Sunday, February 26, 2012

Ditch Cottonwood

Weather: Some afternoon warmer than usual, some mornings much cooler, some afternoons windier; last precipitation 2/15/12; 11:12 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming: Biological crust, moss, mushroom.

Tansy mustard and black mustard are coming up, with the one appearing in dryer locations than the other. A few plants are blooming in front of a south facing dark lava stone wall near the village.

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens; stems on young chamisa; leaves on grape hyacinth, sweet pea, alfilerillo, gypsum phacelia, snakeweed, chrysanthemum, strap leaf aster; cheat grass.

Stems of hybrid roses getting greener as are leaves on native yuccas and Japanese honeysuckle.

What’s red: Cholla; branches on Russian olive, tamarix, sandbar willow, apples, apricots, spirea, wild roses and raspberry; leaves on coral bells, pinks, soapworts.

What’s blue or gray: Piñon; leaves on four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, stickleaf, beardtongues, golden hairy and purple asters.

What’s yellow-green/yellow-brown: Arborvitae; weeping and globe willows.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geranium, bud on pomegranate.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: In Zia Summer, Rudolfo Anaya’s Albuquerque North Valley detective, Sonny Baca, wakes to the sound of a cottonwood being cut down, one that was more than a hundred year’s old and ten foot in diameter. It had simply died of old age.

“‘Trees get cancer, just like people,’ don Elisero said.”

That tree is the nostalgic image most have of the time before. Most assume that means the time before man when cottonwoods grew dense in the bosques along the Rio Grande

and acquired great girth.

By the time I moved here, the rivers were the wards of the Army Corps of Engineers. The trees growing by the Rio Grande were respectable, good sized trees that had come back from various water management projects, but not the behemoths described by Anaya.

To find those, I have to go to the village. There they grow above the beds of old or buried irrigation ditches. In the village itself, an open ditch stops or is buried before it reaches the church.

On the other side there’s a line of large cottonwoods.

On the orchard road, an open ditch that comes from our local acequia is still used, though it’s currently filled with the remains of late summer áñil de muerto, sunflowers and grass. It disappears when it reaches a crossroad, but you know the water hasn’t all been used, that the surplus has to find it’s way to the Rio Grande.

Toward the river, there’s a line of large cottonwoods.

The pattern repeats itself on the farm road behind the village. There, the ditch today is buried on the west side of the road, but you can tell it exists from the manicured field with the banked, burned edges and flattened bottom of irrigated land.

Here there’s a bit of an anomaly. The line of cottonwoods is on the upside of the road. However, behind those trees is one of the older houses in the area, and behind that our local acequia madre. I’m guessing, sometime in the past, there was a ditch there that’s since been filled when the land was subdivided and sold for small houses.

I rather suspect trees like the one Anaya eulogizes for shading “don Eliseo’s family for many generations” are more the product of the rural life that dug and maintained the ditches, than the turbulent rivers and restless bosques. Like Anaya’s, the ones around the village grew fat and old when they abandoned the chancy life of flood plains for the sure water of village ditches.

Unfortunately, like many old folks, the young regard them as nuisances. The utilities are constantly hacking their limbs. Drivers grow frustrated when they can’t see or have to take turns passing through a road they’ve narrowed. Some cut them down, but others with the spirit of Anaya find ways to accommodate them.

Notes: Anaya, Rudolfo. Zia Summer, 1995.

1. Cottonwood on farm road, 18 January 2012.

2. Cottonwood that fell in the spring of 2008; it took up a great deal of territory, but didn’t leave a very big hole in the ground; 3 May 2008.

3. San Juan bosque, 13 February 2012; the lower level of the woods is filled with shrubs including some sandbar willow.

4. Close up of central tree in above picture, 13 February 2012.

5. Bosque near Española, 23 February 2012; the trees are younger than San Juan and only grass and a few junipers are growing under the canopy.

6. Village road ditch bank lined with Siberian elms and trees of heaven, 19 January 2012.

7. Line of cottonwood downstream from the above ditch, 19 January 2012.

8. Orchard road ditch is the dark area near the fence filled with last year’s grasses, 23 February 2012.

9. Line of cottonwood downstream from the above ditch, 19 January 2012; Siberian elms have taken over the other side; this alley is so narrow, two pick-up trucks cannot pass and various protective posts and warning signs have been installed.

10. Irrigated field on farm road, 13 February 2012.

11. Line of cottonwoods up stream from the above ditch, 18 January 2012; the fallen tree was part of this line.

12. Fence on farm road built around a cottonwood, 17 January 2012.

13. Wall on farm road built around a cottonwood, 11 September 2010.

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