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Day 2

Everyone here in northern Mexico is bracing for an even colder weekend. Today clouds covered the mountains that surround this valley and we kept our coats on all day.  Well some of us. More on that later.

The clouds rolled around the mountain tops and hovered half way down to rest in banks of gray suspended like hanging cloud gardens.

There is more water in the desert than I have ever seen. This winter is pooling in places that I have never seen it pool.

The amazing thing about this valley is that it’s dominated by microbes and this morning it was my job to collect some.

I had to go into the water. With my snorkel. Without my coat.

I hate, I mean hate cold water.

Luckily this water is lightly heated. The water has perked up through miles of rock to exit in pools and the case of where I will gather the little microbes this morning in a river surrounded by mesquites. It’s not as warm as some of the other pools, its not as warm as I would like, but its warmer than the air around me.

Here they are. Imagine. These are little balls of microbes, churning out oxygen.

These little boogers will be on their way to UWash next week, to undergo torturous regimes of odd and unusual atmospheres.

In some places in this valley, little rivers meander over land, emptying into, well, just emptying into big pan shaped expanses of desert floor. There, as seasons come and seasons go, the sun will evaporate the water as it spreads into the giant shallow desert lagune and once its all gone, something amazing happens. The prevailing southwest wind, clashing over the mountains and barreling down on that big evaporative pond, blows gypsu, pure white gypsum into dunes as surreal as anything you can imagine.

And that was the last stop of the day. I will let the pictures speak for themselves.

Tomorrow: Saltillo.

I don’t know what you are doing this week. Maybe you are starting some new resolutions or maybe you are trying to get settled back into work. Maybe you’re full of hope or maybe you’re worried, fretful about what the new year will bring.

Come with me, this Happy Monday, south of the border, to a place that has been a solace to me. Come to Mexico with me, north Mexico where cattle and cactus and caliche make a world that is at once beautiful and severe, lonely and lovely.

I just want to share the place with you.

Want to?

For the next five days I am going to paint for you in words and pictures, winter, 2010 in Mexico. Check back each day, in the evening, and let me show you this place, through the eyes of a scientist, a mom, and a believer.

Day 1: The day started early, the four of us in the truck, John, an octogenarian and our plantsman, Jill who is a woman whose hands restore works of art, my 70 something beloved Momma (don’t tell her I didn’t call her Mother), and me.  Perfidio, a man of Monterrey, will join us and make us five, as we travel the north of his country this week.

I have never seen this great southwestern desert, the Chihuahuan, quite like this. Stretching across the lower half of the US, a land of no borders, it is divided by the Rio Grande and cuts deep into Central Mexico. I have been traveling the road south from Piedras Negras for 7 years or so, and never have I seen the desert look so desolate and… changed. The sky is leaden, heaving and cold, and it looks ready to give up a burden of snow. It only spits raindrops that make heavy watermarks full of dust on the windshield. Northern Mexico is booming: with huge coal plants and rabble and rubble of strip mining. The straight road south cuts through land that gives up it’s mysteries from 300 million years or so ago of a time in our planet’s history when a thick layer of coal was lain down. It’s not Texas black gold, it Mexico’s brown coal and for more miles than I realize, a fine powder covers everything, making all things new look old.

In every little town, people are bundled up against the cold, it’s unordinarily cold and I can’t say that I have ever seen so many sarapes in use. They flap and flutter around the knees of old men, their wobbly legs leaning into the wind. That constant wind has scattered a 100 million plastic bags out of neighborhood landfills and trash heaps to nest in the mesquite and huisache trees along our way. Nothing is blooming in the desert this first month of 2010, except those bags.

You don’t think of deserts as being cold places, but they are, or can be at least, and this one always had been in the winter, but as we make our day’s destination I will find out from the locals in the little town of four marshes that this is the coldest winter they can remember.

As many times as this place has offered me solace I worried a bit, wondered more how this place was going touch me this time. It’s so cold, almost too cold and the day has looked sad. As we climbed up to the valley floor of Cuatro Ciénegas, an oasis in this desert high in the Sierra Madre, dusk brought a few breaks in the gray skies and the last rays of sun shown against slivers of blue sky. I placed my hand on the windshield and felt the cold and thought about the little mission turned hotel that I have called home on my many trips down here and the nice warm bed that was waiting there. I hope these friends of mine, who have traveled in the car with me today like this town I hold dear.

As we round the square, I notice that Cuatro Ciénegas is still dressed in her Christmas splendor. No one here seems in a hurry to end the merry season. We round the square and among all the swirling dust and mostly starless sky, I am anxious to see the anchor of this little town. The village church, lovingly manufactured from old sea bed travertine, mined and cut from the western mountain side of this oasis is bathed in soft lights. As we pass by, the door stands open.

When all tomorrows plans are made, off each of us go, to rest and I slip out for one more view, one more memory, of the anchor of this little town I love.

Peaceful. Beautiful. Welcoming.

Tomorrow: Sampling in frigid water and frigid weather… among other things.

Bible quote of the day: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19-20

Song of the day: I take off time to time
With those crazy friends of mine
Head out on steel horses
With wheels and we ride

We burn up that road to old Mexico
Blend in with the desert
Just we amigos
And we roll

Chorus:
Cowboys like us sure do have fun
Racin’ the wind, chasin’ the sun
Take the long way around back to square one
Today we’re just outlaws out on the run
There’ll be no regrets, no worries and such
For cowboys like us

We talk about livin’, babies, and women
All that we’ve lost and all we’ve been givin’
We sing about true love, lie about things we ain’t done
Drink one more cold one, come mornin’ get up
And we roll