Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"The Cabin" , Cowles, and the Pecos Wilderness

"The Cabin", as it was always referred to, was one of the first time shares. My father and some of his friends built it in 1956 as a hunting cabin in Cowles, New Mexico, one and a half hours northeast of Santa Fe. They dubbed it " Plainview", named for their hometown and for its open location in a mountain meadow. A classic log cabin, it originally was just a large room and a kitchen with a scary outhouse up the hill. When the families of the hunters started coming for annual summer trips, a bedroom and bathroom were added. Our next door neighbor was the Pecos Wilderness and the Santa Fe ski area was just over the mountain. All of the summer homes in this area were constructed on a 99 year lease from the National Park Service.

Across from the cabin is Winsor creek, a part of the headwaters of the Pecos River which eventually flows into Texas. Wildflowers line the banks and are wonderful to gather, being careful of the nettles. As kids we would occasionally fish off the bridges for the rainbow, brown or cutthroat trout. But we spent far more time dropping sticks and flowers on one side of the bridge and racing to the other to watch them float by on the other side. When I was growing up, Cowles was actually a little community with Mountain View Lodge, a bar and restaurant, dance hall, and horse stables. We could rent horses for the day, ride them (without guides) to the cabin and literally tie them up at the porch. Those amenities are all gone. Only Los Pinos, a small dude ranch, remains as well as ample camping areas. http://www.lospinosranch.com/

After a 20 year break, I started going back to The Cabin with my husband and children. The road from Pecos was now paved but still passed by the wooden planked Tererro General Store, a staple since 1940. http://www.pecoswilderness.com/

The high country air, suffused with the aroma of Ponderosa pine, spruce, fir and aspen, was as clean and wonderful as ever. The cabin itself seemed smaller and the trees larger than I remembered. There was still no television or telephone but plenty of mice. Feeders placed on the porch continued to attract droves of hummingbirds who would helicopter in, occasionally landing on a patiently waiting finger.

Our new emphasis at this stage was on hiking. I had never really explored the Pecos Wilderness on foot. http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/sfe/recreation/wilderness.htm It was designated a wilderness in The Wilderness Act of 1964. With 15 aspen lakes and 150 miles of streams, it is full of wonderful trails that climb steeply to ridges or meander up valleys to waterfalls. Day hikes are our favorite. Hamilton Mesa and Winsor Ridge Trails offer the best views that can easily be had with a packed lunch. The Jack’s Creek trailhead is equestrian friendly with corrals for the packtrips and hunters. Actually, the picnic tables at Jack’s Creek provide a 360 degree look at the snow covered Truchas Peak and Pecos Baldy with a safe view of late afternoon summer thunderstorms entering the Pecos River valley. You can always jump in the car when the storm finally arrives.

Once we attempted to backpack in for an overnight stay with our kids and the Swasko family. A brush with a mountain lion considerably shortened the goal of Stewart Lake. We did spend the night out but in a meadow directly above our cabin rather than miles up the mountains. We didn’t really need the second tent we carried as all four members of our family slept in the same two man tent. When we told the forest rangers about the mountain lion sighting, they were excited - not exactly the reaction we had!

The joy of returning many times to the same vacation spot comes from the familiarity and comfort of knowing your surroundings and the anticipation of discovering something new each year. We realized the flora of the cabin area completely changed after visiting in June rather than our usual August trip. Mountain irises only appear at that time of the year and snow remains on the high paths. The trails at Holy Ghost Canyon (what a wonderful name) were most recently tried for the first time with our friend, A.W. Clem. And we were thrilled to spot Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep at Pecos Baldy Lake on a backpacking trip with local Paris guide, Bob Bush.

Yet with all those fabulous surroundings, the very best memories came from the night time, inside the cabin, after we ate dinner around the faded kitchen table. We acted out charades, played poker into the night and told stories in front of the fireplace. Common pleasures were somehow made even more satisfying when surrounded by the dark, silent forest and the star spangled heavens. So, until the next column, remember, "memories can be built from the simplest of vacations."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Acupuncture in Hong Kong

Acupuncture began in China in the Stone Age when sharp edged stones were used to treat disease. It developed into a complex system to diagnosis, treat, and prevent illness with the overall goal of restoring balance and harmony to the body. Acupuncture can relieve pain (even during surgery), treat chronic conditions and strengthen the immune system. It was suppressed after 1911 when Western Medicine was introduced. Chairman Mao Zedong was a believer and in 1950 Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture again were taught in medical school with Western Medicine.

On a recent trip to Hong Kong, it seemed the time to try this four thousand year old tradition. I was with Betty Swasko and Tina Smith. Tina’s daughter, a resident of Hong Kong, introduced a friend who regularly used an acupuncturist and who agreed to take us. Ceni’s doctor was Dr. Tsai Chang Yi whose official titles were Herb Doctor & Acupuncturist and Registered Chinese Medicine Practitioner. The latter profession allows him to write prescriptions for herbal teas to be used in conjunction with the acupuncture treatment. Dr. Chang’s father practiced in the same office for many years and his brother teaches acupuncture at the University of Hong Kong Medical School. He had an opportunity to move to a wealthier part of town, but he chose to remain at the family office where he could also serve the poor. His reputation for helping women who want to conceive was impressive but not something this group was going to ask about.

Located in an apartment building, Dr. Chang’s office was clean and welcoming but well used. He and his wife and mother greeted us with big smiles as we entered. Dr. Chang sat behind a computer with a chair beside his desk for the patients. He seemed a bit surprised to see us but listened carefully as Ceni explained who we were. He had somewhat different questions for each of us. Do you have energy? Do you sleep well? What year were you born? He checked our pulses and looked at our tongues. Betty complained of her planter faciatis and Tina was cold. I couldn’t really come up with a specific complaint other than lack of sleep due to the time change.

We were told that Betty was healthy but Tina and I had bad chi or energy! Other advice included avoid salads, eat more soups, flavor stir fry with ginger to help with digestion and put dried orange peel in soup for flavor. Betty was also told to eat more rice.

As he analyzed our answers and his findings, Dr. Chang wrote a prescription for each of us and handed it to his wife, who acted as the herb pharmacist. She held a set of hand scales and began pulling out various herbs, roots, berries, and some unidentifiable earthy things. Each was carefully weighed and placed in a sheet of torn butcher paper. When the prescription was filled, she took it to Dr. Chang’s mother in the adjacent kitchen who was to make tea from these items.

It was now time for the acupuncture. We were placed on individual, elevated beds. The sheets appeared quite clean but there were distinct round burned holes on each of them. Dr. Chang arrived and asked if we were nervous. Truthfully, yes. He just smiled and proceeded to apply the slender, spaghetti like needles to our feet, lower legs, neck, and behind the ears. There was just a slight prick as the needles were placed. Tina also had a metal box placed on her stomach filled with what appeared to be burning charcoal! That will teach her to complain about being cold. It may also explain the burned holes on the sheets. We were instructed to lie still for 30 minutes. The time passed quickly. When Dr. Change removed the needles, Betty felt immediate relief in her feet, the tenseness in my neck and upper back was better, and Tina was warmer.

When we all finished and paid our $25, we were handed our individually brewed teas in large to go cups. Dr. Chang warned us not to drink the tea until we had eaten. At lunch, I tried sipping the tea but it tasted awful and the only way to drink it all was to take gulps. There were no immediate, noticeable results from our prescriptions. That night, however, I became a believer. No, I didn’t sleep better but I was purged. I’m not sure what to blame it on but no one else had that experience. Only our teas were different.

Acupuncture is widely available in the United States and is beginning to be covered by insurance as it is in Hong Kong. There are 8000 acupuncturists and 16 acupuncture schools in America. We all agreed we would try it again, especially if we had specific complaints. But the next experience won’t be same without the benevolent Dr. Chang and his gentle wife and mother. So, until the next column, remember "eat more soup and less salad".

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