Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Back to the Grind of Everyday Living

I must say the hiking trip was an adventure. Learned a lot each day. Elderhostel always has a great group of adults, say those who've participated in trips numerous times. How can one imagine a better group of folks repeatedly? Well, it happens. What rarely happens is that friends made on one trip never meet again. They are reduced to email addresses.

Our group came from various states from the West Coast to the East Coast with Canada thrown in twice: Ontario and British Colombia. All were experienced hikers, save yours truly. But I learned more from that one trip than any in which I could have participated. These hikers were my cheering squad, always tolerant of my inept attempt at hiking. My main problem was breathing in the altitude of 7,000ft and above.

Now I'm back in sultry Mississippi, still waiting for the completion of our home's remodeling. Workmen these days seem to imitate the turtle. I'm tired of living in two rooms, facing three rooms' worth of furniture and accessories. So I had a let down when I entered the doors to discover that I had forgotten where I'd placed anything of necessity. Took me three days to find the envelopes (I know, I could have gone to the PO and bought some); four hours to unearth my date book; and one day of constant searching to find some cooler clothes. However, I'm attempting to stay level headed, ignore the heat wave, pray for rain, and enjoy not cooking for a few more weeks.

Why complain? I shouldn't. Sis and I missed tornadoes hitting us in Texas by a few miles and braced for an accident that, luckily, didn't happen. Every driver in the lane behind us in Ft. Worth, looking like they were hitting 75 miles an hour with only a yard or two to brake, stopped.

Sis and I had a great time together. I'll need a vacation of rest at least for six months; however, Sis already is planning another Elderhostel trip. Let's wait until fall, Sis, OK?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"The Worst Climb is Over, Now Just Keep Going. . ."

Our crew of 18 is my cheering squad. Wednesday, I managed to hike up Tsankaii Trail, which was difficult for me, but I got to the top and back with the muscles in my legs in a knot. The trail weaved around some tuff (ashes of volcano hardened and containing stones); or it led us to the edge of a cliff. Often we put our feet in steps that had been worn in rock (made by early Indians?)lifting one foot in front of the other to propel us forward; climbing up and down typical Indian ladders (that first step the longest), and at other times squeezing between rocks with our backpacks on. The trail was up and up and I wasn't sure I could make it, but I wouldn't have complained for anything. I did find other hikers who had knee problems and needed some time off. My backpack, which has a reservoir for water, was really good, as holding anything in my hands was difficult when maneuvering in and around the rocks. All I had to do was sip the end of a tube hanging beside my left shoulder.

By the time we got to Bandelier National Park, I said goodbye to the others and sat out the two hours. Fortunately, there were several who felt the same as I and this gave us time to get acquainted more.

Leaving Bandelier at 3 pm we with cars headed to Abiquiu, some 2 hours north on 84. The scenery seemed much like the desert of Western movies. Actually our next home for three nights and two days would be Ghost Ranch some 15 miles north of Abiquiu on the road to Chama.

Today,Thursday, the "easy" path for everyone but YOU KNOW WHO was to Chimney Rock, on the acreage managed by Ghost Ranch. After vowing I'd sit this one out, loyal suporters told me to ignore my frozen thigh muscles and hit the trail, that I'd feel better when I started. Hah! I made it up the steepest hill, huffing and puffing enough for four people, so loudly I couldn't hear the explanation of the paleontologist who was pointing to thoursands of years old-algae and lichen. When I reached the rest of the group, they began climbing again. "You've done the worst, just keep going," was the mantra of the few who felt compelled to urge me on. I gave out after trying the next hill, sat on a rock and promised the hikers to stay intact until they returned.

Downhill later proved to test my knees, my thighs, my eyesight (I looked down hiking up and down the hills), so hitting bottom was like a refreshing drink of water.

Let's face it. Despite drinking so much water I thought I'd be the next Old Faithful in reverse, I knew that my problem was the altitude. Of course, there are the muscles unused to such punishment, but breathing some several hundred feet more than the 7,000 plus feet is difficult.

I took the afternoon off and napped while the experienced ones went to Box Canyon. Humph! I'd hiked one canyon, and this is more difficult. I've sense to know when to quit.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Did Someone Say " Hiking"?

Thinking we were in fine fettle to hike a few miles, Sis and I were the slow ones on a trip Monday up a mountain some thousand feet higher than Santa Fe. Following a trail called Dick Ball, perhaps because he cleared it, we were grateful for the level areas, trudging up the small hills that seemed so easy(and were to the more experienced hikers) that suddenly I felt my breathing labored. I swallowed so much water, that I felt I'd float to the top, but a few minutes rest helped me catch up. After two miles up Sis and I quit the others who wanted to hike further. We knew we'd only drag the others down waiting for us, so we hit the down trail slowly and rested for 30 minutes, wondering if we'd made a good decision to try this vacation.

Today, Tuesday, we'll hike in a canyon, tomorrow the Bandelier Park, which will be some up and down walking, and then on to Abiquiu. We have discovered that we don't have the right clothers for the very cold, windy afternoons and mornings. But we are still with the group, despite fighting a cold or an allergy picked up on the mountain.

Monday, April 16, 2007

109 East Palace

My neighbor V insisted that I purchase a copy of the above named book and read it as Sis and I drifted towards Santa Fe. It is the story of the secretive nature of those who were engaged in planning and executing the Atomic Bomb. I've capitalized the words because, although it helped us win against the Japanese in WWII, there is an awesome, penetrating feeling one receives when the story gets to the actual day of the first bomb test.

Sis and I visited 109 E. Palace the other day and to our regret, a linen shop was in the same building that had been set up as a undercover office to serve as a starting point for all physicists, their families, military personnel, and other needed workers. Locals didn't know what lay behind the iron gate; that inside the white lintel entranceway one who entered, "disappeared."

I lived through this war and somehow I'd forgotten about the AB. Years of peace and wars in other foreign soils, growing up and raising my own family, I was caught up in the "now." All the time, work was going on at Los Alamos, NM, a short hour's drive from Santa Fe. Even the Santa Feans didn't know that on a mesa past the San Idelfonso Reservation, history was in the making.

We didn't complete the book before visiting Los Alamos. The road leading to the mesa began a mix of mind pictures playing at rapid speed as we drove up and up and up. We were remembering the descriptions of the difficulty of military vehicles carrying precious cargo on muddy roads, the vistas that were seen by the newly arrivals, and once on the mesa top, we saw nothing that those who had to live in secret saw. A thriving city with all the modern conveniences...just the opposite for the workers and their families.

Los Alamos has two museums: the Bradbury Science Museum which gives a brief history in photographs and then gives hands-on science information. Extensive material on the components of "Fat Boy" and "Little Man" (named after W. Churchill and FDR) that were the forerunners to the bombs dropped on Hiroshima snd Nagasaki. Displays of research being done now to "serve national security, eneregy, health, and environmental research needs", as the pamphlet handed out states. This is a wonderful science lesson for young people. The history is quite complete, a number of lessons in themselves about the progress and timeline and what was being done at Los Alamos at the same time war was being raged in Europe.

Visiting the History Museum on the former campus of a boys' ranch that was appropriated by the U. S. Army for the research, gives tangible remains of life on top of the mesa. Life under secrecy wasn't ideal by any means, and while the physicists worked long hours day and night trying to beat the Germans, whom it was reported were already working on a bomb, their wives were attempting to carve out a semblance of daily life putting up with poor electricity, little heat (the mesa is 7,355 ft. high), improper kitchen equipment, vegetables that rotted in transport, little fruit, and anything you can imagine could be devastating so far from civilization. Yet, the persistence of these women to provide a balance without being able to contact their families, who knew nothing of their husbands' work for years, should be rewarded. As should the military personnel who were stationed there.

The local bookstore displayed all the various books that have been written about this project, led admirably by J. Robert Oppenheimer, a quiet man who deceived those under him as to his ability to keep the large group filled with hope and working to capacity. 109 E. Palace isn't the last of the stories I'm going to read. Written by the Jennet Conant, granddaughter of James Conant, who played a part in this secretive world, has compressed into a readable account the story from its early days to the decisions made afterwards as to the use of Los Alamos. Although there are many others who've done this, hers is the latest to be published. There are books written by WACS who served during that time, a book of some of the workers, giving their photos during the period, as well as an up-to-date one. On one page they've written of their time at Los Alamos.

Some interesting highlights(or low points) of life there: everyone had the same address, Box 1663; workers were given numbers on their security passes; important persons were given fictional names and everyone called the other only by a first name; no outsiders for years knew where their sons or daughters were working--just "somewhere"; no one could get off the mesa without special permission, so local inhabitants were asked to provide R/R for the overworked physicists and their wives; there was no shopping for the women, poor laundry services, so they began to wear overalls that would take the wear and tear of dirt.

When you visit Los Alamos, you can also see the Jemez Mountains that are the result of a volcano that erupted and left these mesas or peninsulas. Bandelier National Park adjoins and is a testament to the early Indian settlements who left petroglyphs on cliff walls, as well as dwellings set back in cave areas formed by the volcano. The area of the volcano eruption is Calles Caldera, a national preserve. One can see the deep depression left after the eruption.

Everyone should be reminded of the path that led to the development of the bomb, the results of that destruction, the terrible feeling the physicists felt knowing their hard work would kill thousands of people.

I hope generations to come will study this time in history.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Acoma: Then and Now

My adult children were 8, 11, and 12 years respectively, when the family journeyed west on THE BIG TRIP. We were heading to California on a two-week whirlwind of spots I could remember having taken when I was 13 years old with my parents.

Memory only serves me now, as I didn't keep a journal in the 1960's. But we all remember the Acoma reservation. A simple sign directed us off Interstate 40, which had been Highway 66 in my teen years. This side road was unpaved but layered with rocks and seemed endless. Finally, we arrived at another sign that indicated only a few more miles, and the Chrysler pulling our pop-up trailer groaned as it labored up a steep hill, R being carefull not to slide backwards. At the first level area, we parked and followed visitors before us scrambling up some stone stairs. To our kids, this was an adventure.

Suddenly we were on top of a mesa. An Indian posted near the steps pointed us to a tiny shack you'd think was for a watchman. Inside we were told to leave our cameras behind while visiting. No photos of anything. Outside in the sunny, slightly windy day a guide accepted a fee and led a small group of us immediately to the church, a grey structure founded by a Catholic priest in the 1800's. We listened intently as our guide sadly told us that only a handful of inhabitants were on the mesa, losing all the young people to civilization below. And, these older people living still without electricity, water, and sanitation were the last of the Acoma people. They made their living by continuing the practice of pottery making. Hand throwing and decorating pots large and small with the needles of the yucca plant and dyes made from nature, these few people sat in front of their adobe clad homes, hoping for the dollars they'd earn from us. So few houses were on the mesa that we visitors felt we were seeing the decline of an ancient peoples, remnants of the Anazazi. We backtracked down the stone steps to the car and trailer with the several pots we'd bought from one of the old women when she finished decorating them with her needle-like brush.

Now, forty years later Sis and I reached the turnoff at I40, checked into the Sky City Hotel/Casino for a night's rest before visiting the mesa the next morning. This time we followed a paved road, passing several housing projects, two churches, a council building, a Headstart building, two schools, a water tower, electrical lines, and television antennas. Something had been happening all the while my children were growing into adults. Sky City had grown up, too.

We arrived at a cultural center housing a museum, cafe, and gift shop. Our tickets cost us $11 and we were whisked off in a small bus up the mountain. I was aghast at the change from primitive to modern. The first thing we saw as we advanced towards the mesa were the dotting of small shacks in gray, blue and white-- the familiar portable latrines. Now, I call that good progress.

The second surprise was seeing the breath-taking views again. The third was the number of houses on the mesa. Through visitors' fees and pottery purchases, the Acoma had courted their young, building schools and teaching them an almost forgotten culture and language, and employing the young as guides. The housing projects had enticed families to return to their land.

Our guide was Kathleen, attending a local Albuquerque college. The day was dreary, an icy slush was falling, and we skidded and picked our way in the mud that refused to leave our shoes. She said the Acoma population that had moved away now had second homes they'd built in which to reside during sacred ceremonies held several times a year. This accounted for the increase in the number of dwellings on top. Having no building codes, some of the homes were very modern, sitting next door to an ancient structure. Her explanation of mesa life had lengthened to an hour and a half, reminding us of Coronado's twice visit to destroy everything Acoma. Now with progress, permanent residents park their cars and drive to and from stores below. Improved construcion methods are used to ward off deterioration from wind and bad weather. However, there is still no electricity nor running water. No television sets, microwaves, or other modern conveniences. Cisterns are now more available, so no one has to go far to fill a container of water; as of years earlier,when a frail Indian woman slipped deftly down a worn path to the springs below, dipping her pail and picking her way back up to supply the household for the day.

In the final moments she led us to the opposite side of the mesa where we could see below the cultural center, the winding road up to the mesa,and another breath-taking vista. She pointed to hewn rock steps and announced that early visitors had had to clammer to reach the top. My mind hadn't failed me. I looked at the steps and remembered the tough time R and I had maneuvering three kids and ourselves to the top. I smiled. Kathleen said that nowadays visitors no longer use the steps because they are deemed too perilous. Ha! I thought, visitors today are just wimps!

Instead of several older Indian women selling wares, there were a dozen, much younger, the sons and daughters (or maybe grandchildren) from whom we'd bought our pots. I recognized some of the names. They appear on the bottoms of our black and white pots sitting on a table in Madison, MS--still as beautiful as the day so long ago they were bought.

On the Road Again

It's exhilerating being on the open road. Whenever R and I travel, we get to the next state, pull out our wine glasses, open a bottle of our favorite and toast to the words Carman Miranda sang oh so many years ago: "Cuanta le gusta, le gusta, le gusta,(2 more le gustas), cuanta le gusta, le gusta, le gusta. We gotta get goin' where we're goin', what're we gonna do? We're on our way to somewhere, the two of us and you..." So every new exciting landscape promoted this ritual.

This week my sister and I headed for Santa Fe and the prospect of hiking the hills around the area and around Abiquiui. We made it to New Mexico by Thursday night, staying in a casino hotel near the Acoma Reservation. It just happened to be the only place to stay after missing an exit in Albuquerque. However, we were close to the place where we'd tour the Acoma mesa, meaning we could sleep later than usual. When we awoke on Friday morning, we were greeted with a snow slush that had fallen during the night. Quite a foretelling of what to expect on the Acoma reservation.

The tour was under slushy rain that only made the dirt streets a sea of mud, slippery to execute in places, but 15 interested souls got their best walking shoes caked with mud, followed the tour guide, and rejoiced that the Acoma were increasing bringing back their young and building homes to live in during ceremonial days.

And the weather was cold! We wondered if there would be more slush and cold weather, whether the hiking would be limited during our week. After all, this is an Elderhostel trip, and we didn't know the ages or health of our future fellow hikers. That is to be seen on Sunday night in Santa Fe at the Ghost Ranch campus in the heart of town.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Few Yard Blooms

Garden books lie around the living room for most of the year, inspiring me to dig at the first sign of warm weather. However, these tomes don't push me into the yard, place gloves on my hands and pads on my knees. I'm not a gardener. My yard produces the same flowering trees and shrubs that we planted ten years ago because we had to have something blooming seasonally.

What novices we were the first year we feverishly dug, planted, watered and fertilized! Tomato plants put into the ground at the roots we discovered later should have been planted deep so only the tops show. Our choice spot for a pecan tree became overshadowed by faster growing bushes killing it before we ever saw a nut. The fruit trees refused to grow, despite the book advice for fertilizing. Two hickory trees caught blight and died, their skeletal remains standing 36 months. After a few years of a yard full of pine needles,and the difficulty of raking them from a vast area,the Boss gave the orders to workmen, who felled over 75 pines, their limbs lying in the yard for a year. Trunks went to pulp mill. We couldn't make a dent in clearing the twigs and dead needles. No one would take the job for 24 months, despite decent pay.

We bought the property because of over a hundred trees. During house construction, we dared the contractor cut a single tree! After the Big Cut, our adult kids fumed. We had destroyed the country look of our home, they sobbed. Pleas were ignored. Starting over, we planted one tree or shrub at a time, carefully listening to the nurseryman explain the size of the holes, and how to fertilize and water. Somehow this time around we became wiser to the ways of nature. Today we're proud of our Japanese maples, the two Grandfather Graybeards, a few dogwoods and the azalea bushes that keep blooming, despite our neglect.

When spring arrives and I want cut flowers, I buy them arranged in pots and scatter them in the yard. The fun is in selecting the colors and types of blooms I want to greet every morning when I pick up the morning paper.

Dear Miss Phillipines

Ohh, you naughty girl! You're one of those who loves to shop! But, three hundred dollars of cosmetics and facial creams?? AND tickets via CEBU Air--three thousand dollars worth??

Well, Dear, I hope you enjoyed spending my money. I know, you wouldn't have bought my debit card number and my name and address if I hadn't been a bit smug about using one, saying, "I'm safe. No one will get my number!" I like using a debit card because I know my balance immediately. No invoices to have to check each month. There is such ease with the D/C card! I'm not angry at you. Just at myself for being so stupid.

OK, I've learned my lesson. The card is in six pieces, and your next purchase will be denied. The bank promises me a reimbursement of the entire amount in a few weeks. Not expecting such generosity, I'm not inquisitive as to the method. Thankfully, I've enough in my account to cover this spending spree! Otherwise, I'd been another notch on the handle of identity thievery.

What'd ya pay for this fun--$10?--now you'll hav'ta fork over another 10 bucks to become someone else. You are no longer Vivian Newkirk.

P.S. Dear Reader, if you are as stupid as I've been and still use a debit/credit card, tear it up immediately.