Friday, April 19, 2013

Welcome to the dust bowl

For April 28 
Las Cruces Style — S. Derrickson Moore

Welcome to the dust bowl

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — Are you new to  Southern New Mexico?
Maybe you’re feeling a little disoriented in your new homeland and wondering about a few basic issues.
Here are some frequently-asked questions I always seem to get this time of year.
Q.: I think I’m a little late when it comes to spring cleaning. When is the best time to start?
A: Don’t bother. At least, not until the winds die down.
Q.: And when will the spring dust storms end?
A.: Nobody knows.
I’ve asked around, and I don’t think it’s just curmudgeonly me. I’ve been here almost two decades and I can’t ever remember seeing this many ferocious dust storms before. Most of the old-timers I’ve talked to (some with memories dating back to the dust bowl days of the Great Depression) are inclined to agree with me.
It seems the extreme weather that characterizes this era of major climate change has not left us unscathed.
In recent years, dust-ups have become haboobs. 
When I first moved to southern New Mexico, I found it rather charming and amusing to watch dustcasts instead of traditional forecasts, especially as a survivor of (in order of their appearance in my life): snowstorms, tornados, endless drizzle, earthquakes, volcanos, floods, and mega-hurricanes.
I once held a little contest to name our local winds (the Doña  Anas) and told chronic complainers they haven’t seen anything.
I washed windows and my car at least once a month, no matter what the season.
I grumbled a bit when everybody else’s leaves, litter, twigs and grasses blew into my tiny evergreen-rock-and-flagstone xeriscaped yard. But I was out there with the leaf blower after every major windstorm, usually three or four times during the windy seasons. And I’d fill up to five giant trashbags with the debris, every time.
This year, after the first cleanup, I decided to wait until the windy season was over.
I’m still waiting.
The good news is that the next windstorm seems to blow a lot of the previous detritus away.
The bad news is that there seems to be an infinite supply of rubbish here in high desert country, and I never know what will sail in on the next Doña Anas tide.
So far, I seem to be slightly ahead, or at least breaking even, in the great airborne trash lottery of 2013. I would like to think karma will prevail, and all the litter and construction cast-offs and improperly-disposed of yard waste will eventually blow back to rest in the yards of the litterers, careless construction workers and lazy gardeners who cast their fates to the wind.
But I’m not counting on it.
Eventually, I’ll break down. I’ll wash my car even through the last time resulted in our only moisture of the season, a dismal drizzle followed by a dust storm that put me in ranks of our characteristic spring polka-dotted automotive fleets.
I’ll sneeze my way through a thorough dusting and wash my outside windows. I’ll spend a weekend trying to clean up the last of the desperado invading yard waste before it decomposes in my rockscapes and invites a legion of weeds. And I’ll enjoy the pristine environs for one shining moment ...  until a last gasp (we hope) spring haboob deposits more.
In the meantime, I try to remember that it still beats endless  snow and drizzle, volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes.
And this year, I’d like to invite you all to join in a prayerful dance to encourage peace and calm in our weather, ourselves and our world.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore

A little trash talk

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — I think it’s about time for a little trash talk.
April is, after all, the month for the Great American Cleanup Day (more than 1,000 signed up to help spruce things up here on April 13). It’s also the month when we officially celebrate Earth Day (April 22).
But more and more people seem to feel that the awareness of humanity has progressed (and alas, the environmental crises has escalated) to the point that every day should be Earth Day, if we are going to save and preserve our home planet.
There may be a lot of discouraging news as the ravages of climate change mount, but there is a ray of hope, and if you’re like me, it’s as close as your home garbage dumpsters.
The last time my son visited from clean, green, way-ahead-of-the-rest-of-us Oregon, he told me that those progressive folks have a pick-up schedule that’s just the reverse of ours. In Portland, the recycled vat is collected weekly, and regular garbage pickup is every two weeks.
When I first moved to Oregon in the early 1970s, they had already cleaned up their rivers. Even in the best of times, it’s always been tough for me to think of our Rio as anything close to Grande, after seeing the mighty Columbia and Willamette rivers. And more than four decades ago, Oregonians had already figured out how to pass and implement bottle return and auto emission control programs … neither of which have managed to make it to the Land of Enchantment.
Though I’d lived in countries and states that were relatively environmentally oblivious, it was still a shock to move to New Mexico, a place with a very fragile ecology, and find so little in the way of conservation, preservation and cleanup.
We do have some admirable efforts made by local groups, including, but certainly not limited to, the Southwest Environmental Center, Keep Las Cruces Beautiful, the Green Chamber and many other dedicated individuals and organizations.
So while I’m trash talking about our failures and limitations, I’d like to also talk about some inspiring bright spots and potentials in the area of  — you guessed it — trash.
Many of my friends and I have noticed that when it comes to being ready to emulate Portland’s trash pickup schedule,  we are already there.
Most weeks, my big brown dumpster contains just one tiny little bag of garbage, which I could probably eliminate all together if I were a little more ambitious about composting. Nearly everything going out of the house goes into the big blue recycling bin these days.
Unlike some critics, I always enjoy seeing rows of those azure receptacles. As it happens, they’re my favorite color, but even if they weren’t, I’d still love what they represent: a whole city thinking about recycling.
Ecologically enlightened progress is being made. And while we’re talking trash, let’s acknowledge that Las Cruces may be in the international vanguard of artistic garbage.
Next time you’re downtown, look down back streets and into alleys and check out the creative dumpster decor created by Alma d’arte students.
And I love that what many consider Las Cruces’ semi-official symbol is sculptor Olin Calk’s giant roadrunner, concocted our of recycled refuge.
Olin recently told me  he’s just gotten the official word: the famed and recently refurbished bird will soon be returning to its old territory at the I-10 rest area just west of Las Cruces. Plans are underway to design and construct a new perch to help protect and preserve the beloved bird.
Yes, we have a lot more to do to protect, clean up and preserve our fragile high desert lands for new generations. I’m looking forward to seeing our mascot again, an inspiring reminder that living green every day can be creative, rewarding, beautiful and fun.

S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at; 575-541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.

Is chile the key to happiness?

By S. Derrickson Moore

 LAS CRUCES — The question: What makes people happy? And the answer is… Green chile! It was one of those “what I should’ve said” moments. I was visiting Mark Walker’s philosophy students’ class outreach quest for happiness information, outside New Mexico State University’s Corbett Center. In a creative “chocolate for wisdom” exchange, students dressed in togas offered little chocolate bars for thoughts on what makes people happy. I played it straight: after basic needs are met — shelter, clothing, food, water and affordable health care — I think to be truly happy, most people need someone/something to love, something to believe in and some kind of meaningful work or way to offer your own unique contributions to the world. I’ve lived in some of the richest and poorest societies on the planet, and my conclusion is that everybody needs everything in the preceding paragraph to have a decent shot at happiness, along with the freedom to pursue it. On the other hand, I’ve known people who have somehow retained a cheery sense of hope and faith in the face of devastating tragedy, disaster and deprivation. And I’ve spent long, less-than-blissful years (misery may not be relative, but it could be contagious) in the midst of incredibly wealthy people who could not seem to find solace, despite opulent material goodies, leisure and yachts and private jets to take them anywhere on Earth. Desperado souls who had come to the end of what money and power could buy, found themselves spiritually bankrupt. All week, I thought about my Socratic dialogues with Walker and his students. The fact that I had the opportunity for Socratic dialogues under a lapis blue sky in the middle of a beautiful April day made me pretty happy all by itself. My happiness continued as I visited the impressive annual student art show at the Williams Hall Art Gallery and checked out American Indian cradleboards and the New Mexico Placitas exhibits at the NMSU Museum. I was feeling happy about a job that encompasses covering everything from art, style, culture and cutting edge health issues to the Chile Pepper Institute, when the happiness answer hit me. Think about it. Chile brings joy to all the senses. The aroma of green chiles roasting. The sight of it in verdant green fields and fiery red ristras as it ripens, and on our plates in diverse and colorful dishes which delight our tastebuds and make us tingle. The sounds: its crisp crunch as we dice it for salads and enchiladas, the (usually joyous, if sometimes surprised) exclamations of those who savor its complex flavors and exciting SHUs (Scoville Heat Units). Chile has well-documented healing properties, including triggering release of endorphins which enhance our sense of well-being, maybe even blessing us with bits of joy and euphoria. Chiles, and indeed happiness itself, may not be the answer to the ultimate question: What is our purpose in life? But chiles can surely make our life’s quest a little happier. S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at 575-541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore

Stroll to rediscover Main Street Downtown

By S. Derrickson Moore LAS CRUCES — Have you strolled Main Street lately? Kindly persons operating in official capacities have reminded me from time to time that we should not refer to the area in question as “the Downtown Mall” since technically, it’s no longer a mall. But in my heart, it may always be. And I’m not alone. It was a mall when I arrived here in 1994, and its history stretches back to urban renewal projects in the late 1960s, so generations have grown up knowing it as the Downtown Mall. Though the yellow brick road is gone and it’s finally open from stem to stern, when I suggest meeting someone in “historic Main Street Downtown,” the area’s official moniker, I’m usually greeted with a puzzled look, followed by, “Oh, you mean the Downtown Mall.” Whatever you call it, it’s changed dramatically — and for the better. And I still think a stroll is the best way to appreciate the area’s transformation. When I arrived two decades ago, there was a lot of urban decay, enough scary people and situations that I was wary about visiting at night and sometimes, during the day. There were a few bright spots, and they’ve survived: Coas My Bookstore, White’s Music Box, the Branigan Cultural Center, the Las Cruces Community Theatre and the Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market, which now stretches, on Saturday morning, its busiest day, from almost to Amador on the south to the new Las Cruces City Hall on the north. Some old favorites have been transformed or rejuvenated. Las Cruces Furniture morphed into the ultra-modern New America School. The Popular, a department store cherished by generations of local shoppers, now houses two popular restaurants. The Rio Grande Theatre has been restored and updated to become a community performance center and headquarters for the Doña Ana Arts Council. With the addition of the intimate adobe Black Box Theatre, we have our own downtown three-theater district, with additional performing space in the beautifully renovated Court Youth Center, home base for artistic students at the Alma d’arte Charter High School. When I arrived, downtown hosted just one major museum (and its little used, since-relocated log cabin annex). Now, three more have joined the Branigan Cultural Center: the Las Cruces Museum of Art, Railroad Museum and Museum of Nature and Science. We’ve added the sprawling new Federal Building, a new city hall and the artistic La Placita. We have enough galleries in and around downtown to make each first Friday Downtown Ramble an adventure. The Downtown Las Cruces Partnership, the city and businesses and civic organizations have worked together to add some facade spruce-ups, landscaping and some fun fiestas that showcase the area, including WinterFest, SalsaFest!, Avenue Art New Mexico (a street art event that runs from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 27) and seasonal parades. And, as of this year, we’re back, too, in the beautiful, brand new Las Cruces Sun-News building, overlooking it all. It’s good to be back in the ’hood. S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at; 575-541-5450. To share comments, go to and click on Blogzone and Las Cruces Style. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.