Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Plants

Weather: Warm afternoons, with some mornings below freezing; last rain 3/09/13; 12:32 hours of daylight today. Some snow still visible in far Jémez and Sangre de Cristo.

What’s blooming in the area: Forsythia, daffodils. Bradford pear, globe willow leafing.

Beyond the walls and fences: Siberian elm, alfilerillo, purple mustard. Male juniper has brown cones. New leaves on Apache plume, broom snakeweed, gumweed. Rice grass greening at base. Prickly pear pads greening. Pigweed coming up. Dead Russian thistles accumulated against fences and Siberian elm trunks.

In my yard: Apricot, hyacinth. Bradford pear buds expanding. Some roses leafing. First new leaves on snow-in-summer.

Known unknowns: Pink Bud emerging under chamisa in arroyo bottom.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Bee on apricot, fly in house. Harvester ants along road. Robins in Russian olive down the way.

Weekly update: The apricots instinctively have been fighting to reproduce. The first flush of flowers was killed last Sunday morning by the cold, but buds survived. A few open each day. If the night is cool, they too are killed. If morning temperatures stay above freezing, smaller, sometimes mutilated flowers open to attract bees.

Few trees in the area are brilliant white. More often, dying petals cast fading pink shadows on the outnumbered younger, whiter flowers.

They are an eternal Easter lesson in the persistence of life in the face of adversity in the arid southwest. The rituals began, so anthropologists say, as agrarian celebrations of the return of life in spring. To convert pagans, the early church gave their festivals a Christian meaning. Over two thousand years, interpretations have changed, but conflicts between the hierarchy and members’ instinctive responses to weather continue.

The United States’ absorption of this region into its territories in the middle nineteenth century sent French Jesuit priests to congregations that once had been Franciscan or Dominican. They had become independent when the new state of México expelled the Spanish priests.

The austere Jesuits found churches decorated with santos and Easter dominated by Penitentes. They purged the interiors and rebuilt the exteriors with twin bell towers. The Penitentes were channeled into the annual pilgrimage to Chimayó, once the church in Santa Fé gained ownership of the property in the 1920s.

Jesuits replaced Christ’s resurrection as the symbol of returning life, with the idea He promised eternal life. The one is represented by bulbs and deciduous flowering shrubs. The other by evergreens. Arborvitae fill the courtyard of the rebuilt church in Santa Cruz, leaving no alternative to the wanderer but to follow the straight path to the main door.

Even the church in Chimayó now has an allée of short arborvitae pointing to the entrance.

Thuja occidentalis is native to eastern Canada where the French Jesuits first landed. The Ojibwa/Chippewa in northern Michigan considered it the most useful tree in the forest. Smoke was used to purify sacred objects, leaves were used in sweat baths, and twigs were burned for incense to please Winabojo, the spirit boy who taught them to live on Earth. In 1918, Edwin Orin Wood described a circle of arborvitae that marked the boundaries of a ceremonial meeting center on Mackinac Island, the center of the French fur trade with the Ottawa.

I don’t know how the common name was applied to the tree, or how it became associated with Jesuit theology by French priests. The only evidence is the landscape. The one in Michigan where they tried to convert the Ottawa at the Straits of Mackinac, and the one in Española.

Since the early twentieth century, the church has changed. Irish fathers replaced the French, then more recent immigrants replaced the Irish. The newer Española Catholic church has a large, open plaza that alludes to popular images of Spain. Piñon grow near the church. Catalpas mark the edge of the paved from the realm of the wild.

When you approach from the street, the front wall is dominated by a tall, native evergreen. That’s still a symbol of life that survives the darkness of winter, but one that doesn’t require as much water as arborvitae.

It’s only when you get close you see someone has snuck in a forsythia, a shrub that blooms at Easter tide as a possible reminder of earlier celebrations of spring.

Since I’ve lived here the church has refurbished what were once whitewashed community churches with brown coatings to bring them into conformity with the current proper style as defined by Santa Fé decorators. If there ever were any plants growing within the walls, they’re gone. That may simply have been done to simplify maintenance when the priesthood was shrinking and the lives of congregants were dictated by jobs and not the cycles of farming.

In the village church, the grounds are dirt, with a path of modern pavers from the front gate to the entrance. Along the sides, people have planted a few rose bushes, probably some left over from the cheap ones sold in late spring by one of the hardware stores. They can be added anytime. Mass is only celebrated once a month in the evening, so the priest could be relied upon not to notice.

When I drove by this week, I found someone had added daffodils around the roses, bulbs that represent the older desire for color.

In one corner, near the irrigation ditch, were a few tree of heaven saplings. I don’t know if they were simply weeds that volunteered, or if someone made some connection between the tree’s Anglo name and religion. But, they were inside the walls, deliberately left by someone.

When I went by another neighborhood church, one much poorer than the one in the village, the grounds were barren. No paved path to the entrance. No wall marked the perimeter. A chain link fence separated it from neighbors’ houses.

In the back corner of the lot, where an irrigation ditch might once have flowed, there stood a few trees of heaven that hadn’t been cleared when the grounds were stripped. They may not represent eternal life, but they do signify life that cannot be destroyed.

The church nearer my house has fewer members, but each year some gather to clean the grounds. They’ve put in a path of pavers to the entrance, and graveled the grounds. Nothing is allowed to grow inside the low lava-stone walls.

More than a year ago, in late 2010, someone lined the path with plastic flowers, perhaps for a wedding.

When I went by this week, I discovered the recent cleaning party had finally removed them. Contrary to the fears of ecologists, in this climate plastic does not equal eternal life.

Moerman, Dan. Native American Ethnobotany, 1998, summarizes data from a number of ethnographies, including Melvin R. Gilmore, Some Chippewa Uses of Plants (1933) and Huron H. Smith, Ethnobotany of the Ojibwe Indians (1932).

Wood, Edwin Orin. Historic Mackinac, 1918.

1. Dying apricot flowers the day after temperatures went below freezing, 24 March 2013.

2. Apricot buds and flowers yesterday, 30 March 2013.

3. Santa Cruz Roman Catholic church entrance, 27 March 2013.

4. Chimayó Roman Catholic shrine entrance, 14 February 2012.

5. Española Roman Catholic church plaza, 27 March 2013.

6. Española Roman Catholic street face, 27 March 2013.

7. Española Roman Catholic church with forsythia blooming under the tall evergreen, 27 March 2013.

8. Local Roman Catholic chapel plaza; rose bushes can be seen against far wall, 27 March 2013.

9. Close up of rose bushes with daffodils blooming at local Roman Catholic chapel, 27 March 2013.

10. Trees of heaven on corner of local Roman Catholic chapel grounds, 27 March 2013.

11. Trees of heaven in the corner of the grounds of another Roman Catholic chapel, 27 March 2013.

12. Plaza of still another Roman Catholic chapel, 27 March 2013.

13. The same plaza a year ago, after someone planted plastic flowers, 11 January 2012.

14. Siberian elm blooming yesterday, 30 March 2013.

No comments: