Snow on the Junipers: Winter in the Mountains of New Mexico
The fall of snow can be hypnotic in its rhythm and flow – it’s movement something out of a dream you can’t forget… After alternately pouring and drizzling for days, the water falling at a sharp angle and sometimes blowing in horizontal sheets, it’s finally let up. Outside, everything has grown suddenly quiet and there’s a white flurry steadily covering every colored surface. Even the sharp, brilliant green surfaces of the cacti are slowly softened and submerged beneath the growing cover of snow. Wide fans of needle sharp Yucca still stab above the surface but the Junipers hold the drifts close to them like a warm blanket or rare fur. Rhiannon stands out in the middle of it, oblivious to her bare legs beneath her smocked dress or the sparkling flakes clinging to her dark hair. For a moment, the only sound is the muted song of a nearby wind chime, rocking in an errant breeze. And then Rhiannon explodes with the joy of it, dancing around in her boots and hollering to the whole world that she’s going to gather up all this lovely snow and eat it with maple syrup and cream. Loba laughs from inside the kitchen and prods at the cookfire in the wood stove with a stick of juniper while I lift my face to the sky and catch a snowflake on my tongue.
In the SW, the snow is a beloved treat and though it comes nearly every year here in the mountains, it never lingers long on the this side of the river. Not too far above us, only a half an hour’s drive, the roads stay closed all winter because of how deep the snows fall there, and they remain for much of the cold season, protected by dense forest canopy and cool rock overhangs. Even here in the canyon, the other side of the river stays white beneath the great Ponderosa pines where they face north and stay cool and moist. And long after the sun melts the snow from the surface of the mesa, we’ll run over to the pines and visit winter where it’s still cold and sparkling.
Most of us don’t think of snowfall as an ideal time for harvesting (unless you count firewood), but I love to gather Usnea when its moist and plump and to watch how the endlessly intricate snowflakes blend with the edge and weave of the lichen’s long strands. Just as beautiful and bit more tasty are the wrinkled, dusty purple juniper berries hanging from icicle strewn trees. Nibbling them is like being immersed in the very spirit of a New Mexico winter – skimmed with ice and oh so sweet, but powerfully aromatic and warming inside. When I close my eyes, I can smell woodsmoke and snow, cottonwood bark and the peculiar scent of river water tumbling over rocks. And somewhere up the river, a bird greets the twilight with a plaintive, haunting cry.
The endless curtains of clouds that have been blowing through our mountains for the last couple of weeks have meant that we’ve had to cut computer work to a bare minimum to keep from draining the solar fed batteries so we’ve spent more time painting and chopping wood, writing by hand and walking in the rain just to see the refraction of light glistening from pine needles. Missives like this must either be written the old fashioned way (with a pen, if you can believe it) or typed into our little ibook and then transfered to one of the regular laptops later. It’s kind of a funny process, and sometimes it means you read my words a few days after I wrote them. That’s ok though, the canyon is a bit of a time warp anyhow… please excuse the time warp the emails are in as well
The new websites will be up shortly (waiting for the holidays to be over, you know), including the re-designed Anima site and brand new Medicine Woman Tradition site, complete with large amounts of herbal writings, pictures and info. Some of the writings are brand new, never before published or seen work by me, including a few new monographs, lots of recipes and much more. Some of it will be work you’ve seen in various incarnations here on the blog, but much of it has been reworked, lengthened or changed. It’s very exciting for many reasons, and if I do say so myself, quite beautiful with a gorgeous plant themed (of course!) design. Right now, when I have a spare bit of solar power, I’ve been putting the finishing touches on it. Now if I can just stop adding to it long enough to upload it.
The days are getting longer again, the river is singing under the snow and the nights are growing colder. Happy Winter to all six hundred of you lovely people!
And, there’s this lovely post on the herbal benefits going barefoot on the Herboristeria: Urban Nomad Herbalism blog, written by the very lovely and infinitely wild Lieve Galle. She doesn’t blog terribly often, but maybe she’ll pick up the pace if she’s encouraged by some comments. And you must check out her amazing mushroom and tree photography here.