Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Earth

Weather: High winds early in the week, temperatures below freezing Wednesday; last rain 4/09/13; 13:38 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Few apples or crab apples, first lilacs, tulips.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo, hoary cress, western stickseed, tawny and bractless cryptanthas, purple mat flower, common and native dandelions. Virginia creeper leafing. Siberian elm seedlings coming up everywhere.

In my yard: Siberian pea tree, grape hyacinth, vinca, oxalis. Spirea in bud.

Known unknowns: Pink bud.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds, gecko, bees, ladybugs on peach, harvester and smaller ants. Probably aphids somewhere if there are ladybugs.

Weekly update: They call the soil hereabouts sandy loam. When you ask what that means, you get that look older brothers reserve for younger when things are too obvious to explain, and too complicated.

It’s some mix of sand, silt and clay. Most likely equal parts. Maybe created during the glacial age. Sand is the ground remains of quartz. Clay the remains of rocks weathered by carbonic acid, that is carbon dioxide in water in the cold. Silt is ground feldspar and quartz that’s midway between clay and sand in size, and easily blown by the wind.

All created by the breakdown of mountains, all some kind of silicate, which I only recognize as quartz. The clay is the part that holds water, sand the part that drains.

When I walked out to the far arroyo last Sunday, a week or so after the last very high winds and before Tuesday’s, my first view was sand everywhere, collecting, burying whatever obstructed its path. When I stuck down a stick, it went 1.5" before hitting something solid. The footprints were not lying.

I suspect the drying airs have pulled so much water from the soil, the clays have taken flight, and possibly the silts. The surface is littered with tiny pieces of quartz that gleam in the light. What’s heavy is what remains.

It’s nothing new. Every dry year segregates the soils a bit. Every wet year deposits organic matter and activates the soil creating crust bacteria. More dry years than wet, and arroyos turn to sand. More wet years than, dry, the land is rebuilt.

The plants that can find water are doing well. The chamisa in the bottom is leafing at a faster rate that the bright green stems on the banks.

Its low branches trap its dead leaves which shield the moisture from the sun. It’s roots reach down far enough to reach the still good soils and water. It roots in wet seasons, like last spring, and survives the dry.

Others are struggling. The tawny cryptantha is blooming in places in the arroyo near banks where water drips or washes, where shadows hold it and wind currents are deflected. It is not blooming in its usual places on the prairie yet.

The gypsum phacelia is up near the Russian olive, but the plants are still short. There are few this year under the tree. The ones ready to bolt are growing near chamisa.

The pink buds are coming into bloom. They only grow on the upstream sides of two chamisa. I don’t know if that’s because the south sides get more water or more heat. After all, I still don’t know what they are, just where to find them.

Notes: Information on soil from Wikipedia.

1. Pink bud, species unknown, 26 April 2013.

2. Ladybugs on peach bough, 27 April 2013.

3. Far arroyo bottom, 21 April 2013.

4. Far arroyo sand, 21 April 2013. Green leaves are gypsum phacelia. Shadows are black grama grass.

5. Far arroyo bottom, 26 April 2013. Tamarix trailed by established chamisa shrubs and young plants. Tamarix is growing where it gets extra water from the gully to the right.

6. Chamisa growing along the upper bank of the far arroyo, 21 April 2013.

7. Young chamisa plants in far arroyo, 21 April 2013.

8. Tawny cryptantha dusted with arroyo sand, far arroyo, 21 April 2013.

9. Gypsum phacelia in far arroyo bottom, 21 April 2013.

10. Pink bud, 17 April 2013.

11. Far arroyo where ranch road crosses, 26 April 2013.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rocks and Roots

Weather: Intermittent high winds; last rain 4/09/13; 13:10 hours of daylight today.

Cold temperatures Friday morning destroyed the flowers on my apple trees, purple-leafed plum, and purple-leafed sand cherry.

What’s blooming in the area: Apples, crab apples, forsythia, daffodils, tulips. Leaves emerging on silver lace vine.

Ditches flowing.

Beyond the walls and fences: Siberian elm, alfilerillo, western stickseed, purple mat flower, common and native dandelions.

In my yard: Sand cherry still fragrant. Buds on Bath pinks, lilacs, vinca. Leaves emerging on apricot, snowball, forsythia, and weigela. Blue flax, sea lavender, catmints, Saint John’s wort, baptisia, Shasta daisy and Maximilian sunflower breaking ground.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, bees on sand cherries, small brown birds, harvester and smaller ants, first grasshopper of the season.

Weekly update: A year ago, the sand verbena were getting ready to bloom. By July, the heat and drought had returned. The grasses hadn’t revived. There was no way I would have known this area had so recently bloomed.

A month ago I was walking along the side of the verbena hill, when I thought there was more gravel on the path than I remembered.

That was the first time I realized the wind was as important as the frost in exposing what lay beneath the surface.

Intellectually, I knew the ground where I was walking was a layer cake that alternated tiers of sand with ones of pebbles washed down from the Peñasco embayment. I could see the strata in the arroyo a few feet away.

I also knew from Wikipedia the taproots of Abronia fragrans could reach down anywhere from 7" to 3'. The surrounding grasses tend to concentrate their root mass in the top 6" of soil. Although needle grass roots may reach deeper, the ones in my yard are shallow.

I simply never connected the details. Someone, I kept my midwestern image that vegetation was a thatch more dependent on the topsoil than on what lay beneath.

It did not occur to me that maybe the reason that area was more fertile than the one ten feet away was that it had more gravel at the right level to retain water for the roots of the verbena, and, perhaps not enough to support the grasses in arid times.

1. Sand verbena blooming on the prairie last spring, 9 May 2012.

2. Santo Domingo basin with white clouds hanging low against the surrounding hills and a line of light colored dust at the horizon.

3. Same sand verbena growing area last summer, 19 July 2013.

4. Path near the sand verbena growing area a month ago, 29 March 2013.

5. Arroyo walls a bit upstream from the sand verbena area, 27 January 2013.

6. Thatch of grass growing on lava on La Bajada hill top last week, 15 April 2013.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring Storms

Weather: Rain, followed by water sucking wind; last rain 4/09/13; 13:01 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Bradford pears, peaches, crab apples, forsythia, daffodils. Apples, plum leafing.

Beyond the walls and fences: Siberian elm, alfilerillo, western stickseed, dandelions. Russian olive leafing, scurf pea emerging.

In my yard: Sand cherry fragrant, Lapins cherry, puschkinia. Peach, apricot, rugosa rose, Siberian pea, privet, beauty bush, Souixland cottonwood leafing. Autumn Joy sedum, David phlox emerging.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Robins near the village, quail down the road, bees on the peach and sand cherries. Small brown birds, harvester and smaller ants.

Weekly update: Two years ago was a dry year that killed the tops of bunch grasses. Last winter was wet, but the weather turned hostile in late spring. The grasses haven’t recover. Airborne bits of broken Russian thistle settled into loosened beach soils between clumps. Before they wouldn’t have been able to pierce the hardened surface.

This past winter was dry, and little has greened on unsettled lands.

My neighbors have responded with fears of fire, and cleared all the dead matter they can. The barren soil is more open to the weeds they hate. Pigweeds already are germinating. Siberian elm seeds are accumulating.

On the west, my neighbor’s drive separates the wild land from the civilized. Years ago, he sodded the one and planted arborvitae and yuccas. A single Siberian elm served as the focus and shade center.

For some reason, he stopped watering the grass after a few summers. It and the yuccas died. Late summer, he’d have someone mow the perimeter, but otherwise left the natural plants.

This year, he had someone come with a blade the middle of March. It wasn’t clear if he was simply leveling the drive, or clearing more of the natural land, especially in back. It looks like everything that may have died has been removed.

High winds were forecast Monday. They began before 9:30 in the morning. By 2:30, the furnace cap on my roof was rattling. At 3:30, the sky toward the Jémez was gray with dust. The mountains were dim shadows. The winds in Los Alamos were reaching 35 mph and gusting to 37 in Santa Fé.

My neighbor’s arborvitae were rippling. Occasionally, a gust would pick up dirt from his back yard and move it north through the front. Sometimes, it was from the left of his house. Sometimes from the right.

The winds slowed around 6:30. The sky to the north turned blue. The clouds were white. The bad lands reappeared.

A few minutes later the clouds began thickening. Winds in Los Alamos reached 40 miles an hour. Ten minutes later the winds arrived here.

They weren’t constant. In two minutes, they slowed and visibility increased.

A minute later, they came harder.

The dust rolled into the road, where cars had turned on their lights when they passed other houses with loose dirt. Above the winds, the skies were as blue as they’d been five minutes before.

The dust was localized. I was taking pictures in my drive, buffeted by the winds. No sand was threatening my eyes. My mouth gathered no girt. The nearby globe willow, shown at the top, was being battered, but it wasn’t being sand blasted.

It’s easy to be smug, and think, oh, if only my neighbors didn’t scrape their soil, it wouldn’t blow away. But, a few days earlier, I noticed rusty nails and bits of glass on the east side of my house. I usually think those relics of construction result from winter heaving. But, there wasn’t enough water in the ground this year to freeze and thaw. These were uncovered by the wind.

I went out after the storm, and they looked more exposed. The wind is taking the soil everywhere. It’s just more obvious when man abets the process.

Photographs: Periodically I synchronize my camera with my computer clock. The times below may not match Greenwich exactly, but they are valid relative to each other.

1. Globe willow directly across from my neighbor’s Siberian elm, 8 April 2013, at 6:42pm.

2. Field down the road, 30 March 2013. The rust spots are last year’s Russian thistles. The charcoal clumps are bunch grass, probably needle grass. The water path has glazed over, and water now skims the top. The soil at the front has turned to sand.

3. My neighbor’s yard, 20 May 2007, when he was watering his grass with a hose every day.

4. My neighbor’s yard, 27 September 2009, after he stopped daily hand watering.

5. My neighbor’s yard, 8 April 2013, 4:41pm.

6. My neighbor’s back yard, 8 April 2013, 4:50pm.

7. My neighbor’s yard, 8 April 2013, 6:41pm.

8. My neighbor’s yard, 8 April 2013, 6:43pm.

9. My neighbor’s yard, 8 April 2013, 6:44pm.

10. Road at the turn into my drive, 8 April, 6:45pm.

11. Nails and broken glass by my house, 7 April 2013.

12. Same nails and broken glass, 10 April 2013.

13. My neighbor’s yard after the storm, 12 April 2013.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

More Easter Plants

Weather: Afternoons in the 70s; last rain 3/09/13; 12:51 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Bradford pear, peach, crab apples, forsythia.

Beyond the walls and fences: Siberian elm, alfilerillo, western stickseed, dandelions. White sweet clover coming up. Sandbar willow losing its redness.

In my yard: Sand cherry, puschkinia. Buds emerging on lilacs. Spirea, ladybells, yellow yarrow leafing. Peony, Maltese cross breaking ground.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, petunia.

Animal sightings: Robin in cottonwood, bees around peach, ladybug, harvester and smaller ants.

Weekly update: The Puritans in England signified their break with the Roman Catholic church by eschewing all decorative arts and symbols associated with church buildings. A plain meeting house was their ideal.

John Wesley broke with the Calvinists, not over aesthetics, but predestination which limited possible converts to those already saved. When predestination no longer defined the saved, then community opinion based on how one comported oneself, those who lived as if they were saved, prevailed.

Methodist church exterior architecture in this country has no theological underpinning. Governing boards aren’t interested in symbolizing their beliefs in God, but in affirming their positions in local societies as representatives of the most godly. Whatever is considered good taste by the elite must be used as the most appropriate.

When they were building their first institutions here in Española, contemporary Eastern mores meant a tree-shaded campus. They had to adapt to the climate, and used evergreens along the irrigation ditch.

The newer church is located away from the ditches, and has bits of everything. There’s a formal rose garden, a low deciduous hedge around the parking lot, and foundation evergreens along a windowless wall. In the early 1950s, the evergreens meant we understand Japanese landscaping principles. Today they indicate we understand the needs of the five-minute gardener. Neither signal more than this is a proper suburban institution.

Near the church entrance, someone planted daffodils which were blooming last week as members entered for Easter services. They may have meant more, or been what one does.

The Mormons who settled Fairview developed symbolic associations with desert plants. A landscaper has laid out the grounds, perhaps a volunteer member. The plants are almost all evergreens, those symbols of enduring life. But, they added several yucca species to the pines.

Theirs is a garden on Earth, carved out of the arid wilderness. The other large nineteenth century American denominations vary by circumstances. Local Jehovah’s Witnesses built on a sharply falling site. They planted a low, deciduous hedge at ground level to keep people from slipping over the edge. Below, they planted a row of evergreens that now reach the upper level.

It’s impossible to know how much the landscape was dictated by practical demands and how much by theology, but they could have used walls or rails if all they cared about was public safety.

With the Adventists, the limits are obvious. They are renting a building that once was a bank with a row of roses along the street. And not any roses. Hybrid tea roses local women watered in summer when the building was vacant. All the church can do is add a cross, but that’s all that’s needed for a Protestant church that renounced external, Roman excesses.  The rest shows that like the Spanish Protestants who evaded the Inquisition, they can blend into their environment without drawing undue attention to themselves.

The local megachurch has a different situation. Its complex was once a motel with landscaped grounds. Unlike the English Puritans, the church has torn nothing out. The pruned plants are kept pruned, the natives kept within bounds.

Unlike the Methodists and Mormons who draw their congregations from people who already are members, this church must convince local, probably nominal, Roman Catholics to change their allegiance. Near the entrance, the church has installed two arborvitae. They suggest that once the arborvitae was planted by the Santa Cruz church, the tree became the local symbol for an appropriate entrance.

In the area I live, arborvitae are planted everywhere near entrances of houses or in tall hedges that hide the fronts of homes from the road. When another smaller church rented an empty building, it already had a row of arborvitae on the main road, because that is what one does. It also had a row of flowering crab apples on the other side, again because that’s what one does, though one usually plants fertile apples rather than sterile flowering ones.

To know what local links exist between Easter-blooming plants and religion one has to look at the few smaller churches that control their buildings. One has planted deciduous trees along the road and evergreens near the building, with a few shrubs. If anything, they look like they inherited the view of the Methodists, along with their theology, with one crucial cultural difference. The Methodists invite members into the world to which they aspire. This brings them into one where they already are comfortable.

But that other church with the barren site. On the other side, someone stuck an apricot pit in the ground near a wall. For Easter, it was reaching out for the sun to produce what flowers it could in the cold. Apricots are the one enduring symbol of spring and communal life in this area.

Notes: For more on the local, symbolic importance of apricots see posting for 25 March 2007.

1. Sand cherry, 3 April 2013.

2. Dandelion, 4 April 2013.

3. Española church, 27 March 2013.

4. Methodist school grounds, 27 March 2013.

5. New Methodist church grounds, 27 March 2013.

6. Daffodils at new Methodist church before Easter, 27 March 2013.

7. Mormon church grounds, 27 March 2013.

8. Jehovah’s Witnesses church grounds, 27 March 2013.

9. Old bank rented to church ground, 27 March 2013.

10. Local megachurch grounds, 27 March 2013.

11. Local megachurch entrance, 27 March 2013.

12. Building rented by local church a few days before Easter, 27 March 2013. Arborvitae at end.

13. Local church grounds, 27 March 2013.

14. Grounds of local church shown in #1 the week before Easter, from the other side; 28 March 2013.

15. Profusion crab apple leaves, 1 April 2013.