Sunday, July 15, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Roses, cholla, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, sweet peas, Russian sage, datura, purple phlox, bindweed, white sweet clover, white evening primrose, English plantain, toothed spurge, Queen Anne’s lace, bachelor button, zinnia, Tahokia daisy, first sunflowers, áñil del muerto, golden hairy aster, paper flower, goatsbeard, hawkweed, native dandelion, horseweed, wild lettuce; catalpa pods; corn, tomatoes, chili, onions, squash and other foot high green crops in vegetable patches that are not identifiable from road; local produce stand advertising cherries and peas.
What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Miniature roses, golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, hartwegii, butterfly weed, squash, perky Sue, fern-leaf yarrow, chocolate flower, blanket flower, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chrysanthemums.
Looking east: Small and large-leaf soapwort, snow-in-summer, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, sweet alyssum, pink salvia, veronica, winecup, hollyhock, sidalcea, California and Shirley poppies.
Looking south: Tamarix, morning glory, daylily, tomatilla, cosmos
Looking west: Lilies, flax, catmint, white spurge, caryopteris, purple ice plant, ladybells, sea lavender, Monch aster, purple coneflower.
Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunia, Dahlberg daisy, marigold, tomatoes.
Inside: Aptenia, kalanchoë, zonal geranium
Animal sightings: Gecko, pair of quail, smaller green hummingbirds, group of yellow-bellied birds, bees, hummingbird moths, ants, aphids, grasshoppers, crickets, squash bug, black widow spiders, Japanese beetles on yellow evening primrose plants, insects too small to name; gopher destroyed roots of baptista and two hollyhocks.
Weather: Hot, but some rain Thursday after midnight; mornings cool; plants still dying along the road, but established trees and shrubs growing.
Weekly update: My squash is producing its first flowers, all males. Luckily, they are the reason I put in seeds. If I depended on the females to bear fruit, I’d starve.
Every time I came home this summer to leaves wilted in the heat, I wondered if they would get this far and pondered the fragility of agricultural life in this corner of the world where people stopped putting in corn a few years ago when it was so dry and, before that, a neighbor told me the only thing grasshoppers weren’t eating were his tomatoes and cucumbers. Corn plots are back this year, but not my neighbor’s front garden.
Times have been hard before. During the depression, frost habitually killed half the peach crop in Santa Cruz, and apricots survived one year in four. In Chimayó, the wheat harvest of 1934 wasn’t sufficient to provide seed for the next year, and they never attempted beans or squash because of the "bug pest."
Farther back, when Francisco Dominguez visited the area in 1776, locusts had been ravaging crops for five years. At San Ildefonso, those who searched for wild food found little, and their neighbors were chary of charity or trade. He reported they had become "cautious" and fear had "hardened their hearts."
Nothing is as stark as the prehistoric Guaje ruin on the Pajarito plateau where the elements uncovered bones that were thin and porous from chronic malnutrition and calcium deficiency.
People didn’t leave here in the 1930's because they discovered cash would stave off starvation if they changed their diet. With the great drought between 1276 and 1299, Anasazi abandoned dryland farming in the highlands east of the continental divide for irrigated crops along rivers.
Who knows what drove the ancients to experiment with plants. The earliest remains of domesticated Cucurbita pepo have been found in a cave in Oaxaca from some ten thousand years ago, four millennia before corn appeared there. Then it was prized for its seeds which contain lutein, carotene and beta carotene; the edible layer evolved later.
Squash, including pumpkins, was important to the pueblo peoples who abandoned the Colorado and Pajarito plateaus. To the west the Hopi roasted the seeds, sliced the meat to dry for winter, and used the blossoms for soup. Here, the Santa Clara boiled or baked the mesocarp in a bread oven.
Cucurbis became more than food; they became a symbol for how people ward off hunger. Families to the west clustered themselves into matrilineal organizations, including the Acoma and Hopi pumpkin clans. Along the rio arriba, the Tewa formed two groups, the summer squash people, who governed during the growing season when fish could be eaten and wild foods gathered, and the winter turquoise people, who ruled when families lived on stored foods and hunted big game.
Squash is also more than dinner to people whose Spanish-speaking parents were the ones who first entered the cash economy offered by the national laboratory. They may not grow it much themselves, but they remember the taste of calabaza. It’s one of the few words that cannot be translated any more than can the pleasant childhood associations of life free of worry.
Notes:Domínguez, Francisco Atansio. Republished 1956 as The Missions of New Mexico, 1776, translated and edited by Eleanor B. Adams and Angélico Chávez.Robbins, William Wilfred, John Peabody Harrington and Barbara Friere-Marreco. Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.Smith, Bruce D. "The Initial Domestication of Cucurbita pepo in the Americas 10,000 Years Ago," Science 276:932-934:1997.
Stuart, David E. "Cliff Palaces and Kivas: From Mesa Verdeto Bandelier," Glimpses of the Ancient Southwest, 1985.

US Dept of Interior. Tewa Basin Study, volume 2, 1935, reprinted by Marta Weigle as Hispanic Villages of Northern New Mexico, 1975.

Whiting, Alfred F. Ethnobotany of the Hopi, 1939, cited in Dan Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany database.

Photograph: Male squash blossoms, 8 July 2007.

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