Friday, February 23, 2007

Hello Arizona

The White Sands Desert National Monument sits in the White Sands Missile Range and we experienced both on our way from Alamogordo to Garden Valley (just south of Tucson). We stopped at this amazing desert and could have stayed there all day. It was a totally new world with huge sand dunes made of sand as white as new snow.
Just west of White Sands, we were pulled over by the police. They were closing the highway because the military was test firing a missle across the highway up ahead. That one hour wait was fun, especially considering that it was a small price to pay for the security of knowing that our southern neighbours are all boned up on their missile technology. I'm amazed at the sizes and ubiquity of military installations in the area. But then, the NM, AZ desert has always been a vast, "empty" place suited to the testing and deployment of firepower, and it was at Los Alamos (just north of Santa Fe) that Robert Oppenheimer and his colleagues designed the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Tomorrow, our friends will introduce us to Tucson and its environs. We won't go to Tombstone to witness a reenactment of the Shootout at the OK Corral; W. says he saw it and it's not worth the money. He did, however, tell me the story as he learned it, including the trial that followed in which Wyatt Earp and his two brothers along with Doc Holliday were charged with murdering the three men they were attempting to disarm. Quite a story. As W. said, the story after Hollywood is bigger than life.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Some photos

I'm in Room 212 at the Super 8 Motel in Alamogordo, NM. For the moment, I'm online so I'm experimenting with uploading photos. The first photo below is of the trailer in which we settled when we arrived, on January 23rd! The second shows the fifth wheel we're living in now. The third was taken near Cuauhtemoc, Mexico at a cheese plant where employees are unloading milk on the Menno Colony.

We're on the way to Tucson to see friends from our Thompson days, after which we expect to drop in on Eigenheim friends in Mesa, near Phoenix. We decided to shorten the trip by doing the drive through the Sacramento Mountains today. It was a wonderfully scenic trip taking us to about 6500 feet above sea level. There are still mountains of snow up there, and the skiiers are having a great year.

From the Sacramentos, we descended rapidly into the flat plain in which Alamogordo sits. In the distance the next range of mountains is beckoning to us for tomorrow. We plan to make a stop in the White Sands desert where, we're told, the sand is white as snow and is made up of granulated gypsum. It's on our way, so we should make Tucson before dark.

Have a great day!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Presidents' Day - Prime Ministers' Day?

As I drove through Carlsbad to the thrift store this morning, I noticed the Stars and Stripes flapping in the stiff breeze in front of numerous homes and businesses. It's Presidents' Day, a statutory holiday that very few seem to observe. The library is obviously open and many business - particularly the big box and chain businesses - are also passing up on the holiday. I think we should have a Prime Ministers' Day in Canada when we could fly flags all over the place, post pictures of Pierre, Brian, Joe, Kim, John A., Sir Wilfred, etc., and do obeisance to their memory . . . and get another day off work!

J. passed away on Friday and Sunday morning service at Carlsbad Mennonite was a bit of a mournful affair. Unfortunately, a visiting speaker had been invited and most of us were not in the spirit for hearing a lengthy report on the Gideon's work, honourable and necessary as it may be. I had consented to teach the adult Sunday School class and there were probably about 40 people present. The lesson surrounded "In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you so that where I am, you may be also." John 14. Once I had opened the discussion, there was no need to worry about the lesson; it carried itself and proved to be just the right one for a grieving community. I admit that I'm often skeptical about people's claims that God intervenes to smooth their paths, but I felt yesterday that I should probably rethink this.

It's a beautiful day in Carlsbad. About +22C with a little breeze from the southwest. Unfortunately Agnes is down with a bit of stomach 'flu - which has been circulating here for a bout two weeks - and can't enjoy it, and faithful husband that I am, I feel guilty if I enjoy it without her so I will wash and vacuum the car and not go golfing. A friend told me the other day that year-round, you can expect the day and night time temperatures to vary by at least 40F degrees, so it'll still freeze tonight.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Those friends thou hast . . .

In Hamlet, Polonius gives advice to his two children, Laertes and Ophelia. One bit directed toward his son goes: Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.

When we got to Carlsbad, one of the first couples we got to know were J and M. In their mid seventies, they were nevertheless young thinkers and actors and although J was having some serious problems with a chronic health condition, it was he who accompanied us as we worked on the Habitat house where we sensed some of the chagrin he was feeling as his physical condition made the work he loved difficult. We spent several evenings at their house with the other SOOPers, Agnes spent a number of Wednesdays helping M to sort and bag pecans for MCC, and this Monday, I helped J mark off the lines for nailing siding on the storage shed for the last of the Habitat houses. The same evening, J and M came to our place (which is their fifth wheel provided us after out problems with the RV we had rented) and we fed them salmon and baked potato, etc., and played Mexican Train - a dominoes game that J loved - until 10:00 p.m. Both of them have a great sense of humour and we laughed plenty. They told us about their good times when they'd travel with their RV and boat to Florida (for instance) and J would spend the mornings on Habitat construction and the afternoons on the boat. Their love for each other and for life was obvious.

On Wednesday, the two of them went for their regular swim in the recreation centre near their home and J - as usual - spent some time in the hot tub and then dived into the cool pool. When M looked around for him, he was nowhere and she was in a panic. She finally spotted him floating in the pool below the water level and yelled for help to remove him an call the ambulance.

There was no reviving him, and as I sit here, J is slipping away from all of us at the Carlsbad Medical Centre, his family around him.

J isin charge of the pecan harvest and shelling for MCC fundraising at Carlsbad Mennonite. he is a long-time, founding member of CMC and deeply loved by all who know him around town. If he should miraculously recover - please God - or if he should be taken home, he will always be associated in my mind with pecans and building houses for less fortunate folk. Of all his passions, these were the ones that it was my privilege to witness and share with him.

Is six weeks long enough for a friendship to sprout and grow? With a man like J, I think that 6 days are plenty. Some people are so gifted that way, and we are all much better for having known them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow, again!

Many of you like to see pictures more than you like to read. That's me too. I had hoped to use my laptop at the library so I could upload some of our many photographs, and so I had a new wireless card installed this morning. The library wireless service is not working, wouldn't you know, but someone has suggested that if we have an adaptor to run the laptop off the cigarette lighter (which we do), I could probably access the web from the Methodist Church parking lot. It seems that's a hotspot. Maybe I'll try that. Meanwhile, just words.

On Monday, we had a short-sleeve-shirt day (+20C) and today, it's +2C and two inches of snow. I guess it's some kind of justice when it snows on the snowbirds. We plan to make a trip into Arizona in a week to visit friends the Janzens near Tucson and the Friesens near Phoenix. It'll be nice to see another place and to converse with people from "back home." Speaking of names, which nobody was, our SOOP experience has been heavy with Friesens: Two Friesen couples arrived when we did (both acquaintances from childhood days) and another Friesen couple from Kelowna just arrived. We actually knew the latter from Germany where we worked the office of MCC and they did refugee work in Munich. When we crossed the border from Mexico into the US a month ago, The lady who looked at the Friesen's passport called a colleague over and said something like, "Look, more Friesens!" Somebody in church said that all the Friesens were coming to Carlsbad because it was so cold in Canada, everybody was 'friezen.' I imagine that the "frozes" are too stiff too move. We haven't seen any here.

I cooked an authentic Mexican-American meal for supper last night. I have a cookbook on the subject from the local library and decided to try cooking something from scratch. I made a chili sauce instead of buying it prepared and made enchilda. These are sharp cheddar, boiled egg, olives and sauteed onion wrapped in a tortilla and smothered in chili sauce, then baked at 300F for 25 minutes. They were good. I also made a side dish of Mexican beans and rice starting with small red beans soaked overnight, then boiled. You add the rice after 30 minutes, along with coconut milk and a few spices and 1 habanero pepper, the hottest pepper in the entire world. (Never cut these up without rubber gloves.) It was a good supper and our guests, the Friesens, enjoyed it. I think it may have thawed them out.

We keep a close watch on the weather in Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg and realize that most of you who are reading this are experiencing a cold snap. I know, for instance, that it's -21C in Rosthern today, and that Horatio, our cat, is probably mad as a hornet. I also know that it's only -8C in Edmonton and that warmer air is on the way. What a bizarre place the earth under global warming has become. The midwest USA is practically buried under snow today. At least it has served to provide variety to our lives and to give us grist for the coffee row conversation mill.

New Mexico has a bone to pick with Saskatchewan, I found out recently. It appears that the postash industry was really strong here until the stuff was found in plentitude in Saskatchewan, after which the Carlsbad economy took a real dip. There's still a potash industry here, but it's not what it once was. Agnes met a lady at a friend's house the other day who will be moving to Saskatoon from Carlsbad. Her husband has been transferred from a potash mine here to work at one near Saskatoon. Don't know which one.

Time's up. Got to go. God bless you all and keep you warm. Especially you Friesens and Froeses.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Different, but the same . . .

I'm sitting in the Carlsbad library and aware that except for a few subtleties, this could be the library in Saskatoon or Prince Albert. That's true of life here generally; American and Canadian cultures overlap considerably. I would say that Canadians on average are more knowledgeable about world affairs than New Mexicans, but I haven't been impressed with my fellow Canadians on this subject either. We place different values on certain things; for instance, New Mexicans generally seem to put their discretionary money into their vehicles as opposed to their homes. Games of chance are attractive to New Mexicans as they are to Canadians, but I haven't seen a single casino here: I'm told that Aboriginal tribes in other NM cities have gone heavily into the gambling business, however.

Every day, we pass through the vast Carlsbad cemetery on our way downtown. Stones are large and the entire cemetery is very well kept. In some areas, the stones all seem to be decorated with bouquets of bright red, plastic flowers, and it looks kind of nice. I've a feeling the resting place of parents and grandparents is treated with more reverence and solicitation than we're used to at EMC. I think it may be a Spanish tradition. Some days, we'll see a mother and children kneeling at a stone, placing some flowers, spending some time with a loved one.

Not surprisingly, food is spicier here than it tends to be in Saskatchewan. Spanish influence, probably, although we've been told that Mexican food is generally bland. I've got to figure this out yet, but since Agnes and I both like a bit of kick to our chili, we're enjoying the food. Tonight, the church ladies are putting on a Valentine's Day banquet, and we'll no doubt be treated yet again to their amazing cuisine - TexMexMenno. Agnes is making cheesecakes for the event.

Carlsbad has a large number of churches, some pretty large. Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian seem to be the largest church presences here, and on some ventures, the Baptists, Presbyterians and Mennonites have cooperated. They have, for instance, purchased and are running several transition houses where victims of abuse, abandonment, etc, can live until they get back on their feet. They also figure in the running of the Community Kitchen, Carlsbad Association for Retarded Citizens, etc. I don't expect to get to know enough about non-Mennonite denominations as represented in Carlsbad in the short time we're here. CMC stated some 40 years ago as a combination of the presence of a voluntary service unit and a few Mennonite families that had come here with their work. At present, their average age must be well over fifty although there are a few young families and probably about 10 children. Their future is uncertain.

In a recent post, I said that I could now identify numerous desert plants, including Otillo. Hold the phone. Agnes read that and informed me gently that it was "Ocotillo" about which I was purporting to be the expert. Birds here also represent a challenge and I presume my sometime birdwatching friend Wally, who's in Arizona right now, is revelling in novel bird sounds. Where we are, there appears to be an epidemic of Grackles and Mourning Doves/White-winged Doves. The Grackles group together in large trees and scold, sing, banter - whatever their peculiar conversation is called - endlessly. the Mourning Doves coo "mournfully" day in and out, and leave their deposits on your car if you happen to park under a tree. Our favourite birds so far are the Roadrunners. They're shy, but occasionally we see one - surprise, surprise - running across the road. They fly about as much as barnyard chickens, that is to say, enough to get over a fence or ditch. Their preferred locomotion is on foot. I haven't heard them go,"Meep, meep" as they did on the Roadrunner Hour, and I don't know if they're particularly threatened by coyotes.

Seventeen of the eighteen Whooping Cranes in the Eastern flock died in the tornados in Florida on February 2. I felt like taking my hat off and observing a moment of silence when I heard that this morning. There's another larger flock wintering in Southern Texas right now, but this is a real blow to this endangered species.

I'm out of time. Greetings to all our many friends, and don't hesitate to reply. You'll need to register with blogspot first, but it's easy and we love to hear from you. Begin by clicking on the comment tab at the bottom of this post.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Influenza, moral dilemmas, etc.

I'm recovering from a bout of what I called "Montezuma's Revenge" to a church member yesterday, and he protested that hear in NM, Montezuma is not a character demanding revenge on unwelcome visitors. In any case, it wasn't pretty, but I'm feeling better and know that there are lots of others around me who have suffered with the stomach 'flu lately.

The Habitat for Humanity house is coming along. We've just about completed the siding and soffits, at which point the outside work will be done. The floors, walls and insulation will be done by people who know what they're doing. I took the day off today, supposing that going to the Community Kitchen was not a good idea until I was fully recovered. It gave us a chance to do some necessary things like laundry, getting oil and filter change on the car, flushing out the sewage holding tank on the RV, cleaning the carpets in the car on which we spilled a bunch of borscht when we hauled it to church on Monday, etc. Fun stuff. Such are the ingredients of adventure, it appears.

One of my goals here was to gain some understanding into the situation Mennonites face in Bush's USA in 2007. I learned in conversation yesterday that 2/3 of American Mennonites vote Republican. Take that to mean whatever you like, but it helps me to understand the schizophrenia that MC USA is suffering under. What I fail to understand is how Mennonites can see Christ in the politics of force and war, in the policies of domination to which the current regime seems to have married itself.

Here in Carlsbad, liberal theology seems to be right at home, at least among the members we've gotten to know. The other day we had a discussion around the table at A. + E.'s about a lot of things, including D's recent participation in the mass demonstration in Washington against the "surge" in troops to Iraq. One subject of our conversation was the lobby Carlsbad area politicians are putting on the federal government to locate a plant in the area for the manufacture of the detonating devices for nuclear weapons. The area needs jobs and economic development, and this is seen as a great economic opportunity. Church members here, of course, are dead against it. I made the point that although Canada is a nuclear weapons-free zone, Saskatchewan produces a lot of the world's raw resource for nuclear programs. One gentleman at the dinner table works for the University of New Mexico on the project that buries military nuclear waste in a salt bed thousands of feet below the surface just east of Carlsbad.

I delivered a meditation to a men's breakfast last Saturday. My topics was "witnessing," and my central theme was the need to identify the issues on which we need to witness for Christ in our age, and the finding of the effective means to do this. That's nothing radical, but in the light of the moral dilemmas faced by Christians and their temptations to support the status quo - either actively or passively - we face a real test, as Mennonites in the USA as well as in Canada.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sunday School

Dick Rhodes led us in an interesting discussion regarding Gospel of John's version of the "I am the Good Shepherd" passage. (I don't have the reference with me here in the library.) Not only did we have considerable discussion about the character - or lack of it - of sheep, but we spent quite a bit of time working at the teaching inherent in the following points:
1) What does it mean to be "sheep" to Christ's "shepherd," and at what point does the analogy break down?
2) to whom was Christ referring when he talked about the hired shepherd who runs when he sees a wolf because he has no real love for the sheep? and
3) to whom was Jesus referring when he said, "I have other sheep that are not of this pen."

I know the simple answers to these questions (except for 2, possibly) but the concept of Jesus being God while still calling him "the Father" I find to be theologically difficult in this chapter of John. "I know my sheep and my sheep know me" is vital to the Christian's concept of the relationship between God and his followers, seems to me.

Dick asked if I would be willing to teach the class on February 18th, and I consented.

Tomorrow, Amzie and Jason from the church and SOOPers LaVerne and Maurice and I will work again on siding the Habitat house . Building is somewhat different here from what I'm used to. For one, there are no basements; the city sits on a shale bed and digging basements simply doesn't work. Laundry facilities and water heater are in a small room on the main floor and, generally, a heat pump on the roof provides both heat and air conditioning. Construction consists of 2X6 walls with blown insulation, no vapour barrier and gyproc (they call it "sheet rock" here). Siding is 12 inch composition board with artificial grain running either horizontally or vertically. The house rests on a concrete slab.

Just outside Carlsbad is the Living Desert State Park. Agnes and I spent yesterday afternoon there walking around in a combination zoo and botanical garden learning as much as we could about native plants and animals. We now know the difference between Yucca, Prickly Pear and Otillo, as well as the fact that tarantulas are harmless while scorpions bites are similar to a wasp bite, at least the scorpions found here in the Chihuahuan desert. You don't want to stick your hand in among branches if you can't see for fear of the adult female black widow who could be hiding under the leaves. A bite from her could ruin your whole day. I also know the difference between a Western Rattlesnake and a harmless King Snake, but I'm assuming that that knowledge won't benefit me much since I will probably take off at the sight of ANY snake. The chances, by the way, of us coming across a Rattler are miniscule. Our landlord has lived here most of his life and he has yet to see a Rattlesnake in the wild. Our chances of coming across a two-legged snake are much greater.

I can't get over my revulsion for the caging of wild animals. To me, all their body language speaks rage. The eagles in a 20' by 20' by 20' cage for instance. They screech as if they were being tortured. And the turkey vulture eying us as if we were carrion (which to him, we might well be) should be soaring over the desert and mountains, and here he sits - grounded and miserable. Zoos should be abolished.

Friday, February 02, 2007


After working at the Community Kitchen yesterday morning, I accepted an invitation to go golfing on the Carlsbad Lake Course in the afternoon. It's a desert course, and although the temperature was close to 50 F., we'd been promised a brisk wind. At about the second hole, the wind indeed went from about 5 MPH to 50 MPH and the flags pointed northeasterly as if they were boards. Curiously, several fairways - including the first - have new homes alongside, located in such a way that anything off to the right can easily end up in a living room. Friend LaVerne hit his first one that way. "That sounded like breaking glass," I said as we'd watched it arc and slice to the right, coming down among the houses. "Do you think it was glass?" he asked and I admitted that it could have been metal. Later, I landed one between two houses on the fourth hole. Houses and hazards suck. No. I mean literally. If there is a lake off to the side, I'll hit the ball into it no matter how much room there is beside it.

One green was humpbacked with the cup placed right on the hump. LaVerne was on the fringe upwind from the cup. He missed by inches, but the wind caught his ball and carried it right across the green to the opposite fringe. He hit it back upwind, but missed the cup again and it had enough momentum and, with gravity helping it along, it ended up about where he'd started. He tried it again, missed the cup by just a bit and again, the wind carried it right across the green. Ernie and I sensed a pattern developing, and it was about then we decided not to play the back nine.

I'm reading an "Interpretive History of New Mexico" right now, and finding it fascinating. So far, I've learned that the Pueblo (village) Indians of the Santa Fe and Taos areas had a well developed culture in the 1500s. They lived in adobe apartment buildings piled one on top of the other, with as many as 50 apartments. They irrigated and grew corn and beans in the desert and dried and stored it on the roofs of their dwellings. Their religion was similar to that of other Indian tribes with which we're more familiar in Canada, i.e., their focus was on gaining harmony with the environment around them. They did masked dances in order to induce rainfall, a practice the Spanish colonizers found so reprehensible and "pagan" that they raided the sanctuaries where they were kept and burned all their paraphernalia of worship. I've also learned that the Spanish king effected laws that were designed to prevent the slaughter, enslavement and general mistreatment of natives by colonizers, but that the individual viceroys assigned to New Mexico found ways to bypass these laws and as a result, Pueblo Indians were subjected to horrifying abuse, not the least of these being forced labour without reimbursement by the Spanish conquerors, who by and large were part of a class that simply did not do menial work and found it quite appropriate to require the people they were "evangelizing" to do the irrigation, planting and harvesting work for them as well as for themselves.

The missionary arm of Spanish colonization of New Mexico was very strong, so much so that it competed for power with the political administration. Early in the 1600s, the friars and the governor's militia actually carried on a bloody war; none of this benefited the aboriginal population, of course, many of whom were victims of these antics.

I'm looking forward to this well-written account of the history of the area in which we are now beginning to feel quite at home. English predominates here, but it's obvious that a large proportion of the population has Spanish and/or aboriginal genes. Commerce in Carlsbad is effectively bilingual, even though the concept of multilingualism is not recognized in this country.

Several conversations I've had with Americans have been enlightening on the health care front. There's a tremendous lobby against universal health care here, despite the fact that many want some sort of plan to be implemented. According to the critics of the Canadian system, in Canada:
1) People are not allowed to choose their doctor; the state determines this,
2) Doctors are salaried,
3) You can't get even emergency health service because the system is so backed up by flagrant overuse,
4) The Canadian health care system is on the road to collapse because it simply doesn't work.

I do what I can to correct these misconceptions, but I feel I need to warn readers back home that we ought not be blase about the drive to allow for corporate health care. It's a real and present danger in Canada and it's high time Canadians assessed what values are driving the pressure to compromise the Canada Health Act.