10.02.2007

a mountain journal


9.22.07 travel day

Yesterday was a day of travel & we weren't sure how things would turn out. This area of NM, in the Sacramento Mountains just east of Alamogordo had received much rain over the
summer. It's been over a year since we've been able to come to our property, the last visit happening last July with our friend Stacey & her son Mikey. I had emailed our neighbors who live here permanently just below our property & they reported their road had washed out. It seems to have been a tradition in the 4 years we've owned the property that each trip has been marked by some unforgettable event... our very first trip when our dog Bear died right after we arrived; Stacey & Mikey's first trip with us when the maple syrup exploded on the way up the 4 wheel drive road & Mikey fell & broke his arm on our last evening here, just to recount a few of the more memorable ones. On arrival in Cloudcroft, a wonderfully fragrant drive down the canyon, marveling at the greenness & the smell of balsam fir, like we do with each trip, being the desert dwellers that we are. We started up the mountainside on our road to find that the grass had grown almost to shoulder height on the road; our neighbor's cows were no longer around to free range & keep things under control with their grazing since he had to get rid of them due to his health problems. The road was a bit rutted in places, but my Land Rover on its maiden voyage here pulled the trailer up quite easily, more so than my Chevy 4x4 used to. The big surprise that awaited us was the large evergreen that had fallen right across our normal camp spot during our absence-- our first thoughts were that maybe it had been a good thing we hadn't been able to come over during the summer! Mullein was growing almost in thickets, some at least 2 ft taller than we were, the wild yarrow was the tallest I've ever seen it, & there were some late blooming wildflowers all about. After a cold beer & popcorn, we retired to the camper & fell asleep with temps in the mid 40s. Quite a change from the low 70s or so we've been having in the desert!

9.23.07
This morning we awoke early, enjoyed our coffee & breakfast al fresco, & did our hike down & back up our rocky road. The wind is blowing through the tall evergreens, clouds are scudding across the sky, & I am lying in my hammock writing this, about to have a wonderful nap & then lunch.
In the afternoon, Dennis was a man on a mission. Determined to regain our regular camping spot with its wonderful view of the natural meadow (in the middle of which we had to set up camp on arrival), he broke out his chainsaw to cut up the fallen red fir. Quite a job, as it had been about 80' tall. While he was cutting away, Roux & I wandered around the meadow's perimeter, gathering lichens & tree moss from fallen logs. I had noticed on the fallen fir that it was very plentiful & I plan to try dyeing some of my wool with it. Afterwards, I helped Dennis clear the limbs & branches & together we rolled the large log sections aside. Some of the limbs were rather difficult to remove as the force of the tree's fall had driven them a foot or more into the ground. As soon as he made his last cut, the chainsaw stopped working! We would be able to move camp, but if another tree falls in an inconvenient spot we will have another adventure on our hands. After enjoying cold beer, wine, & another good meal, we watched the sun sink below the tree line. The eerie yet beautiful sounds of elk bugling echoed through the canyon as large dark clouds rolled in. We spent a snug night inside our camper listening to the intermittent sound of rain on the roof.
9.24.07
A day of high winds & fast moving clouds. Big cloud shadows kept sweeping over us & we enjoyed listening to the wonderful noise the wind made as it rushed through the evergreens & oaks while they swayed & rocked. The sound reminds me of how it was to spend the day at the beach windsurfing & the sound of waves when we lived near the Gulf of Mexico or the sound of a rushing river in the Smoky Mountains where we used to backpack.

Yesterday I had the horrible realization that I had forgotten to bring my dye plant identification books, paper sacks & my cutting shears... how could I? Well, I am already planning on how to collect & bring dyestuffs home without having them mold or turn to mush. I am drying out my lichen/tree moss collection from yesterday & will collect more tomorrow since it should be a dry, clear day. I have seen some dry dark red stalks that I think are dock & I will ask our neighbor Loveta tomorrow when we go over to visit her & her husband LeRoy. I will harvest the thick felt-like mullein leaves on our last day here & let them ride home in the camper's refrigerator. I have even realized that I already have some premordanted wool on hand leftover from my last dye run, so I can fire up my dyepots when I get home & use everything I collect while it is still fresh.

Today we did just a little hiking about, down an old dim logging road on our property & over to see an old shack cabin on an adjacent property. Dennis was sore from his tree cutting episode & Roux was stiff from forgetting she's not the young maniac dog that she used to be. Dennis napped in the hammock in the afternoon while I started warping my small loom for the Skin tapestry I have planned. The linen I ordered to use for it from Star Loom Room arrived just in time for our trip.

This evening, the wind suddenly stopped just as if someone had turned off a big wind machine, it became very cool & the skies very clear. We could here choruses of coyotes echoing from all over the canyon & elk song continued all night long in the bright light from the full moon.

9.25.07
After a leisurely breakfast, we took a short hike with Roux down the dim logging road again, then went over & had a nice 3 hour visit with our neighbors, LeRoy & Loveta, who live on the slope below us. In their 70s, they are very cool people & live here full time. They built their home here in the 1970s after he retired from the military using passive solar techniques & local lava rock. LeRoy even walked the woods until he found just the right curved piece of wood to use for the spiral staircase banister. Before they even began building their home, they lived at the bottom of the mountain in a trailer while they planted their orchard of cherry, apple, peach, & pear trees, hauling water to them by hand. They received permission from a local family who had a natural spring on a nearby property to tie into it & run it down the mountain to water the few cows they wanted to raise for help keeping the grasses in the natural meadows in check. LeRoy ran & buried over a mile of piping through the woods over unforgiving, rocky terrain. They have been a font of information about the area, gave us an easement to run electric from their property to ours, & helped us learn what it takes to get & maintain a well in this area. Last year they gave me all of the prunings that I wanted from their orchard to use for dyeing & they almost always give us something delectable from their garden as well-- one year it was mixed greens, another rhubarb, another apples, & this visit we left with a bag of pears. They honor & cherish their land, only using natural methods to maintain what they grow, such as bees for pollination, turkeys & chickens for bug control, & at season's end allowing their cows in to eat the leftovers. We feel so lucky to have them as neighbors.

Loveta confirmed that the plant I had found was dock, so after returning to camp & having lunch, I set about collecting more lichens & tree moss from the trees accompanied by Roux while Dennis logged more hammock time. Later, he found some beautiful flowers to sketch-- Roux was very glad to lend her assistance by napping nearby in the tall, cool grass. I continued plant collecting, as Dennis terms it "in a weed frenzy" clipping dried dock flower stalks with a pair of wire cutters from Dennis' tool kit.

For dinner we decided to give the cook a break & drove the 12 miles into Cloudcroft to order a pepperoni pizza from the little pizza joint & brought it back to camp to enjoy. I had fun driving my Land Rover down our 4x4 road, putting it through its paces. Just before reaching town, we always enjoy the sudden view of Sierra Blanca, a 12,000' peak that makes our 8100' look like small potatoes in comparison. Roux enjoyed the ride there & back, hanging out the window huffing mountain smells (including a stinky skunk spot) & gawking at cows in the pastures & near the road. After dark, before retiring, I got my loom out in the camper & attached the heddles, hoping to get into actual weaving tomorrow.

9.26.07
Ah, roughing it in the wilderness with nothing but piñon nut banana bread toast smothered in natural macadamia cashew nut butter & New Mexico piñon coffee for breakfast! Afterwards, we enjoyed a slow 1 mile hike down our road & up a little of LeRoy & Loveta's, then back up to camp. I had a specific purpose for going up their road, I was looking for roots. Mountain mahogany roots. Their road is deeply cut into the mountainside, leaving many roots to grow out into the roadway. The roots need to be cut back to allow their vehicle to pass without getting all scratched up. One year, Dennis cut the roots back for them & I took a bagful of roots home to share in one of Janie Hoffman's dye workshops. Now, I want more, & although they grow all over the mountain, I don't kill plants when I harvest; getting exposed roots from the banks doesn't kill the plant & more roots grow out over time. I was able to get a few roots & then on the way back up Dennis spotted a small sapling mahogany that was dying with its root center halfway out of the ground. He easily pulled it out. Its root center was larger than a softball, so with the other roots I collected, there will be plenty for a couple of dyeruns at least. I always freeze my woody dyestuffs after a dyerun so that I can reuse them later. Along the hike, I also took some photos of a few wildflowers & the mountainside view of the opposite side of the canyon, where the sun was creating wonderful patterns of shadow & light in the wall to wall evergreens... perhaps the subject of a future tapestry!

Now back in camp, the day promises to be a bit cool, with lots of puffy clouds drifting overhead. Dennis has taken his drawing kit & headed back down the road to sketch some more wildflowers. I also took macro shots of them with my digital camera for him. This way, he can start several sketches & then finish them in the studio at home. He uses primarily pencil, pen & ink, & watercolor pencil. His style reminds me of colorful botanicals, which I like very much. I am readying to set up my table & loom, hopefully to get Skin started today.

9.27.07
I am in the town of High Rolls at the local (& only) general store which functions as the market/fast food joint/laundromat/video rental. High Rolls is the second town down the mountain from Cloudcroft, which doesn't have a laundromat. Not washing our clothes, but rather laundering the washable chux pads I use for Roux. She was diagnosed last year with suspected bladder cancer & has a problem with leakage when she sleeps. We were about to run out of clean pads, so here I am, in a laundromat for the first time in years, leaving dog & man behind in camp.

Yesterday I was able to finish the header on Skin & start the actual weaving, but I am not happy with the one scale I have started & will rip it out to start over if I get to weave today. We are supposed to go over for another visit with LeRoy & Loveta this afternoon; we usually visit them just after we arrive & just before we leave.

Last evening just before starting dinner, a lovely eau de skunk drifted rather strongly through camp. Although we didn't see Mr. (or maybe Ms.) Stinky waddling around, we know it was near because, besides the wonderful odor, I had seen a skunk our first day here digging around in our neighbors cow pen. We kept a close eye on Roux, who was enjoying the smell but didn't budge from her spot in the grass. This morning during our hike before I came into town, I spotted Mr. /Ms. Stinky's footprints in the dusty dirt of our road, so at some point the skunk had passed through there, thank goodness not when we were also walking! Just before we reached camp, I heard a hen turkey calling, & she sounded very close. About 15 minutes later as I was preparing to leave for town & Dennis was enjoying a little cold air basin bath, we were treated to the sight of several adult hen turkeys & about 23 young turkeys running & flying from our neighbor's cow pasture through the edge of our clearing & into the woods. In all the years I've spent outside in the woods & hiking, I don't think I've ever seen that many at once. It was such a beautiful sight.

No weaving today-- by the time I was able to return from town & we had lunch, it was time to go over to LeRoy & Loveta's for a last visit. As always, the visit was wonderful, lasting over 3 hours as we talked about many things. It ended with a wonderful invitation for us to go over tomorrow & pick as many apples as we wanted to take home with us. They will not be home, having to go into Las Cruces for the day, but we will go & get just enough to have to enjoy at home.

A quiet dinner & then into the camper for the night after watching the sun set & seeing the first stars come out. I climbed into bed with Roux for a long bedtime reading session. One light in the camper works from our electricity here, but everything else runs from the battery which we keep charged with a solar panel. During the first two years of coming here, before we had our electric, we ran entirely off the solar panel. We did put in a well the year before last, but had it capped since we aren't able to be here enough to keep it maintained, so we still must haul all the water we will need for the trip with us.

9.28.07
On our last day here, the morning started out with a wonderful experience after breakfast... Dennis had just finished washing the breakfast dishes & I was in the camper taking a basin bath when the campsite was invaded by turkeys, the same flock we had seen the day before yesterday. When we come here, we always bring some wild birdseed to put out for the birds so we can enjoy seeing them—Steller’s jays, dark-eyed juncoes, mountain chickadees, nuthatches. The turkeys had discovered the bonanza & moved in to feast, much to the displeasure of the other birds. We didn't even twitch a muscle so as not to scare them away & enjoyed the sight & sound of the hens & mostly grown poults for 15 minutes or so until an older, wiser hen showed up to warn them away. It is after all, getting pretty close to Thanksgiving! They filed off through our meadow & out of sight down our road in an orderly fashion, probably going off to their roost for the day. We enjoyed seeing their splayed tracks on our dusty road when we took our morning hike a short time later.

After returning from our hike, we headed over to our neighbors' orchard to pick apples. We only took what we felt we could consume back at home-- a dozen eating apples & a little more than a dozen cooking apples which Loveta had told me freeze & keep very well once they've been cored & sliced. Dennis is hoping for one of my "tarts for two" soon after we return home & I am also thinking of a nice apple pie for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year & one of the only ones we actually celebrate. As Dennis & Roux headed back to camp with the apples, I meandered slowly back & collected the big fuzzy mullein leaves. I ended up with two gallon ziplocs completely stuffed full which are now resting safely in the camper fridge. The day has so far been quite warm, so after getting heated up with all of that gathering, I am now enjoying the mountain breezes in the shade of the hammock with a cool glass of tea while Dennis sketches nearby, Roux is stretched out in the grass napping, & ravens fly high overhead squawking & calling to one another. I may break my loom out later on & we are contemplating taking a late afternoon drive up the canyon towards Cloudcroft so I can get some photos of the gold aspens on the other side of the canyon.









I do get my loom out, but heavy eyelids from warm temps (mid 70s) combined with cool breezes and the realization that my unhappiness with the weaving's start is due to not having a certain color, cause me to abandon the loom for the hammock. Dennis has set up his sketching nearby & Roux joins us. I am covered with my sheepskin & slightly rocking in the breeze and just as I have that delicious feeling of sinking into a nice nap, it suddenly begins to rain. We have a mad dash to rescue sketching materials, my loom & weaving stuff, the hammock & dog to get it all back up to the camper to dry safety. We continue to have showers, hail, thunder & lightening the rest of the afternoon, evening, & part of the night. No ride through the canyon to see aspen & "emergency soup" inside the camper for dinner, but, nonetheless, we enjoy seeing the rain come sweeping through the canyon, watching the sudden drop in temperature to the 50s, and hearing the rolling, echoing booms of thunder. Just before dark, our hummingbird feeder receives a very brief & ethereal visit from the magnificent hummingbird! One look at this sparrow sized bird lets one know how it received its name. We play cards, crazy 8s, into the early night before retiring. Dennis is very gleeful that he has won almost every hand during this whole trip since it is usually the other way around.

9.29.07 going home
During the night the rain subsided & winds began. We awoke early to a damp, cool morning to enjoy our last cup of coffee under the camper's awning. Always at this time, the day we travel back to our desert home, we have mixed feelings-- ready to go home for real baths & a very comfortable bed, but knowing we will miss the quiet solitude of our mountain paradise when we are back in the business of city life in the Old Pueblo. It has been over a year since we have visited this property. The events of our lives this year kept us from visiting as often as we normally do. But it was here waiting for us, even though it lay half forgotten in the back of our minds. Now, we have refreshed ourselves by disconnecting from the routine of our normal lives & we have also refreshed our connection to this little piece of the mountain that we feel so lucky to own. We are already looking forward to next year's visits. With camper in tow, gear stowed, & rover ensconced safely in the Rover, we head down the mountain back home to the desert with dreams of cabin building in our heads.













1 comment:

Shelley said...

Thanks for sharing your mountain adventures. Your neighbors, LeRoy and Loveta remind me of my grandparents. I spent summers at their cabin in the Bradshaws, near Prescott. There are so many familiar details the lichen and mullein, the turkeys and the washed out roads. I long to hear the wind in those trees and to smell that mountain air.