Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dry Weather

Weather: Storms passed through but left no water; last rain 7/12/12; 14:12 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Tree of heaven, hybrid perpetual roses, buddleia, bird of Paradise, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, red yucca, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, datura, sweet pea, alfalfa, Russian sage, purple garden phlox, single sunflowers, yellow flowered yarrow, zinnias, Shasta daisies; cutting hay.

Beyond the walls and fences: Leatherleaf globemallow, bush morning glory, white and pink bindweeds, white sweet and white prairie clovers, silver leaf nightshade, buffalo gourd, knotted spurge, prostrate knotweed, goat’s head, pale blue trumpets, Hopi tea peaked, gum weed, plain’s paper flower, goat’s beard, horseweed, wild lettuce, golden hairy asters, native dandelion, goldenrod; clammy weed germinating.

In my yard, looking east: Snow-in-summer, bouncing Bess, coral beardtongue, Jupiter’s beard, pink evening primrose peaked, winecup mallow, sidalcea Party Girl, California and Shirley poppies, Saint John’s wort.

Looking south: Rugosa, floribunda and miniature roses, Dutch clover, Illinois bundle flower, scarlet flax; buds on Sensation cosmos.

Looking west: Caryopteris, Siberian and Seven Hills Giant catmints, calamintha, leadplant, Goodness Grows speedwell, David phlox, white spurge, perennial four o’clock, sea lavender, ladybells, Mönch asters, purple coneflowers.

Looking north: Hartweig evening primrose, chocolate flower, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, black-eyed Susan, Mexican hat, chrysanthemum, yellow cosmos.

Bedding plants: Petunia, nicotiana, snapdragons, sweet alyssum.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, hummingbirds, small brown birds, geckos, butterflies, bees, hornets, harvester, large red and small black ants.

Weekly update: When I check the web each morning to find the previous day’s humidity levels for Santa Fé and Los Alamos, I see more and more alarmist stories about what a dreadfully dry year this has been with some of the worst fire conditions.

They reached a crescendo this week when the Weather Channel ran the headline “2012 Drought Rivals Dust Bowl.” They were reporting drought conditions have now touched 54.6% of the country. If you looked at their detail, that percentage was 54.4% in 1936, but 79.9% in 1934, and there were two years in the 1950's were worse, 1954 and 1956.

Those still recovering from storms that took down power on the east coast didn’t bother with the detail, either in the Weather Channel report or in the underlying “State of the Climate” report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Web sites for The Atlantic and the Daily Beast repeated the Weather Channel headline.

I felt like I was in a time warp. That’s last year they were discussing, not this. Conditions are dry. We had no spring rain, but we had snow in winter that lingered long enough to penetrate. There’s still enough water in the Santa Cruz dam to support irrigation; last year it was rationed.

I have yet to see the arroyo bottom turned into a wind swept dune like it was last year. My feet haven’t gotten hot from heat accumulated in sand like they did last June 26, the day the Las Conchas fire broke out.

In the past few weeks, monsoon conditions have returned. There’s been a little rain, but afternoon humidity levels have increased. In June they got down to 4%. This week they were 16% on Monday afternoon, but the low Wednesday was 22% in Santa Fé.

When I walked out on the prairie Thursday, there was a layer of soft sand, but the ground was hard below from stored moisture. I saw areas where the vegetation was brown.

But, if you looked closely, the dead gypsum phacelia plants had seed heads.

Stimulated by the winter’s moisture, more plants had germinated than usual, many in marginal areas. When they detected the spring drought, they accelerated their cycle. I saw the first flowers on April 19. In last year’s drought it had been a few days later in April before they bloomed, and in the previous, more normal year it had been mid-May.

They bloomed as quickly as possible to produce seeds, the way a drought adapted species does.

When I walked past the hill where the sand verbena had bloomed earlier, there was nothing to be seen. Even the biological crust was dry and crumbling.

But, they too had bloomed, beginning around April 24. Last year I didn’t see one until September 25, after the drought had been broken.

July is always a drab time here when the effects of the summer solstice heat have not yet been offset by the monsoons. With the early spring, the darkness arrived earlier than usual. But, there were promises for late summer Thursday. Pale trumpets were blooming in areas along the ranch road and arroyo where high banks protected the little water we’ve gotten. The first clammy weeds had germinated in the shaded arroyo bottom.

The most cheering sign of nature’s endurance in the face of an ever changing, ever hostile climate was the bush morning glories. They had been magnificent in 2009 and 2010.

Someone was so attracted they marked their locations with rocks and dug them up last April.

The roots tried to recover, put out a few stems.

Someone came back and cut every stem.

I don’t know if they thought they could take cuttings or their coveting had become so extreme they were jealous of any possibility someone else might see the flowers. They left stems to die by the holes.

The plants tried again, then gave up in the drought. I thought they were gone.

But, people at Plants of the Southwest told me it’s nearly impossible for someone to get the entire root of a mature, drought adapted plant. Their catalog has a photograph of one covered in a woody shell several feet long.

This year, the plants put out some tentative sprouts. Then, with the rain of a week ago, they’re back in bloom.

It isn’t that I live in an alternative universe from that of web page Henny Pennies eager to find signs of climate change doom. It’s that they live in the current moment. That can be a distorting experience. One day this week the afternoon temperatures reached 90 like they had in late June (the hottest month on record, i.e., since the weather service began keeping records in 1895), but most days temperatures were in the low 80's.

Gardeners always live in multiple dimensions. We are blessed with patchy memories, we recall only the good years and somehow forget we’re living in an arid region. We always see future possibilities when we look at this year’s failed experiments. We stare at a hole but see lavender flowers.

Notes: For more on bush morning glories, see post for 19 July 2009; for gypsum phacelia see 28 November 2010; for sand verbena see 20 Mary 2012; and for clammy weed see 6 September 2009.

Atlantic. “The 2012 Drought Reaches 'Dust Bowl' Proportions,” website.

Daily Beast. “2012 Drought Rivals Dust Bowl,” 15 July 2012, website.

Plants of the Southwest. Catalog 2011.

United States. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center. “State of the Climate National Overview, June 2012"

Weather Channel. “2012 Drought Rivals Dust Bowl,” updated 16 July 2012 by website.

1. Pale blue trumpets blooming in the far arroyo bottom, 19 July 2012, in front of a washed up chamisa or four-winged saltbush trunk.

2. Dried gypsum phacelia in the far arroyo bottom, 19 July 2012.

3. Dried gypsum phacelia heads, 23 June 2012.

4. Purple gypsum phacelia growing around white sand verbenas in the far arroyo bottom, 9 May 2012.

5. Prairie hill, 19 July 2012, where sand verbenas had flourished in May.

6. Clammy weed seedlings in far arroyo bottom, 19 July 2012.

7. Bush morning glory blooming along the ranch road near the far arroyo, 27 June 2010.

8. Bush morning glory hole, 15 May 2011.

9. Bush morning glory’s regenerated stems, 19 June 2011.

10. Bush morning glory after someone returned, 3 July 2011.

11. Bush morning glory this week, 19 June 2011.

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