Monday, January 31, 2011

Good Weather for a Road Trip

Since January 1, 2011, the Engineering Geek and I have spent exactly three nights under the same roof. All of those nights were within the first two weeks of January. On New Year's Day, the CIT and I drove down through frigid sunshine on icy roads because he was due to start school on the 3rd. At that time, Cowboy J. and his wife Nurse A. were still living in the ranch house, and the CIT and I took up housekeeping in the Cabin. However, they have since moved to new digs, and we have one horse, three pregnant cows, two heifers, and one bull to care for, as well as the dogs. So as one of us stays at Ragamuffin House to prepare our move, the other is down here, looking after the CIT and Ragamuffin Ranch.

One of the few consolations for our hurried lunches at halfway points between the two places is that the weather had been good for roadtrips over the past month. Last Monday was one of the best days. The roads were completely dry, the sun was out and the temperature was in the 40's in the highlands and in the 50's in the Rio Grande Valley. And I was driving US 60 to Socorro and then up I-25 to Belen, where I was planning to meet the EG for lunch, so that we did not have to pass exactly like ships in the night. I took some good pictures of the geological features that day, for the sun was out and despite a stiff wind in the valley, the air was relatively clear. Here, then, are some pictures of the grandeur of New Mexico.

Peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains near Pie Town, NM, rise above the surface in these southern reaches of the Colorado Plateau. The Sawtooths are part of the Mogollon-Datil Volcanic Field, and are the sedimentary deposition of pyroclastics weathered from the volcanic action between 24 and 40 million years ago. The sedimentary layers also include breccias composed of large pieces of the country rock at the time, limestones and sandstones that were incorporated by the streams that deposited the weathered volcanics.

Looking southwest across the plains of San Augustin towards the San Mateo Mountains west of Magdalena. During the last ice age, a glacial lake resided within the downfaulted block between two upfaulted mountain ranges. The lake within this graben finally disappeared about 8,000 years ago. I was standing on an old beach bar of the lake that once was. The San Mateos are volcanic in nature, and the rock is composed of ash flow tuff and rhyolite flows that erupted during the Oligocene, about 28 million years ago. I find it easy to imagine the waters of a lake on the flat plain below the mountains.

The western front of the northern Magdalena Mountains, here seen from just west of Magdalena, NM. The mountains core consists of Precambrian igneous and sedimentary rocks that were upfaulted relative to the Precambrian sediments I was standing above while taking the picture. These mountains were later intruded and extruded by basalts and volcanics of the same age as the Rocky Mountains to the north, during the Laramide Revolution about 65 million years ago. These events account for the minerals , including silver and iron ore mined at Magdalena and Kelly during the early years of the 20th century. Highway 60 here joins a fault that defines the edge of the mountain range.

Looking slightly north of east across the Rio Grande Rift west of Magdalena. Behind me is the Magdalena fault that is resposible for the high valley upon which I stand. Across the rift are the upfaulted Los Pinos Mountains that define the eastern edge of the rift. The rift defines an area where the continent is being stretched apart, and the fault blocks on either side bound a graben. These faults are still active and the mountains are still rising relative to the valley floor. The Rio Grande Rift began pulling apart nearly 30 million years ago, and the maximum distance between Pennsylvanian Limestone at the top of the fault-block mountains and that same formation below the valley sediments is as much as 30,000 feet. The rifting is responsible for the activity of the Mogollon-Datil Volcanic Field to the west.

Here I am standing on the stabilized dunes of the Rio Salado north of Lemitar, within the Rio Grande Rift itself. The mountains in the background are rift fault block above the dunes to the southwest. They are composed of tertiary sedimentary rocks rising from the quaternary Santa Fe Formation. In the foreground, is a moving dune field just across the Rio Salado.

Here, I am standing on a terrace of the Santa Fe Group west of the Rio Grande at Belen looking across the rift to the Manzano Mountains that here define the Eastern boundary of the Rift. The steep side of the fault block, these mountains rise steeply, and form a rainshadow over the valley. The "green side" is the other side, that falls to the hinge of the fault block at a much gentler angle, and catches the rainfall.

The EG and I met and ate at a little railway car diner there on the edge of the terrace, that is open 24 hours a day. I recommend the Green Chile Burger.My trip took me on up the Rio Grande Rift to Albuquerque and then through the pass made by the Tijeras Fault to Ragamuffin House.

I thought I would be making another road trip from the Ragamuffin Ranch to Ragamuffin House this week, but the January thaw seems to have ended with the month, and today snow showers have become a steady snowfall here in the Western Mountains. It looks like I am here for the week, as the Continental Divide is expected to be difficult traveling. So I will look back with pleasure at the good weather and the road trip while I contemplate taking the 4WD ranch truck to the bus stop this afternoon to pick up the CIT.

We do need the snow. But the bitter cold that will follow, I could do without.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Update: Why Blogging Has Been Sporadic

In getting ready to finally write a blog post that has been planned for over a week, I am thinking that my readers deserve a little insight into the reasons for sporadic blogging.

It is not that I don't want to blog, and it is not that I have nothing to say. Many great ideas have come and gone with no blog post because I had other things I did not want to do as much, but that nevertheless needed to be done.

This is the way the world works when your Engineering Geek retires and you begin to do more than plan a move to a new part of the state. When doing takes the place of planning, that alone takes a monumental investment of time and energy. But when insurance companies first extend coverage and then rescind it, because--quite frankly--they don't know what they are doing; when it takes a10 minute hold time--and thus 10 wasted minutes of cell phone time--to establish long distance service on the ranch landline--; when time gets eaten by all of those little annoyances that used to be non-existent back in the days of real customer service--something has to give. And what has given (and given!) is the time alloted to writing the blog.

Yesterday, computer technical problems required an otherwise unnecessary trip to Gallup, the closest New Mexico Radio Shack to the ranch. Today, I was scheduled to write my blog.

And then--a major snowstorm watch was issued for most of the state. So a trip into the grocery store in Springerville became a must, to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables that would have run out in the next few days, and to get a few other items to make a snowstorm more bearable. Such as makings for hot chocolate . . .

And upon my return, the CIT and I dedicated a few hours to cutting wood. With the help of logging chains and good old Henry, the F-150, we pulled out four logs from the discard pile--too messed up to use in a house--and then the CIT took out the chainsaw and cut them into fireplace size pieces. We now have enough wood for the snow and cold temperatures that are on their way to us.

Now I am ready. I do hope we get a good snow so that I can finally write the planned blog!

In a few weeks I will be able to begin blogging more regularly again. Until then, know that I am thinking of all my blogging friends, and I am spending some time reading other blogs. It is easier to read than write after a long day of packing and hauling boxes of books. In the meantime, my planned blog for last week will go up tomorrow.

Let it snow!

Monday, January 17, 2011

In Which We Acquire a Horse and I Learn the Contemplative Art of Mucking

On Shabbat afternoon, I loaded up the CR-V, and with Umbrae riding shotgun, I headed out on the open road down to Ragamuffin Ranch. The Engineering Geek had returned to Ragamuffin House for Shabbat on Friday, and now it was my week to be at the ranch and his week to work on the house.

I had come down with a cold, and was not at all sure that I wanted to go down. But once I left the freeway and was driving down through the Malpais, and then across the high plain of the Continental Divide, I decided that all was most well. In our part of the world, the car commercials are true to life, and being the only car on the road is a frequent experience.

This week at Ragamuffin Ranch, besides the work of moving more boxes and taking care of details, I was arriving check in hand, to purchase Reeds Shiny Eyes, a five-year old registered Quarter horse, better known as Badger. (We also purchased a bull, a ranch truck complete with generator and winch, and a few other sundry items, but I am mainly here to talk about the important purchase).

Badger is a gentle, well-trained gelding. He comes when he is called, stands patiently so that the rider can open a gate without dismounting, stands when the rider dismounts to take care of a cow, and takes care of his rider. A few weeks ago, when Cowboy J.'s wife Nurse A., was mounting, the saddle slipped, and he stood through that, too. This is the kind of horse that will actually help teach the CIT to do cowboy work.

Yesterday, as part of moving out, Nurse A. has stepped out on the porch, tested the wind and checked the temperature (both mild), and decided that it was the day to muck out the entire barn and back pasture. The CIT and I decided to participate as an educational project called Learning by Doing. It has been years since I participated in mucking, and I am older now, so I came armed with an ergonomic mucking rake, a garden rake, a gravel shovel and two mucking buckets. Cowboy J. and Nurse A., however, have been housing four equines and have had little time to keep up with mucking--what with the move and all--and so it was not quite the Augean stables, but we estimated four cart-loads of muck would need to be hauled away to the compost. But the day sunny, the snowmelt was proceeding apace, and a warm breeze was blowing up from southern Arizona. And so we started to work.

Rake a mixture of hay, manure and sawdust into a pile, switch garden implements, and shovel the pile into the cart hooked up to the ATV. Muscles happy to move, and the sweet scent of humus rising in the warm air, the sunshine warm on my back. Do it again. Stop every now and again to watch a hawk rising lazily on thermals above the mesas, take a deep breath and give thanks for being alive on such a day. Rake. Shovel. Pause. Let the CIT handle heavy buckets, and every now and again, give Tommy the Ranch Dog a pat. Soon, in the drowsy warmth (nearly 60 degrees at 7500 feet, don't let the snow on the north-facing hills fool you), I caught the rhythm of the work, and that sense of pondering that accompanies certain kinds of work transformed me. And for the day, it didn't matter to me if governments were falling, oil prices rising, and mayhem ensuing: I am mucking. All other thoughts were merely passing clouds, almost unnoticed, outside of me.

My mind and body slow down every time I cross the Catron County line. People are comfortably solid here. Sales are made on a handshake, and opening an account at the propane company comes with a 40 minute conversation aimed at repairing the world country-style, by telling stories and beginning a cautious relationship that has potential far beyond the sale and delivery of propane. The manager of the propane office is a neighbor; the school-bus driver who picks the CIT up every morning over McKinley Ranch Road is also the school librarian and the owner of the local gas station and convenience store. Among the Big Men in Trucks (a la Jon Katz) who gather around the woodstove and Y and A Auto is a 90 year-old Navy Vet who can tell you the whole history of the county, and who has lived about half of it.

Ninety. Good clean living, I suppose. Out in the air and the sunshine. It is not that there isn't stress here, but when you move more slowly and stop to watch the hawk, time telescopes and stretches out. And in such space-time, it really does one well to slow down in telling one's own story, to become circumspect. There is lots of time for people to learn who you are. No need to create a rushed first impression. So I listened as the Big Men in Trucks solved the worlds problems as they drank cups of coffee and welcomed the CIT into their midst while I bought a chain saw. I was quiet while they gave the CIT a demonstration on how to use the Stihl saw. And while Nurse A. was instructing him on the finer points of grooming Badger--who loves a good brushing on the rump--I stopped and took in January sun on my face, the warm wind from the southwest, the coyotes crossing Cemetery Hill, and the hawk, stooping to catch lunch on the mesa.

Who need an afterlife? This is the life we are living right here and right now. This is G-d's country. And so, like cleaning for Pesach, mucking becomes another time for pondering, for getting into flow.

Monday, January 10, 2011

You Shall be a Blessing: Debbie Friedman z'l

To stand in covenant with God is to accept a challenge
to regard one’s entire life as a channel for
bringing divine presence and blessing into the world.
We as a Jewish people, the people of Sinai, made such a commitment,
one to which we remain bound forever. To understand us Jews
is to realize that we are eternally devoted to that vision.
No matter how secular we may declare ourselves,
something within us remains priest at that altar.
--Rabbi Arthur Green

There is a lot going on in the world. There is a lot going on in my life, too, as we are packing and moving into a new life of our own making. And at our ages!

I have had several blog posts planned, some political and some personal, but they can wait.

Yesterday, I heard that Debbie Friedman died.
I put aside the boxes, the bubble wrap and the packing tape.
And I sat on a just-packed box of Siddurim and cried.

Although I can count the number of times I met her on both hands, she was one of those people that completely altered the direction of my life. Many Reform Jews of my generation can probably say the same thing. Debbie was a singer and songwriter who completely changed the world of Jewish Music, and the way worship services are conducted in Reform synagogues. And yet she had no formal training, did not read music, and never got the credentials that have become so very important in the Reform Jewish world.

Debbie's heart and soul were her credentials, and all of the fussy rabbis and cantors looking for degrees and checking for skills off of lists were undone by her energy, her joy, and her love for her work.

But for me, Debbie's influence was much more personal. I believe her music saved my life and confirmed to me my Jewish soul--the one that was standing at Sinai*-- though I didn't believe in that at the time.

*In the Talmud we are told that the soul of every Jew that has ever lived or ever will live stood at Sinai and directly experienced the giving of Torah, each one accepting the Covenant for herself.

My high school years were a living hell.
My Aspergian traits were in full flower, though I had never heard of Hans Asperger. In me resided a strange combination of idealism and social naivete that together made me a perfect candidate to be the class outcast. I went to a small private high school in a very socially conscious town, where social climbing was a blood sport, conducted both on and off the athletic fields. I am not an athlete, and to this day I possess that self-conscious awkwardness that plagues so many of us Aspies.

Things at home were difficult for me as well. There were aspects of my childhood home and family of origin that made it very difficult for me to believe that my differences had value, and that what I did or did not do made any difference at all. Depression is a common co-morbidity for Aspies, and I struggled with undiagnosed depression for most of high school and into the beginning of college. My parents had no idea of what to make of my moods, my social ineptness, my perseverations, and my passions. I was a strange little kid who grew into a very different and difficult teenager. I was vehement that they should leave me alone, and they did. To be fair,they were trying to sort out their rebellious middle child whose behavior required a great deal of attention, and it must have been overwhelming. They finally got a break with my even-tempered, mostly normal baby sister. But that was years later.

And into this difficult picture burst a short young woman with long flowing hair, unbounded energy, a huge guitar and an even huger voice.
My best friend and twin-sister-by-different-parents bought me her first album, Sing Unto God, from Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp where Debbie was a song leader, and I fell head over heels in love. In love with this voice and this music, and in love with Judaism and the Hebrew language through the music.

Using a copy of Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayerbook (with transliteration) and a dusty little Hebrew dictionary I found at the university library, I sat down to teach myself Hebrew. Not yet a university student, I had to do that work at the library. I began to light a candle for Shabbat, hidden alone in my room, like a Spanish converso. I began to understand that somehow, those Jews in part of my family tree had reached out across space and time and bequeathed to me the soul that stood a Sinai. I have no better explanation for this.

My Hebrew study and my solitary practice were not terribly successful, but they stood me in good stead later, when as a college student I began attending services sporadically at the local Reform synagogue. It never occured to me to actually talk to a rabbi; I would go in, sitting with my best friend if she was there, and if she wasn't, I'd leave immediately after the service. Later, when as an adult I actually joined the Reform synagogue here in Albuquerque, I had learned a few social skills and actually talked to people. And I felt like I was coming home to a place I had never been before.

Throughout the years that followed as I studied Hebrew intensively, had an adult Bat Mitzvah at the age of 33 (only 20 years late), served for a while as a cantorial soloist, taught Hebrew, and took my own children through life-cycle ritual and Holy Days--throughout it all--Debbie's music kept the beat of my Jewish life. It was her melody that I sang to end Shabbat with the ceremony of Havdalah. It was her Shehecheyanu that I chanted at my Bat Mitzvah. It was her Misheberach with which I prayed for the sick. And it was her healing album, Renewal of Spirit, that brought me through breast cancer and gave me the courage to ask for the help I so desperately needed. And I sang Debbie's Arise, My Love at the reception after I married my dear Engineering Geek under the Chuppah.

It isn't as if Debbie was my only Jewish mentor. There are countless others who were angels unawares for different parts of my Jewish journey: My two rabbis, Paul Citrin and Joseph Black, challenged me to choose life in very different ways--and I wasn't such an easy student then, either. (Just ask them. Or better yet, don't ask). And my cantor's cantor, Jacqueline Shuchat Marx, taught me how to pursue happiness again after a very dark time. Glenda, my Hebrew teacher, pushed and prodded and mothered, helping me learn to be a grown-up, as well as starting me on the way as a Hebrew scholar. But Debbie was there through her music for the entire long, strange trip my life has been.

I did have the privilege of singing with her as her student at several CAJE (Conference on Alternatives in Jewish Education) conferences, and I was able to thank her in person and sing "Days of Wine and Haroses" with her when she gave a concert at Congregation Beth Shalom in Santa Fe. I will never forget, when she came to give a concert at Congregation B'nei Israel in Albuquerque, her story of being stuck on the tarmac in an airplane at the Sunport. The reason for the delay escapes me now, but Debbie was having health problems even then, and I suppose it must have been uncomfortable for her. It was very early morning, pre-dawn, she said, and she was staring out of the little window at darkness, until, she said, "Suddenly, the mountains came out!" And her joy at their beauty was obvious in the energy with which she said it. That was Debbie, and that was something else that she reminded me of, something that with my Aspie tendency to see the glass as half-full, cracked and dingy, I too easily forget. There is beauty in the most unexpected places and in the most uncomfortable situations. Then she called all of the cantors and soloists in the audience to come up and sing Carlbach's Esa Enai (I look to the Mountains) with her.

Yes, Debbie and her music have been there for my entire Jewish journey.
Until now. And I feel as if, when she left us, she took a little piece of my soul with her.
As many Jews of my generation feel today, our crown is broken and a precious jewel has been taken from us.

And yet I know that her music remains. In particular, her song taken from the verse in B'reshit (Genesis) in which G-d tells Abraham to go to a new and strange place when Abraham is already somewhat advanced in age, speaks to me anew these days. It is not only about the journey of the young, but about the new adventures that await us, boundary crossers all, as we travel on our life's path. Each new step requires a choice. When G-d told Abraham to "GO!", old Abe still had a choice. But despite his age, and all the other reasons to stay in Haran, he went. The Hebrew words for G-d's command are lech l'cha--go to/for yourself!--the name of the song is the feminine of these words, Lechi L'ach:

L'simchat Chayim--to a joyful life!

Debbie Freidman has taught me that we are all meant to make of our lives a blessing. I have been a rather recalcitrant student, and it has taken me all these years to learn the lesson that finding joy in life is what makes our lives a blessing.

Debbie's name and her memory will be a blessing to me and to all who were touched by her energy, her music and that heart of hers.

Alev ha' Shalom, Debbie.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Resolutions: Greeting 2011 from Ragamuffin Ranch

Yesterday, on the first day of 2011, the Cowboy in Training and I drove down to our Catron County ranch. The CIT starts school in Quemado this week, and a new phase of our lives begins as well. The CIT has moved all of his essentials down this week, and with every trip back to the East Mountains, everything I bring down here will stay. I will be packing for the trip back up each time.

There is still much to do back in the East Mountains. All of our personal stuff must be sorted, and given away, thrown away or packed to move. Now is the time to reduce the clutter, clear the junk, and move into our new lives. This week, the Engineering Geek remains up there working on his office. He is a packrat and the clutter is unbelievable. He needs to get it cleared out so that we can put a floor down in there, and make the room presentable.

On Thursday I will be going back to Albuquerque in order to get some business there done, and then I will stay and the EG will leave. Then it will be my turn. My goal is to finish the bedroom (almost there), and then do my office. We will be trading off like this for a few weeks, getting all the work done, and moving gradually here as the Real Cowboy and his wife begin moving to their new place.

Yesterday, when we drove down here, the state and county roads were still snowpacked and the temperature only reached into the teens. Today, it has warmed up nicely, and the snow is melting off the metal roof of the cabin and the house. Yesterday we drove up the ranch road in the golden light before sunset, reaching the ranch at twilight, and the temperature dropped precipitously. The cabin was cold, cold and there was little time to warm it up, so we spent the night with space heaters and dogs. Tonight will be better, though there is wood to cut in order to assure a comfortable night.

Although we have prepared ahead of time, we are learning more about what we need as we go, in order to do the work we came here to do. Tomorrow, the CIT and I will go into Show Low to get the recommended chain-saw, and other things we learned we need. It is a good thing the Real Cowboy and his wife are being patient with our questions and helpful in many ways, with advice on everything from herding dogs to wood cutting to feeding the cattle.

This year? We have made no formal New Year's resolutions. The whole of this year is going to be about change, adaptation, and learning. During this month we will step up the transition that started last August when we began to come down three weekends a month. This is enough resolution for anyone!

I did set one goal. To write and reflect as much as possible so that I can capture the adventure we are embarking on as 2011 begins. Welcome to Ragamuffin Ranch!