Las Mañanitas

News from the Pleasure Palace on Mesa Sea Road

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tarantula Season

Autumn is our favorite season is Taos, and our furry friends always add to our enjoyment:

Our goal this time was to do four hikes in four days, but because of a little rain we only managed three hikes. The first one was along the Dorothy Stewart Trail in Santa Fe. The trailhead is on the edge of a ritzy Santa Fe residential neighborhood, up past St. John's College. It's an easy 45-minute hike with spectacular views of Santa Fe and the mountains beyond:

Hike number two was up and over several dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado. It was a shock to see mountains of sand next to actual mountains, and even more shocking to attempt anything like normal hiking in this desert landscape:

Our last hike was on the Devisadero Trail in Taos. We always save this hike for the fall when it's cool enough to climb in the middle of the day. It had snowed in the mountains the previous day, leaving behind the season's first snow caps:

Friday, July 24, 2009

No Exit

The pitter-patter of little mouse feet in the ceiling above our bed: at first we thought it was just another aspect of country life, like dirt roads and septic tanks. But after three years of listening to the rodent symphony--which sounded like they'd built a little mouse adobe and were constantly rearranging their little mouse furniture--we decided to take action.

Marcus the exterminator showed up promptly after our call and toured our house inside and out, including the roof, searching for weaknesses in our home's anti-mouse defense system. He found several: a small mouse-sized opening in the vent leading to our mechanical room, several spots in our north portal where the interior vigas protrude to the exterior, and all fifteen of our roof vents. Marcus explained that even though the vent openings were twelve inches off the roof's surface, a determined mouse could jump that high and climb right in.

"If there were only a few mice and hundreds of houses out here instead of the other way around, you wouldn't have a problem," he said. He set out several pieces of mouse poison--little blue cubes guaranteed to do the trick--and advised us to seal the roof vents with steel mesh and baling wire. "You'll smell dead mice in your ceiling pretty soon, but at least you'll know the stuff is working."

After he left, Steve set to work stuffing steel wool into gaps and closing off the roof vents with 1/8" wire mesh. It took two days to complete the job, but when it was finished we felt confident that we'd sleep peacefully.

No such luck. The first night, we found a mouse trapped in our shower stall, frantically looking for water. By morning it was gone, only to be replaced the next night by another one sneaking into our living room. Luckily our grandkitty, Bertie, had just arrived that day and was on the alert, and we were able to shoo it out the front door before Bertie could tear it to shreds. A few days passed with no further mouse sightings, but after our two grandkitties and their owners, Drew and Liz, left, we descended into Rodent Hell. For each of the next five nights, a mouse would drop into our house by squeezing through the slats in the ceiling; since we'd sealed off access to the outside, they had nowhere else to go. We barricaded ourselves in the guest bedroom, thinking that they wouldn't come to that part of the house, but just as we were about to fall asleep we heard that telltale scurrying above our heads.

Desperate from lack of sleep, we decided to set traps throughout the house. We found traps at Walmart--plastic rectangular 'mice cubes'--promising an effective and humane alternative to traditional mousetraps, but our tormentors turned up their little snouts at those wimpy cubes. Finally we set out spring-loaded traps, baited them with peanut butter, and caught the biggest and craftiest of our visitors.

Five nights have passed since then with no further sightings. The only remaining evidence of Mickey, Minnie, and their brood is that distinctly sweet smell, eau de rotting rodentia.

Monday, July 13, 2009

El Otro Lado

Our dealings with the town's Spanish residents are usually limited to brief conversations with store clerks and repair people, surface exchanges at best. But one day last week we experienced something new--a rare immersion into the other side of Taos.

The Driver
On our way to an appointment to have our windshield replaced, we decided to stop at our local post office in Arroyo Hondo. As we were pulling into a parking space, a young woman in the adjacent spot was backing out. We stopped to give her some maneuvering room, certain that she was aware of our car. Then, in one of those sickening moments when you realize that something awful is about to happen, she turned her car at precisesly the wrong angle, connecting her rear bumper with our driver's-side quarter panel. Apparently unaware of our blaring car horn until the moment of impact, she emerged from her car looking dumbfounded. Meanwhile, Steve tried to open his door, but the dented quarter panel made that impossible, and we both had to get out on the passenger's side.

"No entiendo," said the woman when Steve, trying to control his temper, asked "Why didn't you stop? Why didn't you look where you were going? Didn't you see our car? Didn't you hear our horn?"

"No entiendo," she repeated, when I told her to turn off her engine. Summoning my long-buried college Spanish, I said, "Tenemos que llamar la policía y wait aquí for them to venir."

By now her little boy, about 5 years old, had climbed out of his car seat and was clearly intrigued by what I'd said. "La policía?" he asked his mom, then started jumping up and down in anticipation. "La policía! La policía!"

The Translator
This is where I should point out that, while most Taoseños are fluent in Spanish, there are virtually no young women or five-year-olds here who can't speak English unless they were born in Old Mexico and arrived here less than a week ago. The New Mexico license plate on her car added to my suspicion of the woman's 'no entiendo' routine, but when she rattled on in Spanish, I asked a local man who'd just pulled up in his pickup--both he and his vehicle appeared to be in their mid-seventies--to translate for me.

"She says it's her mother's car and she needs to go home and take some medicine. Her mother lives just over there," he said, pointing to a mobile home across the road.

"All right," I agreed, figuring that as long as her car remained in the lot it would be okay for her to leave. Besides, it would take at least 45 minutes for someone from the county sheriff's office to arrive, so there was plenty of time for her to go home and return to the scene of the crime.

As the woman and her son walked away, my translator friend turned to me and Steve and, trying to diffuse the tension by changing the subject, pointed out his own home on the top of the ridgeline less than a mile from where we were standing.

"I lived in California for a long time, but a few years ago I decided to return to Arroyo Hondo. My family owns all that land," he said, indicating roughly twenty acres on the hillside, "and my brother's family and daughter's family live there, too. I was born there, and I'll probably die there. In fact, I wrote a book about the history of Arroyo Hondo. Haven't you seen it on the post office wall? I'll show you."

We followed him inside. Sure enough, there was a large glass-enclosed display on the wall featuring his book: Arroyo Hondo and Its Beautiful and Magnificent People--Past, Present and Future. The display included photos of Arroyo Hondo and a notice that there were four other books by the same author. We managed to express a polite interest in his book and asked him if there were still copies available. "Of course!" he smiled. "I think I have a few in my truck."

He returned shortly with two books. "The Arroyo Hondo book is fifteen dollars, but I'll give you this one for free," he said proudly, offering us a copy of Moe: A true story about a smart chimp who defied the courts and authorities to become a hero! Moe himself was pictured on the cover, sporting a plaid blazer, striped surfer shirt, athletic socks and mocassins. Amazed at our friend's versatility as a writer, as well as his ability to coax spare cash from unsuspecting post office patrons, we shook hands and waved goodbye as his truck pulled away.

The Deputy
Twenty minutes later the sheriff's deputy, Sergeant Peralta, arrived and gave us his assessment of the accident. "I'm not writing a citation for either party, since this is a parking lot and not a public thoroughfare. But I would say that both drivers are at fault." Sensing that an argument would be useless in this Spanish vs. Anglo situation, we nodded politely. "You should have given her more room as she was backing out," he continued.

Now Steve really had to bite his tongue. Since when does a person backing out bear no responsibility for checking for other cars in her path?

Sgt. Peralta seemed impatient to get on with his day and dismissed us with a curt goodbye after informing us that his report would be available to our insurance company in five or six days. His manner strongly implied that he did not want us to stick around for his tête-à-tête with Señora No Entiendo and her mother.

The Auto Glass Guy
Feeling discouraged and annoyed, and knowing that our little fender-bender would cost us our $500 deductible, we drove to our auto glass appointment in Ranchitos, the heart of Spanish Taos. We were greeted by the owner, Mike, a kindly man in his early sixties. Mike sympathized with our take on the accident, incredulous that the sheriff's deputy considered Steve in any way to blame.

While Mike's employees replaced our windshield he told us his life story. Born in Taos, he moved to southern California to work in auto body repair and restoration. He did auto glass work for celebrities--Jay Leno, Linda Ronstadt, and Rod Stewart, among others--who drive classic cars. But like our translator friend, Mike missed New Mexico and decided to return to his hometown with his wife and three kids, thinking that Taos would be a better environment for his family. In one of those tragic ironies, his oldest son, seventeen at the time, was murdered in a drug-related incident in 2000, only two years after the family had relocated to Taos. Despite the devastating loss of his son, he said he tries to focus on "the good things in life," and his eyes shone with pride as he talked about his only daughter and youngest child, Tammy, a state track champion hoping to attend Notre Dame in 2010.

The Classic Car Guy
While we were waiting for the windshield glue to set, a young friend of Mike's named Vito dropped by to inspect the glass work that Mike was doing on a '49 Chevy truck. Vito owns a body-and-paint business and does mainly high-end restoration jobs for wealthy clients. He and Mike often work together on classic car restorations, as was the case with the Chevy. Mike introduced us to Vito, who then offered to repair our car. He explained that he does occasional collision work when he has the time and that things were a little slow at the moment.

Our insurance company agreed that his estimate was reasonable, so we followed him to his shop a few miles away, just behind the St. Francis church in Ranchos. When Vito showed us the paint work he'd completed on his two current projects, a '56 Bel Air and a '68 Mustang, we knew we'd come to the right place. We arranged to meet the following day to choose the best paint color for our new quarter panel.

Thus ended our foray into the Spanish community--a satisfying conclusion to what began as a very frustrating day.

A happy addendum to our story: Vito took great pains to find an exact color match for our quarter panel (who knew there were six different shades of dark red metallic pearl?) and our car now looks better than new. When we returned to his shop to pick up our car, he introduced us to his wife and two adorable kids, took us on a tour of his 400-year-old adobe home which has been in his family for generations, and showed us his guitar collection and home recording studio. His band will perform at the Sagebrush during fiesta weekend, and we'll be there to cheer him on.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


On Saturday, April 12, the mesa welcomed a new member. Alonso was born at 8:30 a.m., wobbling on his spindly little legs a few moments later, and within an hour was sporting a jaunty red jacket. His mom, Val, was doing fine, despite the fact that the birth took place outside the normal 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. birthing window (anything too much earlier or later would have been a sign of fetal distress and very dangerous for the mother and baby). Karen, the alpaca herd's owner, was out of town, so our neighbor Maggie was responsible for checking the afterbirth to see that it had been properly delivered (watchdog Lars ate the whole thing soon afterward, making sure that no coyote-attracting scraps remained). Maggie also had to put iodine on Alonso's new belly button to prevent infection. This was Maggie's second "solo" delivery, and this time she was much less panicked about the whole thing (frequent phone contact with Karen helped to ease her worries, too). By the time we visited Alonso, he was six hours old and seemed quite content with all the attention from his mom, who made constant cooing and clicking sounds. Alonso's many aunties (Maggie calls them the sister-wives) gathered around too, giving licks and nuzzles and surrounding him with warmth on this cold, rainy day.

Alonso and Val:

With the sister-wives:

Hard Times

Besides the fact that a repairman will now answer his phone on the first ring and show up at your house within the hour, there are other signs that the recession has finally reached Taos. The saddest and most obvious are the empty storefronts. In a small town with few storefronts to begin with, the darkened windows of once-booming tourist shops, art galleries, beauty salons, cafés, and restaurants cast an eerie pall over the Taos Plaza and nearby streets. While there were a fair number of people gallery-browsing and walking their dogs near the Plaza on a warm April day, we still had the feeling that a major change had taken place. The lead story in the Taos News last week outlined how the recession had turned the local housing market upside-down, and for the first time ever, the glossy real estate insert listed several foreclosures on every page. On the bright side our favorite restaurant, Sushi Hattori, was packed with locals at lunchtime. But even this very popular place, which had stopped advertising years ago because it couldn't handle more than thirty customers at a time, now displays its own placard on the big wooden sign at the Overland Ranch complex.

It's tempting to think that punctual repairmen and no more condos are great things for Taos, but many Taoseños struggle with unemployment in the best of times. For their sake, we hope that the economy will bounce back sooner than expected and that a "closed" sign will simply mean that the owner has stepped out for a quick lunch.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Winter Scenes

On the grounds of the Overland Ranch near our favorite restaurant, Sushi Hattori:

In Ranchos de Taos:

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I Can't Believe We Shoveled the Whole Thing

After a fourteen-inch snowfall on January 4, Steve and I shared our shovel, and the result (four hours later) looked like this:

The mesa hasn't seen this much snow since the early eighties. Here's Las Mañanitas after the storm:

We could barely see the tops of the surrounding sage:

Luckily there were no guests in Maggie's casita the night of the storm:

Monday, December 29, 2008

All Hands (and an ATV) On Deck

When we arrived in Taos the other day, we knew the area had been through a snowstorm recently, but as we drove along the snow-packed road to our house, we didn't think there was any more snow than usual at this time of year. We were cruising along Mesa Sea, which is normally a pretty bumpy road, at a record pace, since all the ruts were nicely filled in with snow. There was lots of merriment and ho-ho-hoing as we turned into our driveway--and then it happened. The low-slung Chevy Malibu that Hertz had bestowed on us got stuck in a snowdrift, and even with Strongman Steve pushing as I ground the gears, we couldn't budge it.

We soon attracted the attention of several Mesa Sea residents whom we'd never met before. The first to come along was Tony, an Isleta puebloan. He joined Steve in pushing, but they still couldn't move the car. Next to lend a hand was the wife of the reclusive Minnesota couple who lives nearby; she returned home to fetch her husband for more he-man strength. By the time Mr. Reclusive Minnesota showed up, two men with an ATV loaded onto their pickup truck had already offered their snowplowing services, which we gratefully accepted. For eighty bucks, Francisco and Carlos cleared our driveway with a blade attached to their ATV and had no trouble pushing our car out of the drift.

As our snowplowing saviors were doing their thing, a woman drove to the base of our driveway, hopped out of her truck and said, "You must be Beth and Steve!" She turned out to be Sue, the owner of the Anasazi ruin house, who just that morning had been helping our neighbor Maggie dig out of our driveway. Maggie had kindly agreed to turn on our house heat the night before and had gotten stuck in the very same snowdrift that captured our car. Maggie had to leave her car there overnight and wait for some neighborly help to pull it out.

Francisco and Carlos, lifelong residents of Arroyo Hondo, informed us that this was the most snow they'd seen on the mesa since the early eighties. No one else on Mesa Sea remebers seeing anything close to this much snow, and certainly we never imagined needing to have our driveway plowed. But as I write this, the temperature has soared to nearly fifty degrees, and we've been able to take our morning walks along Mesa Sea with our gloves off and our coats unzipped--so maybe our main reasons for choosing Taos as our retirement destination (natural beauty and mild winters) aren't so farfetched after all.