Sunday, December 04, 2011

The River

Weather: Snow lingers in north and west facing beds, and in low places between bunch grasses; drip lines collecting water that freezes at night; 9:55 hours of daylight today.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae and other evergreens, roses, prickly pear, yuccas, grape hyacinth, oriental poppy, coral beard tongue, Jupiter’s beard, snapdragons, large leaved soapwort, ladybells, hollyhock, winecup, cheese, sweet pea, alfalfa, clovers, bindweed, yellow evening primrose, vinca, gypsum phacelia, anthemis, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, strapleaf and purple asters, June, cheat, pampas and other grasses.

What’s red/turning red: Cholla; young branches of apples and tamarix; leaves on raspberry, privet, Japanese honeysuckle, red hot poker, pinks, small leaved soapwort, Husker’s and purple beard tongue, coral bells, pink evening primrose, alfilerillo.

What’s blue or grey: Piñon; leaves on four-winged saltbush, California poppy, loco, catmints, snow-in-summer, yellow alyssum, winterfat, creamtips, hairy golden and heath asters.

What’s yellow-green/turning yellow: Branches on weeping willow; leaves on Apache plume, rugosa rose, sea pink, golden spur columbine, snakeweed.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, asparagus fern, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: It rained the day after Thanksgiving. By noon the ground was wet, the air misty, the sky gray. It seemed the perfect time to walk towards the Rio Grande.

I’ve found ways to get to it in town, but I’ve been here more than 20 years and never actually seen the river near my house.

As soon as I skirted the new bridge and old ford in the far arroyo, the terrain changed into a bulldozed mud flat with cottonwoods marking the perimeter. I’d known there was a sharp drop behind the houses on the other side of the bridge, but I hadn’t realized the nearness of that bank.

A levee had been built on the right side. The arroyo at times was contained in a small channel, but wet open land spread on the other side. I suspect, before they started regulating the river’s flow, this was its flood plain.

I’m not sure why the levee was built or if it’s still maintained. It would have been a more effective barrier for modern homes on the other side of the channel. Perhaps it provided the arroyo with an exit path through water flowing back from the river, and thus prevented problems upstream.

I suppose this once was bosque. The cottonwoods were widely spaced, but the ground was littered with fragments of dead branches. Someone had cleared the area, and only grass had come back. I don’t know if that’s because trees had died, people were hunting fire wood, or they feared fire and vermin.

Russian thistles grew on the levee. There was also one band of three foot plants in the mud plain, but none had invaded the wetter area colonized by grasses. In the distance, I first saw the bare red stems of willows. The cottonwoods always looked denser in the distance than they were when I got to them.

I passed a row of what could have been young chamisa. The sodden brown heads looked familiar, but the stems weren’t particularly woody. It’s possible that dead wood littering the ground was from large shrubs that had been cleared out and all I saw was regrowth. The rings of wood were about the right size.

The river was closer than I thought, just over a mile from my house. The willows I had been heading for were on the other side of the water.

Where I came out the bank was clear. A few Russian olives, grass. On both sides of me, though, vegetation closed in. It wasn’t wild or like it was before the Spanish or the Anglos, but it did sport a faint rainbow toward town. Downstream, clouds still hung over the Jemez.

Photographs: All pictures taken 25 November 2011.

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