Archive for July, 2010

Rain, Rain…

July 28, 2010

Sunday morning around 10:30, Jim ambled in from taking the guinea pigs outside and said: “It’s misting, but I think they’ll be okay. The hutch is pretty sheltered.” I agreed. Morning rain rarely lasts in Albuquerque.

The mist stopped misting about a half hour or so later. Soon Jim and I were peddling our bikes along our usual route through our neighborhood, admiring the neighbor’s flowers.

Colors get particularly intense on just the right sort of cloudy day. This was one. We’re moving into the time when crepe myrtle, rose of sharon, and various other perennial shrubs are in perfect form, reds and pinks complimenting the yellows of wild sunflowers and the pale orange of globe mallow.

We’d just rounded a corner and were chuckling at three small kittens out playing in front of an open garage door, as their mother sprawled on the driveway keeping an eye on them, when the mist returned. In less than half a block, it was raining, not hard, but with enough force that we were getting decidedly damp.

We pulled up under a small tree and waited for the rain to stop. It always does. Except this time it didn’t. It got harder. We moved to the shelter of a somewhat larger tree. Two young girls we’d seen over on another street splashed by on their own bikes, delighted to be getting soaked. The rain got harder. We realized it wasn’t going to stop and turned for home. Because of the twistings of our route, we were only a half mile or so from home, but we were completely soaked by the time we got back.

And for the next ten hours or so, the rain didn’t quit. Oh, it would stop for an hour or so (we brought in four damp guinea pigs during one break), but the sky never cleared. By early evening, Jim recorded two inches of rainfall since that morning. We had probably gotten more, since the rain gauge was full and, anyhow, it isn’t a very good one. (Who needs a good rain gauge here?)

To put this into perspective for those of you who don’t live in the Albuquerque area, our average annual rainfall is seven and a half inches. Annual. That means in ten hours we got over a quarter of our annual allotment. Now, to be fair, the late July monsoons are when we get most of that rain. The other time is a spell in mid-September and another in late December, but even so this was remarkable. Our part of New Mexico averages 300 sunny days a year.

Rainfall can also vary widely in various parts of town. A friend who lives a twenty minute drive away reported only a little over a half inch over the three days that included our flooded Sunday.

Years ago, when I still lived in Virginia, I wrote a science fiction novel called Smoke and Mirrors (published in 1996 from AvoNova books). Smoke and Mirrors begins on a frontier planet called Arizona. Arizona was actually inspired more by my readings about the Arabian desert than by the state of that name. It was certainly not inspired by New Mexico, which, at the point when I was writing the book, I think I’d only visited once.

(Never make the mistake of equating copyright date with writing date! There’s often quite a lag, especially with a new author. I just checked the contract. Smoke and Mirrors was sold in January of 1995. I wrote it in full before it was sold. It wasn’t released until June 1996).

Anyhow, I made the planet Arizona what it was because dry, desiccating desert was about as far as I could get from wet, lush south-central Virginia. And, ironically, here I am, living in a dry land of sunshine and almost no rain. I’m living in my own alien world.

Local newspaper columnist Jim Belshaw wrote once that New Mexico is the only place where he has ever lived that when it starts raining people get up from their desks, drift to the window, watch the rainfall, and then drift back, quietly smiling. I find myself doing the same thing. On Sunday, I stretched out on the sofa, watched the rain fall, and found myself grinning ear to ear.

Leaping Lizards!

July 21, 2010

When I was growing up “back East,” lizards were rare and wondrous creatures. We occasionally glimpsed them scuttling away from beneath a bit of fallen wood or saw them clinging to the damp side of a rock. They’d be gone practically before we could register they were there.

Where the lizards roam

The same cannot be said of the lizards who share my yard here in New Mexico. We have lots of lizards, mostly of two varieties: the Fence Lizard and the New Mexico Whiptail. (Note: I haven’t looked these up. These are the names I was told. Please feel free to contribute details!).

The Fence Lizard is fairly small. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one much larger than five inches long. They’re greyish-brown, marked with not-quite-stripes in darker hues of the same colors. Their skin is just a little bit rough, not quite as rough as that of a horny toad, but not smooth like that of a snake or skink.

We have lots of Fence Lizards, including, right now, some babies about an inch long. These dart across the patio, fooling you for just a second into thinking they’re bugs, before dashing to the shelter of the garden. They’re really, really cute!

(The garden, by the by, has filled out considerably since I wrote about experimenting with compost trenches and seedlings earlier this year. I’ve picked over a gallon of beans in the last two days. We’re having a great zucchini crop. The Hungarian peppers are starting to ripen. So are the oriental cucumbers. But back to lizards…).

The New Mexico Whiptail is a much showier lizard. Like the Fence Lizards, they come in shades of grey and brown with hints of stripes. However, the Whiptail’s smooth, almost satiny, skin is overshot with an iridescent blue sheen.

The Whiptails are larger than Fence Lizards. I’ve seen a few in our yard as long as eight inches. This includes a long, slender tail.

Or sometimes, rather, includes a ghost of a tail, since, like many types of lizards, the Whiptail will sacrifice her tail to escape a predator. This saves Whiptails from becoming the snacks of roadrunners and wandering house cats, both of which seem to find them endlessly fascinating.

What’s really interesting about Whiptails is that they are functionally parthenogenetic. That is, they only have females. Apparently, the females lay already fertile eggs which hatch more females. I’d never realized that a creature as complex as a lizard managed to reproduce with only one gender. I’d thought that was reserved for simple plants or invertebrate animals. Or for humans in Science Fiction stories…

I like the lizards. I like their energy. They go dormant in the winter, but reappear on sunny days, the perfect opportunists. I guess you could say that, for me, lizards may be no longer rare, but they certainly remain very wondrous.

Life is What Happens

July 14, 2010

“Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

My Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations doesn’t list that one (and I don’t feel like roaming off to Google to check it out), but certainly that could be the chapter heading quotation for this past week.

I’ll skip over the complexities that colored the earlier part of the week, because these things are all still up in the air, unsettled, and uncertain. Instead, I’ll talk about how water on the floor can sure mess up your day – or a couple of days.

If you’d asked me and Jim on Sunday morning what our day was going to be like, we would have answered something like the following: go ride bikes, then come home, get some brunch, do some housekeeping and cooking, head out, run a few errands, and get home in time to put the finishing touches on the dinner we intended to share with our good friends John and Gail.

Well, this held together through the bike riding and brunch. Then we turned to housekeeping and cooking. I was in the kitchen in the process of transforming fresh apricots from our friend Michael Wester’s tree into apricot brown betty (and keeping an eye on a pot of whole wheat pasta for a pasta salad) when Jim came into the kitchen, a worried look on his face, and began rooting around in a drawer.

“I think we have a leak. There’s water on the floor in the laundry room. Nothing wrong in the furnace cabinet. I’m going to take off the ventilation cover and check underneath.”

Well, with that simple declaration, our day was transformed. No errands. Phone calls to plumbers (fortunately, we have an excellent Roto Rooter group we have worked with in the past). Eventually, there came the arrival of a very nice plumber named Ryan and a round of diagnostics that told us what the problem was not, if not precisely what it was.

Ryan departed with promises of more experienced plumbers to arrive the following afternoon. We decided to go ahead with having John and Gail over to dinner. After all, we could keep ahead of most of the water, now that we knew it was there (if not from where it was coming), and they are good company, just what we needed after a trying day.

So after John and Gail left, I cleaned up the dinner mess while Jim mopped the floor one more time. We put off running the dishwasher. When faces were washed and teeth brushed, we turned off the water into the house.

Monday. If on Saturday you’d asked me what Monday would be, I could have told you. Jim works at home on Mondays. We share our joint office and pretty much ignore each other except for a break to ride our bikes and another for lunch. I even have a regular phone date with my friend, Sally.

This Monday, we got up feeling ragged. Turned the water back on long enough to shower and run the dishwasher, all too aware that water was dripping in at the rate of about a gallon an hour. Then we turned the water off again.

We called Roto Rooter and learned that they couldn’t have anyone over until after noon, so we went out to ride our bikes. Exercise is great for stress. Came home. Around 10:30 a.m., there was a call from Roto Rooter saying they could have a crew over quite soon.

Another break in plans, but this one welcome.

The team arrived. We’d thought the problem was related to work we’d had done the year before, and therefore under warranty. Bad news. It was not. I put aside my work and called the insurance company to notify them and find out procedure for a claim. Meanwhile, holes are being sawed in my walls…

Sally calls at noon. We have a decent talk, but I’m certainly distracted by three plumbers and Jim all busy figuring out what’s wrong and how to fix it. Jim eventually reports that it looks as if the floor won’t need to be jack-hammered up. I relax a little.

Later, the plumbers leave, but the insurance company wants someone to come and tell us whether the walls need to be dried before they can be patched. This is a new one on me. In New Mexico dry, not wet, is usually the problem. So more of Monday is spent waiting and wondering.

Eventually, the technician arrives. He tells us we don’t need a dry-out since the most effected parts of the wall board will need to be cut out anyhow. What a relief! Even so, there will still be holes in the wall to be patched, insurance adjusters to be called, paint to be purchased so that the patches will match the surrounding walls. And, of course, bills to be paid.

Why doesn’t more of this stuff happen in fiction? Miss Marple never gets distracted from the murder by her plumbing leaking. Honor Harrington never gets told that there isn’t enough cocoa and she’s going to have to settle for coffee as she races into battle. The Dragon Riders of Pern never seem to run out of whatever it is they feed the dragons.

On the other hand, the very stuff of adventure and excitement is the murder, battle, crisis that interrupts those “other plans.” Compared to that, a puddle on the floor isn’t much. Right?

Rolling Rockets’ Red Glare

July 7, 2010

Amazing experience the night of July Fourth…

Jim, Chip, and I had gone down to Belen for a cook-out at the home of our friends Kathy Hedges and Walter Jon Williams. Despite excellent company and lots and lots of food (or maybe because of the latter), by about nine o’clock the three of us were beat and ready to make the drive home.

Belen is a forty-five minute drive from where we live in Albuquerque. On the way down, we’d taken the “surface roads.” These wind through the South Valley area of Albuquerque before melting into farmlands (northern New Mexico style, which means lots of scrubby pasture and rocks populated by a scattering of horses and cattle, with these pastures, in turn, interspersed with occasional plots of growing things), and then into lands owned by Isleta Pueblo, before going back into farmlands and then into Belen.

I like this drive because I’ve always been a sucker for staring out the car window and enjoying whatever is offered. This time, since we’ve been behind on rain, I did a lot of noticing of how dry things have been, but noted the calves looked healthy.

But I wander. (But then again, isn’t that the point of this?)

Anyhow, for the trip home we decided to take the I-25 expressway since it would be too dark to see much of anything.

Boy, oh, boy, were we ever wrong!

We’d forgotten that this was Fourth of July and that full dark was just falling. (In fact, when we’d walked to our car, the skies had been this amazing shade of grey-blue with undertones of pale lemon, rather than the more usual velvet black scattered with stars).

With the fall of darkness, the fireworks shows had begun and we were in a perfect position to enjoy the greatest display ever. I don’t know New Mexico’s regulations on fireworks displays, but I suspect that, in the spirit of Independence, they were being a bit flouted that night. Everywhere we looked, fireworks were shooting up into the air, exploding into showers of sparks and colors.

I’ve seen some fancy shows, carefully choreographed displays that leave you going “ooh” and “aah,” marveling that anyone could arrange chemicals and rockets so that they produce such astonishingly varied shapes and colors.

This wasn’t one of those coordinated productions. This time the shapes were basic – rounds bursts and cascades, occasionally multiple clusters of either or both. The colors tended toward gold and silver, interspersed with reds and greens, dotted with occasional bits of blue or violet (my personal favorites).

What was extraordinary was the sheer quantity and exuberance of the fireworks. For the duration of our drive (which was largely at 75 miles an hour, flat-out and smooth) the skies to either side were never empty of these human-made stars.

Sometimes a more tightly clustered display would hint at a small town celebration, making me imagine some park where replete New Mexicans were sprawled on picnic blankets or in folding chairs, enjoying not only the fireworks but the shared pleasure of their companions. More often the fireworks came up one at a time, hinting at a few friends having a private show.

We sped through it all, oohing and aahing, telling Jim (who did a yeoman job of remembering to keep the car on the road) what we were seeing. Except for our conversation, this was a purely visual show. No explosions penetrated above the hum of the car engine. No scent of gun powder filled the air or stung the eyes.

At the end, we turned into our little street to find our neighbors still involved in the annual informal event of setting off small (all absolutely legal) fireworks in our street. After seeing Chip off, Jim and I wandered over to join the party.

Now we were part of the noise and laughter, the oohs and ahhs and thoughtful assessments of this one rather than that. Over the tops of the houses, we could glimpse some of our neighbors’ celebrations and be reminded that all around the skies of New Mexico were alight with fireworks.