Aging, me??

So this past week, I got my first serious taste of feeling “old.”  Not writing this to complain or whine about the depravities of aging, rather to share a few insights and ironies encountered on the journey……….

Followers of the Mud Shack might recall a couple of years ago, accompanied by friends and family, we accomplished an epic adventure, the mountain bike ride on the Butch Cassidy trail.  This feat was performed despite a ganglion cyst on my left foot.  Said lump was removed that fall.

Unfortunately, earlier this summer it recurred.  I couldn’t get a timely appointment with the podiatrist and the stupid thing ended up splitting.  Good in that the lump was gone; bad because there was an open wound.  Got to the podiatrist a couple of days later (why do bodily malfunctions always occur on weekends?)  He played with it, described a treatment regimen, and things proceeded rosily along—-for about two weeks.

I awoke at 1AM on a Monday morning in utter agony.  My foot was swollen, crimson bordering on violet.  Took a pain pill left over from some previous procedure and sort of got back to sleep.  Examining my foot in the clearer light of day, I figured it was a gout attack and pursued the recommended soaking and NSAIDs.  Unfortunately, the redness proceeded up my leg and my temperature increased, spiking at about 102.8F.  Infection!

The next day, after some family drama I won’t relate,  I called my podiatrist and got an early afternoon appointment.  He diagnosed the infection as cellulitis  and I got a new menu of antibiotics and steroids.  We figure the infection likely came from the chicken yard—-I usually wear crocs when doing chores and, the yard being a heaven for bacteria, picked up some staph from not having a large enough band-aid on the wound. Got a nice new pair of Wellies to solve that issue.

The gout discussion was funny.  The usual less red meat, less shell-fish, then no red wine (purines).  The doc recommended white wine.  Now my primary care physician is an advocate of the benefits of a little red wine in reducing cholesterol and benefitting heart function.  White wine is discouraged because of the nitrites and negative effects on the liver and circulatory system.  Beer, of course, is only allowed in very small quantities, a couple of bottles a week.  My podiatrist recommends scotch whiskey as being beneficial for avoiding the gout attacks!!!  Just got to wonder at medical science sometimes……..

Anyway, spending the last week forced to use crutches, cane, and a walker led my mind into consideration of impending physical decline and recalled to mind Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality.”    I am pretty much up and about as I write this on a rainy Sunday morning here in the monsoonal Southwestern high desert.  And I’m also really disappointed because I so wanted to end this post with a selfie taken in one of those powered shopping carts at Sam’s Club but I was feeling well enough to use the regular carts on our visit yesterday…………


Adventures in Swamp Cooler Land

I’m a little late this year getting the swamp cooler, aka evaporative cooler, ready for the season.

Those of you reading this from more humid realms may not be familiar with this device.  Out West, especially in the desert, it’s necessary to add some humidity to the cooling air.  Hence, an evaporative cooler which mixes water with the air it blows into the house.  You can get more information here.  Our water in the desert has a high mineral content which leads to corrosive failure of metal parts so annual maintenance of a swamp cooler is imperative.

When I inspected ours several weeks ago, I realized one of the louvers was rotting out.  One of the supporting legs had also rotted through.  I did some research to decide whether to replace the unit (several hundred dollars plus installation) or fix it myself.  Being an old retired coot with lots of free time on a pretty fixed income, as well as years of experience with swamp coolers, I chose the latter course, of course.

So today, having all my ducks in a row, knowing the correct type and size leg kit, the part number for the louver from the manufacturer’s web-site,  I journeyed to the local dealer—-a hardware/building supply/miscellaneous goods outfit called Sutherland’s.  I bought the correct leg kit, a little disappointed I had to buy a full set of four instead of just the parts I needed to fix one leg.  As long as I was there I bought some cleaner as well.  While the lovely señorita and I waited for the computer to approve my purchase, i inquired about ordering a louver, they being an authorized dealer for my brand of swamp cooler.  She found the manager and when he was done assisting another customer, we headed into his office and he began to take down the make/model/id#/etc of my cooler.  He was pleased and surprised that I even had the number of the louver.  Suddenly a light bulb went on over his head (metaphorically speaking, of course) and he recalled a cooler they had cannibalized a year ago.  Mirabile dictu, there were not one but THREE louvers of the right size and configuration sitting on one of those “not sure what to do with these” shelves all hardware stores have..  And about half the price of a newly ordered one, less freight!!!

Needless to say, my swamp cooler is restored to usable condition.

But, as with any home project, there was a slight emergency.  The little valve that supplies the water to the unit had frozen from corrosion (our water is very high in mineral content) and broke, forcing me to turn off the water supply at the street,  As I pulled out of the driveway to visit my favorite Ace Hardware a 1/4 mile away to get a new valve, wouldn’t you know the iPod would chose to play the title song of the Beatles’ second movie: HELP.

Shiny Happy Pollos

First, a disclaimer.  Normally, posts about animals appear on our other site, Pirate Dogs and Pilgrims .  But the dogs are upset with us and refuse to help out.  Seems their mother has been taking the youngest, Beany Bacciagalupe, with her on her morning walks and the rest of the canines have gone on strike.  So…….

Back in November, a new chicken yard was promised as a birthday present to the lady of the Shack.  Last weekend (Feb. 19), it got built.


The Chicken Yard

The old yard was based on 4 foot high fencing with a bird fabric roof that made it difficult to work inside of it.  We’re a little old for extended duck-walking.  Also there was no formal gate.  One unclipped the “roof”, untied four rope strips from a fencepost near the small door the chickens use for egress from the coop, then pulled the fence aside.  As can be seen from the photos, the new yard incorporates a 6 ft. X 6 ft. iron gate.  Tres fancy for a barnyard.  With higher stakes and fencing, now one can enter the yard just about fully erect. We ran the new fence outside the old fencing to add a little area in which the flock could entertain themselves.

Other Views of the Yard

As for the composition of the flock itself, there are several breeds, each with nicknames and different personalities.


Brutus the Rooster

There are 3 Buff Orpingtons—-the rooster, Brutus, and hens Sainte and Marie.  (“We’ll make a space/ in the lives / that we planned…” Consult a folk music encyclopedia if you don’t understand the reference.) It’s hard to tell the hens apart out in the yard but in the nests: Sainte will let you get eggs from under her and is very calm; Marie will squawk and peck your hands.

There are 3 Transylvania Naked Necks, aka, Turkens–Ruby, Gloria, and Barbidoux.  Ruby is red-tinged all over.  Gloria is golden with a reddish top-knot while Barbidoux is golden and blonde.  (We’re certain the kids favorite Language Arts teacher in junior high is thrilled with the compliment.)


Cuckoo Maran

Next are the 3 Cuckoo Marans, also called “morons” or “macaroons”.  Again, hard to determine which is which at any time.  These hens are pretty friendly, talkative, and lay lovely almost chocolate-colored eggs.

2 Banties are incorporated (sort of) into the flock.  These came from a group of chicks we got for free from the feed store.  Most of the chicks grew into roosters and we were able to return them.  One of the Banties gets along with her fellow chickens; the other is called “the millennial” because she is obnoxious and spoiled.  She is at the bottom of the pecking order so some of her angst is understandable.  But this fact doesn’t make her behavior any less obnoxious when we try to clean the nests and she screams and demands separate dining facilities, even jumping out the open door of the nesting box if her demands are not acceded to immediately.  A true millennial….

Silver-laced Wyandottes, 7 in number, make up the second largest grouping.  These birds are garrulous , friendly to the point of being intrusive, and very good layers.  There have been a few occasions when via a slip of the tongue they were called “Weimaraners” and that nickname has stuck and is used interchangeably with their actual breed designation.

Finally, 9 Rhode Island reds.  Obtained as chicks from the person who built the coops.  Good layers, difficult to tell apart if they are roaming about the pen, but with distinct personalities in the nesting boxes.  Not sure how many are in each classification, but basically there are 3 personality types: the Photobomber–friendly to the point she will almost fall out of the nest to get attention;  Squawky—-ruffles her feathers and screams bloody murder at the opening of the nesting box door; and Bitey–one does NOT put fingers anywhere in the nesting box unless one values those appendages naught.


Today I decided to finish the bike ride from Sunday.  Drove with my bike to the end point of Sunday’s ride.  It was about 35F but the sun was shining brightly and I probably should have paid more attention to the wind forecast—-at 6MPH out of the North the wind was not only cold but also blowing right in my face for about 7 miles of the 9.53 mile ride.

Anyway,  heading out onto the Las Cruces Loop Trail and the desert landscaping:img_3073

That’s perhaps the nicest scenery along this section of the trail.  Heading north, the trail parallels I-25 on the east side and a major boulevard on the west side.  After a couple of miles there are some nice views:


Water Tank

After the only short steep climb on this section is the Water tank.  The painting depicts the journey from Mexico north along the El Camino Real and the Jornada del Muerto.


Picacho Peak

Picacho Peak dominates the Western skyline.  It is visible from our house and all over Las Cruces.  Not as high as the Organ Mountains to the East but sitting as it does on the West Mesa it presents a landmark for the area.



The Robledos Mountains extend to the North from Picacho Peak.  They are the location of the Prehistoric Trackways National Monument.  At this point, I’m about halfway through the ride.  From here, it’s flat to downhill and there’s a reprieve from the wind as the trail veers West.


The Trail Heads West

That’s the Loop Trail heading West, where we rode on Sunday.  The Rio Grande is about three miles down that trail.


South Along the Ditch to Las Cruces

There are miles and miles of maintenance trails along the irrigation ditch system.  This trail heads South into the City of Las Cruces, perhaps three or so miles.


North along the Ditch towards Home

And this is the trail North towards home.  The wind has died down a little but it’s still right in my face.  On a calm day I can hold 9-10 MPH along this trail but today I’ll average about 7 MPH.


Twin Peaks

Off to the East is Twin Peaks, easily recognizable by the antennas for both cellular phones and wireless internet access.  Unfortunately one needs line-of-sight to the towers for the internet provider access and the pecan trees surrounding our house prevent that.  Stuck with Comcast, sigh.


The Dona Ana Mountains

I believe I’ve mentioned before that we have almost 360 degree mountain views from our front patio.  These are the mountains to the North, the Dona Anas.  There are several good hiking and biking trails there, as well as some petroglyphs.



At one point, about a mile from home, there is a choice confronting the rider.  The great New England poet, Robert Frost, spoke of the “road not taken.”  The great New Jersey poet, Yogi Berra, said “When you arrive at a fork in the road, take it. ”  And I followed both of their instructions.

Gang Aft Agley

So spoke the poet, Robert Burns.  He was referring to my annual bike ride the day after Thanksgiving when he said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.”  That was the case this year, for sure.

I ride the Las Cruces Loop trail several times a year but always the day after Thanksgiving to burn off that celebration of gluttony.  The map indicates the trail is 18.7 miles but I have to add another 4 to 5 miles to access the mapped portion, making the total ride 23-24 miles.  This year I was stymied by a flat front tire about 2 miles into the ride.  I returned home, repaired the tire using a tube I had in the garage left over from the San Juan hut trip from 2014 and resolved to ride over the weekend.  So on Sunday, I took my trusty Marin East Peak out of the garage only to find the tire flat again!!  I filled it with air and saw the green Slime the tube was filled with permeating through the tire tread.  Slime is a sort of puncture-sealing/preventing concoction that is a necessity here in the desert Southwest where there are all kinds of hazards to bike tires like goat-heads, thorns, cacti, and the Las Cruces roads themselves.  Monday trip to the bike shop on the calendar.


Nice New Tire

The new tire installed I planned another attempt at the ride.  My step-son, Ben, offered to accompany me the next weekend.  Set up the ride for Saturday.  Wrong!!!  A cold front came through accompanied by winds getting near hurricane force all day Saturday.  No way we were riding in 40 to 50 mph gusts with 25-30 mph sustained wind speeds. So about 10AM Sunday we set out in 34F temp with a slight wind from the east.

Down the ditch known as the Leasburg Canal to the intersection of the loop trail.  This irrigation canal is a necessity for the farms in the area.


One of the gates that diverts water to the pecan orchard

You can see the ditch is empty this time of year.  It does make for a convenient storage place for tumbleweeds though.

Riding along, heading south then west, there are always some interesting sights:



The ultimate in home protection


Guinea Hens

By now we are about 4 miles into the ride, heading west toward the Rio Grande.


Picacho Peak

We turned South along the east bank of the river.  The trees and grass indicate the “wetlands” or green belt along the river as it winds through the Chihuahuan high desert.  Of course, the river only flows through this area a few weeks a year in the spring and early summer when its waters can be tapped for irrigation.  This time of the year, it’s better for doing doughnuts with your ATV:


After about 3 1/2 miles along the river the trail transitions to road riding through the historic town of La Mesilla then through the campus of New Mexico State University (GO AGGIES!!):


Across the street from the campus is a shopping center with a nice market and Milagro Coffee.  This is a natural place to take a break, about 15 miles into the ride.  Relax, have a latte and a biscochito or cheesecake.  Refreshed, we remount.  One more good climb then it’s all downhill.

But Mr. Burns had other plans.  As we progressed through the parking lot there was a plaintive cry: “Dad, I’ve got a flat.”  Ben had recently redone his front tire but not the rear from which he extracted three thorns.  So, back to Milagro, call for a ride, and wait.  Better luck next time!!!!

Graduations and a Road Trip

June. Time to leave the desert in the hottest month of the year.  Road trip to CA.  It’s usually a little cooler and this year both grandsons had graduations.

Wrong on the weather—-the Central Valley temps were over 100F and the humidity was ridiculous.  I missed the 80% day but it was still over 40% while I was there.  At home in the Chihuahuan desert, 20% is considered high!!

First graduation was middle school–Mason’s…..

(click for captions)

Mason was probably the male with the most awards in his class, including “Best in Science”, the VFW citizenship award, and CA Junior Scholars Foundation.  Congrats, kid, ya done good.

The next night was older brother Christopher’s graduation from Wheatland Union High School.


the graduate with his sisters


Christopher and Hailey


after the ceremony

Chris got a Principal’s Award and (hope I got this right) the Code of Honor award.  Plus he had the support of his lovely girl-friend, Hailey.  Another grandkid out of high school and on to adulthood……..Milestones.

Of course spending time with the family is always a bonus on these road trips…


the grandkids: (l-r) Christopher, Karlie, Emily, Mason, Isabella


Dee, Mason and Chris getting sun-baked


Dee, Isabella and Emily


Me and Charlie


Emily and Stitch


Dee and Dana’s new house

Of course, it’s always nice to get back home.  And for a bonus, I found a route in southern CA with almost no traffic!!  I spent the last night in Palm Desert and proceeded down CA Route 86 from Indio/Coachella south.  Amazing—-to the right was some of the scruffiest desert landscape imaginable and to the left was the Salton Sea.  Eventually I hit Interstate 8 and was blessed with little or no traffic most of the way across AZ until I got on I-10 just west of Tucson.

Good road trip, better homecoming……..


Chiles of the Field, Onions, and Dirt

The gods of the desert have been threatening precipitation this weekend.  Thunderstorms are forecast both Saturday and Sunday.  So I took advantage of a sun break this morning to go on a short but very entertaining bike ride.

East of the Mud Shack runs Dona Ana Rd.  Parallel to it is a covered EBID drain.  This, together with a large well, provides irrigation for the agricultural land east of the road.  The drain also makes for a nice bike path.   Straight and flat.  I rode a bit along this path then veered off onto the dirt road the farmer uses to access the fields.  And, behold, after a short jaunt,


Behold, the Chiles of the Field

Row upon row of very young chile plants.  I think this fall will be absolutely wondrous when these seedlings mature and bear their capsaicin-laced fruit.   Like those biblical lilies, these plants neither toil nor spin but after they are  harvested,  the smell of roasting chiles permeates the atmosphere and provides for olfactory orgasms……….

Across the access road is an orchard of pecan trees, about two years old.


Young Pecan Trees

This orchard really represents a significant investment as it takes several years before pecan trees produce those flavorful and versatile nuts.

The next crops along the path are onions: red and yellow.


Planted much earlier in the year, these bulbs are much farther along than the chiles which cannot tolerate night-time temperatures below 50F.

I next got to the end of the access trail and crossed into a cul-de-sac, leaving the flat and smooth agricultural land.  The high desert lay before me.  A white-tailed bunny scurried frantically across the trail and I immediately looked for a pursuer like a rattlesnake.  Fortunately, none such appeared.

But the terrain had turned more challenging.  I dropped my bike thanks to some sand that was a little too soft to sand-surf in.  Also had to partake in my “favorite” activity, hike-a-bike, up a steep sandy hill.  The reward was at the top, some single-track and jeep trails:


A Fork in the Trail. Take It!!

I guess I need to invest in a Go-Pro video camera to capture these rides.  These still shots don’t really do it.  This particular trail was a mix of single track and wide jeep roads.  There’s a network of them in this totally undeveloped desert section.  I rode over fast packed banked corners and some nice sections of sandy downhill.  Couldn’t count the white-tail rabbits who scampered across the trail as I passed.  Only put about 7 miles on the bike but what a diverse and lovely ride it was…….


Don’t Hurt the Dirt