Monday, August 26, 2013

Location, Location, Location

These ruins are all that's left of a small city now known as Gran Quivira where more than 2,000 people were living when Spanish missionaries came across it nearly 400 years ago.

It's on high ground overlooking vast surrounding expanses of rolling grassland dotted with piƱon shrubs. Driving up to it from Carrizozo to the south last week, Laurel and I could see a few cattle grazing here and there but not much else.

A couple of rattlesnakes basked on the warm pavement ahead of us, clearly confident they wouldn't be disturbed. A bony little kit fox burst suddenly from the brush beside the road with a kangaroo rat in her teeth and seemed so startled to see us that she forgot to get out of the way. I had to swerve to miss her.

Otherwise the country looked silent and empty, and it's hard to imagine why people would even have paused there on the way to someplace more promising, let alone settled and built. What could have sustained them in this austere place?

Even after you read the brochures that sketch the human history of the region, the answers aren't entirely clear.

There's no surface water, yet the people of Gran Quivira managed to catch enough rain in cisterns and basins not only to survive but to cultivate a variety of grains and other crops.

They rounded out their diet with hunting and gathering, and had enough energy left over to create ornamental pottery and to trade goods and even food surpluses with distant communities in every direction.

Century after century, the inhabitants of Gran Quivira seem to have lived on a razor's edge, their society subject to annihilation at any time by drought, famine, attacks from plains Indians to the east, and in its last years by an influx of Spanish-speaking mouths to feed.

Around 1670 it all fell apart and everybody left, decamping so suddenly that the Spanish didn't even finish the grander church they had begun a decade or so earlier to replace the chapel in which they had been converting Indians for a half century.

But forget the Spanish. A civilization that sprouted in one of the continent's least hospitable environments, yet thrived without any help from Spain for a thousand years or more, just evaporated overnight.

We got back in the car with a keener sense of how resilient, adaptable and vulnerable our species is, and got back on the road to Albuquerque. Located right beside the Rio Grande, its lease on life seems more secure than Gran Quevira's ever was.

But as the climate warms and the river's flow dwindles, who knows?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Res Ipsa Loquitor

We had a little tragedy on our block last week. Martini, a black and white Pekinese mix who belonged to a neighbor three houses away, was struck and killed in broad daylight  by a car whose driver didn't even bother to stop and see what he'd hit.

It has to be said that Martini would have been a dog at risk even in a neighborhood where all drivers kept to a reasonable speed, which in ours they don't.

Adventure loving, sociable and fearless, she scampered out the door whenever she could and wandered far and wide, ending up one time at a stranger's barbecue half a mile away because the food smelled so good.

Driving to the grocery store, I once came across her several blocks from home, sauntering along in the middle of the street as if it were her private path to joy.

I stopped, opened my passenger door and said, "Martini, get in here." She hopped up beside me, and I took her home, though she'd have gone cheerfully to Fargo with me if I'd been headed that way.

So Martini wasn't what a personal injury lawyer would call a "reasonably prudent dog". She never looked both ways, and I'm guessing she probably didn't look either way very often. More about the peculiar way lawyers think in a moment.

But Martini's heedlessness is no excuse for the driver who hit her if he wasn't making any effort to slow down and keep an eye out for living creatures.

A couple of rackety old sedans with clapped-out mufflers speed regularly past my house. They're at the top of my list of suspects. If it was either of them who hit Martini, they are contemptible hit-and-run dogslayers in my book.

In the face of the possibility that we have sociopaths like that driving daily past our houses, where many of us also have dogs and some have children, we decided to petition the village for a "Children Playing" sign or at least a posted speed limit.

My neighborhood is Ponderosa Heights on the slopes above Lawrence Brothers. It's full of blind curves and steep hills where you don't know what's ahead until you're over the crest.

I called the Street Department this week to see about what it might take to get some signage up to remind drivers they should slow down. It turned out to be pretty easy. I was told a work order would be prepared for posting of the speed limit in both directions -- 15 mph -- perhaps within a couple of weeks.

But we were told to forget about what we really preferred, the "Children Playing" sign.

A sly litigator supposedly argued with a straight face to somebody in authority that when the village puts up a "Children Playing" sign, it amounts to public notice that the children have village authority to play in traffic and the village assumes liability for anything bad that happens.

I'm a retired lawyer myself, but honestly, that's the kind of knuckle-headed thinking that would give my former profession a bad name if it didn't already have one.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tender Hearted Tenderfeet

There's nothing more helpless than a newborn fawn.

Except for a group of well-meaning but ignorant adult humans who would like to help that fawn but don't know how.

None of us would have noticed the little guy above if a neighbor's dog on an exercise walk with his master hadn't snuffled it up next to the driveway of the house just down the hill. The master knocked on my door to let me know it was there and left me to wonder what to do about it.

Our friend who lives across the street likes to feed the deer who visit her yard, so I consulted her. She didn't know, but she and her husband headed down for a look.

As they approached, the owner of the driveway sailed up in his Jeep and careened into the driveway, scattering gravel on the baby, which didn't move. He slapped his forehead when he was shown how close he'd come, but he didn't know what to do either except keep his dogs penned up.

More neighbors gathered, and if iPhone cameras could have saved our Bambi he'd have been home free a dozen times over. But they couldn't, of course, and he wasn't. He was still as stone. We wondered if he was crippled or sick and had been left to die.

Then I remembered that the game warden lived just a block away and that we might find him in since it was Sunday. His little girl went to playschool last year with Elizabeth, and we know his wife a bit.

So I walked down to his house and got him out of bed. He's often out late keeping troublesome bears away from the dumpsters. He looked a little rumpled, but when I told him what I wanted he managed a tolerant smile.

"Just leave it alone," he said. "Doe's often leave their fawns alone while they go off to eat. Their best defense while they're alone is not to move a muscle no matter what. Mama will be back for her in a little while if you just stay away."

I brought the news back to the group, and everybody nodded sagely and drifted back with our benevolent intentions to our coffee. A couple of hours later, Bambi was gone.

It's sweet to learn in a tough situation that the smart play is to do nothing at all.