A spinal injury has kept me out of the field this year. I am hoping to return within a few months. Please be patient. I will be as well.
Snow of the Cottonwoods
In the bright, warm afternoon a light breeze makes the small, heart-shaped cottonwood leaves flash the glistening sunlight. The only sound is the rushing Rio Grande. White tufts from the trees fall thick as a heavy snow and coat the ground.
Last night two large raccoons foraged through the camp. I shined a flashlight on one and he turned toward me. His eyes were bright green; sort of an eerie color in the darkness. Today a camper told me that his neighbor’s ice chest was raided and he lost the only trout he had caught, a big Brown that was put aside for dinner. Although, obviously not intended for the raccoon’s dinner. Raccoons and bears make a good living on unsecured caches of food.
Novice campers, mostly from a city, are a welcome sight when they are a hundred yards or so away. The night scavengers will be so busy with the bounty of goodies at those camps they pose no problem elsewhere.
Low western streaks of sunlight make shadows across the campground. Little is moving. The rabbits and squirrels have yet to come out and start making their rounds searching for small bits of food. There are also birds, plus deer and peccaries when the moon is right.
I smile. My mind has taken me back to days in the Appalachian forest with my family. I could hardly wait for the right time of year to go out and dig sassafras root with Nana. In the autumn my father and I would tramp through the woods from first light to last with our squirrel guns, not really caring how many squirrels we got. It was being out there in the wilds together that was important. And when we got home all dirty and sweaty and wore out Mama always had that same smile that promised love and warmth and hot cocoa in a big iron pot. I liked the rubbery skin on the top best and would always try to get to it first, just like chocolate pudding.
If you have never had real hot chocolate made in a big ol’ iron pot, sweetened with honey and then a sprinkle of cinnamon on top in your cup, you missed something special. The steam off the top smells just like it came from Heaven and that first sip is pure magic. Well, if you do not burn your lips.
It is a funny thing how people deal with memories when they get older. It seems that most folks want to grieve about the past, the things they used to have or what they can no longer do and it makes them sad. For me, looking back with joy is a heck of a lot more fun. I once heard a psychologist say that every time you reminisce with joy in your heart you add another day to your life. I sort of hope not. I might live to be 200 years old and I have enough trouble working the electronic gizmos of today.
Actually, the best thing on this particular day was not electronic but a Vermillion flycatcher that landed on a post not far from my camp. He sat there long enough for a bit of bird modeling. Though, being without my tripod made steadying the camera at 20-power a challenge, for sure.
The Weather Witch is calling for a thunderstorm tonight and that excites me. Southwest thunderstorms are truly dramatic. Spielberg would have a hard time besting such a production. Hail can fall in any month of the year. Both air-conditioner shrouds on my RV roof have holes made by ice balls, mostly about the size of a golf ball. (I am pretty sure I have never been parked by a course where Shack was playing). At times it is almost like being under artillery fire. That, I do not like. The lightning displays, however, are magnificent, sometimes continuing long after the rain has stopped, spiking across the black sky, daring anyone over the height of a Leprechaun (notice that in an effort to be politically correct I chose a mythical creature here so as to not raise the ire of midgets and dwarfs) to venture out. It appears she was right. The sky is now without birds or flying insects and the ants have gone underground even though the sun is shining.
Being out of Wifi range the critters are my best source of weather prediction other than NOAA, aka the Weather Witch; the only weather source that is usually as accurate as critters and my grandmother.
The wind has been raging for three days now. Attempts to venture out were not very pleasant. Broken tree limbs are scattered around, some big enough to spear a convertible car top and really wreck your ‘do.’ One would think that with 20 – 30mph wind, gusting to 50mph insects would not be a bother. One would be wrong. Desert insects adapt to their environment just as all other species do and these annoying critters have super gripping feet to withstand the desert wind. When you grab one to pick it off your arm you can feel the adhesion of their feet pulling at your skin. I dubbed the ones that suck blood, Lawyer-bugs. I did not discover them, so the name is not official, but feel free to use it at your leisure.
I sometimes wonder what the Spanish explorers thought of this strange land when they got here in the early 1500’s. Coming from Western Europe would certainly be a shocking experience. Many people today do not realize, or just stop to think about how long ago that was. Cabeza de Vaca and troops arrived in 1528 and Santa Fe was settled in 1608. The American West is starting to get gray hairs. Here is something to think about. The Anasazi (“Ancient Pueblo People”) arrived in the four Corners area (where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet) during the Christian era, circa 2,000 years ago. Okay, that is a far cry from ancient Greece, but people talk about the Disco era like it was so long ago that maintenance crews had to clean Mastodon dung out of the parking lots.
Coming back to today I am a little disappointed that there will be no campfire again tonight. Mother Nature simply will not allow it. The wind has picked up again to a point of fierceness. When a sparrow ‘breaks the sound barrier’ I am amazed it’s feathers are not stripped right off. Flycatchers and Swifts actually fly in this sort of wind and I can only imagine the thrill of such dare devil stunts. I think I heard a bird scream, “All cooties, bail out!” (Charlie will appreciate that).
So now it is time to head out. Getting my kayak on a lake is my immediate concern, but the weather will have to calm down a bit. At least it is not snowing.
Snow is rare in the desert southwest, so when the cottonwoods
start ‘snowing’ it is almost like a little taste of home. Better though in a way; I do not have to shovel it.
Hello Friends, Due to some health problems I am going to be very slow doing and adding to the blog. I really appreciate your readership and ask for your patience.
THE BEST TO EVERYONE, Desert Dave
Non-Invasive Blood Glucose Testing: A dream which is progressing into reality
The advancement in technology is great and food security is good, but both these things have brought us some terrible problems. There is a point when convenience leads to a long term disability. And it does not help matters, when some of us are more genetically prone to contracting those disabilities, conditions, and syndromes. But, thanks to advances in medicine we can live a normal lifestyle, if we chose to do so.
This is especially so for Diabetes. It isn’t that sacrifices will not have to be made. To say that something is necessary and by default should be considered easy because it is a necessity is just pointless. People consider different things to be difficult. Hence, it is something which is relative to the person’s background. However, science is advancing at a rate, where monitoring the essentials and especially blood glucose will become easier and non-invasive.
The advances in tech have already come up with affordable integrated systems like Dario, which can log data in your phone and automatically transmit them to caregivers and family members. These advanced integrated systems are available via Groupon and their own website. However, even these use the invasive method where a drop of blood is required.
However, some recent researches have shown promise, which may at one time lead to a device which will simply scan your thumb and tell your glucose levels, along with other essentials. Although successful experiments have been showcased as far back as 2010, yet we have not seen a user friendly device that is based on this principle. But, that is about to change.
Most of these experiments have been carried out using infrared light, which is absorbed by the glucose. However, in previous studies the infrared used was of a shorter wavelength. This could be absorbed by other constituents of the blood as well, leading to inaccurate results. The most recent successful one using mid-infrared was in August 2014, but it wasn’t accurate enough to be used in clinical research.
Now, the good news, another method of testing glucose has been discovered by Tohoku University’s Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering, which is a non-invasive, harmless, and has enough accuracy to be deployed in clinical trials. Instead of measuring the glucose from finger tips, which have a thick layer of skin, it utilizes flexible tubes to measure glucose from oral mucosa of inner lips. This employs far length infrared, which can be better absorbed by glucose as well.
While, this is undoubtedly just another research, nevertheless, the highly accurate results have given hope that we may have a device which will forever rid us from invasive glucose meters forever, even as soon as by the end of this year. But, while it will definitely be a step in the right direction making monitoring easy, the best results in controlling diabetes can only be achieved by having a nicely tailored routine and lifestyle.
ANOTHER CAMPING SEASON BEGINS
I can tell “camping” season is back on. Well, there is the music, but also my neighbors are sporting lots of store bought firewood and big bags of charcoal. I love this stuff. It’s festive. I really miss guitars and singing around the campfire, though. It seems like that is out of style these days. Sometimes there was almost a whole band – guitars, fiddle, accordion, zither, Dobro, flute, banjo. Those really were “the days.”
Now people are running out to take photos of the sunset like they’ve never seen one before. That is wonderful. The sky sure is pretty, all streaked red, orange and blue; changing by the minute. When you live here it is just another gorgeous sunset to file away with thousands of others. Oh, that does not mean they become mundane. Every night is like the fireworks in Disneyland, one more special than the other and on and on.
It is, of course, the people who bring it all to life with sights and sounds and smells. In the distance a small boat is skimming across the lake, probably as fast as it will go. There is someone splitting their own firewood over in the next loop. Country music is filtering through the campground. I think…, yes it is a Merle Haggard song.
There is simply no way to be anything less than absolutely drenched in happiness here. Any problems or worries just filter away into the vapor of “yesterday’s news.”
A lot of those here are modern people who bring grayness with them, though. That is so sad. You can see who they are right away. They have little satellite dishes and white plastic boxes with “Tailgater” scripted on the side. Instead of watching a campfire or a meteor slipping silently across the black sky they watch the news or some infantile sitcom. To think that in my younger days I was responsible for providing people with that horrid level of mind-numbing entertainment almost makes me cringe. Almost; it paid really well.
Now one of my great endeavors is fishing. My friend Clif caught a 20 lb catfish the other day. Now that is a fish, mate!
The unmistakable aroma of charcoal is wafting about and people are laughing somewhere out in the darkness. Campfire flames are rising from fire pits. Music continues, as it should. Lanterns are sensibly lit and the occasional crack of a beer can being opened can be heard. Children laugh and run playing the old games of tag and hide-and-seek. Later there will be bone chilling stories told around the campfire about “Bloody Mary,” “The Hook” and perhaps a tale or two of a Sasquatch that few will believe, but everyone will enjoy.
And there you have it, the essence of the beginning of camping season in America. It starts early out here. It is, of all the seasons, my favorite.
The real story of the roadrunner
I grew up with Warner Brother’s cartoons and one of my favorites was the Coyote and the Roadrunner. Well, here I am in New Mexico where the Greater roadrunner is the Sate Bird. I am still not sure what he is greater than, but he is real and he does not go “Beep-beep.”
It was while visiting Pioneertown in the Mohave Desert in southern California that I saw my first roadrunner. Quite appropriate since their scientific name is Geococcyx californianus. They are a member of the cuckoo family. The Pioneertown Motel is a haven for them and they flourish, almost like mascots. With no danger and a good food supply they walk around like they own the place. Now we know that coyotes eat roadrunners, but what in the world do roadrunners eat?
The roadrunner diet is one of the best things about them, aside from being a really pretty bird. They are quite carnivorous. Rodents and rattlesnakes are included in their diet of tarantulas, small spiders, scorpions and even small birds. They grab the prey with their beak and repeatedly thrash in on the ground until it is dead. Not so cute, but they can be a major deterrent to invasive species that are damaging and even dangerous to humans.
Some Pueblo tribes of Native Americans, such as the Hopi, believed the roadrunner provided even more protection by warding away evil spirits and was thought to bring babies like the stork in Anglo culture.
It’s own young are laid in eggs on a bed of sticks in a cactus or bush. The eggs hatch in 20 days and chicks fledge in 18 days.
And what about the rivalry between roadrunner and coyote? Yes, a coyote will eat a roadrunner if it can catch one, and as it turns out the chances of that are pretty good. Roadrunners can typically run at 20 miles per hour and have been clocked at 26 miles per hour. However, coyotes can rip through the sand at a blinding 43 miles per hour. So, the bird’s goose is cooked.
One thing I have personally noticed about roadrunners is that they show little fear of humans, almost to the point of ignoring a person who is rather close to them. Even my Red-tailed hawk imitation which makes squirrels quiver, rabbits shiver and mice run like the dickens has no effect on a roadrunner. One actually looked straight at me and cocked it’s head as much to say, “you’ve gotta be kidding?”
Another thing that occurred to me after watching the bird is that I would have chosen it as the state bird myself. There is something very special about the roadrunner. It is rather graceful and majestic. It’s markings are very precise as if painted by and artist who was almost sober. And it’s temperament is one of exacting focus and vigilance, being always on the lookout for juicy meal. As for the cartoon; still one of my favorites.
HERE COMES CAMPFIRE SEASON
A few more words about structuring a campfire
It is almost camping and wiener roasting season again and that means campfires. It is hard to find a camper who does not love campfires. I say ‘almost’ because I know a woman who cannot handle the smoke and had a man once tell me that I was polluting “his air.” I can only hope he did not try to take any of “his trees” home with him.
I heard about a guy who wanted to bring a little bit of nature into his house, so while camping he dug up a small oak which he judged as being barely sprouted and took it home. After planting it lovingly in a redwood pot full of the finest potting soil and placing it in the bay window where it would get plenty of sun he sat back waiting for it to take hold and start growing. A little later that day his neighbor came to visit and asked why in the world he was growing poison oak in his window box. I wonder where he started itching first.
If you read my previous article about campfires you know it was concerned with lighting the fire. This time I want to show you how to construct specific types of campfires. There are three types of campfires every camper should know about: 1) Heat 2) Light 3) Cooking.
The campfire for heat. This is a low, wide fire, typically a ‘log cabin’ fire. It is constructed by placing logs atop each other at 90 degree angles, creating a box-like structure much in the way a log cabin is built, but with air space between each layer. It will burn hottest and longest with hardwood (broad leaf tree) logs which will collapse into center creating a wonderful coal bed for cooking.
The campfire for light. This is a higher, more narrow fire. The tepee configuration is a classic and most useful for lighting the campsite. Flames follow the shape of the structure. In this case the flames will stream upward like a torch.
The campfire for cooking. Any campfire will eventually collapse into a bed of coals for cooking, but if the only purpose for the fire is cooking you may not want to wait that long. Also, during the day you do not need light and if the weather is warm you do not need heat. For this purpose build a fire simply by placing small logs on burning kindling (gently so to not scatter embers or smother the flame) in a crosswise fashion and let them become charcoal embers. When a breeze threatens to interfere dig a small trench in which to build the fire. This is also good for placing a portable cooking grate over the embers.
A really good design for an all around campfire which will give you heat and light while waiting for a good bed of cooking embers to develop is the chimney design. Start out as you would to build a log cabin fire but place each layer of logs a little closer to the center creating a smaller center opening at the top.
A word about safety. Use common sense. If you do not have any, just stay out of the woods altogether.
Mother Nature is my friend,
But she’s not always fair,
Her critters should be disciplined,
And cute as Yogi Bear.
I love the music of the night,
It lulls me into sleep,
Coyotes yipping, hooting owls,
And bullfrogs croaking deep.
Spring elk trumpeting for a mate,
Antler rattling of the buck,
If watching wonders is my fate,
I consider it my own good luck.
But I’m still annoyed by little things,
with lots of legs and maybe wings,
That surprise me in a bag of chips,
By nibbling on my finger tips.
THE KITCHEN GARDEN
Most modern people are unaware of the kitchen garden. It is no longer part of our lives, but in times past is was a necessity. It was from the kitchen garden that produce for the dinner table was gleaned. I was not born in the 19th century, but I was born in the Appalachians were time was slow moving and old fashioned ways remained. It was my grandmother, matriarch of the family, who managed the kitchen and the garden that supplied it. It was from her that I learned to love the soil and utilize it to grow our vegetables.
There is something almost magical about how good bottom soil feels squishing between your fingers and molding in your hands. The aroma is fresh and Earthy, and the older people would say they could smell the dirt when it was ready to plant. Making furrows and mounds; pushing seeds into the moist soil felt good. It was almost like making love to Mother Nature. You knew those seeds would sprout and grow and give you the most wonderful vegetables to color and fill your table with pure goodness.
Grandma took me out beside the house and showed me the plot, then told me I would be responsible for spring onions and carrots. This was normally a chore passed on to the young girls, but in my family gender was ignored. Everyone learned and participated in everything. And so Grandma and I spent the afternoon, mostly on our knees, planting the seeds that would feed the family. She made sure I knew exactly how deep and how far apart to plant the seeds, and to sort of scrunch the dirt in my hands so plenty of air and water could get to them. Each tiny seed seemed to be special and have it’s own purpose. It would be coming to life, growing and blossoming into a beautiful orange or green and white vegetable. And these would be the sweetest onions and carrots I had ever eaten; I just knew it to be true.
Now, any time a little boy can get dirty and a little muddy is a good time. When we had finished with the garden and I went in the back door my mother stood there staring at me, half cringing and half smiling at the mud streak Grandma had painted on my nose. She laughed and said, “boy, I’m gonna have to hose you down before you can go in the living room.”
I was tired and dirty and glowing with a feeling of accomplishment. When I think back on Grandma in her print cotton dress with her gray/black hair pulled back, on her knees troweling up that rich, dark soil, shooting me an occasional smile my heart gushes with happiness that we had those times together. It makes me grateful I grew up a country boy and learned to love the Earth, the animals and all the natural things people take for granted these days.
Our Mother Earth and what she gives us is precious. It is life. When we harvested that first garden I felt like I would burst with excitement. I pulled up my first carrot and shook off most of the dirt, then wiped off almost all the rest on my jeans, snapped off the root tip and took a bite. That was the best carrot I ever tasted, even though it still had a little dirt on it.
Afterwards Grandma and I spent days snapping beans, shucking peas, cleaning and canning (which we actually called “putting up”) the produce. Before long it was time for the late garden to go in and by the end of summer the basement shelves were filled with jars of everything imaginable. There was also a wonderful variety of fruit trees and a grape arbor. Sure, it was a lot of work, but my first year being a full part of it was one of the most important and special events of my young days. It was the turning point from being a child to being a productive and needed part of the family. I was really growing up.
THE CONCEPT OF FAILURE
If you are under the delusion that failure is a purely bad thing, or worse, that it really does not exist in our modern world of “pseudo-winners” there will come a day when you realize that you have failed the test of reality or you will simply walk out of the cave you have been sheltered in and see the bright light of wisdom. One way or the other you will discover that failures, ie, setbacks, are simply part of being human and as with most things, sitting on the fulcrum point of life’s balance, ready to go in either direction, positive or negative. And in the vast majority of circumstances the direction will be completely up to you.
In this age of ’empowerment’ it is absurd for a person to do poorly at something and then just sit back and whine about failing. Women like Camille Paglia and Gloria Allred, and men like President Barack Obama and Frederick Douglas all failed at things from time-to-time, but ultimately were real winners because they looked their failures straight in the eyes, gave them a good shake and said, “Baby, you ain’t nothin’ but a second in time. Get out of my way so I can move on,” or something like that. If you want a lesson in real strength and how to deal with failures read the story Bessie Coleman or Audie Murphy, two of my personal heroes. Coleman was the first female African American to get a pilot’s license and Murphy was the most decorated soldier of WWII. All of these people won in life by putting failure in its proper perspective. Again, failure is just part of being human, deal with it.
Growing up in the Appalachians over a half-century ago was a much different world than today. There was no soft, societal cushion to fall on. We did not get trophies for losing games and we were not applauded, showered with praise and told we were all winners just for playing the game. Yes, it was a cruel world; we had to deal with the truth. In a world where euphemisms are used to mask the truth and make untruths more palatable, “spin” – which in truth means “lie” – is considered natural. Some people even get paid to do it and are touted as “spin doctors.” We used to call them “snake oil salesmen.” Of course the oil was not really from a snake. It was from a whiskey still and guaranteed to cure any ailment. It did not cure anything, but for a dollar you would soon forget what hurt in the first place. Much like “spin” will make you forget what the truth really is. Dealing with truth requires the acknowledgment of failure and it’s true nature. You see, nothing can be called a true failure if one learns and grows from it. It is then merely a setback turned into success.
When I entered the first grade my first friend was the biggest boy in class. That was not because he was a big corn-fed farm boy. It was because he liked the first grade so much he decided to do it again. How is that for “spin?” He failed the first grade. I do not know how one fails the first grade, short of biting the teacher on the ankle, but he did it. So we formed a symbiotic friendship were as I helped him learn his numbers – old people talk for arithmetic – and he showed me the wisdom he had gained by already ‘roping this goat’ once before. Without thinking too hard about it we had turned a situation called “failure” into a positive and purposeful state, one we could both learn and benefit from. If you are wondering if he suffered humiliation and teasing from other students, the answer to both is no. First, there is no humiliation in failure if you understand its true nature. Second, he was too big to tease in a mean fashion. He would have simply beat the snot out of the teaser.
What we had done was recognize the failure as part of life’s experience, taken it in a positive direction and learned from it valuable lessons that helped both of us move toward the future. It is those three principles that can turn failure face-up so we can rise out of the ashes like the Phoenix. I have always wanted to use that overly dramatic metaphor for something.
Now, let us examine those three principles to make sure we all really understand them. That goes for me too. I always learn as I write.
Recognizing the true essence of failure: If a young pole vaulter knows that she can clear the bar at 18 feet but sets it an inch lower and sails over with ease and then smiles and bows to the cheers of the crowd what has she really accomplished? If her only goal was cheers and pats on the back, she got what she wanted and exactly what she deserved, valueless praise. On the other hand, if she had cleared the bar at 18 feet and just 1 inch she could honestly enjoy her victory. But what if she tried to raise the bar 4 inches and hit it, falling onto the mat in a way that would make the Fosbury Flop look graceful? Would that be a failure? Look at #2 for the answer.
Tipping the scale: Now it is time for our fictitious young lady to take control. I do not know about your pole vaulter, but mine is strong and determined. She stands up with pride, wiping the blood off of her arm as if it is a badge of honor and courage. She analyzes her mistake. The bad vault is not a failure; it is a step in learning how to go higher because she made the decision to take it to the positive side of the scale.
Learning and earning your right to evolve: Once she understands why she did not get over the bar she adapts accordingly. In survival training we were taught the AIO principle, “ Adapt, Improvise, and Overcome.” Our young vaulter will use that principle and ultimately overcome her obstacles. She will stretch and test herself to achieve her goal and even more. She has learned by her mistake and persevered earning her the right to evolve into the best pole vaulter she can possibly be. If she did not turn this situation outward and move ahead, it would then be a true failure rather than a temporary setback. The power to make it either was hers. She chose to be a real winner.
Failure, or shall we say “setback,” like bumps and bruises is just part of life if that life is in motion, striving and evolving to reach a higher level, the highest plane of who we are and ultimately who we can be. Whether your personal objective involves sports or spirituality, or something as mundane as teaching your dog to stop humping your brother-in-law’s leg, the same formula applies. It is truly in your hands. So, recognize failure for its true nature, push it over the fulcrums edge to the positive direction and learn what it has to teach you in order to move ahead. Just three simple steps that will make tour life a whole lot better by helping you become a true winner.