Although we’re not in the clutches of old-person winter yet, if you’re compelled to go down to Bosque del Apache way before breakfast to gander at the geese and the ganders as they fly out at sunrise to find their breakfasts, get layered up. All those feathered friends migrate down from parts north to Socorro County every fall to make sure they are in attendance for the Festival of the Cranes at the refuge. As usual, Festival workshops will focus on photography, birding, and environmental education, augmented by hikes and a bit about the area’s history.

The last time I was down there, it was teeming with snow geese and some sandhill cranes, but I spotted something that stood out from the rest: a bald eagle, majestically perched and surveying its domain from a high tree limb. Most likely looking for a midmorning snack, maybe a small bird or juicy rodent. Yum!

Aside from that, I got to wondering how many people realize today, Dec. 7, is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, honoring the 2,403 Americans killed. This is the week I customarily watch two of my favorites: From Here to Eternity, set on Oahu in the days leading up to the attack, and Tora Tora Tora, which tells the story of Pearl Harbor from both sides: the United States as well as the Empire of Japan, which at the time was for all intents and purposes, under its military’s thumb.

I guess we’ve all heard or read conspiracy theories about how the sneak attack caught our forces off guard because President Roosevelt was looking for a good reason to enter the war with Germany going on in Europe. I just don’t know.

Truth is, everyone figured an attack was imminent, but the Generals on Oahu thought it would be from saboteurs coming from within the island and on that Day of Infamy, there was a series of SNAFUs from lowly Lieutenants all the way up to the big brass.
At least, that was what I was told by someone who was there. For years, Rudy Pina proudly flew the Marine Corps flag in his yard on Kelly Road in Magdalena. He died at age 94 in 2012, but not before he shared with me many of his memories from being stationed as a young Marine at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

He showed me copies he had saved of a Honolulu newspaper a week prior with headlines saying an attack could happen at any time. And interestingly, he saved something else, the morning edition of the Sunday, Dec. 7 newspaper. It was the earlier (pre-attack) edition and right there on the front page was a photograph taken the night before of Rudy himself, dancing the jitterbug with a nurse at the officers club on the Navy base.

He told me he had stayed out late the night before, but come Sunday morning, even with a bit of a hangover, he was up and dressed for church in the morning. He was waiting for his friend to finish getting dressed when he first saw the first plane coming in and that they were flying so low he could make out the pilot’s face.

He and his buddies reacted quickly and began shooting at the planes while awaiting orders. He then spent the rest of the hour and forty-five-minute attack zig-zagging a truck around delivering equipment, ammunition and first aid supplies where they were needed.

That was the beginning of a long war for Rudy, who went on to fight on Guadalcanal, Tawara, Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. The HBO series The Pacific gives a pretty good depiction of what Rudy and his Marine comrades went through in taking those Japanese army strongholds, and a far cry from that innocent Saturday night of jitterbugging.

It’s hard to comprehend that so much has changed in the last 82 years, but Christmas is still Christmas. Wreaths and holly and lights are up on the poles along California Street, and city workers decorating the plaza. The Electric Light Parade will light up California Street on Saturday night, and there will be a fine seasonal celebration at the plaza, with a matanza and luminarias galore. Not to be outdone, the following Saturday is Magdalena’s Christmas parade.

All of this, I tend to believe, epitomizes the communities’ respect for tradition and appreciation of the simpler joys of life. Yes, we have our I-pads and FitBits and Smartphones and Insta-pots, air-fryers and all the other fancy gadgets. But when you get down to basics, what matters is who we are and how we get along, keeping that Christmas spirit alive.

Yep, the Advent calendar is counting down, and holiday spirits ensue.

And hey, If you’re going to the festival at the Bosque you may get lucky and spot an eagle.

Speaking of spirits, where’s my Captain Morgan eggnog?