Walkabout in Albuquerque

Chrissy and I went walkabout in Albuquerque old town this morning. It does not cover very much territory & not much was open in the morning. We had breakfast at Monica El Portal. It was good basic food. I had huevos rancheros; Chrissy had a breakfast taco.

The next picture shows Chrissy at the gate to old town and next at the statue at the end of old town and me with on of the statues at the art museum. Last is the restaurant where we had supper. The big moon is lighting the way.

Valle Grande

Valle Grande is a big grassy valley in remains of a caldera of a super volcano. You can see various views in my first three pictures. The last picture is Frijoles Canyon taken from one of the Pueblo dwelling in the cliff. See my earlier posts re.

Visiting the Pueblo ruins at Bandelier National Monument. I always enjoy seeing the remains of the past. It is interesting what people could do with simple tools. But you wouldn’t want to live in these places. The little cave in the picture was interesting, but then I thought about really living there.

Pre-literate, prehistoric societies are fragile. Oral history is always unreliable. (Well,so is written history, but at least you have a reference.) We sometimes overlook one of the biggest problems with lack of literacy. That is, things get lost.

One generation might develop wonderful skills or knowledge, but if nobody transmits it to the next generation, it is lost forever. Nobody can find the old text and create a renaissance.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and if a link is missing, there is no chain.

A study of history at Bandelier National Monument

“We live in a continuum that began when we emerged from the earth and continues with our descendants. That is why time has no boundaries for us & why it is so irrelevant. We are not here to make history. We are here to live and continue history.” This is from the Affiliated Pueblo Committee and sums up their view of history. I read it at the museum at the Bandolier National Monument.

I studied history and anthropology in college and especially enjoyed the classes on theories of history. We contrasted cyclical theories of history, where history repeated in great circles to a progressive theory of history, where history was moving forward. The latter implied a beginning and an end, while the former just churned. The progressive view of history tended to be favored by adherents of the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), since they were informed by their faiths that God created the heavens & the earth at a specific time in history, that at least some humans had duties and tasks to perform and that history was moving toward an end and a day of judgement. The ancient Greek historians were examples of believers in cyclical historical theories.

All Western historians, however, shared the idea of change and development, whether or not they thought there was progress toward an end. In fact, one of the definitions of history was that it was written by historians who analyzed trends and change. Absent this, we might have antiquarianism or chronicles that just recorded events, one darn thing after another. That is why we called Herodotus the “father of history.” Others had written before he did, but they did not look for patterns, trends or change.

Our history theory classes back in the 1970s were still very Western-centric. We did not consider Chinese, Indian or other perceptions of history. Had we done that, I don’t think we would have found them that surprising. My subsequent study of history indicates that Chinese history theory, for example, would fit mostly into the cyclical pattern, with good times followed by bad and the mandate of heaven falling moving but not changing. I don’t pretend to be an expert, but what I see I can fit into my earlier studies.

Very different would be the theory of history outlined in the Pueblo theory above. It is not a progression view of history or even a change one. Rather it is a kind of steady state, timelessness.

I mentioned that I studied history AND anthropology. One of the books assigned in anthropology was called “Language Thought & Reality” by Benjamin Lee Whorf. Whorf postulated that structure of language influenced perceptions of reality. Some scholars think this idea has been debunked and others think the debunkers have been debunked. I don’t know about that, but I do recall that he used the Hopi language as an example. He said that the structure of the Hopi language made it much easier to view time as a continuum. Western languages, on the other hand, were structured with various past and future tenses. Maybe that influenced our view of history as having a past and a likely future and featuring changed

The Pueblo idea made me think about this. I can see value in this way of thinking, but also many drawbacks. It is contemplative and that is good.

I have been thinking about the Pueblo settlements, as I visited some of the ancient sites. Yesterday went to the Pecos villages. Today we visited the ruins of villages of Ancestral Pueblo people who built homes in Frijoles Canyon at the Bandolier National Monument. They lived in the canyon for around 400 years until they exhausted the resources and abandoned the land by about 1550.

My first picture shows Chrissy with a piece of Tuff. That is compressed volcanic ash that the ancestral Pueblo used for building material. The other pictures show runs and the hills of tuff at the Bandolier National Monument.

Ponderosa Pine in New Mexico

Ponderosa pine is certainly one of my favorite ecosystems. It can and sometimes does grow in lowlands, but it dominates the “montane” ecosystem, in this part of New Mexico from elevations of around 7000 feet to about 8000 feet above sea level.

It is a semi-dry ecology that tends to burn. Before European settlement, ponderosa pine forests burned every 5-15 years. These were usually low intensity fires that cleared up the brush and thinned the forest but did not harm to the big trees. This changed when settlers cut trees and then excluded fire. The ponderosa pine grew back much thicker than before. Where there previously were as few as 20 big trees per acre, there were now 600-700 little trees too close together. Fire was excluded as much as possible, but when it inevitably did come, it came hot because of all the fuel and the tight forest. The fires were hot enough to kill mature trees.

This is where we find ourselves now. Our forests are too thick and too prone to disastrous fire because we have refused to thin properly and tried to exclude fire for 100 years. It is not easy just to change these old policies. We run risks during the changeover. One of the most destructive fires in the Bandelier NM (where we were travelling) was the Cerro Grande fire in 2000. This was set by the Forest Service trying to set a prescribed fire.

The guys who did it were acting responsibly and with the best science available, but they took the blame. One reason why fire professionals call the fires they set “prescribed” and not “controlled burn,” as some outsiders do, is because they know that no fire is ever 100% controlled. It takes courage to do the right thing. If things go wrong, you will get all the blame. If things go right, you will get none of the credit. It is well worth the risk from ecological and economic point of view. I would compare it to an operation. In my example, if you do nothing you have a 95% chance of death and a 5% chance of survival. With the operation you have a 95% survival chance to live and a 5% chance of death. You would take that risk, right? But that 5%.

Fire cannot be avoided. Forests will burn. We can do our best to choose the time and place where destruction will be minimized and where ecological benefits will be greatest. If we do nothing, we still get fires, but we almost always get them at the worst and most dangerous times, since those are the times of greatest fire activity, and the ecology will be harmed by the hot fires.

My pictures are from the Bandelier National Monument. My first photo is me in front of the sign talking about the need for diversity in the ecosystems. Next are some big ponderosa pines. You can tell an old tree not only by its size but also the color of the bark. Young trees have dark bark. When they get to be 100+ they start having a orange-yellow bark. In the third picture, you can see the black marks from a fire, probably the 2011 Las Conchas fire. The big trees were unharmed by the fire, but it cleaned out the brush. After that show when a very hot fire goes through. I think that is aftermath of the disastrous Cerra Grande fire of 2000. This is so different from Virginia. After 17 years, we would have profuse growth, even from a hot fire like that. We get a lot more rain. The last picture are spruce with a few ponderosa pine at higher altitude. Spruce are not adapted to frequent fires the way ponderosa are.

Along the Road in New Mexico

It is fun to stop at the roadside markers. You find some interesting things that were just overlooked.

My first picture show a monument to Glorietta Pass Battle during the Civil War. It was not a big battle in terms of men involved or casualties, but it was the decisive battle that stopped the Confederate effort to cut off the Southwest. We don’t think of the Southwest when we think of the Civil War. I was vaguely aware of the fight. My colleague Steve Holgate had an ancestor involved in the it.

The next monument is to the Mormon Battalion, the only religiously based unit in United States military history. They fought mostly in California during the Mexican War. I had never heard of this before. The plaque describing the movement of the battalion has been vandalized. Somebody evidently objected to the use of the term “savage.”

The second last picture announces the Pecos monument and last is a panorama from the Pecos monument.

Walking around Santa Fe

Walking around Santa Fe, we went past the cathedral. They have lots of statues and monuments that reflect the history.

One that I thought really interesting is pictured below. It commemorates the arrival of the Spanish and shows some of the things they introduced, so the monument is based on introduced animals such as pigs, horses, sheep, cows & donkeys. Above them are some of the crops and fruits. They also have books to represent literacy.

You could take this monument in a couple ways. You could see it as the gift of the Spanish, as I think it is intended, or you could see it as the invasion of the Spanish and all their plants and animals.

I recall a really good book – “1493” by Charles C Mann. He talked about the vast ecological change wrought by Old World flora and fauna introduced to the Americas, among them the plants and animals depicted. I doubt that those Pueblo folks, that I wrote about in an earlier post, would have viewed the coming of the Spanish as an unalloyed blessing.

My first two pictures show the monument. Next is the cathedral. To fill out this set of pictures, I have included a couple pictures from the Pecos. The first is Chrissy at the ladder of a restored kiva. Kiva were underground ceremonial rooms at Pueblo sites. The other photo, not very clear, is Sandoval Street in Santa Fe. I took it in honor of Lisa K J Sandoval & Christiana Sandoval. I assume the street is named after them and their family.

Pecos Pueblo

The Pecos were a Pueblo people, like those whose dwellings Alex and I visited at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde. Unlike the settlements in those other two places, the Pecos villages survived on this site into historical times, i.e. the arrival of the Spanish. The site was finally abandoned sometime in the beginning of the 19th Century as the result of raids and depredations by the Comanche. Scholars are not exactly sure when that happened, but they know that when U.S. troops passed through the area during the Mexican War, the place was unoccupied.

The Pecos is a good natural site. Ecologically, it lies at the meeting point of mountains and forests, grasslands and a rich river environment. It is also on natural trade routes. Native American routes, the Santa Fe Trail, Route 66 and today Interstate 25 all pass through the area. All this provided the variety of resources that allowed the people to prosper for centuries.

Beyond all that, it is a naturally beautiful place, as my pictures show.

Most of the Pueblo site is out of sight, although archeologists have a lot to say about it. The big building is the ruin of the church the Spanish built.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe is quiet and quirky. Chrissy and I had lunch at Los Potrillos, a nice Mexican restaurant. The food was very good and the people very nice. The beer in the picture is Modelo Especial. It is not bad beer, but not great.

Chrissy got some locally made jewelry. It is okay to buy jewelry if it has if there is a back story. The guy in the picture, Calvin Lavato, was really nice. He made the jewelry himself; he lives in the area and he is a veteran of the USMC. And it was not very expensive anyway.

The last two pictures are from Museum Hill. Unfortunately, the museums were not open on Monday. The middle picture was a statue along the street in Santa Fe.


“Sintropia” – I had not heard the word before. In this context it is used as kind of regenerative ecology. They are restoring ecological balance in the Brazilian state of Bahia. The article describes a farm that was ruined and abandoned. There were no streams on the farm and so no water.

This is the link to the article. It is in Portuguese, but you can figure out a lot just by watching.

A Swiss-Brazilian agronomist bought the land to put into practice his ideas on sintropia. This is using natural processes to restore the land while producing valuable agricultural products. After he brought back the forests, water came back too, as springs again became viable.

The title says why I like the idea, “Cultivated forests allow environmental recuperation and the generation of income.”  Land that does not produce some profit for the owners will not long be conserved. This does both.

I think of this in the tradition of conservationists like Aldo Leopold working with landowners in Coon Valley, Wisconsin to restore the land and cultivate it.

Living in harmony with nature does not means hands off nature. When we are doing the best, we are using human intelligence to find and harmonize with natural rhythms.
You can use Google translator to get the story and watch the pictures on the video. Especially interesting is that Globo Rural covered this same story in the 1990s, and you can see the great progress made since then.

Sintropia. It is a great word. Unfortunately, the English translation is the ugly “negentropy,” a word that has other meanings too that confuse it. I think that I am going to start using the word sintropia for what I am trying to do on my tree farms and encourage in general.

People will not know what it means, but then I can explain it. I have been looking for a word that combines restoration, regeneration, conservation and intelligent management. I will now add this word to my vocabulary and try to make it more known.

More on preservation versus conservation

Finished the audio book version of “The Wizard & the Prophet” last week. It was a very interesting book and I recommend it. This week the author – Charles C Mann – is doing the full-court media press. This article covers the main points, so if you don’t want to read the book, this will do.

I wrote a note about the book here, if you want my perspective.
If you want to listen to the author interview, “On Point” covered it on January 24.

I think this is an important book about an interesting division in the environmental community. I think of it as the difference between conservationists & preservationists, but I do not think that a synergy is not possible.

For example, I believe strongly in protection, restoration and regeneration of soils.Feed the soils and the soils feed us. This is the Vogt perspective. On the other hand, I believe strongly in developing GMOs and using a variety of methods to regenerate ecosystems, Borlaug perspectives. Both can be used and should be used in an iterative, adaptive process. GMOs should be a part of organic agriculture, since they are organic, but they will not be a panacea.

Charles Mann says that it is a matter of values and not science. I see that too, but – again – I am a mixer and not a splitter. I believe in the decentralized, closer to nature lifestyles, but I see no reason why this cannot be done using science and productivity. Being close to nature is good, but in the old days life on the land sucked. It would be better to live close to nature w/o having to put up with all the bugs, diseases & backbreaking work.

My tree farms are mostly organic, but I use herbicides when I need them and I welcome genetically improved trees. So far, there are no GMOs available, but if they come along, I will assess them and if they are appropriate, I will have no hesitation in using them.