Earlier this month, I participated in a retreat at Victory Noll in Huntington, Indiana, at the mother house for Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, a religious community dedicated to serving the poor. Given my travels in May, I felt a connection when I learned that this community began in New Mexico before receiving this land to build on. Above is a wing of the building, seen from the labyrinth, showing some of the southwest influence on their building style.
I enjoyed the many fine old trees on the property. I was curious about what looked to be a vine growing on one -- a more careful look revealed a snake, twelve or fifteen feet up! How does a creature without arms and legs manage to get up so high? And does it go up just on the off-chance it will find a bird's nest?
I was also curious about the little metal tags I saw on numerous trees. This was a project of one of the sisters years ago, dedicating a tree to each sister in the order. What a lovely way of honoring her sisters!
In Tessera 4, back before the flurry of May and June activities, I talked of the images we carry unawares when we work with a text like the story of . . .
A bosque, from the Spanish word for woodlands, is the green forest and wetlands alongside a river in the southwest. The Bosque del Apache NWR has over 57000 acres with floodplains, wetlands, farms, grasslands, and desert terrain and is a stop-over spot for many varieties of migrating birds. We are total amateurs on identifying birds, but were still able to recognize over 20 different species while we were there (granted, one category was "duck, not mallard").
The sighting I got the biggest kick out of was spotting a roadrunner that ran down the road towards our parked car, and then passed us, a lizard dangling from its mouth. Then there were egrets, herons, and stilts, pheasants and wild turkeys, ducks, coots, and grebes. At the visitors' center, there were Bullock's orioles, black-chinned hummingbirds, and quail -- and numerous lizards. I find their methods of camouflage intriguing
When we were deciding where to go for our week in New Mexico, someone suggested a visit to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. It's a large refuge about an hour south of Albuquerque and a spot where thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese overwinter. Because of times we've seen cranes in this area and in Alberta, where they were just setting out on their migration south, I was intrigued.
It was too late in the spring to see cranes at the Bosque, but we enjoyed two early morning visits, listening to the pre-dawn calls of blackbirds, boat-tailed grackles, coots, and bullfrogs, watching egrets and herons wing by overhead, and admiring the slowly changing colors of dawn over the marsh and on the mountains to the west. And then at sunrise, hundreds of swifts (or perhaps swallows) silently swooped into the air, creating a vast aerial ballet over our heads.
The second half of the week we stayed at an airbnb south of Socorro, in a camper on an alpaca farm. We chose it primarily for its proximity to the Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge; the tour of the farm was a bonus. The owner is a schoolteacher who breeds alpacas for their wool and is full of enthusiasm for fiber, and alpacas generally.
We also enjoyed evening walks in the neighborhood, listening to the coos of mourning doves and watching another beautiful sunset. Later the stars were brilliant, in this remote spot with little light pollution.
As we headed south from Placitas for our next place to stay, we took the scenic route, stopping to ride the Sandia Peak Tramway the 2.7 miles to the top of the Sandias (10,378 feet). The west side, overlooking Albuquerque, is steep and boulder-strewn; the east is gentler and has several ski runs.
Instead of wind- and water-carved volcanic remains, these peaks are an uplifting of ancient seabed and made up of granite covered with fossil-carrying limestone. The peak provides a panoramic view of nearly 9% of the state, we were told. I find it fascinating that standing on this former seabed, now mountain top, I can look west and see the remnants of volcanoes. A vast span of geological history, glimpsed in this one moment in time.
After a day to rest and recuperate, we spent a day sightseeing, driving north on New Mexico SR 4, stopping to appreciate the museum at the Pueblo of Jemez Visitor Center, and its excellent photo essay exhibit of raising children in the pueblo. Following the road northwards, we stopped at one of the fishing/picnic areas to enjoy the sight of red rocks and spring green cottonwoods under blue skies.
The road climbed and soon we were among evergreens and aspen, then crossing an ancient volcano crater (Valles Caldera National Preserve) before skirting Bandelier National Monument and heading home via Santa Fe. We had an excellent New Mexican lunch in Santa Fe, wandered around the old town center for a bit, and visited the Georgia O'Keefe museum.
Another outing took us to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, where the effects of wind and rain on layers of volcanic deposits create weirdly wonderful vista after vista. We especially enjoyed the slot canyon, winding our way through its narrow path, leaning back to look at the fascinating formations over our heads and the tenacious trees growing in odd nooks and crannies.
Late on our second day in Placitas, I discovered that the little path that led to a shed went on around it, and wandered up the hill behind the house, leading to a spot where you could get a good view of the east, or going a little further, the west. Fascinating to watch the dramatic changes in scenery caused by clouds and sunrise/sunset lighting.
And then there was the fauna -- all the weird and wonderful ways plants find to survive and flourish in a dry and dusty land. They are needing all the tricks they have in their toolkits -- when we were there, the area hadn't seen rain for over a hundred days. Our hosts were struggling with well problems and we got a glimpse of some of the precariousness of life in a desert.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"
Tesserae: small cube-shaped tiles of ceramic, glass or precious stone used to make a mosaic, or in this case, brief essays on some element of lectio divina with Luke 10:38-42.