Sunday, January 20, 2019

Firewood


Weather: Last Sunday we had snow at the exact temperature where water freezes. It was nearly invisible, but had the cadence of snow. When it fell on bared land it disappeared. When it landed on snow, it blended in. Yesterday it was just enough warmer that it was obviously rain, even if it turned into flakes at times.

When I planted trees and shrubs around the house I did so to create sun screens for other, more tender plants. I didn’t realize I was also creating winter protection. The leaves keep roots and crowns protected as the snow disappears. Even the wild grasses have a similar strategy: the dead blades protect a few greens ones in the center that keep the roots nourished in the cold.

Last useful rain: 1/28. Week’s low: 27 degrees F. Week’s high: 54 degrees F in the shade. Snow on the ground since 12/26.

What’s still green: Leaves on juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, blue flax, sweet peas, coral bells, snow-in-summer, pink evening primroses, vinca; everything else is under snow.

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

What’s red: Stems on sandbar willow and bing cherries, new wood on peaches and apples

What’s yellow: Stems on weeping willows

Animal sightings: Breaks in snow that probably came from rabbit


Weekly update: When the animals disappeared from the forests, they were replaced by humans who burned wood to cook and stay warm. Before anyone could buy a chain saw, that meant scouring the woods for dead trees and ignitable underbrush. Everything had to be cut to size by an axe.

That probably reduced the fuel load in nearby forests enough to keep wild fires under control in most seasons.

Fewer people today rely on wood alone. When I moved here, we only had propane for heat. Three of my neighbors used wood stoves for heat. When we got natural gas, they continued to use their stoves. My one neighbor was out many mornings with an axe splitting the cut-to-length logs he had delivered.

Time passes, and people get older. One man died and the descendants who live in his house use only the natural gas. The wife of the second neighbor died, and I think his current one is from town. They no longer used wood, but gas.

The third neighbor now has his wood delivered already split. Since his wife retired, I think they use it as a supplement rather than a primary source. People need more heat when they are home all day, which means more ashes to remove.

As wood turned from a necessity to a life-style, people became fussier. They weren’t willing to accept any type of wood, and expected it to be split into evenly sized pieces. That meant the underbrush no longer was being harvested.

Most years men who had access to wood, filled their pickup beds and parked in local parking lots along the main road from Santa Fé to Taos. I don’t know their sources. The national forests issue permits for fire wood with the proviso it not be sold. The Santa Fé office charges ten dollars for a green cord, and twenty for five cords of dead wood.

A couple years ago, the primary lot used by street vendors was taken over by a gas station, and the men moved to other locations. Friday I went looking to see where they were, and I couldn’t find any.

I thought they might have gone north toward the big boxes where I’d seen men selling potatoes and chicos in the past, but there were none. Much of that land is now for sale, and the owners may be discouraging the peddlers.

My one neighbor still gets his wood, but he probably uses the same source every year and has his telephone number.

The poor who rely on wood probably still scrounge where they can. The past few years the electric utility has been cutting trees that threatened its wires. I don’t what terms they offered for removing the wood, but in many places they simply left it on the ground.

One person in the village piled the wood along the road to create a barrier. When I drove by recently, all the wood had disappeared. I assume someone, somewhere is using it to keep warm.


Notes on photographs: Taken 19 January 2019.
1. The snow in the path on the west side of the house continued to turn into slick ice.

2. Globe willow leaves (Salix matsudana umbraculifera) captured by dead Mexican hat (Ratibida columnaris) stems.

3. A few green blades in a clump of needle grass (Stipa comata).

End notes: USDA, Forest Service, Santa Fé website.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Beaver and Deer


Weather: A white cover lingers, with an ice layer beneath, but the icicles have disappeared. The snow in the yard and prairie has retreated around clumps of needle grass and shrubs. Around my house, plants are still buried in snow on the north and west sides, but exposed in the cold, damp on the east and south.

Last useful snow: 1/1. Week’s low: 18 degrees F. Week’s high: 49 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Leaves on juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, blue flax, sweet peas, coral bells, snow-in-summer, pink evening primroses, vinca; everything else is under snow.

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

What’s red: Stems on sandbar willow and bing cherries, new wood on peaches and apples

What’s yellow: Stems on weeping willows

Animal sightings: Rabbit


Weekly update: Donald Trump recognized a problem when he saw it, and responded with his gut. He claimed one of the problems abetting the spread of forest fires was the accumulation of dead underbrush. His answer that they should be raked clean was based on a view that forests were like English deer parks that had broad expanses of green edged with trees. The difference between the wild and the domestic didn’t exist for the man raised in an urbanized area.

Actually more deer might be useful. In Michigan, where I grew up, the size of the white-tailed deer herd was a source of constant debate. When the state first was being settled, deer lived in the hardwoods of lower half of the peninsula. Elk and moose inhabited the northern pines where dense canopies suppressed the growth of competing plants.

Increased settlement eliminated the southern habitats while logging opened the north. Second growth forests had shrubs and grasses that deer could eat. These, of course, become the dead underbrush if they’re not eaten.

In the 1930s, the state began planting trees that encouraged the return of the deer herd. By the time I was a child, no tree in the upper peninsula that I saw had branches any lower than a deer could reach. I didn’t know pine tree branches could reach the ground until I saw some in Louisiana.

New Mexico has a different climate, and different ecology. Mule deer and elk are the prime game animals. However, like Michigan where white tails were hunted to near extinction by market hunters in the late nineteenth century, New Mexico has had it’s problems with the elimination of livestock in the forests.

The other animals that were hunted to death in the north were beaver and the other small fur-bearing mammals. Beavers lived on bark and the live part of tree trunks, the cambium. This of course killed trees, and limited the growth of new trees. In Michigan, that kept areas open for deer and other animals.

Fur trapping was less common in this part of the country than in the north, because the climate is not as cold and thus the fur didn’t grow as thick.

I don’t know much about game animals, but I suspect that some of the problems we attribute to forest fires aren’t so much the result of current practices, but the consequence of human actions taken a century or more ago.


Notes on photographs: All taken 12 January 2019.
1. Needle grass (Stipa comata) in the yard.
2. Vinca (Vinca minor) poking through the snow on the west side.
3. Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) in the scree bed on the east side.

End notes: "Deer Management History in Michigan." Michigan, Department of Natural Resources website.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Freshets and Floods


Weather: The snow lingers. In places, ice is forming underneath where the snow is melting during the day, then freezes before it is absorbed. Icicles hang from my steel roof and others that face east or northeast.

Last useful snow: 1/1. Week’s low: -2 degrees F. Week’s high: 38 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Leaves on juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, blue flax, sweet peas; everything else is under snow.

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, winterfat

What’s red: Stems on sandbar willow and bing cherries, new wood on peaches and apples

What’s yellow: Stems on weeping willows

Animal sightings: One bird came out for seeds on a chrysanthemum, and the rabbit has left a daily trail.

Weekly update: Humans take credit or blame for some of their actions, but overlook others. Thus, some suspect global warming is causing more severe storms, and concede people building on barrier islands contributes to the problem. What they don’t recognize is they, like many of us, really do want to live near nature, either on a waterfront or near a forest. Unfortunately, while the population increases, the amount of land does not.

The causes of increased population pressure go back to the 1950s when people had more children than their parents had had during the Depression. At the same time, penicillin and other improvements in medical care meant more who were born survived, and those who did live lived longer. No one blames health care for overbuilding the sea islands, because no ones wants to return to earlier conditions.

Humans cannot help themselves from impacting the environment. In South Carolina, Samuel Dubose, Jr. noted the effects of agricultural successes on his life. His great-great-grandfather, Isaac DuBose, left Normandy after Louis XIV rescinded the act of tolerance for Huguenot Protestants. [1]

The French-speakers weren’t particularly welcomed by English colonists, and settled on land upriver from Charleston. [2] Once indigo was accepted as a commercial crop and subsidized by the British navy, DuBose remembered "one after another" of the Huguenot "planters moved" to Saint Stephen’s Parish "as opportunity offered for the purchase of land" and slaves. [3]

The bounty ended with the American Revolution, and eventually cotton replaced indigo as a cash crop. Soon, lands downriver were being ravaged by freshets, as floods were called. He wrote:

"The upper country being then but partially cleared and cultivated, the greater part of its surface was covered with leaves, the limbs and trunks of decaying trees, and various other impediments to the quick discharge of the rains which fall upon it, into the creeks and ravines leading into the river; consequently much of the water was absorbed by the earth or evaporated before it could be received into its channels, and even when there so many obstacles yet awaited its progress, that heavy contributions were still levied upon it. The river, too, had time to extend along its course the first influx of water before that from more remote tributary sources would reach it. Owing to these and other causes, the Santee was comparatively exempt from those freshets which have since blighted the prosperity of what was once a second Egypt." [4]

His own house was burned during the Civil War, [5] and his descendants moved to Charleston. [6] Cotton and rice plantations reverted to second growth forest that was purchased by wealthy northerners for hunting retreats in the early twentieth century. Thus, was formed the upper class taste for living in what had been wetlands.

Forested land away from the coast was deemed wasteland. Dubose’s acreage was flooded in the early 1940s by Lake Moultrie, [7] a reservoir created by the Santee Cooper Hydroelectric and Navigation Project to produce power for the area north of Charleston. [8]

Each step in the degradation of DuBose’s patrimony was independent and seen as progress at the time: the expansion of arable land, rural electrification. The result, more land was rendered useless, and the remaining land became more crowded. The damage from storms simply increased at each stage with increased density.

Notes on photographs: Taken 3 January 2019.

End notes:
1. "Isaac DuBose, I." Gini website. 23 May 2018.
2. Walter Edgar. South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. 51-52.

3. Samuel Dubose. "Reminiscences of St. Stephen’s Parish, Craven County, and Notices of Her Old Homesteads." 35-85 in A Contribution to the History of the Huguenots of South Carolina. Edited by T. Gaillard Thomas. New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1887. 40.

4. Samuel Dubose. 37-38.
5. "Harbin Plantation – Lake Moultrie – Berkeley County." South Carolina Plantations website.

6. Harlan Greene. "Charleston Childhood: The First Years of Dubose Heyward." The South Carolina Historical Magazine 83:154-167:1982.

7. SC Plantations.
8. Wikipedia. "Santee Cooper."

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Snow at Last


Weather: Snow, real snow, the kind that comes down and stays a few days. The last time that happened was January 2016. I’m sure the sky basins have better records for when they last had an adequate snow fall to sustain themselves without water filched from reservoirs converted by machines.

Last useful snow: 12/28. Week’s low: 14 degrees F. Week’s high: 54 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, sweet peas; most are covered in snow

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, fernbush, winterfat

What’s red: Stems on sandbar willow and bing cherries, new wood on peaches and apples

What’s yellow: Stems on weeping willows

Animal sightings: Rabbit came out yesterday morning, hopped across the yard and drive, then down the path beside the house to head out toward the prairie. It also came through this morning with a slightly different path.


Weekly update: Last week when I was driving through the village I noted some cottonwoods still had leaves on some lower branches that hung along side trunks. Gravity probably pulled the snow off those branches.

The trees that may have had greater problems with the snow that stuck on all horizontal surfaces are the trees of heaven that still had full canopies of seed pods.

The only shrub in my yard to have a problem is the Apache plume. Tiny branches crisscross one another to create a mesh that supported the snow. In addition, while many of the leaves had died, they hadn’t fallen. So, it’s under full mantle with a protected cave under it.

The plants that have the greatest challenge in my yard are the ones under the back porch drip line. Snow melts off the roof, and drops onto the rose and shrub branches below where it freezes. Fortunately, it’s only the stems directly in the fall line; the rest of the plants are safe from the freezing.

The indomitable sweet pea leaves have stayed green even when the rose the vines climbed was covered with snow, then ice.


Notes on photographs: Taken 30 December 2018.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Second Growth Disasters


Weather: My outdoor thermometer registers an odd pattern. While my general perception is temperatures fall until dawn, and then rise, it shows the temperatures dropping, rising, then dropping again. Since I’m not up all night, I don’t know how often it happens. The fact it occurs when I happen to look may be coincidence.

The digital thermometer is about two feet from the house. There probably is some optimal location, but the constraints on its placement precluded discovering it. Its sensor first had to be in the shade and within range of the indoor receiver. The only way to meet those requirements was putting it near the house on the north side that got shaded first in the afternoon. I finessed the min-max record by offsetting the time so that it reset itself after the sun passed in late morning.

By necessity it’s close to the house. I suspect that as the outside temperatures drop, the thermostat in the interior hall triggers the furnace to fire. It then puts out heat that seeps through doors and windows to warm the near area just slightly. So, the outside thermometer is captive to the dynamics of the interior heating system.

It doesn’t really change the recording of the low temperature, which occurs after dawn. This week it didn’t quite reach its lowest on the solstice, but it came close. The coldest morning was November 26 when it went down to 10. December 21 was 12.

Last useful snow: 12/13. Week’s low: 12 degrees F. Week’s high: 56 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 and bing cherries, new wood on peaches and apples; leaves on alfilerillo

What’s yellow: Stems on weeping willows

Animal sightings: The birds are in hiding


Weekly update: The picture that has haunted me most from Hurricane Michael’s landfall on western Florida was one of relatively young trees all broken at the same height, and fallen at the same angle near Panama City.[1]

They reminded me of the damage from the Cerro Grande fire when trees of the same height ignited one another on a steep hillside.

The primary cause of the destruction was the same: clear cutting that removed all the trees at one time. It was inevitable, the first regrowth would be uniform.

The progression of forest development to different species and different sizes occurs over time measured in generations. And, very often, under different environmental conditions.

At the time Florida was logged, timber companies were harvesting longleaf yellow pine. They discovered, in areas where logging was done before the Civil War, that Pinus palustris did not come back.

Early foresters blamed feral hogs that ate the seedlings, and wildfires caused by lightening. Cecil Frost noted that in the period between the enforcement of fencing laws against free-range swine in 1880 and the introduction of modern fire suppression techniques in 1930, some regeneration occurred. It stopped in 1930.[2]

They’ve since learned the effects of fire were complex. First, longleaf pine was more fire-resistant than the invading species like loblolly pine. Second, the invading species were scrub that prevented wire grass from growing on the forest floor. Aristida stricta and Aristida beyrichiana were essential to spreading the fires [3]

There also were problems caused by the tree itself. It took thirty years to bear its first cones. The seeds in the cones took three-years to mature, and good seed crops occurred about every ten years.[4]

The other factor must have been ground and air moisture. Longleaf thrives in areas that get 43 to 69 inches of rain a year on sandy, infertile soils.[5] Many factors, natural and human, can alter that ecology. For instance, the duff left by the loblolly prevents the longleaf seeds from reaching the ground and discourages the wire grass.

As the stand of broken trunks in Florida demonstrated, it is far easier to destroy than nurture.


Notes on photographs: Taken 4 July 2013 on the road to Jémez Springs just after it started rising from the Los Alamos side.

End notes:
1. The photo of "A forest of broken trees in Panama City, Florida, on October 12, 2018" was taken by Brendan Smialowski for Agence France-Presse and reprinted by Alan Taylor, "More Photos of the Incredible Devastation Left by Hurricane Michael," The Atlantic website, 13 October 2018.

2. Cecil C. Frost. "Four Centuries of Changing Landscape Patterns in the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem." 17-43 in The Longleaf Pine Ecosystem: Ecology, Restoration and Management. Edited by Sharon M. Hermann. (Tallahassee, Florida: Tall Timbers Research Station, 1993). 38.

3. Frost. 22.

4. Jennifer H. Carey. "Pinus palustris." U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Fire Effects Information System website. 1992.

5. Carey.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Lentils


Weather: More of the same, cold mornings, promised snow that materializes into thin layers in the dark, and afternoons warm enough to melt it but not warm enough for working outside without getting chilled.

Last useful snow: 12/13. Week’s low: 14 degrees F. Week’s high: 51 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 and bing cherries, new wood on peaches and apples; leaves on alfilerillo

What’s yellow: Stems on weeping willows

Tasks: Some local people have been out amputating their trees, leaving no branches, only trunks and large limbs. I cut some Maximilian sunflower stems.

Animal sightings: Flock of juncos were in the Russian olive; I saw fruit in the peak of one before they flew away.


Weekly update: Two years ago lentils disappeared from the shelves of the local grocery stores. When I say disappeared, there were no bags anywhere in Espanola or Santa Fé and the generic bins had been emptied. It was more like a recall than a distribution problem.

I checked the internet. There were no recalls, and as near as I can tell no crop shortages. It was hard to tell about the latter, since crops reports are all pitched in the future, not the present.

I mentioned it to clerk in one of the stores who agreed it was odd because "It’s not Easter when you cook ‘em."

I found some on-line, but that’s an expensive way to get a legume. They’re sold by the pound, and pounds cost money to ship.

When I got them they were dirty. By that I mean, they were filled with husk debris. It was so bad, I had to put them in a colander to sift out the skins, and then had to manually pick through them.

Now, before this I had had occasional problems with stone chips, either something black or white quartz. I was never sure about the source because I cooked the lentils with rice, and I had the problem when I bought different types of lintels.

Now I knew. The stones were in the lentils, even the expensive, boutique organic ones.

Eventually, the local store that catered to Spanish-speaking customers imported some packages from Mexican suppliers. They still had to be picked through before they could be used. Then, when the legumes returned in the spring, the packages were the worst of all. They must first have cleared the bottoms of their storage units.

Only now, after two years is the quality back to what it had been. The dried seeds aren’t perfect. Some are chipped by the machines that handle them. I assume they’re picked by machines, then dried mechanically. Next, they’re put on conveyers where more machines husk, sort and package them.


The colors and sizes are not uniform. If you ever shelled string beans or peas or looked closed at the corn on the cob, you know not every seed grows to the same size. But some had dark spots that I suspect were caused by tiny insects.


And then there are the ones that are puckered. That could have come from lack of water, oddities that didn’t show up until they were dried, or who knows what else attacks plants growing in fields.

If one looks too closely, one might never eat one again. But, one also realizes those imperfections exist in all processed food, but are masked by the preservatives, sauces, and other additives that are used. Making them into soup disguises everything but the stones.

A friend reminded me not to be finicky. He said his father always told him to eat the peaches the birds had pecked, because they always found the sweetest and ripest.


Notes on photographs: Lentils (Lens culinaris) purchased in Española, 18 December 2018.

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.