Nature, weather

What’s a HABOOB?


Is it an allergy sneeze?   NO!

Haboob, Haboob, Ha-boobooboo Haboob

Is it the chorus from a pop musical hit?   NO!


Is it a new kind of fireworks?   NO!


This is a HABOOB that hit Las Cruces, NM, on Saturday, June 24, 2017. Photo courtesy of Las Cruces Sun-News.

A Haboob is a massive wall of dust, and if you are unfamiliar with the name, so was I. Then I learned the name comes from the Middle East where storms like this are  common and can affect visibility for days.

Last Saturday night was my first experience with a haboob.

The irony is that I had my car detailed about a month ago. It looked shiny and brand new  and a special finish protected its exterior. I had 3-hours of hand labor done despite knowing that soon the Ford Fusion would be rained on. Nonetheless, I felt it was worth the investment to protect it. Additionally, I had the leather interior polished to keep it from drying out in this dry desert air.

But last Saturday while dining at a friend’s house, I parked my car in the driveway. Within minutes of arrival, the haboob struck along with rain and did its number creating a polka dotted car.





It made me laugh, and I hope the futility of trying to keep on top of things amuses you, too.

Haboobs are just one part of the joys of desert living. There’s the sudden hail storms that cut up our roofs and pierce the skylights; there’s the summer monsoons that strike at night with their thunderous downpours that last only minutes. It all seems rather erratic, yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Norine Dresser is a folklorist who moved from Los Angeles to Las Cruces in 2012. She has adapted well to desert living.


customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, Nature

Red or Green?

In any setting other than New Mexico the choice of red or green might refer to traffic lights or Christmas, but here in New Mexico, that question is immediately understood.  It refers to preference for either green or red chile sauce on Mexican food.

Ristra from the new crop of Hatch chiles.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013
Ristra from the new crop of Hatch chiles. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2013

Chiles are a big part of New Mexico culture and a major cash crop.  Each year on the Labor Day weekend, in the  town of Hatch that boasts of prime chile fields, the Hatch Chile Festival occurs.  They feature chile-eating contests, parades presided over by Miss Hatch Chile Festival queen and her court of local high school beauties, as well as chile crafts, especially ristras, strings of chiles to hang on gates and doors.

Equally important are the 25-lb. bags of chiles fresh from the new harvest piled high at supermarkets at this end-of-summer/beginning-of-fall season.  After customers purchase their bags they go outside and stand in line to have them roasted.  Their pungency hangs in the air.

Chiles can be found in surprising places: green chile cheeseburgers, green chile waffles, green chile cheesecake, green chile wine, birdseed with chiles.  When I asked if chiles bothered the birds, I learned that chiles don’t affect them at all.  The benefit is that they keep away the squirrels

My favorite chile additive is found in green chile sundaes.  They take green chiles and cook them with sugar to the consistency of marmalade resulting in a sweet and piquant sauce to put on top of frozen custard.  Addicting!

A Peruvian visitor to Las Cruces bragged that he was used to spicy food and scarfed down the local chile sauce — not true, as he quickly discovered.  In contrast, visitors from India complained that the Las Cruces Mexican food was too bland.  In one restaurant, they requested fresh sautéed garlic to give extra zing to what they felt was missing from our local food.

When I dine at Mexican restaurants and the wait person asks, “Red or green?” I always request clarification.  “Which is the hottest?”

Generally, they explain, “Red.”

My choice?  “I’ll take green.”

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who lives in Las Cruces but has not yet graduated to eating red chile sauce.

Nature, Nature

Waiting for Whitey

While purchasing bird food here in Las Cruces, I stood next to a woman who appeared to be a regular customer.  The owner advised, “Caryl, your live meal worms are here.”

Whitey at top left corner of patio wall sconce.  © Norine Dresser, 2013.  All rights reserved.
Whitey at top left corner of patio wall sconce. © Norine Dresser, 2013. All rights reserved.

In my common role as Nosy Norine, I asked, “Which birds eat live worms?”  She pleasantly responded that the recipient was Whitey, an albino curve-billed thrasher, that comes for the worms after Caryl calls her by name.  After I left the store I realized I missed an opportunity — but not for long.

Last week I met Caryl Hammel in the parking lot of a popular Mexican restaurant in Mesilla and followed her car about five miles through an agricultural setting and then up a dirt road to her home that sits on a mesa dense with high desert vegetation, rabbits, and varieties of feeders bursting with food.  The resulting cacophony of sounds from the feasting birds delighted me.

Once I settled inside Caryl’s home, she kept going outdoors to call “Whitey” and worried because she hadn’t seen her bird that morning.  That was unusual because Whitey was sitting on her third nest on the year.   Whitey’s mate, Beau, helped the fledglings and he was present, but there was no sign of Whitey.

Finally, Whitey grabbed some worms off the patio table and flew back inside the the wall sconce where she had built her nest.  Then she poked her head out and watched us.  Afterward, Caryl placed some worms in a dish outside the front door and called, “Whitey, Whitey.”  Before long Whitey obliged.

Whitey dining on worms.  © Norine Dresser, 2013.  All rights reserved.
Whitey dining on worms. © Norine Dresser, 2013. All rights reserved.

Caryl and Whitey have had over an eight-year relationship and Caryl is emotionally attached to this thrasher.  As she recalled what she deems as a privileged moment when Carol actually held Whitey in her hands after rescuing her from the chimney, Caryl’s eyes filled with tears.

I know how she feels,  Even when my cat, Tommy, snuggles with me in bed and lays his front leg over my arm, I am so touched.  I think of it as magic — loving interaction across species.

I once wrote a paper for a veterinary textbook, Companion Animals and Us.  Called “The Horse Bar Mitzvah,” the essay explored human/animal interactions.  Why?  What satisfactions did humans receive?

My favorite response came from a former Roman Catholic Jesuit priest when I asked why he and his wife had given their 13-month-old kitten a Cat Bat Mitzvah.  He explained that they wanted to celebrate the beauty of creation as manifested in a particular little animal.  By so doing, they realized their own at-homeness in the universe.

Having a deep connection to another species is a religious experience.

Norine Dresser

Norine Dresser is a folklorist and animal lover

independence, Nature, relocating

Las Cruces, My Jaipur

Perhaps some of you saw the delightful film, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  It’s the tale of senior Brits who relocate to Jaipur, India, seeking a more comfortable financial life and adventures.

Las Cruces cloudscape for Norine Dresser photo collection
Las Cruces cloudscape for Norine Dresser photo collection

In many ways, Las Cruces has become my Jaipur for the cost of living is dramatically less than in Los Angeles.  Housing alone is 66% cheaper, and there are no parking meters or pay parking lots to zap your wallet.  I have also found unexpected outlets for my interests.

I enjoy the differences between living in a city of 100,000 compared to my former hometown of over three million.  Everything is very close.  One day I purchased fabulous French pastries from an authentic bakery and gave some to a neighbor.  She wanted to know where the shop was located.  When I told her, she complained, “But that’s too far!”  The bakery was located fifteen minutes away which was nothing for me.  In Los Angeles, we would often drive over an hour just to meet someone for dinner.

I never knew that like Jaipur, Las Cruces experienced monsoons that are mini-versions of the Indian deluges.  Occurring in the summer, they strike briefly in the late afternoons and bring intense rain, hail, and lightening and astounding cloudscapes.

Strangers smile in Las Cruces and easily offer assistance especially after spying my cane.  One day after physical therapy, I stopped at a market and being very tired I had difficulty transferring my groceries from the cart to the checker’s stand.  The gentleman behind me noted my struggle and without asking began unloading my cart.  When I thanked him he said, “It was my honor.”  That was SO not like L.A.

During a rare snowstorm, a neighbor called offering to shovel the snow from my sidewalk.  When I notified her that the snow had already melted, she insisted on coming over in the rain just to bring in my newspaper, which reminds me of a Jimmy Fallon joke.  “When you see a newspaper in someone’s driveway, you know an old person lives there.”