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  • Leah Nagely Robbins

Magnetic Fields

I kept my eyes open for habitat and was rewarded with interesting tree snags, darting vesper sparrows, floating hawks, and roadrunners. I stopped when I wanted to and listened to the wind. The insects were louder than the birds, louder than the wind, humming like a high voltage transmission line with its magnetic fields vibrating coiled wire.

I traveled to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico on September 29, 2023 – what would have been my dad’s 82nd birthday, though he’s forever 63 in my mind. I didn’t know he would show up so fully with me on this trip to New Mexico.

From Albuquerque, my plan was to visit the wetland habitat of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro County, about halfway to T or C. In the midst of the Chihuahuan Desert, this 30,400 plus acre refuge provides a permanent home to some and a welcome respite for migrating birds in just 10 miles along the Rio Grande.

A man walked toward baggage claim wearing a black tee with white all cap letters centered on his chest:


Another man pulled a large cooler sealed with duct tape from the luggage carousel. Others carried long packages. In line for the rental car. I watched another man waiting for an SUV, decked out in denim, a knife attached to his belt, wearing a mashup of cowboy and hiking boots. September 29th is the start of muzzle hunting deer season in New Mexico.

This felt like home. I never hunted with my dad and rarely saw him on his actual birthday because he would be setting out in his big blue rig, an SUV from another time, driving through the countryside east of the Cascade mountains in a high desert prairie at the edge of a national forest to meet up with his buddies for deer season in Oregon on September 29th.

The drive south on Interstate 25 was new territory for me, as was the 75 mph speed limit. Mountains to the east and west and vast unpopulated desert, the road plunged over and through steep canyons, with windsocks accompanying signs warning “Gusty winds may exist.”

A very large brown and white sign for the Very Large Array, a National Radio Astronomy Observatory, popped up before my planned exit to the Bosque del Apache refuge. I first heard about the Very Large Array from a science nerd friend from New Mexico. The sign jogged my memory, I had to follow it. Decelerating from 80 plus mph to 40 for the sharp curving exit sent my lunch of nuts, cranberries, cheese, and salami flying.


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