Sunday, July 03, 2011

Summer and Smoke

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid tea roses, trumpet creeper, Japanese honeysuckle, silver lace vine, tall and red yuccas, daylily, Russian sage, buddleia, hollyhock, datura, sweet pea, larkspur, Shasta daisy, squash, alfalfa, brome grass.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, Apache plume, cholla cactus, Virginia creeper, fernleaf and leatherleaf globemallows, cheese mallow, scarlet bee blossom, white and yellow evening primroses, velvetweed, bindweed, stickleaf, purple mat flower, goat’s head, white sweet clover, buffalo gourd, silver leaf nightshade, western goat’s beard, Hopi tea, spiny lettuce, paper flower, golden hairy and strap-leaf spine asters, native and common dandelions; buds on horseweed, prickly pear and old man cacti.

In my yard, looking east: Persian yellow rose, winecup mallow, sidalcea, coral bells, baby’s breath, snow-in-summer, Jupiter’s Beard, Maltese cross, bouncing Bess, large-leaf soapwort, pink evening primrose, pink salvia, Saint John’s wort, reseeded morning glory.

Looking south: Floribunda and rugosa roses, oxalis, tomatilla.

Looking west: Lilies, Rocky mountain beardtongue, ladybells, blue flax, catmints, flowering spurge, sea lavender, white mullein; buds on Mönch aster and purple coneflower.

Looking north: Golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, Hartweig evening primrose, butterfly weed, Mexican hat, Moonshine and Parker’s Gold yarrows, chocolate flower, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, black-eyed Susan; buds on chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansy, moss rose, impatiens, nicotiana; buds on snapdragon.

Inside: Zonal geranium, aptenia, asparagus fern, pomegranate.

Animal sightings: Hummingbird, house finches, other small birds, gecko, bumble bee, smaller bees, hornets, small flying insects, harvester and small black ants; hear crickets.

Weather: Afternoon temperatures in 90's; high winds Sunday and Thursday day spread fire in the western mountains and broke off small branches from cottonwood trees; a storm passed over yesterday that left us without power but with 1/8“ of water in dry ground; 15:52 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: Last Sunday morning I walked north beyond the narrow arroyo to see if the prickly pear cacti were blooming yet. As near as I could see none were or had been. Many had had a tough winter and the drought continues.

As I was standing in the field of needle grass, I realized that land must once have been flooded through the break in the hills to the east. The arroyo comes from somewhere back there and marks the southern edge of the small plateau.

It was in that opening that I watched smoke from the Pacheco fire near Tesuque rise through the rows of foothills like a quiet volcano.

I returned to the house for a few minutes, then walked out to the main arroyo to the south. As usual, I was wearing thick wool socks to protect my feet from seeds armed with harpoons, static electricity and velcro.

The ground was so dry the clay was no longer detectable; the land was reduced to a shallow beach hot enough to send heat through my shoes. When I reached down to see if it was the sand or my socks, it was the land.

Few things were blooming. Everything that’s come into bloom has rushed to maturity, producing seeds as quickly as possible. Almost nothing on the prairie has stayed in flower for more than a week. Trees and shrubs in town have leaves that are losing color. The lack of water is felt everywhere after the hot solstice.

The winds started tossing the black locust around 1:00. An hour later I took a nap. When I woke about 4:00, I noticed the light coming in the east window of my bedroom had changed. The sere needle grass was silvery white. I couldn’t see it as well from my back porch. When I started round the building I noticed why the light had changed: a huge plume of smoke was rising from the area of Los Alamos.

The Las Conchas fire had erupted while I was sleeping.

Smoke dominated the view during the day. At night, I could see a line of orange. The next morning the smoke shut down visibility. There were charred pine needles in the drive.

The fire settled into a routine marked by changes in smoke patterns until Thursday when ferocious winds returned and the fire spread north across P’opii Khanu, the headwaters of Santa Clara creek. After dark, I could see another line of orange, this one backlighting bare tree trunks about twelve miles from my porch.

People, forced from their homes in Los Alamos by potential winds capable of driving such rapid variations in fire behavior, have been fretting that someone might sneak past the guards and loot their homes.

The Santa Clara tribal governor Walter Dasheno reported two-third of their forest had been destroyed and added the burned out land “is the source of our Santa Clara Creek that we rely upon for irrigation” It was their source for “wildlife, clean water, culturally-significant trees and medicinal plants.”

Fortunately, almost everyone can now buy most of their food, because the destruction of the acequias is yet to come. When it finally does rain, and this drought can’t last forever, the waters will rush over the charred land, strip off the fragile top soil, and send the silt and dead wood down towards the river.

Native plants will eventually recover. Most adapted to fire long ago. Unlike humans, they haven’t yet forgotten.

For now, their reactions can be read in chromatic changes. I’ve learned many plants alter their chemistry during the heat of the day, moving from absorbing the sun’s light in the morning to rejecting it by noon. The reflection of light by their chemicals creates the sensations I perceive as color.

Friday when I was driving home from Santa Fe, the grasses in the fields beside the road were silvery when the sky was grey.

As I approached Pojoaque at the base of the canyon that leads up to Los Alamos, the sky turned brown. The grasses retreated back into a bleached neutrality that blends into the soil, while the limestone layers in the rocks became more prominent. They too are alive, organic compounds of calcium carbonate that will burn when heated enough.

Later that evening, as the light faded, the grasses turned golden brown and the grey-green native salt bushes were bright green. Only the non-native Siberian elms were unaffected, still green to view.

Dasheno, Walter. Quoted by Joe Baca, “Las Conchas Fire Burns More Than 6,000 acres of Santa Clara Pueblo Land,” 30 June 2011 press release.

Photograph: The fires, 1 July 2011. The smoke coming from behind the mesa is from the Los Alamos area. The smoke rising from the ridges at the right is from Santa Clara land. The dark green of the Siberian elms and lilacs is relatively normal for 7:15 at night. The four-winged saltbushes are a much brighter green and the grasses more golden than in normal light. The white square marks the border of a patch of Santa Clara land on the east side of the river.

No comments: