have increased with threats of further increases in the U.S. and globally in 2013.

The Arizona DesertBut for all the wildfires, droughts and massive storm cells, I’ve not heard a single word about global warming, climate change or the fact that our actions could be contributing to the planet heating up and causing this extreme weather. There’s no mention that almost all the food we’re eating here has been created genetically or that geoscientists are filling the atmosphere above New Mexico with untested chemical treatments to try to cool the planet. Perhaps when wallets feel the pinch people will start to become more aware of their actions and begin to make changes, who knows. To be honest I can’t see things changing any sooner.

During our travels I’ve noticed some tentative steps to becoming greener – hotels asking us not to put our towels out for washing everyday (we were in a desert), the odd town mentioning night sky pollution, supermarkets asking us to return the dozens of plastic bags they fill up with our groceries every time we shop, and goods trains with 100 carriages or more, but is it enough in a country with 314 million people?

M & M's

M & M’s anyone?

I should make it clear at this point that I’m not blaming the American population per se for the lack of obvious environmental concern. If we are not informed or encouraged to find out more about the damage we are doing to our environment who can blame us? Who on earth wouldn’t choose to drive a large, comfortable all bells and whistles vehicle given the choice. Never mind that it’s a 3.6 litre V6. When they’re cheap to buy, when there’s no graduated road tax encouraging you to buy something smaller and more economical, when petrol is so cheap you barely blink at the fill of a tank, why would it even enter your mind that you’re contributing to global warming. Running adverts on TV telling us that smaller is better isn’t enough.

Car GraveyardOne could argue that people need big cars to travel the massive distances between cities here, but how many people regularly drive across state?

It seems the main reason people need their cars is to drive them from one out-of-town shopping outlet to another. It’s nigh on impossible to shop here without a vehicle, there are so few town centres as we know them.

Governments have responsibilities. We might not like their decisions at times, their carbon or plastic bag taxes, their town planning, but without them would we be so quick to change our habits? We shout and we argue but have to admit that large car and bag taxes changed habits quickly in Ireland – they hit our wallets. Would we have made those changes voluntarily? I somehow doubt it. If life is easy why change it and make it harder for ourselves? That’s not something we’d voluntarily do, it’s not in our nature.

The Coca Cola Shop in Las VegasThe United Stated is a contradiction. It’s “The Land of the Free” but at what cost? It’s a place were you can do almost anything you want, live the life, dream the dream. It’s a place where you can own a gun to make you feel safe but in doing so you’re more likely to get shot because there are more guns in circulation. Benjamin Franklin said:

“The U.S. Constitution doesn’t guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.”

For the past 100 years or so we’ve become more and more reliant on money to give us that happiness, it’s how western economies run, but it’s floundering. The other problem with consumer societies in our non perfect world is that they generally pay little heed to the environmental consequences, it’s not in their financial interest. It’s all about the here and now and not about the legacy we’re leaving future generations. But if countries continue to deplete the earth of its resources, if they continue to sell the idea that we all need to buy more products and own more things, apart from the environmental impact how long will it be before we’ve lost our connection with our planet too (some might argue we’ve done that already)?

RV Towing a Car

RV Towing a Car

Within a very short space of time of living here I have found myself wanting to own the RV that tows a jeep, shop till I drop, gallop on a Palomino across the plains, kayak down the Rio Grande, ride a gleaming Harley Davidson along Route 66 and fill my house with handmade crafts. My table is full of shiny labelled bags having visited shops full of things I “need”. I’d love to live this easy, hot sunny life where I’m no longer struggling along in the dreary grey clouds. When I’m here I want to hold my hands over my ears chanting “lalalalala” loudly like my children used to when they didn’t want to listen to something I had to say. I want to pretend I don’t know or care about what’s happening to our planet.

But I can’t.

However much I think I want it, I know this lifestyle isn’t real, it’s an illusion of happiness, a temporary existence that simply isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later human beings will wake up and realise that material possessions have no real meaning, they’re not important.

When we cast our minds back to our most enjoyable memories they’re about the people we spent time with, the places we visited, the simple activities and pleasures we undertook. Bar one or two items that may have particular sentimental value or make our lives immeasurably easier, long-lasting happiness doesn’t come from the things we own.

Albuquerque Botanical GardensIn my Wisteria Lane life I had to visit a beautiful garden to reconnect, I’ve struggled to find the serenity I was looking for in my perfect home. Although I’ve enjoyed this spoilt lifestyle I’ve felt spiritually disconnected.

Life in Ireland might be a struggle, it’s summers may have turned damp and dull, but it’s greener than many of us realise. Like it or not the recession is doing us a favour, it’s making us re-evaluate what’s important, we’re rediscovering old skills and we talk to our neighbours. It’s making us reconnect with our planet and it’s making life real again.

I like real. Do you?

Travel

Flora & Fauna 5,000 miles from home

August 1, 2012

Flora & Fauna 5,000 miles from homeHow many days does it take you to unwind when you take a break?

Two, three, more? This trip it was five before I felt fully relaxed and it was on this day we chose to visit Albuquerque Botanical Gardens.

Flora & Fauna 5,000 miles from home

I was curious to see how a garden could grow in the middle of a New Mexican city that’s surrounded by brown and red scrubby dirt, dotted with occasional Juniper bushes and river beds run dry.

Flora & Fauna 5,000 miles from home

I couldn’t have been more surprised and delighted. In temperatures up in the high thirties, the gardens were green, colourful, interesting and buzzing with wildlife, which can only be due to an amazing (hidden) irrigation system and dedicated staff, many of whom were volunteers.

Flora & Fauna 5,000 miles from home

There were several themes around the trail from Mediterranean to north African but the two that had me completely enthralled were the pollination and Japanese gardens.

Flora & Fauna 5,000 miles from home

Initially I was reminded of home in the pollination garden, recognising several of the flowers – Rudbeckia, Buddleia, Lilium to name a few and was barely conscious of any insect life. After a short while of quietly peeking into the flower beds, it became clear there was a different hidden world, teeming with life – hummingbirds, butterflies, crickets and beetles, wasps, bees, lizards and dragonflies, all were quietly going about their business while the visitors passed them by.

Flora & Fauna 5,000 miles from home

The Japanese garden was entirely different, a welcome oasis in the searing heat.

Flora & Fauna 5,000 miles from home

Here was tranquility, a garden designed as one should be with twists and turns, hidden paths and trails leading to exciting places – stepping-stones in shallow rivers, waterfalls that enticed you to step behind them. I loved the way the occasional splashes of red weren’t provided by wooden bridges and pergolas, but in the subtle planting schemes.

Flora & Fauna 5,000 miles from home

Dare I say this was my first trip to a Botanical Garden and if anyone’s thinking of visiting this one in Albuquerque I’d highly recommend it. A trip to the Botanical Gardens in Dublin is now top of my priority list when we return home and I’m curious to see how it differs given our very different climatic conditions.

Lifestyle

Leaving a garden in its prime & discovering a new perspective

July 27, 2012

Blue skies – a rare sight in Ireland this summer – but at what price?

I’m taking a break from my garden in Ireland.

There I’ve said it. After a tremendous amount of work and effort to get here, three airports, two plane journeys and over five thousand miles later, we’ve now in the U.S. where we’re staying with close family.

As we’re taking a long break I needed to arrange house sitters to look after our home, cats, dogs, fish, hens and garden and these are now firmly ensconced in our unusually clean and tidy house and I can finally relax.

Part of the reason I’ve been so busy on the run up to this trip is that I’ve had to scrub my house from top to bottom in preparation for our house sitters. That took some doing I can tell you as domestic goddess isn’t one of my usual titles. I cook, clean and tidy but in all honestly can’t remember the last time I washed the skirting boards, swept the cobwebs from the light fittings or cleaned out the hot press.

Freshly decorated

As if that wasn’t enough, a couple of weeks before we set off on our journey I had a notion (as women are apt to do) and got the builders in to finish off some outstanding rendering and plastering work in the hallway, one of the few jobs that needed doing to finish off our house renovations and make it more attractive for our house sitters, which of course added painting, decorating, more hoovering and scrubbing to the already overflowing job list.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the garden in tip-top condition with all the rain we’ve had over recent weeks (and housework!), but it’ll survive. Knowing we’d be away is also why I haven’t sown as many vegetables as usual this year. Just two days before we left my potatoes succumbed to blight and I’ve had to leave the tubers in the ground knowing I wouldn’t be home to dig them up (am hoping the lad who’s cutting the lawns will do that!). My onions will be ready for harvesting while we’re away and all the outdoor strawberries will have come and gone by the time we return.

A new perspective – desert flora

 

It’s difficult leaving gardens that you care for and work so hard at – planning, planting, sowing and then watching them growing – but trips in a lifetime don’t come along that often and I can’t deny the thought of seeing the sun again made it easier! The garden will still be there when we return, though it may take a bit of rediscovering under all the weeds!

Hummingbirds

So now we’re here and the unwinding process is starting to take place. Instead of blogging about damp but gloriously green gardens in Ireland I’ll be sharing a few observations from an exceptionally hot (by Irish standards) and drought ridden Albuquerque in New Mexico – a sprawling city surrounded by desert, where anything remotely green stands out like a flashy neon sign.

My next post will be about one of the most enjoyable days out we’ve experienced in a long time – the Albuquerque Botanical Gardens, where we were enthralled by multicoloured butterflies, entranced by enormous beatles and mesmerised by darting dragonflies.

I hope you’ll join me.