Where did the breadbox go?

Found in an old cabin

In American kitchens of the 1940s and 50s, in nearly every home, a breadbox sat on the countertop. I know in ours it did, as well as every neighbor, friend and family. Ours disappeared from the kitchen about 1961, never to be replaced.

Description:

Metal breadbox.  Manufacturer’s mark – none.

Circa: 1940 – 1960

Painted metal box divided by shelf into two compartments, each with a hinged door. Above the shelf the door opens upward, lower portion opens downward. At the shelf partition height the upper  half of box slopes backward at a 45 degree angle. Exterior sides painted yellow,  interior and front background off-white with bluebell flowers and wheat stalks as decoration. On each side are two circular patterns made of holes drilled by a small bit.

Size:  Length- 13″   Height – 11″    Depth at base – 11″    Depth at top – 7″

Use: bread storage/preservation. (For best humidity level about two loaves.)

Popular in the U.S. before preservatives and plastic wrap a good breadbox would:

  • Keep the contents at room temperature – prolong edible storage time.
  • Have a lid loose enough to allow air flow, reduce condensation – helps prevent mold.
  • Have a lid tight enough to keep out insect pests and mice.

Stale Bread – Stalling is a process when starch in contact with naturally occurring water in bread causes a retrogradation where the starch turns crystalline – enhanced by cool temperatures/refrigeration. Not to be confused with dry bread.

Early 1900s and before there was no way to preserve bread once it had been cut. In 1928 Otto Rohwedder invented the first machine to slice bread. The machine also wrapped the loaf in wax paper. In the late 1930s Wonder Bread invented it’s own bread slicing/wrapping machine. By the 1950s , Wonder Bread with the red, yellow and blue balloon packaging, enriched white flour and added preservatives was nationally recognized as an industry leader. Turns out all the extra preservatives and plastic wrapping are not good for people – or the planet.

There has been a renewed interest in fresh bread. Particularly for local bakeries in ethnic neighborhoods. Fresh bread is an integral part of the new cuisine internationally. Artisanal breads are now on the menu of fine dining establishments, popular at boutique coffee shops and available in some super markets. Marianne Rohlich wrote in April 2001 an article about kitchen technology: “Fresh bread with great crust and moist interior is back. The reason for a bread box is clear: Store one of those beautiful loaves in a plastic bag and it will turn into a tough hunk of foam overnight…..But left in a paper bag on the counter; it will dry out in a day or so. Bread has to breath for the crust to stay crisp, that is why it is suffocated in a plastic bag or the refrigerator.”

So where did the breadbox go? It was overruled by preservatives and plastic packaging. Are they making a comeback? There are a lot of rustic, retro and modern models available on line. Personally I don’t see where most folks have any space amongst the coffee pot, toaster, grinder, mixer, blender; et. al. for a breadbox on the counter. One thing though; the breadbox has no electric cord. It uses zero power. It just sits there and does what it was designed to do, keep bread fresh.

Breaking bread together can make friendships last. – Old Flemish saying.

Happy Trails, Dohn

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A Season of Crystals

For The Beauty Of The Earth

From under obscured skies and clouds small crystals drift down to land softly and settle into growing mounds of white. Green pine and fir stand in contrast whilst bending boughs cushion the accumulating tiny crystals. Even a tiny snowflake has weight. Multiplied by a thousand million times the weight of winter is upon us.

The winter hare, ermine and snowy owl are in an advantageous habitat now, primed and ready to pounce. For all the different species there is a habitat and place on Mother Earth. The crystal snows will melt, they surely will. The waters moistening the soil, migrating underground to meet the Rio Morphy and flow to the Mora and Canadian rivers onward to the sea.

Each season has its time and beauty. Spring with emerging colorful flora and the tender unfurling leaves of trees, summer’s green with growing things, autumn’s gold and fruitful harvest, winter’s white with longest nights, all is beauty if we look just right.

Mother Earth provides for us, Father Sun shines down. The rocks and rivers, the mountains and the seas are full of life if we but look around. Please help us to maintain a balance with the earth and its varied seasons. Help protect all species from the very grand in size to the very very small. There is a delicate web of life to preserve.

For the beauty of the earth, sing all, sing all praise.

Aloha, Dohn

 

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Wood heat at the Lower Farm

“In winter we lead a more inward life. Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows cheerfully ascends….We enjoy now, not an oriental, but a boreal leisure, around warm stoves and fireplaces, and watch the shadow of motes in the sunbeams.”   Henry David Thoreau

At the Lower Farm I heat with wood. It’s how it’s always been here. For over a hundred years, families at this old house have been heating water, cooking and staying warm by burning wood. It’s no different now.

Firewood is a local, low cost resource that  is sometimes free. Wood heat may be cost efficient –  but it is labor intensive. Gathering wood and maintaining a fire for six months is a year long process.

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Autumn is my favorite time of year for wood cutting. The temperature is cooler and more comfortable for physical work. The beauty of the turning leaves and changing season makes any day in the forest a healthful plus grounding experience. I’m especially fortunate to have not only a wood lot but the national forest, which is within two miles from the house. For 20 dollars I can get a permit from the Forest Service to cut 5 cords of dead or down wood. During winter months I burn one cord of wood per month. I’m sure lots of folk would like to have a heating bill of $30 or $40 for the year.

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Harvesting wood is hard work, it’s dangerous and there are tool costs involved. A truck, axe and chainsaw are essential. Safety must always be a consideration. For Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) I use a helmet with noise reduction ear muffs and a full face, mesh shield. On my legs are chaps that the fabric will bind a moving chain on contact and stop the chain saw, preventing cutting (off) a leg. I wear gloves and on the bottom end are steel toe work boots. Safety First! Swinging a chainsaw around is no time to be careless.

When cutting I always plant my feet firmly. I clear any brush or branches on which I may stumble. I also will most importantly have a clear escape path planned if a tree twists and turns while falling. Even trees on the ground can roll and crush a hand or foot. Safety First folks.

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Harvesting wood is only one part of the year long process. Once home it needs to be unloaded, split and stacked. There are plenty of gas powered hydraulic wood splitters on the market these days. I’m using the old fashioned method of swinging a splitting maul. I do a little bit at a time. I actually enjoy going out to the woodpile early on a brisk winters morning under a brilliant blue sky. Working for about an hour splitting and stacking is good exercise. Afterwards I can enjoy a hearty breakfast fixed up on the wood burning cookstove. They say that wood will heat you thrice. Once when you are cutting, once when you are splitting and once when you are burning. True enough.

When purchasing or cutting firewood It is good to know the difference between hardwoodIMG_7781 and softwood. Hardwood is ideal to foster a long low burn and maintain a hot bed of coals. Soft wood in contrast burns hot and fast. Softwood is often said to be dangerous because it generates more creosote. All woods create creosote. This myth is repeated most often in the northern Atlantic states where tall species of oak and maple are common.

IMG_8430 In western states where pine and fir forests dominate the myth is seldom heard. Wood cutters use the resource at hand. So called dangerous woods like pine are in fact safer than woods such as oak , as they will burn hotter and thus keep the flue temperature up. This myth may have originated with old fashioned stoves and fireplaces that burned inefficiently. Modern stoves when operated properly do not cause this high level of creosote accumulation.

Fireplace inserts and metal stoves were first used in France in the late 17th century. In the United States, Benjamin Franklin invented a metal stove in 1741. It was made of metal plates held together with bolts and was intended to produce more heat and less smoke than a typical fireplace. The original stove functioned poorly and was never popular but after improvements Franklin stoves are still in use today. During the 1800s there were a variety of wood stoves available to the public. There were iron cookstoves, pot belly stoves, parlor stoves with lots of nickel accents and large stoves to heat market stores and businesses. In rural areas wood stoves remained in use up to the 1950s when popularity declined and other options became more available.

Wood cookstoves are a versatile appliance. They can heat a room, cook food and heat water. Early models were manufactured of mostly cast iron construction. Later models retained the cast firebox and cooktop but have lighter materials for the remainder using a protective and attractive porcelain finish. Porcelain is resistant to heat and wear of everyday use plus it is easily kept clean.

All cookstoves, no matter when manufactured, have a similar design. There is an enclosed firebox of heavy cast material with a grate at the bottom that allows ash to collect in a pan beneath. Access to add fuel is at the front and side or top of the stove. Air intake is provided through a grill on the side of the stove near the fire. The grill can be slid open or closed to control the air/fuel  mixture. Exhaust smoke travels across the top of the oven box and exits out a flue. A sliding damper on the back of the stove regulates the outgoing draft thus retaining more heat in the stove.

Depending on size, the stovetop has 4 or 6 removable plates that can induce more direct heat to a pot or pan. I seldom use this method because of the mess from possible soot accumulation on pan bottoms. Some stoves are equipped with a water reservoir. A galvanized tank can hold about 12 gallons of readily available warm water. A nice feature when there is no indoor plumbing. Most stoves have a shelf above the cooktop. Some have warming ovens. Warming ovens are small metal cabinets with doors. This warming cabinet replaces the simple shelf. The warming oven gets plenty hot above the cooktop next to the flue pipe. It can be used to keep foods warm or do a slow bake.

When the electricity goes out, as it often does, I’m not hampered in preparing a hot meal. On cold snowy days the heat is a welcome benefit.

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“Age appears to be best in four things, – Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust and and old authors to read.”   Alonso of Aragon

Next to the fire the heat is warming your body, calming your nerves and emptying your mind of worry. Meditate.

A wood stove offers a degree of independence. Having wood heat can release the pressure of being under the thumb of the electric company (with it’s intermittent power, often in the worst of weather conditions) or the propane company with it’s variable prices.

There is satisfaction in providing for ones own needs. One develops an active relationship with the environment when using wood heat. Bonds with nature are strengthened. Arms and back are strengthened also. Heating with wood is difficult work and needs dedication. Maintaining a fire 24 hours a day for 5 or 6 months requires commitment. If the resources of wood, strength and dedication are at hand, it’s worth a go. In some instances it’s a necessity for staying warm. There is a legacy of wood heat at the Lower Farm that goes back generations. It’s all there is. It’s how it’s always been.

There is no finer warmth than that of a blazing fire.

Stay warm and healthy, Dohn

Posted in environment, Fire, health, Nature | 3 Comments

A unique American invention – the apple parer

Found in an old cabin

In mid 1850s America, a growing middle class sought out new mechanical aides and labor-saving machines for the home. The birth of American industry saw a proliferation of these mass produced items made of cast iron with interchangeable parts. The apple peeler below was the first labor-saving machine invented by David Goodell.

Description:

Circa: 1861 – 1901

“White Mountain” apple parer/corer. Made by: Goodell Co., Antrim, New Hampshire. 

Cast steel frame with thumbscrew for clamping to table. Threaded shaft with three prongs on end. Turned by a crank with wooden handle. Swiveling cutter with blade.

Raised cast letters on horizontal frame member: White Mountain Apple.

Raised cast letters on vertical frame member: 3 Made by Goodell Co. Antrim, N.H. USA

The first four decades of the 19th century apple parers were mostly made of wood by artisans for local communities. The Shakers of Massachusetts produced lovely wooden apple peelers. The invention and proliferation of cast iron apple peelers coincided when orchards were transitioning from planting with seed to grafted varieties.

The “White Mountain” apple peeler is an example of the genius of Yankee ingenuity.

Happy Trails, Dohn

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Changing climate, Changing lifeway

Climate change poses threats and dangers to the survival of indigenous communities world wide.

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Within the industrialized nations, indigenous communities still exist. Unless one lives in close proximity it is easy to forget they are there. Along the Alaskan coastline people still hunt and fish ocean waters for sustenance. In the Pacific Northwest a tribes livelihood depends on the salmon run in the rivers. On marginal land in the desert southwest herdsmen and hunters eke out a living. The swamps and estuaries of Florida and Louisiana are home to settlements that have lived in traditional ways for hundreds of years. All of these communities are under imminent threat from climate change.

Food, water and shelter are essential for existence. Some tribal areas will fare better than others as the ecology changes. Having some control of food resources will determine much. Tending goats and sheep is one strategy that has worked well in the past.

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Goats were among the first animals domesticated by humans. About 10,000 BP in the area around Mesopotamia, Neolithic man began keeping small herds of goats and sheep as a dependable source of  meat. Over time the practice of herding spread from the Near East to Europe. Evidence suggests Native Americans first acquired sheep in 1598 when Spanish explorer Juan de Onate brought 3,000 Churro sheep, 2,000 goats and 7,000 horses to New Mexico in the American southwest. This had a dramatic impact on the future culture of  the native people.

In a subsistence economy such as the Navajo, goats became and are important as a dependable source of food. Navajo families could drink goats milk, eat goat cheese and meat. Sheep were valued for trade, barter, meat and the wool fiber that could be spun and made into clothing, blankets and rugs for further trade.

Herding goats and sheep has been a lifeway around the world for 1,000s of years. Indigenous people will be the first to face direct consequences of climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship with the environment and it’s resources.

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The United States EPA reports that; ” New Mexico’s climate is changing. Most of the state has warmed one degree (F) in the last century. In the last century throughout the southwestern U.S. , heat waves are becoming more common, and snow is melting earlier in the spring.  In the coming decades, our changing climate is likely to decrease the flow of water into the Colorado, Rio Grande and other rivers; threaten the health of livestock; increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires; and convert some rangeland to desert.”

Increasing droughts and higher temperatures are likely. Warm drier conditions make forests more susceptible to pests. With higher winter temperatures, some pests can remain year round, and new pests and diseases may become established. Soils are likely to be drier, and periods without rainfall are likely to become longer, making droughts more severe. The combination of more fires and drier conditions may expand New Mexico deserts. Many plants and animals living in arid lands are already near the limits of what they can tolerate.

Climate change threatens natural resources and public health of tribal communities. Rising temperatures and increasing drought are likely to decrease the availability of certain fish, game and wild plants on which Navajo and other tribes have relied for generations.

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Consequences of observed and projected climate change have and will undermine indigenous lifeways. Indigenous people tend to live close to the land. They are subsistence farmers, herders, fishers and hunters with millennia of collective knowledge about the ecology of their surroundings. With that knowledge and experience, even tiny changes in water cycles, wild life, soil and weather are readily apparent. Indigenous people in the Arctic and South Pacific islands have known for decades that climate change is happening.

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For indigenous people, resilience is rooted in traditional knowledge, as the capacity to adapt to the environmental change is based foremost on an in-depth understanding of the land. This knowledge can enhance adaptation and sustainability strategies. Traditional knowledges have enabled indigenous populations to adapt to environmental changes for 1,000s of years.

Indigenous communities can use traditional knowledges to make a contribution to the assessment of climate change impact and the identification of potential problems and possible solutions.

In some ways indigenous communities may have an advantage over their urban counterparts during environmental upheaval. Self independence and a relationship with the land is lost knowledge to the city dweller. Innovative strategies will need to be developed for survival. The only thing we know for sure is that with a changing climate there will be changing lifeways.

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Msit No’ Kmaq – All my relations

” We humbly ask permission from all our relations; our elders, our families, our children, the winged and the insects, the four-legged, the swimmers and all the plant and animal nations, to speak. Our Mother has cried out to us. She is in pain. We are called to answer her cries.”   Indigenous Prayer.

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It is an unfortunate circumstance that those who contribute the least to CO 2 emissions will be the first to deal with consequences. Living on marginal lands with marginal opportunities and a marginal political voice, native communities face an uncertain future. They are easily forgotten in discussions by environmental panels.

Indigenous people have unique historical and cultural relation with tribal or ancestral lands. It is only with new adaptive strategies and their traditional knowledge will they be able to remain.

Sincerely, Dohn

 

Posted in Art, earth, environment, food, water | 3 Comments

Red Chile Ristras

 

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Common throughout New Mexico are seen strings of chile peppers hanging from porch rafters and along walls. As the peppers dry they turn a vibrant red. A cheerful color during the autumn and winter months. The dried pods will later be soaked in water, made into a paste and simmered for hours adding flavor and substance for meals, long past the harvest.

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A ristra is a string of dried garlic, onion or chile peppers. The stems of garlic can be used to form a braid for the string or as with chile they are tied or sewn in small bunches to a central cord.

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Chile is part of an old culture, an ancient way of life. The ancestral origin of chile was probably in the area of Bolivia and Peru. Originally the Americas were the only place chile was found. It had been domesticated there for 7,000 years. Since the introduction of chile to Europe by Columbus, it spread rapidly along the spice trade routes to Africa and Asia. Now a quarter of the world’s population eat hot chile every day.

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Faith and food are two traditions that have sustained the people of New Mexico for generations. Once a subsistence economy, many of the old customs retain a place in society today. Early settlers planted their own food, raised livestock and depended on natural resources for their sustenance. Fruit, corn, beans and chile could be preserved for future meals by drying in the sun. People today purchase most of their commodities but the custom of hanging chile ristras to dry still persists.

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Considered the states signature crop, chile peppers are a basis for a complex and differentiated industry. The industry contributes much to the economy (5th in agricultural products) and employs numerous workers in manual farm labor, processing, value added products, marketing and other areas. According to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture nearly 3.05 million dollars of chile was exported to the world in 2018. Small farms and farmers markets that sell fresh chile and chile ristras are an important part in the local economy of small towns.

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A welcoming doorway with chile ristra at the Randall R. Davies Audubon Center in Santa Fe, NM.

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Green garland from the forest, red ristras from the farm add festive decoration to this southwestern home during the holidays.

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Many types of peppers were first grown by Pueblo people, who continue to grow their own peppers, each with a distinctive taste. Different locations produce different flavors in chile. Chimayo for instance is known for a chile that is pungent,  smoky and a high heat value. Other places will grow a pepper that has mild or sweet qualities.

The New Mexico chile as we know it was developed by pioneer horticulturist Fabian Garcia. Working with the New Mexico University Agriculture Department Garcia began a series of groundbreaking experiments in the late 1800s. He wanted to develop a more standardized chile pepper to help boost opportunities for New Mexico farmers. In 1913 he released ‘New Mexico #9’. The first variety with dependable pod size and heat level. Fabian Garcia is now highly regarded as the father of the NM chile industry.

Hatch, NM in the southern Rio Grande valley is the center of chile production in the state. Hatch green chile has become synonymous with ‘New Mexico #9’ and is in demand across the United States and prized around the world.

New Mexico chile – Nothing compares. 

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Simple recipe for NM red chile sauce:  courtesy of Tomasita’s Restaurant, a Santa Fe favorite.

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces dried whole New Mexico red chile pods, stemmed and deseeded
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic, or 3 cloves fresh garlic crushed
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more if desired

Directions

  1. Rinse the chile pods 5 times, then let soak in water in a bucket or large bowl for 5 hours or so.
  2. After the chiles have soaked for 5 hours, discard the water. Put the chile pods in a blender. Tamp the pods down into the blender, then add water to the top. Blend well into a paste.
  3. Put the paste in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  4. Make a roux. Put the oil in a saucepan, over medium heat, heat up slightly, add the flour and stir constantly. The flour should get toasted and brown, but do not burn it, about 5 minutes.
  5. Drizzle the roux into the red chili and mix to combine. This will make it thicker and change the color slightly, but it should not get white in color. The chili and liquid should just look darker and less bright than the red chili without any roux. Add enough roux and water to get the chili to the right consistency, which should be like gravy. You may not use all the roux.
  6. Add the garlic and salt. Leave the chili in the pot to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring regularly. Do NOT bring it to a boil, as that may burn the flour in the roux. Add more salt and garlic if needed and serve.

Serve hot over potatoes, eggs, beans, smothered burritos and more.

 

Till next time, Bon Appetit.

Dohn

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Location, location, location

My Location

Real estate agents will tell you that location is everything. From a business standpoint that makes perfect sense.  A successful business location should have good visibility, favorable traffic patterns and a density of population. Urban home values are also subject to location. Neighborhoods, schools, proximity to commercial areas and businesses all factor in for a desirable location. For myself location is also important although my criteria is much different than those above. I prefer to live in a rural area where population density is low. Rural communities usually have low crime rates. Generally speaking it’s a safer place to live. Mora County where I live has a population density of nine persons per square mile. Suits me fine.

Climate and weather are other factors I consider for a preferred location. Soil, water and access to natural resources such as stones for foundations and walls or a woodlot for timbers, building material and firewood are other important things to examine.

I believe the Lower Farm is in a good location. There is magic and mystery here. I’ll never be sure if I chose to live on this land or the land chose me. None the less here I am. The Lower Farm, Ledoux, New Mexico.

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We all seek a place of refuge. A place to escape the noise and overwhelming distractions of the modern world. There are such places. When I open my front door and step onto the front porch all that my eye can survey is at peace.

In the spreading valley beyond scattered cattle wander the fields. A few horses gently graze. A red tail hawk glides the currents. A half mile away smoke lazily drifts from a neighbors chimney. As I raise my eyes to the mountain peaks in the west I am overcome in awe and am humbled.

All is at peace. I take a deep breath and focus on the moment.

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Between the Great Plains to the east and the Sangre de Christo mountains to the west are hundreds of canyons and mountain valleys. The Sangre de Christo range is at the tail end of the Rocky Mountains, which start in Canada and terminate near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Truchas Peak in the nearby Pecos Wilderness rises to an elevation of 14,001 at it’s prominence. It is the second highest peak in New Mexico.
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At the bottom of the map seen at right the Truchas Peaks are noted. The Lower Farm, Morphy Canyon, Ledoux, New Mexico lies due east on the flank of this mountain range.

 

 

 

 

 

 

” No matter how sophisticated you may be, A large granite mountain cannot be denied – it speaks in silence to the very core of your being.”  Ansel Adams

 

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Morphy Lake is a small state park only two miles from my house. Besides providing outdoor activities for the citizenry the lake has another important benefit for the area. Water from the lake is used for irrigation through several ancient acequias. Certain land owners along the ditch have water rights to irrigate their fields. I am fortunate to be one of them.

Another water amenity is a small creek (Rito Morphy) that runs across the bottom of my property. In the photo one can see a line of trees that trace the Rito Morphy as it flows to the horizon.

The Lower Farm is situated at 7,600 ft. above sea level near the bottom of Morphy Canyon. An ideal location. There are expansive views, clean unpolluted air, clear waters, ease of access to the national forest and an abundance of wildlife. We have 283 days of sunshine a year (the U.S avg. is 205). Our summer high temperature in July is 80 degrees and the January winter low is a chilly 16. Moderate overall. On average there is 96″ of snowfall and 21″ of rain per year. Again moderate.

New Mexico is at the forefront of places experiencing climate change. Higher than normal temperatures and severe drought have plagued the state for a decade of years. I’m hoping that my elevation and proximity to the mountain range will alleviate some of the more extreme effects of future climate change. The water flow from upstream rain and mountain snowpack might be meager but the watershed itself will still exist. The watershed with beaverdams and riparian habitat that passes through my property.

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 All is at peace. Take a deep breath and focus on the moment.

The first settlers to the area arrived in the early 1800s. The Mexican government established a land grant to permit a few families to begin a village. There were still Indian raids at the time. Primitive as life was the people persisted. Supply trains (wagons) were infrequent or non existent. It was a subsistence economy. People raised goats, sheep and chickens, others grew beans and corn. Trade was done on a system of barter. When the American government annexed all of New Mexico after the Mexican War a cash economy was established. Lives and homesteads were seriously affected by the negative consequences. Culture and tradition do not so easily fade away however, even when confronted with upheaval in politics or the economy.

In the surrounding area of communities many of the early traditions still exist, sustained by behaviors passed on over generations, of language, food and faith. Above all is a sense of place. A communion with the land.

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A Communion with the land

The Lower Farm gives me a sense of place. I know where I am on the planet. I can experience the grandeur of nature from my front porch. A place to be at one with the Earth.

The old adobe house serves me well. The structure is sound and after 150 years it has proven it is sustainable. Sustainability requires maintenance though and at this point more than maintenance, a full renovation is in order. New windows, doors and floors all need to be replaced. Indoor plumbing (with hot water) would improve life immensely as would an upgrade to the dubious electrical system.

The past couple years there have been a number of improvements made. Lots more to go. I have a vision and frame that vision with historic preservation. I have become the curator of legends and myths.

After reading this post you will have become more familiar with My Location, where I write. Thanks for stopping by.

Dohn

 

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