Sunday, December 09, 2018

Birds’ Nest


Weather: The cold mornings, perhaps combined with the layer of snow that fell early Friday, finally killed off many of the perennial tops that had remained green.

Last useful snow: 12/7. Week’s low: 11 degrees F. Week’s high: 47 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Stems on roses; leaves on cliff roses, juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, yuccas, red hot pokers, Dutch iris, grape hyacinths, blue flax, winecup mallow, beards tongues, snapdragons, pink evening primrose, vinca, sweet peas, Queen Anne’s lace, chrysanthemum, June, needle and cheat grasses

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, fernbush, buddleia, pinks, winterfat, snow-in-summer leaves

What’s red: Stems on sandbar willow; leaves on alfilerillo

Animal sightings: Small birds.


Weekly update: It snowed in the night, so every horizontal surface was covered with snow at dawn on Friday. The birds didn’t come out until the afternoon, after it had melted. I don’t know where they spent the morning.

I discovered an empty nest in the crook of the apricot tree Monday. It would have afforded no shelter. It was as level as it could have been made, with a rim that would have been covered with snow.

The birds that winter here don’t bother with nests. Generations of chickadees live in my neighbor’s metal building. Some used to live under my eaves until a pigeon tried to move in. I chased it out, but the small birds didn’t return. Perhaps the prowling cats kept them away.

The small birds I saw after the snow had the dark hangman’s hoods I was told characterized juncos. They flitted from my young cherry trees to the farm fence. The only place I can imagine transients would find shelter is another neighbor’s arborvitae. I know birds live there, because I hear them. All I ever see is brown bodies.

My friend who feeds birds in Santa Fé has an arborvitae near his feeders. It’s always filled with birds, and I gather different species coexist in the evergreen branches.

I have no idea what type of bird built the nest. I didn’t notice any special activity in that area.

It was something fairly large, as small birds go, or something that hatched a lot of eggs. It used some garlic chive stems and possibly winterfat twigs. It also tore pieces off a shop tower that blew into my yard from the chickadee neighbor.


Notes on photographs: Birds’ nest, 3 December 2018.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Birds and Seeds


Weather: Snow was promised a couple times, and a little did materialize today. Mostly we got the collateral weather: warm nights while the moist clouds moved overhead and raw winds in the day.

I don’t know if the ground is frozen yet or not. I never dig to find out. I do I’m having problems opening my gate. The ground there heaves a bit in the winter. A few years ago I put a narrow line of blocks under the gate wheel. My neighbor cut down some winterfat, and the bare soil blew onto my drive. So, the sum of tiny changes: the blocks probably have sunk a bit, the ground may have heaved a bit, and there’s a bid more dirt to clear - and the gate was dragging this week.

Last useful snow: 12/2. Week’s low: 10 degrees F. Week’s high: 56 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Leaves on area hybrid roses, Apache plumes, cliff roses, juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, red hot pokers, blue flax, hollyhocks, winecup and leather leaf globe mallows, beards tongues, snapdragon, golden spur columbine, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, vinca, coral bells, alfilerillo, Saint John’s wort, cat mint, violets, sweet pea, Queen Anne’s lace, alfalfa, Shasta daisy, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, blanket flowers, anthemis, white yarrow, dandelion, purple asters, June, needle and cheat grasses

Some arborvitae beginning to turn brown.

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, buddleia, pinks, winterfat, snow-in-summer

What still has dead leaves: Area cottonwoods and Russian olives; trees of heaven have their full heads of seed clusters that probably catch as much snow as leaves. My cottonwood finally dropped its leaves.

Animal sightings: Small birds. My bird feeding friend told me the mysterious black hooded birds I saw a week ago may have been juncos.

Weekly update: I forced myself to go out one afternoon and start cutting down the dead Maximilian sunflower stalks. Of course, I got waylaid by all the things that blocked my way.

I began by cutting the dead stems on purple asters and leather leaf globe mallows whose seeds were constantly getting into my clothes. The aster parachutes have been especially troublesome this year.

The globe mallow stems were still green, and wouldn’t cut with my dull loppers. It’s not like I was encouraging them to sprout near my car, so tore at them anyway.

Next, without thinking, I sat on the block walk to cut shorter stems, and slash the garlic chives and hollyhocks that were growing between the blocks. As I went, I swept the blocks with a plastic whiskbroom.

After a half hour, I began to get cold. The air may have been in the mid fifties, but the ground was not. I hadn’t thought to lay a piece of cardboard for insulation.

I went out two days later and discovered some animal had kicked debris over the cleared path. I suspect it was a bird. I don’t know if it detected some residual heat in the area or was drawn by something else. I suspect it was hoping to eat whatever I had planted. Welcome to it, since all that could have been sown were globe mallow, aster, and garlic chive seeds. The last are so plentiful, there was no need to destroy my handiwork.

Notes on photographs: Water serpent and cloud painted on a local stucco wall.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Climates, Microclimates, and Crab Apples


Weather: Except for Thursday and today, every morning’s low temperature was between 15 and 19.

Last useful snow: 11/12. Week’s low: 15 degrees F. Week’s high: 58 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Leaves on area hybrid roses, Apache plumes, cliff roses, juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, red hot pokers, blue flax, hollyhocks, winecup and leather leaf globe mallows, beards tongues, snapdragon, golden spur columbine, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, vinca, coral bells, alfilerillo, Saint John’s wort, cat mint, violets, sweet pea, Queen Anne’s lace, alfalfa, Shasta daisy, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, blanket flowers, anthemis, white yarrow, dandelion, purple asters, June, needle and cheat grasses

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, buddleia, pinks, winterfat, snow-in-summer

Tasks: Another week spent inside looking out.

Animal sightings: Robin, other small birds


Weekly update: The weather bureau is a bit like the indifferent clerk in a returns department who tells you "climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." [1] And, no returns or exchanges are possible because you’ve already used what you were given.

We’re taught about the one in the simple ways children are taught. In Michigan, that meant I learned the to spell the word "temperate." Simultaneously, I learned to pull on leggings and boots in the winter, and changed to shorts and halters in summer. The one was an abstraction, the other part of daily life.

My trees behave like I did getting dressed to go outside. Instead of eyes, they sense changes in sunlight, temperature and water and alter their metabolic rates so less chlorophyll is produced. The green stuff is the nutrient the plant needs, and when it disappears, the tree sends other chemicals that protect it by sealing off the malfunctioning parts. When the seals are complete, the leaves fall.

Of course, that’s just a paradigm like climate. The reality is some trees either don’t process the signals properly or are genetically unable to. So, when we went from Indian Summer to sub-freezing temperatures in a week, some of my trees still had leaves that were killed by the effects of cold but weren’t prepared to drop.

Several weeks have passed since the shock of November 6. Many of my trees that had bundles of dead leaves have now dropped them, but not the cottonwood. I do think its internal communication systems have been slow to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

The other tree that still has its full complement of dead leaves is the red-leafed plum.

The red-leaved crab apple has managed to denude itself. It’s near the house, and in what I’m realizing is, to add a confusing term, a microclimate warmed by heat escaping from the drafty porch I keep warm with a space heater. Because the area gets some heat, the tree must have remained active enough to continue producing the ethylene necessary to dissolve the connection between the leaf and the branch.

Microclimates are neither climates nor weather because they created by humans. Many of the perennials that are still green are on that side of the house, but I’m not sure if its just the heat or their biogeographic heritages. Most are plants that came from colder environments: sweet peas, pink evening primroses, tansy, vinca, snapdragons, pinks, and snows-in-summer.

My other microclimate is on the northwest side of the garage when I planted the lily, daffodil, and tulip bulbs. Even though it gets afternoon sun, its not enough to warm the area. When I walked by yesterday the concrete block path still was covered with ice.

I’m not sure how birds respond to unexpected bursts of weather. Again, there is that discrepancy between their annual migration patterns and what’s scavenging seeds in my yard. The goldfinches usually spent some time here stripping the Maximilian sunflowers, but this year I only saw them one day.

I have a friend who feeds birds who tells me they haven’t been to his place in Santa Fé either. "Feed" is much a confusing term as "climate." "Cater" might be a better way to describe how he buys specific foodstuffs for birds he expects to stop in his yard. The thistle seed for the goldfinches remains untouched.

Yesterday, I looked out and saw some small birds in an area where I sometimes see chickadees and goldfinches. When I looked closer, they were neither: they had very dark, solid-colored heads and small brown bodies. Near them was a robin. Unmistakable and out of place.


Notes on photographs: Many mornings this week frost has settled on plants after dawn, then melted away. The first shows the tree outside my porch, with the shadows of its branches thrown on the screen. The second catches the light reflecting off the melting frost. The last shows the shining moisture through the shadows. Taken 23 November 2018.

End notes:
1. "What’s the Difference Between Weather and Climate." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Centers for Environmental Information website.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Smoke


Weather: Snow, then cold. Last night the stars were bright and the air filled with smoke.

Last useful snow: 11/12. Week’s low: 14 degrees F. Week’s high: 55 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Leaves on area hybrid roses, cliff roses, juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, iris, red hot pokers, blue flax, hollyhocks, winecup and leather leaf globe mallows, beards tongues, snap dragon, golden spur columbine, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, vinca, coral bells, alfilerillo, green leaf five eyes, Saint John’s wort, cat mint, baptisia, violets, sweet pea, Queen Anne’s lace, alfalfa, Shasta daisy, Mexican hats, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, blanket flowers, anthemis, white yarrow, dandelion, asters, June, needle and cheat grasses

What’s yellow or yellow-green: Broom snakeweed,

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, buddleia, pinks, winterfat, snow-in-summer, Silver King artemesia, golden hairy aster, chocolate flower

Tasks: Someone who keeps his shrubs and trees pruned was out Tuesday amputating his catalpa.

Animal sightings: Cat, small brown birds


Weekly update: Canute knew he couldn’t control the tides. Saturday, Trump said "I want great climate, we’re going to have that." I’d settle for something I didn’t like a few years ago when winter temperatures hovered around 20 degrees.

So far, we’re repeating last year when it got down to 11 on this day and 10 the next morning. Then morning temperatures returned to the low 20s until December 5 when they reached a low of 5 and stayed below 10 until the solstice.

We haven’t been as cold yet this year, but the fall below 20 degrees started last Tuesday when it was 14 outside.

The laws of physics don’t hibernate, especially the one about heat rising and cold falling. This morning when it was 16 here, it was 31 in Los Alamos, 30 in Santa Fé. It’s not just that our heat rises, but their automobiles produce more fumes that trap the increased heat their producing to keep warm.

I’ve been wanting to get outdoors to continue cutting winterfat and Maximilian sunflower stems. It’s not just because they need it. I have to maintain my summer work schedule if I’m going to counteract the affects of age on my bone density.

Yesterday, when it finally was warm enough to go outside the smoke from California arrived. It looked like it was flowing north, then east on NOAA maps. But storm fronts of some kind (more of those forces of physics) were pushing the smoke south, especially east of the Sangre.

In the house, my eyes were stinging. I alternated between being stuffed up and breathing through my mouth.

Now smoke is something we’ve all become familiar with. I’ve learned the effects are worse when they’re actively fighting the flames with retardants than when the firefighters are letting a blaze burn itself out.

The smoke in California must be geometrically worse than anything Las Conchas produced. Because the fires are so near settled areas, they’re using more retardants. But worse, it isn’t just trees and shrubs that are burning. Buildings are always toxic, and automobiles worse.

The fact Paradise turned into a charnel house is probably only worse psychologically. It’s an image from Halloween that one could be inhaling bits of someone’s grandmother.

Notes on photographs: Cook’s hardware has murals on the outside of its storage building. The original one with the train on flat land (top) was painted over, and the one of the train near the San Juan bridge (bottom) was painted on an abutting wall. Not only does it represent an idealization of our past, but a past when the only pollutants came from steam engines.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Computers vs Reality


Weather: From Indian summer to winter solstice weather in two weeks. This week a cold front came through Thursday night, and the air temperature fell to 17 in the night. It rose before dawn, then dropped back to 21.

Another storm is forecast for tonight with even colder temperatures after. Clouds have been coming and going all day, with hard rain a little after noon. The moisture is a warning that makes the day feel ominous.

Last useful rain: 11/11. Week’s low: 17 degrees F. Week’s high: 62 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses in area, sweet alyssum, single flowers on plants in protected places

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, iris, red hot pokers, scarlet and blue flax, hollyhocks, winecup mallows, leather leaf globe mallow, beards tongues, snap dragon, golden spur columbine, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, vinca, coral bells, alfilerillo, green leaf five eyes, Saint John’s wort, cat mint, baptisia, violets, sweet pea, Queen Anne’s lace, alfalfa, Shasta daisy, Mexican hats, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, blanket flowers, anthemis, gazania, white yarrow, dandelion, purple and Mönch asters, June and needle grasses; new cheat grass emerging

Apache plume and cliff roses are behaving like evergreens; some leaves turn yellow then fall, leaving the rest.

What’s red or turning red and orange: Purple leaf plum

What’s yellow or turning yellow and orange: Broom snakeweed,

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, buddleia, pinks, winterfat, snow-in-summer, Silver King artemesia, golden hairy aster, chocolate flower

Tasks: The week of Indian Summer meant all the leaves fell at once when the temperatures turned cold. For the first time in years, there are piles of leaves in the drive. The leaves that didn’t turn color died this week, and remain on the cottonwood and black locust trees. I have no intention of raking them, even if were possible on gravel. They aren’t going to kill a lawn, and eventually will blow away

One tree that kept its leaves was the Siberian elm. When the leaves disappeared from other trees, it was possible to see all the places it had invaded without being noticeable during the summer.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds, earth worms


Weekly update: When I voted Tuesday in the local precinct, I was reminded again of the problems confronting areas that do not conform to big city patterns. We have no physical address, we have directions. I have a PO box, and had a hard time remembering by county road. Fortunately the poll worker was understanding; he said his physical has changed three times since the county started assigning building and road numbers (not streets with house numbers).

I’m sure one group that lobbied for the change was large service and delivery companies. Address meant they didn’t experienced drivers.

Whenever I call one and try to give them directions, they say it’s not necessary, the GPS will tell him where to go. I usually manage to get them to have the driver call when he’s in the area, so I can meet him at the road to open the gate. Inevitably, I watch him drive by and come back.

Many mail order nurseries that fill by box with catalogs refuse to ship to the box, because they give the lucrative business to UPS. If you want to start a friendly discussion with a stranger in this area, just mention a recent delivery problem and he or she will top you.

I wanted some lily bulbs and only one company has ever shipped ones that remained viable. Last spring I made arrangements with a friend in Santa Fé to have them shipped to him. Naturally, he told me his UPS story. The driver regularly confuses him with someone else, and the one calls the other when a package has been misdelivered.

When I didn’t get anything by the end of October, I assumed the nursery hadn’t shipped or the package had gone astray. But no, I got an email Friday night saying the package had arrived. Naturally, I didn’t get it until Monday, because there’s a built-in delay with UPS that doesn’t exist with the post office.

The nursery must have put the zip code into their database and come up with USDA zone 6. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had said a cold zone 5; the computer understands our needs better than we do. It also protects the company against people who genuinely don’t know, and removes one step from the order entry process.

Ahead of the Wednesday night cold front, morning temperatures were down to 23 on Tuesday and 22 on Wednesday. Even though I waited until late afternoon, the soil was wet and cold. I’m not sure if the worms were still active or just agitated when I uncovered them.

It didn’t take two days to plant the bulbs because I had ordered so many. My hands got cold. I went back out Thursday to lay some of those wire mesh screens over the bed. I had bought them early in the summer to protect the seedlings from the rabbit; now I wanted to make it harder for the ground squirrel to scavenge.


Notes on photographs: In addition to the murals on walls around Cook’s and Hunter’s old car business, individuals have landscapes painted on their own walls. Many try to recapture local farm life. This one is on private property in town. Pictures taken 19 August 2018.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Laws of Physics


Weather: Rain, lots of rain, followed by cold temperatures.

Last useful rain: 10/31. Week’s low: 25 degrees F. Week’s high: 68 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses, sweet peas, sweet alyssum, large-flowered soapwort, chrysanthemums, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, senecio, bachelor buttons, gazanias

What’s red or turning red and orange: Purple leaf plum, Bradford pear, spirea, snowball,

What’s yellow or turning yellow and orange: Apache plume, apricot, apples, potentilla, cottonwoods, Siberian elm, lilacs, beauty bush, brome grass

What’s gray or gray-green: Four-winged saltbush, winterfat, buddleia, fern bush, snow-in-summer, Silver King artemesia, golden hairy aster

What’s still green: Cliff roses, juniper and other evergreens, black locust, alfalfa, iris, red hot pokers, garlic chives, scarlet and blue flax, hollyhocks, winecup mallows, leather leaf globe mallow, pinks, beards tongues, golden spur columbine, vinca, Rumanian sage, cat mints, baptisia, violets, Queen Anne’s lace, Shasta daisy, Mexican hats, coreopsis, anthemis, yellow and white yarrows, dandelion, June and needle grasses; new alfilerillo emerging

Tasks: Some more of the market gardens have been cleared; in others the stalks were knocked down, but remain in rows

Animal sightings: Small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants


Weekly update: The laws of physics can be finessed, but they cannot be violated. No matter the weather, the Earth continues its ordained journey around the sun. We had an endless mid-June when temperatures were high and humidity low.

Then, as heated ocean waters met the coming cool weather, hurricanes formed off Central America and México. We got three days of rain with some snow with Tara in mid-October. We got more the end of October, probably as Michael finally moved away from Florida. This past week we got rain Tuesday and Wednesday while Xavier was forming and cold fronts were coming from the northwest.

All that moisture meant plants that had been in remission began their August bloom cycles. More amazing, last week we had an actual autumn when the leaves on trees turned colors, but did not fall. Usually the leaves turn and drop immediately.

Time can be stretched like an elastic band, but when it reaches it fullest extent it snaps back. The leaves are on the ground.


Notes on photographs: All were taken 25 October 2018; all were members of the rose family.
1. Sandcherry (Prunus besseyi)
2. Elberta peach (Prunus persica) with yellow catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
3. Bing cherry (Prunus avium).

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Cold without Frost


Weather: Snowed Monday. About a week ago the weather service hinted at the coming change of seasons when it suggested the storm was being driven by the jet stream rather than the hurricanes in the Pacific. It didn’t say that exactly, but that’s what I understood to be the definition of summer and winter.

Hurricanes are still forming off the western coast of México, but those northern winds are directing the waters from Vincente and Willa into southern Texas.

We did get some residual rain late in the afternoon Tuesday, and winds on Wednesday.

Last useful rain: 10/16. Week’s low: 29 degrees F. Week’s high: 66 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, silver lace vine, sweet peas, Maximilian sunflowers, chrysanthemums

What’s blooming in my yard: Calamintha, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Bindweed, greenleaf five eyes, chamisa, senecio

What’s red or turning red and orange: Sand cherries, spirea, snowball, Virginia creeper leaves; Russian thistle stems

What’s yellow or turning yellow and orange: Sweet cherry, peach, apricot, pasture roses, cottonwoods, catalpa, globe and weeping willows, skunk bush, caryopteris, grape, milkweed, Maximilian sunflower, goldenrod, daylily leaves

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum

Tasks: Monday I passed people who obviously had planned to work outside before the snow started falling a little after 7 am. One was loading tree limbs that had been cut to make room for a trailer. He was standing beside his truck warming his hands. Two younger men were cutting the tops of ornamental grass. When I passed them, they two were taking a break to warm their hands.

I took advantage of the clouds on Wednesday to cut winterfat in the afternoon.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants


Weekly update: Monday’s cold did not bring frost; the snow landed on leaves after 7 am, and soon melted. Plants sped up their preparations for winter, especially the purple asters which went out of bloom. Almost none of the so-called weeds are still blooming in my yard.

Cultivated plants responded differently. Those classed as cool-weather bloomers, like roses and sweet peas, continued their late flowering. The annuals grown from seed, like the Sensation cosmos and African marigolds, apparently were able to stay warm enough to stay alive.

Some shrubs, like the sand cherries, turned color long ago, and others like the choke cherry are bare. But many others, like the cottonwood, haven’t begun to slow down their metabolisms enough to lose much color.


Notes on photographs: All pictures taken 19 October 2018 after two mornings when temperatures fell to 31, but before they day they went down to 29.

1. Blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata) grown from seed; this was the second or third year for ths particular plant.

2. Perennial sweet peas (Lathyrus latifolia). They went out of bloom in August and started blooming again the first of October. They picked this location themselves.

3. African marigold (Tagetes erecta). The seeds were planted in mid-May, began growing after rains in July, and started blooming mid-September. They’re in a sheltered area between the black locust to the west, Maximilian sunflowers to the south, and wooden fence to the east.