A new year and new decade found me pondering where I was fifty years ago and what was happening in the world. My sister was in graduate school in Washington state, and I was about to start the second semester of my junior year in college. Life was mostly composed of going to classes, studying, writing papers, and taking tests, as well as occasional parties and community services within a service sorority for Albuquerque/New Mexico girls. But the beginning of January was no normal time for the Duke City, as a weather event that is still clear in the memories of those of us of a certain age, entered the picture. Up until then, Christmas Days in Albuquerque, as I remember them, were frequently fairly warm, with temperatures in the mid 40s to the low-mid 50s. I remember riding my bicycle and roller skating on many a childhood Christmas Day. In 1971, the high on New Year's Day was 51 degrees. Downright balmy. That was about to change.
First, some background and meteorological history. Since you already follow this blog (many thanks for that), you know that both Fred and I are weather geeks. We have kept records of high and low temperatures, precipitation, and assorted anomalies since 1998. One of the reasons for record keeping is that the human brain tends to do things with time and events, mixing them into a stew, the ingredients of which cannot always be discerned. One could swear that a mammoth rain fell during a specific year, when in actuality, it happened during another year. Thus, record books, diaries, and journals, and for a photographer, physical images, accompanied by meta data fill that purpose. Since there are no weather photographs in my morgue from 1971, I will rely on more recent winter photographs as well as data from the National Weather Service. The ones below are from 2012, with Fred plowing our neighbors' road on their Kubota tractor, and elk that were frequent visitors that February and March.
Flash back to January 1971, when a winter storm had passed over New Mexico, leaving in its wake a mass of frigid air, and Albuquerque with some of the coldest temperatures on record. I was living in Albuquerque with my parents and Fred was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base, and since we had not yet met, we both experienced the cold in different ways. My father and I set alarms and got up every two hours to start and run his car, my 1958 Volkswagen, and my sister's 1960 Ford Falcon. This was before the time when thinner/lighter weight oil was available, and cars simply would not start if you didn't keep after them. For the most part, the servicemen who had cars and motorcycles at Kirtland could not get them started. Fred seems to remember that Dave O. had a new car, and his was the only one that started. Fred was not only unable to get his 1956 Chevy started, but could not work on the wings of airplanes parked outside because they were coated with ice. They were just huge and dangerous slides. When these young guys wanted to go to a restaurant for a meal off-base, they literally put on all their clothing for the walks. On the 5th of January, the low temperature in Albuquerque was -11.9 and the high was 10.9. On the 6th, -5 and 6 were the high and low temperatures, and on the 7th, the low was -15 and the high temperature that day was 7. Places like Cuba and Gallup and Zuni were having temperatures hovering at -30 or lower. These are life-threatening temperatures, and during the time, down clothing was just starting to come to the fore. The hairs in your nose freeze anywhere below zero, condensation on mustaches freezes, as does wet hair. Without Polartec and other weather-mitigating clothing, it was quite the deal. It is the kind of dangerous weather that renders beautiful images such the one below, if a photographer is willing and able to venture out. Here is a landscape photograph as seen through a lens of ice between aspen branches.
So, fifty years of life and weather have passed since that momentous year of 1971. But each new year carries with it events that should be remembered. This is my yearly quest to encourage you to capture those times, whether through writing, art, music, aurally, or photographically - with camera or phone - to keep them alive. Think of what information we would have now if more individuals had documented the pandemic of 1918, and all the rest of us had access to the information. I, for one, wished I had known enough to ask my parents about it, even though they were children. For better or worse, it is part of our history.
Speaking of events, Elizabeth H., Anne O., Lawrence J., Mary Pat K., Orlando T., Richard S., Connie T., and Karen L. have birthdays during January, and Louise and Jim were married during the month as well. May you all have happy celebrations!
until next Monday,
a passion for the [email protected]