Pinon Season

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It is pinon season here at Lybrook. We have a handful of these gnarled, scraggly trees on the property. Most years these trees are just like any other tree in the pine family—dropping occasional needles and growing a few small cones here or there. Every 3-7 years, however, these trees drop GOLD!

A steady stream of gold-miners (aka pinon-nut-gatherers) have visited our property in the past few weeks. The honorable ones knock on the door and ask if they can harvest nuts from the ground in front of our house. Others act more like commandos—everyone young and old piling out of a beat-up car, started to pick up nuts as fast as they can! We send most of these treasure-hunters on their way, saving the bounty for some of the local Navajo with whom we have on-going relationships.

We enjoy the rich taste of these nuts but have decided that we are entirely too lazy to bother harvesting this “gold.” The nuts are tiny, and are too easily camouflaged by the dirt and pebbles on the ground under the trees. To pick them up either puts a crick in one’s back or requires sprawling on the ground. And the sap, oh the sap…we have never experienced such drippy, sticky sap! I admit it smells wonderfully “pine-y” but it is next to impossible to remove from skin, clothing or hair.

oh the SAP…nasty sticky sap…

pinon nut camoflage

Some historians claim that pinon nut harvesting is what allowed native tribes to survive long, cold winters. The nuts are an almost perfect food for active hunters & gatherers with 13% protein, 60% fat, 20% carbohydrates. Today these tasty bits of richness are more often used as a snack.

Because pinon trees can’t really be farmed, and because the tiny nuts must be harvested by hand, the price is high for any nuts that are gathered. In this area of New Mexico, small bags can be found for sale each fall. They are sold at the local mercantile, in health-food stores in town, and from the back of pick-up trucks. Usually the nuts have already been roasted and salted, although they are rarely shelled. The price per bag is clearly listed; the price per pound is usually absent. Paying $5-10 for a bag of nuts feels reasonable; figuring out that those bags cost $15-40 per pound is a painful realization!

It’s pinon season at Lybrook. There’s GOLD in them thar woods…for someone ELSE to find!

Links for more information:

Prices HERE

Tree Facts HERE

Stories HERE

Another blog entry about gathering pinon nuts HERE

Car-Eating Mud-hole Strikes Again

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car eating mud-holeThe dreaded car-eating mudholes in this area stranded two vehicles yesterday. In mid afternoon, Randy tried to drive the mission truck on a dirt road through a deep wash. The foot and a half of mud in the bottom of the gully almost swallowed the truck, but Randy valiantly managed to gun the engine and force the truck halfway up the opposite bank before it bogged down. Randy then walked out to the highway and caught a ride back home.

Later yesterday evening, after the muddy places on the back roads should have been frozen solid, Randy tried to rescue the truck from the mudhole. After fighting for awhile to rock the truck out of the hole dug by its spinning tires, he gave up and came home for some dinner.

After dinner, he drove out to try again. This time, he attempted to follow the tiny lines of roads on the GPS to drive beyond that wash and get to the truck from the other direction. His idea was to use our Rez Rocket to pull the truck over the edge of the bank and back onto solid ground/road. When that didn’t work, he tried one more time to back the truck into the wash and onto firm road on the entry side of the mudhole.

Victory! The truck was now freed from the clutches of the dreaded mudhole. However, Randy was worried that the ruts were so deep that the car might bottom out and get stuck that way. So he tried to follow the GPS squiggles one more time to get to paved roads in a round-about way.

escaping a mud-hole

a car-eating mudhole missed its "prey" earlier this year

He almost made it, but a sudden blind curve found the Rez Rocket swallowed up to the bottom of the car in yet one more vicious mud-hole. This time, he had no idea where he was or how far he was from “civilization.” Too many of the GPS “roads” disappeared when attempting to drive on them and he found himself following other paths that were not on his map.

When he called me to tell me his tale of woe, I was worried. It was getting late, getting colder, and he was LOST back in the maze of canyons and dirt roads built for oil exploration, with no homes or people for miles. (I was relieved that we are in remote, high desert New Mexico, not in northern Kazakhstan with our oldest daughter where the temperatures have been hovering at -50 F…but that’s another story!)

Randy started walking while I organized things on my end—make arrangements for Anna (since big brother Jakob is out of town this weekend), find warm gloves and hat, refill water bottles, email a few friends for moral support, scrape the ice off our big truck, and more. I finally drove down the highway to a trading post 6 miles away—the place Randy was headed for IF he could find it.

By the time I got there, Randy was almost to the meeting point. Whewww! Relief! My husband was no longer wandering alone in the dark and cold down unknown dirt roads—even though the dreaded mud-hole still held our Rez Rocket.

We stopped by to pick up the mission truck, dropped our big truck back home, and gathered tow straps, a logging chain, and the come-along. Time to do battle with that mud-hole…

When we finally got back to our Rez Rocket, it took awhile to figure out a strategy. I’m sure I heard the mud-hole chuckling evilly as Randy tried to find a place where he could reach something sturdy under the car—a challenge when the car was nose downward, deep in the swallowing mud. He finally gunned the mission truck to the far side of the mud, attached the come-along to the hatch-back latch loop on the Rez Rocket and the logging chain to the back of the truck. I put the truck in drive while he gunned the car in reverse…and with a little smoke and whining engines, the car finally popped out of the grip of the mud-hole.

Randy got both vehicles back across the dreaded mud-hole and onto solid dirt road again. (No, I’m not yet ready to directly confront those dreaded mud-holes…) We finally got home after midnight, tired but happy to have all 3 vehicles parked back in the driveway where they belong.

I’m sure, however, that those mud-holes are already plotting their revenge…

Wood Stove Warmth

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Many of our Navajo friends heat their homes and churches with wood stoves. I’ve talked before about the process of cutting enough wood to last the winter. Today, I want to share a little more about this form of heating.

wood stove heatingWe have had a number of frigid Sundays. Just walking from our truck into church, my toes begin to ache, my figures freeze, and my nose starts dripping from the cold. By arriving a few minutes early, there is time to stand by the stove, basking in the warmth. Once or twice we sat in one of the pews close to the stove. It was lovely to begin with…but by part way through the service it felt more like a sweat bath than a church! Now we sit a few pews back from the stove—not too cold, not too hot, but just right.

Unfortunately, there is a darker side to using a big metal woodstove for winter heating. One of the little guys from our church family was chasing a ball across his living room. Ty tripped and fell against the stove, seriously burning most of his upper arm. At first it looked bad enough that the doctors were considering surgery. Fortunately, it is healing well.

tough guy tyBefore Christmas, I was involved in on-going treatment for an older girl at the school who had an unexplained deep burn on her forearm, somehow received from the wood-stove at home. “Della” stoically stood stiffly still while I pulled off the bandages, reapplied antibiotic ointment, and re-bandaged the nasty wound. Apparently the ointment and bandaging helped lessen the pain, very different than the Vicks Vaporub her mother smeared on the burn for the first few days!

The next time you enjoy the warmth and peacefulness of a wooden stove or a fireplace on a cold winter’s night, take a moment to remember our Navajo friends who use this as their only form of heat. Remember the work it takes to bring in enough wood for an entire winter of heating. And, don’t forget the Navajo young ones who get hurt by this source of comfort for us. Say a prayer for their protection and safety…

2011 … by the numbers!

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Here is a brief summary of life in the Lybrook area of Navajoland during 2011:



Family here at Lybrook Community Ministries





Homophobic Acts of Violence in the community (among families we know)






Tries for Jill to get a temporary EMT-Basic license transferred to New Mexico (plus multiple unsuccessful tries to get a tutoring license through the Public Education Department)




Plumbing repairs on the LCM property (including 5+ weeks of living with no running water–like many area Navajo families do!)





Major vehicle repairs—clay roads are hard on vehicles: slick as ice when wet, ruts hard as cement when dry…






Tragedies and funerals we have walked through with Navajo friends




Potlucks for special church events





Septic system failures on the LCM property (You know what it’s like to change a baby’s dirty diaper? This is worse…MUCH worse…)






Different teaching/tutoring opportunities filled by Randy or Jill (at the community college in town, the local K-8 school, and at Pine Hill Church


TEN (or more) times per day we have power fluctuations and/or internet disconnections…sigh…

ELEVEN Overnight visitors or groups (in addition to family visitors — including two work teams, an annual board meeting, and visits from supporters)

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring…Can We Go Home Yet?

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Jakob, Anna and I are on a road trip back east for a few weeks. We had an enjoyable Thanksgiving celebration with extended family in Iowa. We have reconnected with a number of friends and will be enjoying time with family in Ohio. It is wonderful to be back for a short visit.


We miss our Navajo friends. I miss spending time with the kids in my after-school tutoring groups. We miss our church “family.” (And I desperately wish I could be there to stand with Pastor Wesley and his family as they deal with a tragedy in their family…) We miss our beds and our critters and our “usual” routines. (And, of course, we miss Randy.)

Most of all, we miss…

The wonderful, life-giving, heart-lifting, eye-popping BLUE SKIES of New Mexico. Only a few days into our travels both kids were moaning about the gray skies of Nebraska…and that was before it began raining for days on end!

New Mexico Skies

New Mexico skies are BEAUTIFUL! (Painting by William Victor Higgins -- 1943)

When we finally get back home in another few weeks, I am sure we will have happy memories of time spent with family and friends. We will miss everyone and wish we could spend more time together on a more regular basis. But, Ohio? Nah, we will NOT miss the cold, gray, rainy winter days of Ohio.

We can’t wait to get home to the beautiful, desolate, high desert of Lybrook!

Welcome, Fall!

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Colors of Fall...

According to the calendar, Fall is officially here. It is a subtle change here on the high plateau as temperatures gradually creep lower and plants turn brown as they die off for the winter.

We have spent most of our lives in Ohio which becomes the baseline against which we measure many things.  Most of the seasons here are similar enough to those in Ohio that we still feel “at home.” Fall, however, has its ups and downs.

It has certainly felt like Fall for the past few weeks. Days are bright and sunny, but cool. Nights are crisp and clear. If it wasn’t so dry, it would be perfect weather for a big bonfire! Apples are cheap in the grocery store with a good selection of local varieties. Pumpkins are beginning to turn orange in the garden.

And the beautiful, colorful Fall leaves? The glowing yellows, bright oranges, and brilliant reds? …sigh… Such things don’t exist here in the high desert. The few deciduous trees have leaves that eventually turn brown (or maybe golden brown) and slither down to the ground. Most of the trees we have are various types of evergreens, not markers of the seasons. Of course we have the sagebrush “sea,” but that greens up with new growth in the spring, then stays gray-green the rest of the year. Beautiful color? Only the bright yellow late blooms of Rabbit Brush add color to the Fall.

at least SOMETHING turns colors in the Fall...

Last year, everything about living here was fresh and new. We were making friends, learning how to drive dirt roads, finding the best places to shop and picnic and run errands. We were enchanted by the brilliant blue, always sunny days and the zillions of stars in the velvet black skies at night. Fall passed with little more than a passing thought of “hmmm…interesting…there’s hardly any color here.”

This year? We are still building relationships, the dirt roads have “eaten” our car, and the long, long drive to town for shopping and errands gets tiresome. We still love the sun and the stars…but we miss the colors of fall.

To friends who enjoy beautiful falls, please take an extra moment to enjoy the colors for us. And could someone send us a few bright leaves?! (Guess I’m going to have to find some glorious photos on the internet to fulfill my colorful-fall-leaf fixation!)