Día de los Muertos

Some say that at this time of year the veil between this world and the spiritual world is the thinnest and a good time to remember and honor those who have gone before us.  Many communities throughout the world, especially those with Roman Catholic heritage, have Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) observances and celebrations on November 2 in connection with All Souls’ DayTucson has its All Souls Procession celebrating a diversity of cultures.

Pre-Christian origins of this holiday can be traced back to indigenous traditions of various cultures.  An Aztec festival was dedicated to Mictecacihuatl, Queen of the underworld, who is said to preside over contemporary Day of the Dead festivities and associated with the cult of Santa Muerte.  The Gaelic harvest festival of Samhain occurs on November 1, a time some believe that humans and spirits easily cross over from one world to the Otherworld.

Here in San Diego we delight in celebrating our rich multicultural tapestry.  Wonderful grocery stores such as Pancho Villa’s Farmer’s Market help provide a large selection of fresh, delicious and inexpensive items for our dinner table.  At this time of year we especially enjoy their freshly made tamales.

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The tamales are made fresh daily and traditionally wrapped in cornhusks.

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Also seen on the table is Earthtones “Day of the Dead” hand-painted decorative art tile made in Tucson.

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Printed on the back of the tile are these words: “In a small town in Mexico one family begins preparations for an annual celebration.  El día de los Muertos, ‘The Day of the Dead’, to welcome the spirits of their loved ones home again.”

Also seen on our table is the traditional Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead), next to a dish with tamale de puerco (pork tamale) en pollo con mole verde (chicken in a green mole sauce).

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Traditions connected with the holiday include the building of altars and providing offerings (ofrendas).   Día de los Muertos in Old Town San Diego will be celebrated with a presentation of over 30 altars, live music and skull painting, traditional bilingual poetry readings, festive restaurants, and a candlelight procession to El Campo Santo cemetery.

Día de los Muertos at Hollywood Forever Cemetery is one of the biggest Day of the Dead festivals in Southern California.

Earthquakes and volcanos

Our Easter brunch family guests had just left and I was setting up the laptop computer when a magnitude 7.2 earthquake struck 100 miles away causing our house to rock and roll and prompting me to call our newly acquired Corgi, Tasha, to join me out on the patio, followed by Larry and Corgi, Mac.  We watched as our fish pond noisily sloshed back and forth.  Two wine bottles and a clock had fallen over but were not damaged.   Thousands of aftershocks continue to be reported (including a 4.7 earthquake this morning), and it is estimated that earthquake-related damage in nearby Imperial County will eventually be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

One week later we returned to Anza-Borrego Desert for five nights of camping in a region that lies across one of the most active seismic systems in North America, according to Geology of Anza-Borrego: Edge of Creation, by Paul Remeika and Lowell Lindsay, 1992, Sunbelt Publications.  After passing over Earthquake Valley fault at Scissors Crossing, we stopped just outside Tamarisk Grove Campground (the second largest campground in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and now only open on weekends due to California’s budget crisis) for a look at the profuse yellow flowers of the Brittlebush.

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According to Diana Lindsay in her book Anza-Borrego A to Z: People, Places, and Things, 2001, Sunbelt Publications,  Tamarisk Grove is named for a stand of Athel tamarisk trees (Tamarix aphylla) planted as a shade tree and windbreak.  The campground was originally a San Diego County prison camp, established in 1929 to relieve crowding in the county jail.  Nearby are the Cactus Loop and Yaqui Well trails.

After a brief stop to take photos, we continued on to our Borrego Palm Canyon campsite.  Later in the week, our friends (and veterinarian) Bob and Theresa arrived with their 30′ Airstream Classic with slide-out.  Several times Bob spotted Bighorn Sheep and lambs on the ridge overlooking the campground through his telescope.

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A volunteer in the Visitors’ Center reported that the peak in the wildflower season here was two weeks ago, but we were pleased to see many plants still blooming, such as the Indigo Bush (Psorothamnus fremontii), named after John Charles Frémont (January 21, 1813 – July 13, 1890), the first presidential candidate of a major party to run on a platform opposing slavery in 1856.

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While walking our Corgis along the campground road, we spotted Purple heather (Krameria erecta), seen below.

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While the Iceland volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, was spewing out ash and disrupting flights across Europe, our Volcano II Collapsible Stove was deep-frying Chinese spring rolls.

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This stove was purchased at a promotional demonstration at Costco earlier this year and this is the first time we brought it along while camping.

This portable, efficient and versatile stove can use propane gas, charcoal and wood.  It collapses and travels in the case provided.

Although it was not clear in the Owner’s Manual, we eventually found that the propane burner gas flames can be optimized by adjusting the air vent found on the underside of the propane burner (see below).dsc_0031-adjustable-air-vent.jpg

Our wok ring was added to support the Dutch oven.

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The spring rolls were stuffed with pork, shrimp and cabbage.  Once the oil was at 350o, the spring rolls were deep-fried.

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The stove worked wonderfully and produced delicious Chinese spring rolls seen on our campsite picnic table decorated with Peruvian Lily (Alstroemeria) flowers from home (a flowering Creosote bush, Larrea tridentata, is seen in the background).

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After dinner we enjoyed balmy desert breezes and watched the stars.  During the heat of the day, we turned on the air conditioner and read and napped…

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And listened to music and contemplated life through a dog’s eyes.  See the touching PBS film, Through a Dog’s Eyes.

We are learning to take our time and smell the flowers while time is still on our side.

Springtime in Galleta Meadows

After a turbulent and stormy winter, we returned to the desert to see the beginning of the spring wildflower season in Borrego Springs, California.  Snow could still be seen on a distant mountaintop as flowers bloomed after a series of desert rains.

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dsc_0067-galleta-meadows-estate.jpgThe tortoise seen above is one of many free standing, steel welded art structures created by artist/welder Ricardo Breceda for Dennis Avery, land owner of Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs.

This ‘Sky Art’ depicts vertebrates of the past, which inhabited the Anza-Borrego region during the Pliocene-Pleistocene and Miocene eras.

This Galleta Meadows Estate plaque points out the historic nature of this site in the area of the expeditionary territory through which the first overland route to San Francisco Bay was established by Juan Bautista de Anza with the help of Cochimí Indian guide, Sebastián Tarabal, on March 14, 1774.

An Indian chief, friar and farm workers are also represented in Breceda’s art structures.

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A wild pig and suckling piglets are seen standing and almost obscured by the non-native and invasive Sahara mustard (Brassica tournefortii).

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The Saharan Mustard is now destroying or inhibiting wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.  Although plants in general are protected in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Anza-Borrego Foundation trains volunteers in the removal of the Saharan Mustard.  We saw volunteers removing these plants from along Henderson Canyon Road and Borrego Palm Canyon areas.  Without their efforts, the vast carpet of spring wildflowers typically seen in Henderson Canyon may disappear.

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The Saharan Mustard is also invading Galleta Meadows and obscuring the art structures such as the Big Horn Sheep.

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Rams clash as the battle of native and non-native plants looms.

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Larry was caught up in the action… and by this raptor.

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I’ve Got a Crush on You” (… Tasha).

Wildflowers, art, and dogs! Oh my!

Wildflowers are beginning to make their appearance in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and this year promises to be a great one because of the heavier then usual rainfall.  With a little luck, warmth and sun, the wildflower displays should be spectacular.  Although we did have one day of full sun last week in the desert, most days were partly sunny and cool breezes prevailed.

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Our annual return for this event was even more special for us this time because we brought along a new member of the family, Tasha (short for Rosewood Montage), a Pembroke Welsh Corgi.  We also brought along a new element for our setup, a dog pen (click on the above image for larger view).  Advantages of using a dog pen are noted below.

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Tasha’s happy now, but when we returned home from our previous outing our local Corgi breeder, Liisa, told us that Tasha had just lost her first litter (via emergency C-section) and was depressed.  Liisa had to be out of town for a few days and asked us if we could house her, and if it worked out, we would also have an option to buy her, which we did upon Liisa’s return.  Tasha now brightens our days as we cope with the pending loss of our 15 year old Pug, Pau Hoa, who was diagnosed with a malignant mast cell tumor (She can be seen in the upper right corner of the above photo).

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We all had a happy time walking in and around the wildflower displays in Palm Canyon Campground.

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On Friday we loaded the Corgis into their carriers strapped to the back folded down seat of our F-250 truck (see Traveling and Pet Safety), positioned the Pug on a floor cushion under Larry’s legs and took off to visit the Farmers’ Market at the Borrego Springs Christmas Circle and enjoyed delicious tacos from Jilberto’s Taco Shop.  We then drove north on Borrego Springs Road exploring various parcels of the Galleta Meadows Estate displaying free-standing welded iron sculptures created by Ricardo Breceda.

dsc_0056-father-francisco-garces.jpg One such sculpture is a depiction of Father Hermenegildo Tomás Garcés (April 13,1738 – July 19, 1781) accompanied by his dog holding a bone.

In 1768 Spanish Franciscan Garcés was assigned to Mission San Xavier del Bac near present day Tucson, Arizona.

He conducted extensive explorations of the Southwest and assisted Juan Bautista de Anza in establishing an overland connection with New Spain through the region of the lower Colorado River.

A sprinkling of wildflowers can be seen in the foreground, while snow is seen on the distant mountains in the background.

After visiting and photographing other sculptures (which will appear in my next article), we returned to camp.  Below is a photo of our dog pen.  We have discovered the benefits of dog pens in that they can provide a safe, secure, and shady place for our dogs and help us manage them during meal time.  In this photo Tasha is on a runner and has chosen to enter the pen to relax.  The pen is held in place with bungee cords attached to the table.

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Bob and his wife, Theresa, joined us for a Chinese fire pot dinner.  Bob is our veterinarian and has a 30′ Classic Airstream.  Charcoal burns in the chimney of the fire pot/hot pot heating the soup and cooking the ingredients that guests place into the soup with a small wire basket.  Noodles can be added to the soup as a last course.

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Tom Yum, a Thai kaffir lime chicken broth, was used as the soup and the following ingredients were provided: raw shrimp, sliced boneless skinless chicken thighs, cooked pork meat balls, bok choy, chopped cilantro, shredded Nori seaweed, and roasted peanuts.  Guests chose from a variety of condiment sauces.

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A happy time was had by all…

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But there’s no place like home.

Contemplating time at Yaquitepec

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It is now the dead of winter.  One winter storm follows another, even here in the desert.  Heavier desert rain this season is a good harbinger for a prolific, early wildflower season.  Just a few weeks ago we saw lush, green growth and the bright red flowers of the Ocotillo in Hellhole Canyon.

There is already a hummingbird nest with two eggs in our California Bay Tree just outside our den window.  We are in the middle of the third rain and windstorm this week and rain is expected through Saturday.

Each morning we peer outside our window to see if the nest survived the storms and each day we are amazed that the brave and dedicated mother is still there, hunkered down over her eggs.

During my last visit to Marshal South’s home, Yaquitepec, on Ghost Mountain, I thought about the bravery of Marshal South and his wife, Tanya, in choosing this desolate site for their experiment in desert primitive living and in raising a family here.

I contemplated about their experiences as recorded by Marshal South in his over 102 articles and poems written for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948.*

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At one point the South’s windup kitchen clock failed and I was mesmerized by Marshal’s story of the making of his sundial and his reflections on time, as written in his Desert Diary 10 — October at Yaquitepec:

“So again, in peace, with neither tick nor tock time marches on at Yaquitepec…”  (Allow time to slow as you savor reading this.)

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“and the unhurried, silent shadow moves round and round on the chisel-marked granite block that stands on the terrace.”

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“… It wasn’t originally intended to be a sundial.  In the beginning it was part of a crude homemade grain mill.  But another mill superseded it and in the course of time the upper millstone of the discarded apparatus was broken.  Then one day the old clock folded its hands at 4:33 and we were without the time.  Which didn’t matter much, for ‘time’ is an illusion anyway.  But there is a sort of habit to the counting of it.  So I resurrected the nether millstone with its central iron pin — which was a long iron bolt cemented into a hole in the stone — and set forth to make a sundial.”

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“… It was winter when I made the sundial and I still have chilly recollections of ‘shooting’ the North Star through the old gun barrel, lashed to a post…”  “There are teeth-chattering memories too of leveling and wedging and sighting under the chill starlight as I arranged the granite block on a big boulder pedestal in the exact position necessary…”

“… Our sundial works.  Sometimes it proves, when checked against the haughty mechanism of expensive visiting watches, to be fifteen minutes or so out.  But who would worry about a little thing like 15 minutes’ error?  Certainly not here on Ghost Mountain, where there are no ‘limiteds’ to catch and where the golden sheen of the sun wraps the desert distances in a robe of glow…”

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“… and dim mystery that is timeless.”

“What is Time, anyway?”*

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Great thinkers have contemplated about time over the ages.  (See video of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity illustrated here.)

This is food for thought and, with a little champagne (and appropriate music), I’ll muse on and contemplate the passages of time and other mysteries of life and the universe.

*(All 102 articles and poems written by Marshal South for Desert Magazine from 1939 to 1948 can be read in Marshal South and the Ghost Mountain Chronicles: An Experiment in Primitive Living, 2005, Edited and with a Foreword by Diana Lindsay and Introduction by Rider and Lucile South, Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA.)