Mary Austin: Writer, Poet, Naturalist

In Familiar Roads, Rodney and Tay get into a mildly warm discussion about whether North American in general and the Southwest in particular can have geni loci, spirits bound to a place, or at least magical things that act as if they are spirits bound to a place. Part of what inspired that little scene was remembering a fragment of Mary Austin’s poem, “Southwest Magic.”

There are no fairy-folk in our Southwest,

The cactus spines would tear their filmy wings,

There’s no dew anywhere for them to drink

And no green grass to make them fairy rings. Continue reading

Harz Mountain Stories

Two years ago, my summer wanderings took me to the Harz Mountains in eastern Germany. As is my habit, I found a couple books of regional folk-lore, and one very detailed sort of “Folk-Lore Road Guide to the Harz.” In German, and no, I’m not up to translating it, at least not at the moment. But once I found a detailed enough map, or could match the locations to where I was going that day, I found a wonderful treasure trove of stories, and patterns. The patterns . . . Very different from what I’d found in the mining areas of Austria. Continue reading

Cattle, by Berta Heart Nance

I was reminded of this poem the other evening. The opening stanzas were used in the beginning of the great PBS Texas history program “Lone Star,” which was based on a book of that title.

CATTLE
by Berta Harte Nance (1883-1958)

Other states were carved or born
Texas grew from hide and horn.

Other states are long and wide,
Texas is a shaggy hide. Continue reading

Winter Sunrises

The combination of sheets of high clouds from storm systems that miss the Panhandle, plus the southerly track of the sun, have combined to give us amazing sunrises this past week. They incline towards crimson and gold, with splashes of pink in the opposite sky.

The storm tracks have been south of this area, or north. As a result, the moisture and lower clouds remained far away. However, the ice clouds that trail along the sides of the storm track have been a near-constant presence, some days thickening until they form a sheer, milky cover that mutes the afternoon sun and swallows any sunset. Continue reading

Hottest day Ever!!!! (No, Not Really)

The wildfire season in Australia has been especially bad, in part thanks to arsonists and idiots (but I repeat myself.) The US and other media have been screaming that it is due to anthropogenic climate change, and that everyone’s going to diiiiiieeeeeeeee!!! It is the hottest day/year ever in Australia, and this proves that only reverting to a Third-World standard of living and covering hectares of Australia with solar panels will save the koalas and wombats. And some people too, maybe.

History called. They want their panic back.

The climate scientist Jo Nova wrote an excellent article about the actual hottest day ever recorded in Australian history. It wasn’t even in the 20th century. Continue reading

Moonrise, Moonset

This time of year we get weeks of beautiful sunrises and sunsets as the jet streams sweep veils of high clouds over the region.

I happened to be in the right place at the right time when I was in Albuquerque just over a month ago. The class had wrapped up a little early because we opted to work through two breaks. So I left the hotel and started trotting uphill toward a restaurant that I knew would be open and be really good, The Range Cafe. The road runs due east-west, and almost dead-ends on Sandia Crest.

Moonrise over Watermelon Mountain.

Continue reading

Water Flows By

Earlier this week I mentioned senior and junior water rights. For those from humid climates, water rights can be rather arcane. For those of us in drier climes, they can be literally life and death matters. There’s a reason for the saying, ‘Whisky’s for drinkin’ and water’s for fightin’ over.”

Rivers and streams are regulated by the state and federal governments. In the states west of the 100th Meridian, all have some form of prior appropriation system, although New Mexico and Texas have slightly hybrid systems. In Texas, the wet eastern half of the state uses the same riparian system as New England or Georgia. The western half is prior appropriation. New Mexico also uses the Spanish system of “sharing the shortage.” Continue reading