Sunday, January 1, 2012


or Doing the Work

Posole has become one of my favorite foods of all time.  A hominy stew thick with New Mexico red chiles, it will warm you up when nothing else can.  Posole is a traditional food here during the darkest, coldest time of year (though this week the weather has been sunny and unseasonably warm, but I can't help that), and it's served at New Year's to bring good luck through the coming months.

The Sasebo Japanese Garden at the Albuquerque BioPark

I was thinking about luck at the Albuquerque Botanic Garden the other day.  I'd been admiring the red stems of the dogwood in the Japanese garden when my eye was caught by a sudden movement:  a roadrunner hunting among the rocks.  (It's almost in the exact center of the photo above.)  (Also the one below.)

It had found some snails and was enjoying quite a feast, breaking the shells open against the pebbles so that it could get to the meat inside.

Roadrunners are fast enough to kill rattlesnakes and hummingbirds.  And snails.

Roadrunners aren't rare around here, but they aren't exactly common, either, not like sparrows or pigeons.  Usually when I see them they're in a hurry, running (believe it or not) across the road.  It felt like a bit of luck to be able to watch this one at its leisurely meal.  (It also felt a bit like cheating, since the roadrunner wasn't really in the wild, even though it certainly wasn't tame.)

When they feel cold, they turn their backs to the sun...

Speaking of luck, how lucky did this bird get, to have hatched at the Botanic Garden in the first place?   Acres of naturalistic plantings providing habitat for its natural prey; acres of lusciously watered, less xeric plantings, giving snails and other delicacies a niche; shelter that is protected from the worst ravages of weather by a staff that keeps the gardens in good trim; an absolute lack of predators, except perhaps for the Biopark's train, which putters along slowly enough that even I can get out of its way; handy landscaping pebbles on which to break open the occasional escargot... Really, how much luckier could a roadrunner be?

...and fluff up their feathers.  Their skin is black and soaks up the sun's heat. 
(Some dignity may be lost in the process.)

Well, to the roadrunner it's luck.  To the garden staff, not so much.  They've done the labor to put in the acres of naturalistic plantings and to water the thirsty ones; they've pruned and nurtured even the prickly pears, run the trainlet (it's such a little train) at slow speeds, and spread all those pebbles around...and lo and behold, there are roadrunners.  The gardeners have created the situation from which this particular roadrunner's good luck could emerge.

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions.  If I were to make a gardener's resolution, though, a lifelong one, it would be to do the work that makes some goldfinch's or lizard's or toad's lucky day possible—to create the garden that lets them hit the jackpot and thrive.  (Note:  rabbits, squirrels, voles, moles, and leaf-rollers need not apply.)

When you think about it, even posole, amazing as it is, doesn't rely on luck alone to get you through the new year in style.  It has vitamin C and iron, and the kick in the pants the chiles give you, to galvanize you into action and make luck a little more likely to happen.  All those robust nutrients and warming spices help you buckle down and do the work so that you, too, can make the most of good fortune when it comes along.

I'd better have another bowl...


  1. I always love your posts and the lessons you draw from the things around us.

    I've never seen a roadrunner before so that's quite the treat too! Happy New Year

  2. Stacy - I love your gardening resolution!
    I'm interested in posole because I like to collect new recipes especially if they are recommended.

  3. Great first post for 2012, Stacy. I have never seen a photo of a roadrunner before but know the cartoon character. We used to call our boss " roadrunner". A kind and generous woman she dd everything at high speed ....
    The Japanese garden doesn't look designed or planted which is such an achievement.
    I don't think posole or hominy are staples of the Montrose diet. What could I use instead? Barley or chick peas came to mind.

  4. Never had the pleasure of tasting posole...will have to give it a whirl when I visit NM next time...I used to see roadrunners in AZ but it was rare as the desert was encroached garden choice for 2012 is to plant more natives and to remove invasives...then the lucky critters will have a better home...Happy New Year Stacy.

  5. Once was a blogger, who likes to wear black, and soak up the sun ;~)

  6. I enjoyed seeing this fella
    and I too am thinking of how to bring more wildlife to my garden...although I welcome all
    even the squirrels
    I find joy in all of them
    Posole...sounds yum

  7. Great pics! Like you, I usually only see these running down the road! And what a wonderful thought - that we may be working hard so that some other creature can be 'lucky' enough to live in our gardens. Great resolution! Happy New Year!

  8. Karen, thank you, and happy New Year to you as well! Roadrunners are some of my favorites, even though when they're actually running I always think they look kind of worried.

    b-a-g, I normally make a slightly different recipe (which is even simpler!)—holler if you're interested and I'll send it to you.

    Thank you, Janet. I watched some YouTube videos of the cartoon before writing the post just to compare... Oh, to be one of those high-speed people!
    The Japanese garden has become one of my favorites over the last year—this section is a miniature garden within the larger one and was just planted a couple of years ago.
    Hmm. Chickpeas would have a similar texture but not the almost floral flavor of the hominy. They could work, though. I wonder if pinto beans would be a better match. With enough chiles, it probably won't matter...

    Donna, I used to be able to find posole ingredients at the natural foods co-op in VT, so maybe in NY...? It will make February a whole different experience for you, I promise! Your meadow already looks like a wonderful home for many lucky critters—I know you'll enjoy making it more like your vision. Happy New Year to you, too!

    Diana, I'm glad I don't have to fuss with feathers! Another layer of black fleece will do just fine.

    Suz, he was quite a treat to watch. I admire you, enjoying even the squirrels—they used to give me fits when I lived in VT, but fortunately they're relatively uncommon here. Posole—definitely yum!

    Holley, when I was making the list of “need not apply” beasts your armadillos came to mind, and I wondered if I should be careful what I wish for... I hope you have a great new year, too!

  9. What a lovely essay, Stace. I miss posole so much---just can't find it anywhere in Florida. I also miss green chile stew and red chile sauce. Those pix of the roadrunner were amazing.

    Happy 2012!

  10. riveting roadrunners, wonderful writing. Happy New Year with a piping hot posole.

  11. I have not tried posole, but it sounds perfect for a cold winter day. I share your new year wish for a wildlife garden. Happy new year!

  12. Now I want a roadrunner as well as a humming-bird. Where will it all end, Stacy? An aviary I suspect. Does he go beep-beep? I shall feel short-changed if he arrives and doesn't.

    Please be careful in that lovely park. I shall now worry that you'll misjudge your timing and be trundled over by a trainlet.


  13. On New Year's Day this year, I made a vast vat of cabbage soup and froze most of it. The recipe came from a Canadian friend of mine, but I don't know if it's "native" to a particular area. In my half of South Dakota, traditional dishes tend to be things like lefse, various Scandinavian cookies, kuchen or fry bread, none of which I can eat.

    Roadrunners are very cool! I've only seen a few, and none were still enough to photograph.

  14. Thank you, Tierra--a wonderful 2012 to you, too! As I recall, you're the one who first introduced me to posole at a little diner in downtown Santa Fe in...1992? I'll have a bowl in your honor.

    Thanks, patiopatch, and thanks for visiting! Welcome.

    Hey, Sage Butterfly, welcome back! Glad you're hanging out in the blogosphere again.

    Dave, a roadrunner would live quite happily in your collection of succulents. (Bonus--your prickly pear would feel like it was fulfilling its destiny!) He would help keep your burgeoning lizard population (?) under control, but I cannot tell a lie: he would not go beep-beep.

    Some day I'll be standing in the middle of the tracks trying to frame the perfect picture of a pine needle or something, and the trainlet will get me.

    klbrowser, your cabbage soup sounds very wholesome. Perhaps if the other Scandinavian delicacies are off limits you'd be able to manage lutefisk...? (Heh heh) My Minnesotan/Norwegian boss gets a little dreamy-eyed about lefse with butter this time of year.