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Sunday, July 9, 2017

Loving the Southwest

What makes people prefer one type of climate over the others? It's definitely good that not everyone likes the same sort of climate.

While some love cold and snow, I get grumpy when the temperatures drop. Some people love cloudy, rainy climates, while I get depressed without a lot of blue skies.

I grew up in the cold and snowy Chicago area. I lived in damp Maryland and in hot and humid Houston. I love the Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay area. But at this point in my life, no place beats the high desert of New Mexico.

I love the vastness of the state, the low humidity and the crystal blue skies. I love the privacy my half-acre lot provides, along with the unobstructed views of the Sandia Mountains. At night, I can look up at a black sky with countless twinkling start. I love the open spaces and the ability to get away from the crowds without facing a long, traffic-clogged drive. Most of this part of the country is less populated (aside from Phoenix) than the rest of the country.

Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, has a population of only 600,000. Yes, traffic can be terrible, and crime is a real problem, but one doesn't even have to leave the city to view hundreds of ancient petroglyphs at Petroglyph National Monument. A mere five miles from my home is Coronado Historic Site, which has  nothing to do with Spanish explorer Coronado, but it does include the ruins of Kuaua Pueblo. Among the ruins is a kiva, or underground ceremonial chamber, that included some of the finest examples of pre-Columbian art ever found in the US. (The original murals have been removed for safekeeping, but copies decorate the inside walls of the kiva).

From central New Mexico, I can easily drive to the beautiful red rock area of Sedona, Ariz., or to Abiquiui, made famous by American painter Georgia O'Keeffe. I can reach Durango, Colo., in less than 4 hours. I can be at the other-worldly beauty of White Sands in 4 hours. When I attend a photography trip in Moab, Utah, later this year, I will make the 11-hour drive through a beautiful land. I can be in Santa Fe in less than an hour.

Every morning I watch the sun rise over the Sandia Mountains. They aren't terribly pretty mountains, especially compared with Arizona's and western New Mexico's red rocks, but they are impressive as they soar to 10,567 feet. And they are home to some amazing sunrises. I try to keep a camera handy so I can dash outside whenever I see one of the fiery sunrises over the mountains.

Yes, it can get hot during the summer (it's been hovering in the 100-degree F range for a couple of weeks). It is very dry. And the winters are colder than I would like. But the small amount of snow we get each year generally melts in a day or less. Water is a constant concern, especially given the unrelenting demand of local governments to encourage construction of still more houses. 

I enjoy the blend of three cultures -- Native American, Hispanic and Caucasian -- in my state. I love visiting some of the historic buildings, some of which date back hundreds of years. The crisp air of spring and fall bring a much-appreciated change

My yard was xeriscaped after removal of a water-guzzling lawn. The yard is beautiful and perfect for a desert climate, with drought-tolerant and low-water trees and plants, artificial turf and lots of colored, decorative gravel and boulders. The plants bloom every spring with flowers of a variety of colors. And there isn't a cactus in sight! My yard also includes two peach trees and a cherry tree, too young to produce fruit just yet.

The Southwest states have the Grand Canyon, the Vermillion Cliffs, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, Sedona, Monument Valley and so many more gorgeous locations. Other parts of the country, of course, have their own natural beauty. But in my mind, the Southwest has more beauty than anywhere else in the United States.

I hope my little slice of heaven stays just as it is, without a strip mall on every corner and houses crammed onto tiny lots.There is barely enough water to go around, even with careful water use and conservation of this valuable resource. Let's hope our so-called leaders can see beyond the demand for more and more tax revenue and stop encouraging people and businesses to move into the desert.




Friday, July 7, 2017

19th Century Wisdom

The great 19th century American author Mark Twain once wrote:

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

I believe this statement is just as true now -- perhaps even more so -- than when it was published in 1869, in his book The Innocents Abroad. We now have a president who seems bent on curtailing America's involvement with the rest of the world, and who has already taken steps to limit the programs set in place by his predecessor to increase people-to-people interactions between Americans and Cubans.

I am a well-traveled person. I have visited Africa several times, as well as Europe and the Middle East. I haven't yet made it to Asia or South America, but those places are on my list of places I hope to visit. I learn something and I make friends wherever I go. I have Facebook friends -- people I have met in person -- from Turkey, Russia, Ireland, Kenya, Scotland, England, Germany, Costa Rica, Spain, Chile, Botswana and France.

By visiting these and other countries, I have gained a better understanding of other cultures and people. I am more informed when I see a news story about something that happens in one of those countries. When I heard about another attack on a French police officer on the Champs Elysees, I knew where that is because I walked down that well-known Paris boulevard a month ago. When I heard about a military action against protesters on Istanbul's Taksim Square, I can relate because I was there just two weeks previously. When a story surfaced about a knife attack at Jerusalem's Western Wall, I can see the wall in my mind, as I visited Israel three years ago.

Travel provides a real life education and broadens one's horizons. It has increased my self-confidence and ability to be flexible and to take things as they come. The rest of the world doesn't necessarily do things the way Americans do. Although I usually travel with a group, I also spend time exploring on my own. Yes, a friend and I were lost in Istanbul; neither of us knows a word of Turkish. But we found our way. 

Traveling makes me see more similarities and fewer differences in people regardless of where they live. People care about the same things regardless of where they call home: family, education, food, shelter and safety.  Don't we all want those things, regardless of where we live? 

I travel with a variety of companies and for a variety of reasons: photography, adventure/hiking and just plain tourism. I wish more Americans had the opportunity to travel abroad and experience other cultures. One culture is not 'less than' or better than another. Our American isn't better than the cultures of Peru or Kenya or France. Learning about other countries and cultures can broaden our horizons and make us better informed citizens of the world. And the more we know about other lands, the less reason there is to fear them.

Monday, July 3, 2017

America's Shame

On the same day he met with the president of South Korea -- a nation facing attack (possibly nuclear) by its neighbor North Korea, which is led by a mad man -- the president of the United States was more preoccupied with attacking via Twitter two morning talk show hosts who frequently criticize him. And despite criticism by members of both political parties, and pleas for him to stop his bizarre tweets, he did the same thing the following morning. And on the morning of the third day, he released a video clip showing him punching a character with CNN as its face.

This wouldn't be funny even if it were done by a middle school student. That the source of these verbal attacks and name-calling is the president of the United States is, at the very least, shameful and unprecedented.

Our country is divided like at no time in recent history, from the halls of Congress to Main Street. Unprovoked attacks on black citizens and on Muslim-Americans have increased dramatically. Yet what is the president doing to try to bring the country together? Absolutely nothing! He has not spoken of unity, of coming together to face our country's problems, or taking America's rightful place as the leader of the free world. 

Instead, he adds fuel to the fire with his off-the-wall tweets and pronouncements. He continues his verbal assaults on women. For the first time in decades, the White House did not hold an Eid celebration to mark the conclusion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He says nothing when Americans are gunned down on the roads and in their homes. He offers no condolences or support to the survivors and families of victims brutalized by violence. Instead, he uses the killings as an opportunity to gloat.

His latest is a demand that the states turn over to some commission -- a commission whose members are a secret -- a list of all registered voters and their personal information. His excuse is that there was rampant voter fraud in the last election, a charge he has never been able to prove. He is obsessed with the fact that he lost the popular vote to his opponent by more than 2.5 million votes, and in his mind, that is due to voter fraud, illegal immigrants voting, and other crazy explanations.  

And now the US State Department, operating under the ban on Muslims from coming to the United States from certain countries, has refused to issue visas to an all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan. These brave young women, who live in a country that oppresses women and often does its best to keep girls from attending school, wanted to come to the US to compete in a robotics competition. But of course, the list of banned countries doesn't include predominantly Muslim countries with which his excellency has business ties.

He continues his outright war on the news media, referring to any media outlet that runs stories not favorable to him (even those that report things he himself has said and done) as "fake news." His administration has held daily briefings from which the news media were banned. Hitler and other tyrants did the same thing.

He shoved the prime minister of Montenegro aside to get to the Thafront of the group for a photograph. He insulted the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Australia during his first few weeks in office. He has publicly chastised the leader of Germany, one of our strongest allies, for not paying enough to support NATO. He has insulted veterans. He congratulated a veteran who had lost his legs in combat for winning the Purple Heart. The man has no compassion and no filters. He simply blurts out whatever comes into his brain.

It should be obvious to all but his most obtuse followers that Donald Trump's mental health isn't what it should be, especially for the man who occupies the most powerful position on the planet. The presidency needs a cool, calm, intelligent person, not a petulant, nearly illiterate, I-know-more-about-everything-than anybody person who is unable to resist attacking any individual or organization that in his mind has insulted or been 'mean' to him.

This isn't about his policies or cabinet picks or his plans to remove 23 million people from the health insurance they now have. There is absolutely nothing about this 71-year-old man with the mind of a child that I like. I agree with none of his policies. But this isn't about policies. It is about the damage he has already done to our country. We are the laughingstock of the world. Rather than leadership, we get buffoonery. 

All Americans want what is best for their country. We may have very different beliefs about what is best, but we should find some common ground and work to bridge the chasm that divides us.  That, I hope, will include replacing a dangerous tyrant-in-waiting from the highest office in the land. Meanwhile, let us come together as Americans and celebrate the greatness of our country.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Independence Day: A Photographic Celebration


A few years ago, I was riding my bicycle on July 4 when I came upon preparations for an Independence Day parade in a village near where I live.

It had been several years since I had watched a parade, so I stopped and waited for the parade to begin. As parades go, this one wasn't very big. But it included a variety of participants: veterans, people on horseback, kids on bicycles, old pickup trucks, costumed dogs, folks in Civil War-era costumes, people riding in a cart pulled by goats, and a semi representing a local Arabian horse breeder. There also was an Hispanic group that marched, along with some Native Americans in traditional dress. 

This was small town America at its finest, celebrating our nation's independence and the things that bring us together as a nation.So as we approach our nation's 241st birthday, I'd like to share some photos I took at various July 4 parades around our country. Regardless of what the current president claims, America still is a great country.
 


 

 












Main Street, York, SC, during a recent visit







Thursday, June 29, 2017

Artwork Sold!

I am pleased and excited to announce that a buyer in Oklahoma has purchased a 24" x 13.375" print of my image 'Las Cruces Sunset.'



This image of the Organ Mountains was taken just outside Las Cruces, NM. 
This image is available at https://designerprints.com/featured/organ-mountain-sunset-ann-sullivan.html

Proceeds from the sale of my images are donated to the Save the Elephants scholarship fund, which enables high-achieving pastoralist students in Kenya to attend high school.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Too Connected to Everything

Every so often, I travel to a place where cell phone and Internet service is limited or nonexistent.

After a few days of feeling somewhat lost without instant text messaging, e-mail and Web access, life returns to the way it used to be, before electronic communications took over. And that, I have learned, is a good thing. 

Being device-free definitely lessens the stress I feel. No longer am I bombarded with the latest bad and sad news from around the world. No longer am I faced with a never-ending barrage of pleas for donations to 'go fund me' pages and charitable organizations. No longer do I feel a need to keep up to date with everything. A self-confessed news junkie (most of my professional life was spent working with the news media), I like to feel 'in the know' at all times. But having no or limited access to the news is a very freeing feeling. Whatever happens will happen whether I am aware of it or not. And there is little, if anything, I can do about whatever happens.

Lately I have been really frustrated by my electronic world. First, it's the passwords. I'm told not to use the same password for more than one account. Don't write passwords down. Be sure not to use anything that is easy to guess. And make it a combination of numbers and letters. Of course, this is impossible for me. I have far too many accounts to keep track of every password in my head, especially for accounts I seldom use. I constantly have to hit the 'forgot password' button and create yet another password that I will forget the next time I need it.

My Dell laptop, which is probably 5 years old, is frustratingly slow. Sometimes it freezes and the cursor won't move. This requires unplugging the device, turning it over and removing the battery, then restarting it and waiting forever for the browser to load.

This week I decided to dump my expensive DirecTv service, which claims to have 150 channels. In reality, half of them are nothing but infomercials for some vacuum cleaner, copper cooking pans or 'best sex ever.' One of my favorites (I saw it in the channel lineup but didn't look at it) was "Do you poop enough?" And I'm paying how much every month for this nonsense?

So I purchased an Amazon Fire TV stick that allows me to stream a variety of channels without the need for cable or satellite television. I'm still getting used to it, as I have had cable of satellite television for decades. But I'm sure that after a while it will seem normal to me. Of course, then I had to call DirecTv to cancel service. As expected, I got the usual high pressure sell of why don't I block the infomercials (I would still be paying for them), why don't I use DirecTv streaming, etc. I finally told the woman to stop arguing with me and just cancel the service. Naturally, I'm getting hit with a $240 'early termination' fee, but that's still considerably less than I would pay if I kept the service for another year. So goodbye, DirecTv!

Technology does have a good side, of course. I like being able to use my cell phone to call for roadside assistance if my car gets a flat tire. I like being able to get directions with a simple click or two. I love being able to compare prices and to order things online, and to use a small e-reader to carry 30 books with me when I travel. I can share photographs from my trips, and technology allows me to write and share this blog. My car has a navigation system that gets me to my destination, if not always the best route to take.

I remember spending hours in the college library doing research, and hoping that the books I needed hadn't been checked out by another student. I remember struggling with a paper map or road atlas to find my destination. Now I can do research online.

 I guess it's too late to disconnect completely. That would be a very difficult step to take, and it would present issues of its own (online banking is a real convenience).

Still, I am looking forward to my next trip and the escape from technology it will offer.








Monday, June 19, 2017

Staying Right Where I Am

One of the reasons I love to travel is the opportunity to learn about new countries, people and cultures.

But last week I learned something from a domestic trip. I spent a fun week visiting a friend in South Carolina (and neighboring North Carolina), my first visit to those states. And that trip helped clarify something for me.


We visited Ashville, Old Salem and Blowing Rock, NC. We had dinner with some of her friends, and I spent some time photographing their horses. We had lunch at the new Sierra Nevada brewery, where I enjoyed a half pint of orange-infused beer. I did a bit of walking (5 miles most days) and ate way too much. I helped take care of her four dogs (her father died recently, leaving behind his two chihuahua brothers). I walked the streets photographing the small town on whose outskirts she lives.

I enjoyed the greenery, which is lacking here in the high desert of New Mexico. There are trees everywhere in the Carolinas. What I did not enjoy was the humidity, which ran in the 90 percent range. Combine that with temperatures in the upper 80s to low 90s (both humidity and temperature will get worse as the summer goes on), and just being outside was very uncomfortable.



My friend drove me to a new subdivision on the Catawba River, hoping that I would like it and want to move there. The houses, while lovely, are on tiny lots just feet from each other. They are all two-story, which I don't want. And they are expensive. 

I would love to be nearer to my friend. We get along really well, we have much in common, and it would be nice to have someone to help out when I need it. I also would like to be there to help her when needed. But the heat/humidity combination is just not to my liking. Going for a walk at 6:30 in the morning, when both temperature and humidity were lower, left me feeling hot and sticky. And conditions went downhill from there.

What I learned from my week in the Carolinas is that I can scratch those states off the list of possible places to move to. I realized -- not for the first time -- that I love the warm (OK, hot), dry climate in which I have lived for the past seven years. I loved the warm, fairly dry climate of northern California where I lived for 28 years. I love being near, but not living in, the mountains. 

So I will happily stay right where I am. I love my house, my yard and my views of the mountains. I love the 300+ days of sunshine every year, the amazing crystal blue skies and the lack of humidity. I plan to visit my friend again once she gets moved into a new house. 

Just as the heat and dryness of the high desert aren't for everyone, so the heat and humidity of the American southeast aren't for me. I will admire its greenery during visits, but for now at least, my heart -- and home -- will remain where they are. 



Copyright Ann Sullivan 2017.