Sunday, November 23, 2008


What’s blooming: Nothing blooming, but burning continues; first Christmas lights out.

What’s still green: Juniper and other conifers, roses, yucca, prickly pear, honeysuckle, red hot poker, vinca, rock rose, hartweig, yellow evening primrose, blue flax, sea pink, winecup, pinks, soapworts, bouncing Bess, snapdragon, Jupiter’s beard, senecio, Mount Atlas daisy, Mexican hat, June and other grasses near ground; only protected leaves survive on sweet pea and hollyhock.

What’s gray or gray-green: Piñon, winterfat, saltbush, buddleia, loco, snow-in-summer, yellow alyssum, Silver King artemisia.

What’s red: Raspberry, cholla, privet, coral bells, white and coral beardtongues, pink evening primrose; few leaves left on apples, cherries, spirea and pasture rose.

What’s turning yellow: Some arborvitaes, willow, Apache plume, iris, Saint John’s wort, golden spur columbine; many cottonwoods and globe willows bare.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, bougainvillea, rochea with leaves bleaching out and leaving red edges.

Animal sightings: Rabbit at the front steps last Sunday.

Weather: Cold most mornings with dry air leaving flecks of frost on the car as it continues to steal moisture from the last rain, 11/10. High winds Thursday denuded the cottonwoods and other exposed trees, leaving them ready to handle the weight of winter ice and snow. Apples, cherries, locust, and other shorter or less-exposed trees still have some leaves. 9:08 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: Raising horses and planting corn seem to be two ways men here try to maintain ties with their rural past.

Among the Santa Clara, the men were responsible for planting k’un and women took custody of the ears during the communal shuckings. By the time Barbara Freire-Marrenco talked to women in 1912, the young were turning to wheat for tortillas because they no longer were willing to do the arduous grinding that overdeveloped some hand muscles and could lead to degenerated elbow joints.

Whatever traditions existed among Spanish-speaking communities changed when the cash economy infiltrated at the end of the nineteenth century and adult men spent most of the year in Colorado, Wyoming or Utah working the smelters, mines and potato fields. Planting was left to women and children.

By the 1930's, Santa Cruz grew more wheat than corn, as did Chimayó and the Spanish speakers clustered around San Ildefonso, with hard-up flour mills in Santa Cruz and Española. The wheats brought into the great plains from Europe like the Red Durham preferred around San Ildefonso could handle our harsh growing season better than corn which even the Santa Clara could only grow in small isolated patches where water could be diverted or stored and that preserved the genetic identity of desired blue and white varieties.

Field sizes had already shrunken through divisions, especially after expansion into Colorado and east of the Sangre de Cristo was stymied by the western movement from the settled parts of the United States. Still people clung to those diminished lots as a refuge for survival, especially after outside employment disappeared in the early depression. Even after the opening of the national laboratory and conversion of the land in my immediate area to hay for horses, people retain their desire to own a piece of arable land.

Now those hay lands are being divided. Down the road, a small square hay field irrigated by pipes survives, perhaps financed by the single-wide perched on a narrow lot just beyond the fence. Periodically, a pair of horses was brought in this summer to graze the small area, and once in a while I saw the father from the trailer watching his toddler splash in the flooded field. He planted a row of corn along the fence, that grew taller at one end than the other as water seeped beyond the irrigation dike.

Closer to where I live, a cement-lined ditch bisects a large field with hay surrounding a new house where horses are often let out to graze. On the triangle between the ditch and the road, another family improved their double-wide and planted a patch of sweet corn, too large to feed the family when it all ripened, and too small for commercial sales. After the stalks had dried, he cleared them into shocks and later added a harvest figure, the only ones I’ve seen in this part of the country.

Between the two nostalgic corn patches some men converted a pipe-irrigated hay field into a market garden with corn along the edges and other vegetables between. I often saw the two out collecting produce for the local farmers’ market circuit when I passed on my way to work at 7:30. Their field was typical of the truck gardens that still existed into the depression that depended on tourists and places like Santa Fe.

The more traditional field lies across the road where several older men plant every few years. I don’t know if they picked the years 2003 and 2007 because they had signs they would be good years, or if they deliberately left the land fallow, or could only get periodic access to it. While it looks like it had been leveled and edged for flood irrigation, I never saw evidence they had water like the adjoining new house. They planted a full field last year that was four inches high by the end of June. In July I saw them out with hoes clearing the weeds. I never saw them again, so I don’t know how they gathered their crop.

I do know they did something none of the other local growers have done this year and no one would have done in Chimayó where clean fields "free of weeds, trees and organic debris" were valued: they left the stalks in the fields. Winter battered them, and someone finally cut the remains in mid-April. All summer, seedlings from last year sprouted, grew to different heights and then were invaded by pigweed.

I’m not sure if they didn’t know the full cycle of a corn field, as men wouldn’t who had had to leave every year for outside work, or if they no longer had younger family members around to help with the clearing. Dying, revived, and new traditions co-existed on my main road this summer while nature ensured the survival of maíz and fathers introduced their young to planting.

Lund, Erin Suzanne. An Anthropological Examination of Classic Maya Burials from Moho Cay, Belieze: Skeletal and Dental Evidence of Demography, Diet, and Health, 2003.

Robbins, William Wilfred, John Peabody Harrington and Barbara Friere-Marreco, Ethnobotany of the Tewa Indians, 1916.

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

Usner, Don J. Sabino’s Map: Life in Chimayó’s Old Plaza, 1995.

Photograph: Feral ragged corn dried golden by the sun and greyish pigweed; Russian olive in back; 22 November 2008.

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