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Calling All Stargazers!

Welcome to April 14, the day before Income Tax Day here in the US. For those who are celebrating having filed their tax forms, who are needing stress relief to meet tomorrow’s deadline, or who enjoy having any excuse to party under the stars, the universe at midnight (PDT) gives the gift of a lunar eclipse.

One feature making this eclipse special is its totality’s visibility to most of the United States; only our friends in far-west Alaska and New England will see a partial eclipse. Notably, most of Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East won’t see an eclipse at all.

The more unusual feature is this eclipse’s position as the first in a tetrad of lunar eclipses, the second tetrad of 8 such sequences occurring this century. Whether you believe this lunar eclipse and its tetrad signify “The End Times” or you appreciate it as a natural phenomenon of our amazing cosmos, you might decide it’s worthwhile being a little sleepy at work or school tomorrow to go out and observe tonight’s spectacular sky show.

For those who prefer a good night’s rest, Changing Woman offers this post’s title image of a beautiful earthbound “Stargazer” for your meditation and enjoyment.

A Discovery in My Backyard Wilderness

During a recent storm, the ancient, huge prickly pear cactus behind our backyard shed collapsed. Fortunately, with my holiday break from teaching, I had plenty of time to complete the cleanup. Just yesterday, I finished the chore by raking up the cactus, leaf, and trash litter that had collected behind the shed. Just beyond the tip of the shovel I was using to pick up the debris, a flash of movement caught my attention. I had to look closely to find the small, camouflaged creature who had just barely escaped the metal blade: a Mediterranean house gecko!


Studying the gecko’s pink mottled skin, I began to wonder if I had seen it before, as the tiny baby lizard I had rescued from inside my house just after moving in. Our very first night, walking along the carpeted hallway, I saw movement by the baseboard. But then I had such a difficult time finding what had moved, since its color–unlike that of most insects–was so similar to the carpet’s. The experience was as if a speck of carpet fluff had spontaneously come alive to scurry away from my feet. When it fled into the bathroom, we could see it wasn’t an insect, and we used a glass to trap it and give it closer inspection. We were beholding the most delicately formed lizard with pink transparent skin! Not wanting to give our cats another chance to find it, I took the baby lizard outside to the shelter of a mock orange bush, hoping a bird wouldn’t discover it, either. Finding yesterday’s lizard felt very good, like a promise that this new backyard would continue unfolding secrets of nature that I will always treasure.

Please note: Today’s slideshow contains two images of the gecko. To activate the slideshow, click the “Play” triangle below the picture.

Celebrate Christmas at Christmas Tree Pass!

So, it’s Christmas day in Southern Nevada: the luster of newly opened presents is already fading, a malaise of “Is that all there is?” is settling over the family room, and little storm clouds are brewing on the horizon of your children’s boredom. But outside, the sky is bright blue, the sun is shining, and unseasonably warm weather beckons. What do you do? Why not pack the kids into the family car—or, better yet, SUV—and surprise them with an adventure along Christmas Tree Pass?

Accessible from Hwy 95 south of Cal-Nev-Ari or from Hwy 163 west of Laughlin, Christmas Tree Pass is a dirt-and-gravel scenic drive that leads to a display of decorated juniper trees. A few of my favorites from my recent holiday’s excursion are featured in this slideshow.


Christmas Tree Pass – Images by Jennifer Nelson

The trees are situated along the highest, narrowest, and most twisty part of the road (the middle, closer to Hwy 95 than to Hwy 163). Since no one lives along this back country byway, you’ll have no difficulty convincing the young ones that Santa’s elves created this high-country Christmas display out in the middle of nowhere.

That isolation, of course, means you need to travel smart. Yes, the 12-mile road is in generally good condition when it’s dry though a couple rutted and steep sections can pose challenges for low-clearance cars and inexperienced drivers. If the weather has recently rained or snowed, do not attempt this excursion in anything but a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle. Pack a picnic with plenty of water in addition to the juices and sodas your clan usually drinks. There are spots among the trees where you can park off the road and allow the children to explore. Yes, you’re in snake country, but even on winter’s warm days those creatures are hibernating. If you want to experience Christmas at other times of year, the trees will still be decorated, but you will want to be more cautious of where and how you walk through the rocky desert.

With the right precautions and a wondering spirit, traveling along Christmas Tree Pass can be a gift of experience the whole family will enjoy.

To Albuquerque and Back Again, Part 2: Petroglyphs National Monument

As I look with dismay upon the months elapsed since I last posted to this blog, I am reminded of French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre‘s insights on people’s relationships to the stories we tell about our lives. In his book Nausea Sartre writes,

This is what I thought: for the most banal even to become an adventure, you must (and this is enough) begin to recount it. This is what fools people: a man is always a teller of tales, he sees everything that happens to him through them; and he tries to live his own life as if he were telling a story.

But you have to choose: live or tell.

In my silence we find evidence that I have chosen to live.  In doing so, I left you, dear Reader, behind, and now it’s (long past) time to catch you up with all that has happened since our last visit together.

My travel last March to Albuquerque, New Mexico, focused on exploring the histories and cultures of the Puebloan peoples. The day after my tour of the Acoma Pueblo (near the town of Grant an hour or so west of ABQ), I hiked the Rinconada Canyon trail of Petroglyphs National Monument. This federally protected area, located along ABQ’s westward city limits, actually consists of four disconnected areas where petroglyphs may be found.  The Rinconada Canyon trail skirts a steep hillside strewn with large boulders and the cliffs from which they fell, before looping back across open desert to the parking area.  Examples of rock art may be seen all along the outbound side of the loop with the largest concentration of images, so we heard, situated just before the trail turns away from the hillside.  My friend and I made it nearly that far before needing to turn back, but despite missing this grand gallery we were still thrilled by all the glyphs we did find.  You can see some of what we saw in the slide show below.


Petroglyph National Monument – Images by Jennifer Nelson

Created by Pueblo people over the centuries, these petroglyphs served various functions. Some marked water sources along established trade routes; others warned of dangerous creatures, like rattlesnakes, lurking among the trail-side rocks; still others promoted the clan affiliations of those who traveled along a route that extended deep into the land we now call Mexico. Many glyphs served ritual purposes and now provide windows into the spiritual beliefs of Puebloan cultures. As reminders of communal practices lived closer to the land than our modern, urbanized way of life, perhaps these rock art images challenge us to imagine how we might reform our society to restore the planet we have damaged and how we might once again attune ourselves to receive the Creator’s many gifts.