Sunday, March 04, 2012

Levee Cottonwood

Weather: It’s felt like we’ve been trapped under great masses of clouds headed somewhere else, leaving winds and warm afternoons, but only spits of snow or rain; last major precipitation 2/15/12; 11:36 hours of daylight today.

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

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

New leaf/stem buds on roses are emerging.

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

Color fading on sandbar willow, getting darker on apple trees.

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, asparagus fern, pomegranate.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: The day was warmer than usual. In Michigan, where I was a child, it would have been a false hope, signifying tornadoes more than spring. The winds arrived here that evening, and have been dislodging tumbleweeds ever since.

But before I received that grim reminder of what was to come, I walked the wide arroyo to its mouth.

Let me clarify my geography a bit. I live between two arroyos, the ones I call the far and the near. To get to the main road where those Russian thistles are prowling, I cross three arroyos: the near, the deep, and the wide. They have names on maps, but I’ve never heard anyone use them.

I began at one of my favorite cottonwoods, one that’s forced the runoff from a ditch to track around it.

I followed its ditch back to a point where it entered the arroyo. To the right I saw the beginnings of a levee.

I’d been told, before the bridge was built, the arroyo ran so hard it flipped a car and killed the driver. Perhaps when the built they bridge, they built the levee to direct the flow or protect the adjoining land now owned by complaining taxpayers or maybe the bridge itself.

When I walked along the bank, its wild side could still be seen in a wide wash where little grew but snakeweed.

As I got away from the bridge, salt bushes and chamisa took over with an occasional narrow leaved yucca. Then came the trees everyone hates, the tamarixes and Russian olives.

And finally the bosque began.

This bosque spread wide on the horizon. The levee disappeared behind a fence, and forced me into the arroyo. The bosque enclosed the path, blocked my view. It made clear I had left the world of alien species and entered an older world.

One even blocked access to the river.

I followed the left bank back, which took me into the river forest. The trees were tall with unbranched trunks, competing with each other to reach the sky. Nothing grew through their mulch of dried leaves except a few straggly junipers. It was strictly a world of cottonwoods.

When I left the enchanted wood, as everyone eventually must, the levee on the right bank was higher and wider than on the left, the gap between it and the residential land narrower.

I saw something I’d never seen before. Instead of single, thick trunks with multiple, low branches, I saw what looked like clusters of trees from a single base. Perhaps strands of cotton had landed in particularly propitiating spaces and more than one seed had sprouted. Instead of one dominating and smothering out the others, each spread in a different direction.

The levee, with its trapped moisture on both sides of the divide, had created its own brand of cottonwood.

Photographs: Except for the one of the oxbow cottonwood taken 23 December 2010, the rest were taken in the wide arroyo 23 February 2012.

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