Sunday, December 02, 2007


Now that December is upon us – my thoughts for the month.

I love this month. Liss has made it into something that I never fully appreciated before. It is special – magical – yet melancholy at the same time. Maybe because I spent so many of them alone, overseas, wanting what I never realized I missed before. Nonetheless, December has come to be my favorite month. To continue:

A young woman, recently promoted at her firm, looks out of her window at the thick flakes of snow falling gently to earth. It is now eight o’clock and she has stayed far past the time when she swore, to her mother no less, that she would leave. The elevator seems to take forever but she finally reaches the lobby saying goodnight, and Merry Christmas, to the security guards before pushing out into the street. Walking north on Congress, she turns left on Franklin, then makes her way to Tremont. At this time of night, in the middle of winter, the Common is almost empty, except for a few kids having snowball fights with their parents. Sitting down, she watches, remembering the winters in Omaha, and her brothers showering her with snowballs on the way home from school.
Catching herself, she slowly trudges through the snow of the park, toward Marlborough Street, where she paid way too much for a small brownstone wedged between two immaculate homes that she could never even hope to be invited to. Noticing the lights on in one, she watches from the street as a family gathers together for the holiday, knowing that this is something that she will probably never have. The thought of the Charles river, a couple of blocks over, puts itself away, as she walks up the steps, unlocks the door, and enters her, again, cold and empty flat.

It was cold, and wet, outside as Melanie put the kids to bed. A sudden storm had brought more snow than expected and she had not been ready. Mom and Dad were asleep in the kids bedroom, with the kids asleep in her bed. Looking at them now, she realized what a gift she had been given by God. It’s not like she never understood it before, but with Caleb gone, she had to really focus on the kids like never before. Caleb had enlisted two months after they were wed, his response to the attacks. She didn't realize at the time what it really meant, but now that he was on his second tour of Iraq, it was becoming pretty clear. His second Christmas over there, and again she found herself alone, 24 years old, and trying to make sure the kids had a good Christmas in Colorado. Thank God for her parents, because she sure was a mess. After checking on the kids again, she went back into the living room, coffee in hand, and sat down on the couch.
As the snow fell she sat, alone, and wished the damn thing would just be over so her Caleb could come home. She turned toward the hall at the sound of feet padding along. “Mommy, can I lay down with you?”

“Sure baby, come here.”

The wind was blowing hard as he made his way west from the Navy pier. Christmas in Chicago is supposed to be special, magical, and magnificent; yet he was alone once again. The small bakery on Rush was still open, so he bought a loaf to go with the cheese and proscuitto in the fridge, along with a bottle of red – What the hell, he thought, and bought two bottles. It was almost nine o’clock now, and the wind was blowing steadily from the lake as he made his way up Ohio street to his apartment. Once in the place, with the lights turned on, he understood what his father had told hime many years ago, just as he graduated from college, and went into the kitchen to take the rest of the food out, making the best of where he found himself. It wasn’t that he wanted to be alone on Christmas Eve, just that he really had no where else to go, or anyone to spend it with. He walked out onto his balcony, twenty four floors up, and looked into the wind, toward the lake. There was so much snow coming in now that he couldn’t see anything, so he went back inside, turned on the tv, and watched It’s A Wonderful Life once again - God he hated that movie! As the second bottle fell to the floor, he slept.

A lot of folks are overseas this time of year, doing what their government has told them to do. I did over seven years in the Army, active duty, and while I did not deploy for the Gulf War, I had to help prepare several friends who did go over there. I still cannot listen to that damned Lee Greenwood song, for it makes me tear up, and angry, at the thought of what I have come to realize is my family, leaving their kids at home, while they go do the hard work for the country. Many young wives will be trying to figure out what to do for the kids this Christmas, while their husbands are deployed. Grandparents, boyfriends and husbands will be trying to figure out how to make sure that their kids have a great holiday, while Mom is overseas trying to make the best of things.
A large number of other Americans, not in the military, will be having their holidays alone, bitter or dejected, sad, angry, lost, or simply away from home with no way to return. Even many of those who seem to not be affected by the holidays will soon recall the days of their youth on the farms of the plains, the forests of the Mid-Atlantic, the cold, slick streets of Brooklyn, or even the desert Christmas’s of the southwest. They need to know, as do our men and women in uniform, that they are not alone, and that we are thinking of them.

As I write this, the kids are tucked into bed, the fire is beginning to die out, and the lights on the Christmas trees need to be turned off. The baby is sleeping soundly on the bed behind me, and the cat is driving me nuts trying to open the bathroom door. The house is warm and cozy, with the wind picking up a bit outside. I know that my wife will be returning from work in a few hours, and crawling into the nice warm bed with me and Meghan.

Many don’t have this.

Please keep them in your prayers.

And think about them.

And tell them “Merry Christmas.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

No Butterflies, Another Topic!!!!

I know, I know - the butterfly posts were excessive - obsessive, even - so no more for awhile (though I DID see a Polings Hairstreak today!)

So I want to write a bit about something that I get asked about quite a bit. My official Department of the Army job title is "museum specialist," but in the museum world at large, I am what is called the Registrar, another name for the Collections Manager. More about that in a minute, but I am also lucky in that I get to do a broad range of things, including archive work, conservation, curation - really a mixed bag of jobs. But on to the Registrar.

As the Registrar, it is my job to accept and catalog donations. Sounds easy, right? Well, sometimes it's quite simple, other times - not so much. Two examples should suffice.

We recently had the president of the White Sands Club come to us, wanting to donate all of the scrapbooks in their possession to the museum. These 40 books trace the history of the White Sands Officers Wives Club, the White Sands Wives Club, and the White Sands Enlisted Wives Club, going back to the early 1950's. Really interesting, and important, because, while we have a lot of materials dealing with the military and testing at White Sands, materials relating to the social history of the range, such as what the military and their families did off-duty, is difficult to come by. This is an easy collection - it relates to our storyline and is obviously WSMR-related.

Thursday morning I will be picking up quite a different collection here in Las Cruces. The daughter of a rocket scientist (yes, they really exist!) is donating her father's materials - boxes of stuff. Her father worked on the Apollo and Saturn programs for NASA, in addition to working as an engineer on early Space Shuttle development. Oh yeah, and he worked with and for Dr. Werner von Braun - an icon of rocketry and one of the German Paperclip Scientists who came over after the Second World War. So how does this relate to White Sands? I don't really know yet, as I have not seen the collection. My job will be to take the donation, go through it all, determine what should be housed in our archive, and what should be sent to the archive at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, where her father actually spent his career.

Two very different collections, and two very different ways to accession and process them. I also get asked, a lot more than I expected, what a typical day for me is. Well, the typical day is atypical - never the same! Which, when you really think about it, is not a bad job to have.

Upon arriving at 0700, I usually get the lights on - open the museum - then sit down with my boss and just visit for an hour. I might then take a walk around Missile Park or the Nature Trail. If a group is coming in, I might have to lead a tour, or just talk to visitors. Being an Army museum, there is always training - safety, health, anti-terrorism - all things that most museums don't really have to deal with. I might call in work orders for things that aren't quite right in the museum - leaking roofs, pests, that sort of thing. I might have to accept a donation of photographs or oscilloscopes, magazines and books or warheads! The other day, the Director and I rearranged the artifacts in storage. During a recent 100% inventory, we realized the artifacts were stored in no logical fashion, and fixed it!

Then there are the inquiries - email, snail mail or in person. "Did Clyde Tombaugh really work out here?", "Did the Army really fire a rocket into Juarez, Mexico?", "Does the Navy really have a ship in the desert?" Yes, to all (well, sort of!) You get the idea.

Each day is different and unique - that's what makes the job so enjoyable. Plus, I get to spend my lunch hours hiking in the desert. I think I'll stay awhile!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Butterflies, Moths, and More!

Here is a photo from today of the arroyo just north of the museum, mentioned in Liss's blog here.

And one of our little museum visitors, a Desert Cottontail - about the size of a softball!
Now on to the bugs!!!!

On her blog, here, Liss showed photos of some of the butterflies we found at Dripping Springs on Friday. For anyone interested in what they were, here they are again. In addition to these, we saw a California Sister - another first for us. Liss had mentioned that there were some attracted to, well, let's call it "waste!" The first and second photos are of the butterflies on that stuff:

A Bordered Patch

Ceraunus Blue (a new one for me)

Gray Hairstreak on a Russian Thistle (Tumbleweed)

Mexican Yellow on Liatris (another new one)

Also, I have been trying to photograph the moths that show up at night on the back patio. Like most folks, I never paid them much attention until I began to take their pictures, at which point I realized that they can be quite colorful in their own right. Here are a few, but I have no names.

Back to the desert, I went on my lunchtime walk today behind the White Sands Missile Range Golf Course; I guess it was Skipper Day today because they seemed to be out in force. Below is the view to the mountains (west) from the puddling location I wrote about here:

I had been a little concerned about whether I would even be able to go out, as the mountains looked like this earlier in the day:

It rained all night and seemed like it was going to start again, but the clouds became patchy by lunchtime. The streambed was damp but there were no butterflies puddling. I should have known, after all, the whole desert was damp! I did see one Painted Lady there, though, as well as a few Queens. I made my way back to my truck along the diversion dam behind the golf course and began to run into a lot of butterflies. They were all between the dam and the desert scrub, in this area:

In addition to Common/White Checkered Skippers, Fiery Skippers, and Common Sootywings, there were these guys:

Golden-Headed Sootywings (dozens of them!)

Acacia Skipper

Dotted Roadside Skipper

Also putting in appearances today were Variegated Fritillary, Red Admiral, Bordered Patch, Checkered White, Northern Cloudywing, Sleepy Orange, and Dainty Orange.

All in all, a good day!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Dainty Sulphur

Here, finally, is a Dainty Sulphur, and I'm quite excited to finally be posting this! You see, this particular species flies rather erratically. Not only that, but it is quite skittish as well, and tends to take off at the slightest movement. Not having a "nice" camera with a macro lens, all I can do is hope to get close enough to the "prey" to use the extreme close-up of my camera - which I actually accomplished this morning about 8:00, close to the Public Affairs Office at work. I have been trying to photograph this particular species for about 6 weeks, to no avail. So ... finally ... I present to you, the Dainty Sulphur!

(I know, I'm such a Geek!!!!)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Made My Day

Dylan was sitting on the couch with his sisters, snacking on some dry cereal. He was hungry but not toooo hungry. Bedtime is approaching and the kids are winding down. I went into the kitchen and brought them all sippy cups of milk. As I went back into the kitchen, I heard a very loud "DAD!" from Dylan.

Me, from the kitchen, "Hmmm?"

"Dad, you're the best daddy in the world!"

"Thanks, buddy!"

Well. That just made my day, and ends it perfectly.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Even MORE Butterflies!

I know, maybe I should have called this blog Butterflies, Bugs, and Stuff! But, really, I just have not had the time to write more on the "other" stuff. Besides, it's summer and I don't feel like staying inside!

Again, I was out at the blockhouse, with the boss this time, to take a few photos. Here is one of the Blockhouse and the Gantry Crane that I took:

Of course, there were also a lot of things fluttering around. In addition to the two below, I saw Variegated Fritillaries and a Funereal Duskywing, but they were too quick to photograph. Also while we were out, we saw a Barn Owl, four Great Horned Owls, and a pair of Burrowing Owls - not bad for a morning! Anyway, these were at the Blockhouse, a Black Swallowtail:

And a Common Checkered Skipper:
About 100 yards north of the museum is an arroyo that is fast becoming one of my favorite places to visit. Queens, like these below, are very common:

There was also one of these, a (I think!) Northern cloudywing:
This is a new one for me, a Leda Ministreak:
Of course, Gray Hairstreaks are beginning to show up again:
Here are yet some more Palmer's Metalmarks:
And the ubiquitous Checkered White:
And, finally, the world's smallest butterfly, a Western Pygmy Blue, photographed while lying on my side in the dirt waiting for this little (about the size of a fingernail) guy to land!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Yep, More Butterflies!!!

Another brood of Gray Hairstreaks led to this little guy showing up in the garden recently. And at work, I found another area where, today, I found Palmer's Metalmarks, Queens, and, quite surprisingly, about half a dozen Variegated Fritillaries, in addition to all of the Checkered Whites and various Sulphurs and Oranges that are so common here. It seems like another brood of Sleepy Oranges has hatched out, judging by the number of them at the museum.

Oh yeah! Had to go out to the Army Blockhouse today, way out in the desert at Launch Complex 33, and found about half a dozen Western Pygmy Blues - the smallest butterfly in the United States - hope to have photos soon!