First Steps on a New Journey

Reader Contribution by Virginia Hawthorn
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Hello Everyone,

Here I am, Virginia Hawthorn, a retired woman with grown children and grandchildren. Time to settle back in my twilight years, maybe travel a bit, work on some hobbies, get back to my much-neglected passion for genealogy, write the Great American Novel. Right? Wrong! I’m just getting started on a new journey, one more time and step by step.

I recently moved to Beso del Sol Farm in the Rio Grande Valley of central New Mexico. The farm is owned by my daughter and son-in-law, who have worked to get this 4-acre piece of land into shape for several years. They finally reached the point where they could quit their day jobs and focus on making a go of actual farming for a living – my daughter’s lifelong dream. Since I was living in Albuquerque, some 70 miles away, it made sense for me to move here to the farm and do my part in this effort by keeping the books for the business, as well as helping out here and there wherever I can. It’s good when families can work together like this, and in future blogs you will meet our menagerie of feathered and furred animals and get a look at our many projects in various stages of completion.

High Summer on Beso del Sol Farm

As we go along, you will find that New Mexicans speak, read and use a mixture of Spanish and English quite freely. For one thing, Spanish speaking people have been here since the 16th century, and most of our natural features and towns, as well as some of our favorite foods, have Spanish names, or often freely mixed names. Hence, Rio Grande Valley: the “Rio Grande” means Great River in Spanish, while “Valley” is tacked on in English – a hybrid. In Spanish it would be more correct to call it “El Valle del Rio Grande.” We did the same thing in naming this farm. Beso del Sol means Kissed by (or Kiss of) the Sun. As time goes by, these Spanish words and combinations will pop up fairly frequently, and I will try to remember to translate as I go along.

But first, it seems appropriate to give you an introduction to New Mexico in general, since there are so many misconceptions about this state, or even whether it is a state at all. For as long as I can recall – and that is a long time! – New Mexico Magazine has been running a column called “One of Our 50 Is Missing,” where people send in their experiences with statehood denial: “Sorry, but we can’t deliver outside the United States.” “Do I need a passport to cross the border?” “Do they have phone service there?”

When I moved to California back in 1987, I was told by an employee of a major insurance company, which shall remain unnamed, that I could not get insurance on my car until I had been back in the United States for at least six months. Really? All that time I thought I had been living in the 47th State, driving on U.S. federal highways, voting in presidential elections, using a U.S. passport, receiving mail through the U.S. Postal Service. Had I been mistaken? That episode made the statehood denial column, and trust me, I DID get insurance immediately!

But I digress. Yes, New Mexico really is a state, the fifth largest actually, right there on the map between Arizona and Texas. We live in High Desert country. The lowest point in the entire state, 2,842 feet above sea level, is down in the far southeast corner, while the highest point, at 13,161 feet, is atop Wheeler Peak, way up north near the Colorado border. That’s a lot of elevation difference, as well as more than 350 miles from south to north. There’s a world of difference between Red Bluff Reservoir and the summit of Wheeler Peak! Most of the state, some 85 percent or so, is over 4,000 feet in elevation, and that relatively high altitude makes for a four-season climate statewide, and a much cooler average temperature than most non-Southwesterners expect. Just for contrast, the highest point in Iowa is Hawkeye Pt. at 1,670 feet.

Native plants, wildlife and farmers, have had to adapt to both cold winters and hot summers because of this generally high altitude and the temperature differential due to the distance from north to south. Simply looking at a U.S. map and discovering that New Mexico is in the southern tier of states, roughly in line with North and South Carolina and the upper parts of Mississippi and Alabama, does NOT make us climatically a “southern” state. We don’t have a panic attack when it snows here – we just throw the pickup into four-wheel drive!

The Chickens Are Suspicious of Their First Snow

One thing newcomers usually expect, but are often not really prepared for, is our dry climate. We are far, far from any oceans and the moisture they provide elsewhere. In addition, our prevailing winds are from the southwest, and mountains running along the coast of California and Mexico, plus ranges in Arizona and here in New Mexico, effectively block much of the ocean’s moisture from that direction, leaving us in what meteorologists and geographers call a rain shadow. And just to make things more difficult, our prevailing winds really do prevail! In fact they howl for most of the spring, from as early as late February to early May, frequently at speeds of 30 to 40 mph, with gusts even higher. Time and again this past spring I would check the outdoor thermometer and find that it was up in the 80s or more, with the humidity at 1 percent. Yes folks, that’s ONE percent. Even the Sahara can’t get much drier than that! Now imagine that the wind is also blowing 35 or 40 mph, and think of those poor little seedlings you just planted a few days ago.

Given these rough conditions, you can well imagine the difficulty of open field farming, and over many hundreds of years, farmers in the southwest, starting with Native Americans more than 2,000 years ago, have developed numerous techniques for protecting plants from Mother Nature’s wrath. That will be a major ongoing theme of this blog in future chapters. But please don’t get the idea that this part of the world is one big agricultural disaster area, something like the surface of Mars. This is a state of haunting beauty, brilliant colors, unimaginable sunsets, clear skies, high mountains, a wide array of native plants and trees, and old cultures with deep roots, successful farms, and a clear understanding of how to live here in harmony with Nature rather than fighting her. You just have to learn how. And that’s what this little family is trying to do every day by working, experimenting, inventing, failing sometimes, changing our minds lots of times, reading, listening, asking questions, imagining, and eating plenty of hamburgers with green chile and cheese up at the Truck Stop – the best in the state!

Life is Good: Making Hay Where the Sun Almost Always Shines!

So please stick with us. I already have a bunch of good stories to tell about life on a small New Mexico farm, and something new happens every day.

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