Sunday, October 21, 2007


What’s blooming in the area: Roses, Heavenly Blue morning glory, narrow leaf globemallow, white sweet clover, chamisa, winterfat, Tahokia daisy, Maximilian and native sunflowers, áñil del muerto, broom senecio, gumweed; golden, strap leaf and purple asters; cottonwoods turning yellow by the river; horses in to pasture.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Chocolate flower, blanket flower, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chrysanthemum.

Looking east: Sweet alyssum, winecup, hollyhock, larkspur, California poppies, Crackerjack marigolds.

Looking south: Rugosa rose.

Looking west: Catmint, purple ice plant.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunia, Dahlberg daisy.

Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Quail still harvesting the yard; grasshoppers, ants, black widow spider, ladybug on saltbush; Juara, the runaway cat, is still well-fed and living under my neighbor’s abandoned truck.

Weather: Windy evenings and cold mornings; last rain, 29 September.

Weekly update: It’s so easy to impute modern life in Rio Arriba county to its Spanish heritage and very difficult to identify the deeper strands of influence without falling into the snares of romanticism or stereotype.

Oñate arrived in our valley in 1598, hunting for gold, and found people who’d been farming along the river confluences for several hundred years. A generation later, Alonso de Benevides saw water for irrigation, piñon for fuel and food, adobe for building, and Spanish settlers on the best lands in 1630.

When Zebulon Pike explored the upper Rio Grande in 1807, he didn’t see enough wood to support a moderate population for 15 years He thought they would be reduced to mudbrick houses and have to settle for "cattle, horses, sheep and goats" rather than crops. He labeled the plains an "internal desert" and people stayed away until artesian wells were introduced.

What separated the two military scouts were the expectations that come with time. Seventeenth century colonists still accepted contact with Spain every three years. Nineteenth century Americans no longer tolerated rivers that weren’t navigable enough to ship crops to market.

The Franciscans saw Tewa speaking pueblos they thought could be turned into farm hands like the Moriscos in southern Spain. Americans met mobile Indians who’d had the horse for many of those intervening 177 years and weren’t about to labor for them.

The natives of arid Spain knew how to live with less than 20" of rain a year, the easterners did not. Landscape and experience influenced how each saw the possibilities of New Mexico.

The expectations of snapdragons are easier to meet. They like cool weather and limestone soil. Mine usually stop blooming in the summer and resume with better flowers in the fall after they’ve grown more leaves. Most years, a few perennials survive the winter to grow, if not bloom, the following summer. Several have gone to seed and reappeared closer to water.

This year the Bells, Sonnets, and Rockets stayed in bloom until August when the monsoons failed, and resumed flowering the middle of September when water returned to the area. When last summer stayed wet and cool, Sonnets and Rockets bloomed until mid-September, then stopped for the year.

Weather is the hidden link to Spain. Back when the earth was covered by jungle in the middle Eocene, 38 to 54 million years ago, a drier area developed outward from the modern Mediterranean. The traditional snapdragon family, Scrophulariaceae, evolved to the west in the Mandran.

When the modern distribution of climates emerged some five million years ago, Antirrhinum developed in the relicts of that Mandran-Tythan band, in modern California and Iberia. The continents had long been separated, so parallel developments could only have resulted from similar genetic responses to changing conditions by species with common ancestors.

My snapdragons may be derived from Spain’s purple Antirrhinum majus that have been bred for color, habit and resistance to fungus, but they aren’t popular here because they came with the conquistadores. The bedding plants are bought as soon as they appear in stores in April because people have had good luck with them and they like the bright complex flower spikes.

An accumulation of experiences has formed both our expectations for a good flower and the snapdragon’s ability to survive our harsh summers. It’s more than wondrous coincidence that both the buyers and the flowers come from Spain, but not an inevitable consequence of shared national heritage. Landscape still matters.

Axelrod, Daniel I. "Evolution and Biogeography of Madrean-Tethyan Sclerophyll Vegetation, "Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 62:280-334:1975.

Benavides, Alonso de. Memorial que fray Juan de Santaner de la orden de S. Francisco presenta a la Magestad Catolica del Rey don Felipe Quarto, 1630, republished 1996 as A Harvest of Reluctant Souls, translated and edited by Baker H. Morrow.

Gübitz, Thomas, Ailsa Caldwell, and Andrew Hudson. "Rapid Molecular Evolution of Cycloidea-like Genes in Antirrhinum and Its Relatives," Molecular Biology and Evolution 20:1537-1544:2003.

Pike, Zebulon. Quoted by Walter Prescott Webb, The Great Plains, 1931.

Photograph: Snapdragon with seed stalks, 20 October 2007.

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