The Five Magic Times

(Detail from download from Omnilexica)

New Mexico calls itself “the land of enchantment.” Those of us who love living here have a long list of those enchantments. Some are widely shared (sunshine, blue skies). Some are off-the-beaten-path (the four-wheel drive down into Mill’s Canyon where you can still see the ruins of the old mansion). Some are small and personal (The Misha Dichter Trio’s performance of the Brahms “Piano Trio in B Major” in the St. Francis Auditorium where K and I went on our first date). And some are long gone but not forgotten: the coal tipple at Madrid; the rare Whooping Crane among the Sandhills flying southward along the Rio Grande to the Bosque del Apache; the venerable Al Monte’s with its irreproducible cafe diablo here in Albuquerque.
But of all the many enchantments past and present, there are five which I call New Mexico’s “magic times” — annual events that have been occurring long before I got here, are likely to continue occurring long after I’m gone, and which have never gotten old or too familiar to make me stop, smile, and count living here as one of my blessings.

In chronological order:

1. The first rain of monsoon season.

plaza downpour
(Downloaded from City-Data Forum)

We live in the arid high desert. Depending on which website you use, and where the measurements are made, our annual rainfall here in Albuquerque ranges between 7.85 and 9.47 inches a year. The bulk of that rain falls during what is known as “monsoon season” which begins the first day of July and extends into mid-September. Those first rains will move office workers from their desks to the windows, and folks at home out to their porches. We’ve seen people get out and dance in it.

2. The roasting of the chiles.


Green Chiles are the signature crop of New Mexico. They are to us as cattle are to Texas, corn is to Iowa, and coal to Wyoming. The harvest season begins in August and runs through September. The chiles are transported in gunny sacks to the cities (often in the beds of the farmers’ pickups) for roasting and selling. Roasting drums are everywhere: outside all the grocery stores, at the farmers’ markets and produce stands, on various empty lots near intersections, and along the roads where truck farmers sell and roast what they’ve grown. You smell the aroma of roasting chiles before you see them. The aroma is… pure New Mexico!

3. The Balloon Fiesta.

(Downloaded from Hot Air Balloon Flight)

I moved here decades ago in August. Two months later, I walked out my front door on the way to work and saw what looked like hundreds of brightly-colored Christmas ornaments hanging upside down in the sky. I had no idea what was going on. It was all I could do to keep my eyes on the road going into work. Of course, my co-workers filled me in, and I’ve been attuned ever since.

It’s not hard to stay attuned. This is the largest event in the state (in terms of attendance, and very likely in terms of local revenue generated), and Albuquerque is the host city. For years, good weather was a given for this week long event. Of late, that mythological climate change has made good weather less reliable, but warmer.

I love the Dawn Patrol — those three balloons that take off in the dark and whose flarings can be seen from anywhere in Albuquerque in the predawn skies. I love the closeness — being able to walk among all the balloonists and crews as they lay out the envelopes, start inflating them with big fans, then start firing up the jets to get them upright, and then the always thrilling lift-off. I love the special shapes — the old stalwarts like the Creamland Dairy Cow and the new ones that debut every fiesta. I love the midway along the eastern edge of the field where you can get a hot breakfast burrito or a cone of little cinnamon rolls and cups of steaming coffee and hot chocolate. And I love the fact that, no matter where you are in the city, there’s a chance a balloon will pass right over your head and remind you that, hey, you live in a magic place!

4. The first snowfall.

(Downloaded from

There’s just something about snow in the high desert that never fails to delight. Especially that first one. You wake up one morning and surprise! The landscape has been transformed into a winter wonderland. But it can also surprise you at night, as it did K and me in Santa Fe, when we came out of that concert on our first date. You could fall in love on a night like this.

Part of the magic is that, like pixie dust, the effect is momentary. Once the sun comes out, wherever it falls, the snow evaporates. We don’t often suffer days of dirty piles along the curbs, or that half-life-tired crust that lingers in yards and on boulevards until it finally trickles away.

And when we do get the occasional real snow storm, we keep in mind that this is just another form of that most precious of commodities out here: water.

5. The luminarias on Christmas eve.


For over a century and a half, there has been a New Mexico tradition of setting outside one’s house, along the walkways and sidewalks and walls and sometimes the roofs, rows of brown paper bags weighted with sand with votive candles lit inside, on Christmas eve.

Forget about the “luminaria” vs farolito” debate. Forget about those electric luminarias — an abomination of brown plastic bags pulled upside down over electric lightbulbs strung together like Christmas lights and set up on public and commercial buildings and even private homes as early as November. (!)

Focus instead on the magic of those hundreds of soft, glowing, flickering lanterns dedicated to this one night of the year. Not only are they beautiful, but they may be as close as we get to the peace we associate with the celebration.

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One Response to The Five Magic Times

  1. Pingback: Monsoon Season 2017 Arrives Early! |

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