Sunday, June 16, 2013


Weather: More heat, more winds; some sprinkles Friday; 14:37 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Dr. Huey and hybrid roses, daylilies, silver lace vine, Jupiter’s beard, bouncing Bess, purple salvia, blue flax, alfalfa, brome grass. First hay cut.

Beyond the walls and fences: Catalpa, trumpet creeper, tamarix, cholla cactus, scurf and sweet peas, wild licorice peaked, showy milkweed, purple mat flower, leather-leafed globe mallow, bindweed, greenleaf five-eyes, prairie white evening primrose, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, common dandelion, goat’s beard, Hopi tea, horsetail, rice grass.

In my yard, looking east: Snow-in-summer peaked, Bath pinks peaked, baby’s breath, pink evening primrose, winecup mallow.

Looking south: Rugosa, floribunda and miniature roses, oxalis.

Looking west: Johnson Blue geranium, Rumanian sage, catmints, purple and Husker’s red beardstongues, sea lavender, Shasta daisy; buds on ladybells.

Looking north: Golden spur columbine, Hartweig primrose, coreopsis, chocolate flowers, anthemis, yellow yarrow.

In the open, along the drive: Dutch clover, hollyhock, coral beardstongue, white yarrow, blanket flower, yellow, red and mixed Mexican hats.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, periwinkle, pansies, snapdragons, French marigolds.

Known unknowns: Native dandelion.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbit still eating morning glory seedlings, hummingbird, small brown birds, ladybug on squash leaf, small bees on alfalfa, catmint and chollas, cricket, grasshoppers, harvester and smaller ants.

Weekly update: Earlier this year, a friend recommended Sara Maitland’s From the Forest. Her starting point is the fairy tales of northern Europe and the British Isles usually are set in forests. Those forests weren’t primeval stands like the ones discovered on this continent. They were safe refuges that were extensions of civilized life where men like Snow White’s dwarfs could mine. Men cut wood for fuel and heat for a living.

The difference between the two kinds of forests, those shaped by humans and those essentially untouched, has been clear this week with men fighting fires in the Jémez and Sangre de Cristo. The Thompson Ridge and Tres Lagunas fires are burning in man-made environments. The Jaroso fire is not just in the Pecos Wilderness reserve; it is wilderness.

Thompson Ridge is easily described by the Forest Service. Once you knew the fire moved into the Valles Caldera National Preserve you knew where it was. Once you know the fuels are "grass, Ponderosa pine, brush, mixed conifer," you know the landscape. The land around the caldera is not primeval. It was logged, and grazed in the early twentieth century. A major road goes through. You’ve been there.

Similarly, Tres Lagunas is always described as being close to summer settlements around Holy Ghost Canyon. The woods are "ponderosa pine and mixed conifer." The area is like Maitland’s, logged and colonized by humans.

Both fires were started by lines carrying electricity to settlements. Both are in areas where fires have burned recently. Valles Caldera was singed by Las Conchas of 2011 and Cerro Grande in 2000. Tres Lagunas has been limited in one direction by the remains of the Viveash Fire of 2000. The first was caused by a power line, the second by a badly-timed controlled burn, the last had some human cause. These are human forests.

Cañon Jaroso is different. The Fire Service can’t quite tell you where it is. It either says "approximately six miles southeast of Borrego Mesa," or "T19N, R11E, Sec 1." Wednesday it noted it had "made runs towards the Rio Medio, Pecos Baldy and Trailriders Wall" and was eight to ten miles from places like "Ojo Sarco, Trampas, Peñasco, and El Valle." Friday the fire was "near Frijoles Canyon."

I finally found the canyon on the USGS map for the Pecos Falls quadrant. The stream feeds into the Pecos, and runs close to the watershed between the Rio Grande and the Pecos.  Frijoles and Medio are two of the three feeders of the Santa Cruz river that runs west. Apparently the fire’s burning along the divide, threatening the upper watercourses on both sides.

The fuels for this fire are described as: "mixed conifer, heavy dead and down fuels with pockets of bug-killed trees and 1,300 acres of downed timber caused by a wind event six years ago." That "wind event" since has been described as swirling winds that touched down or came through at 10,000'. I assume the bugs are bark beetles, though they haven’t said.

This is not a domesticated woodland. You can only get there by foot, or some off-road vehicle. Hikers and fishermen keep the trails clear. It may not be primeval: loggers and sheepmen went everywhere. One doesn’t expect to find trees 6' in diameter. But, it is wilder than the more easily accessible areas. It was started by lightening.

It will be harder to fight. Firefighter’s tools were made for protecting human settlements on comparatively moderate terrain. On a mountain divide, there are no areas where a dozer can create fire breaks. The canyons are too narrow for the larger water tankers. The heat is so intense, they can’t get infrared readings on its extent. So far, the firefighters have been forced by winds and high temperatures to watch knowing, as we learned in the Las Conchas fire, a blaze can easily cover ten miles when it’s out of control.

The effects of the Thompson Ridge Fire are immediate. Early, when the smoke still was white and the winds came from the southwest, it blew this way.

When the fire fighters were active with suppressants and controlled burns, the smoke rose and lingered over head. At sunset, the sky turned pink with light reflected from the sun.

Now, while everyone waits for a drenching rain, it’s settled into a daily routine. Low bands of smoke in the morning rise and diffuse in the afternoon. Storms may pass through, after winds and heat have interacted with the fires as far away as Silver City. If nothing disperses it, the smoke traps the day’s heat in the night.

When it finally burns itself out, the ash and chemicals will finally settle. That’s good for those native plants that need smoke, and less good for those of us with lungs.

The Tres Lagunas fire only affects me when its smoke joins the general canopy. While I can see it in town, it’s just visible on the horizon where I live. It’s too far away to reach me. It’s no different than the annual fires in eastern Arizona.

The Jaroso fire may be farther away, but it has the greatest potential for damage. Right now, they’re waiting for the fire to leave the wilderness and enter land where they know what to do. In the meantime, they’re identifying the available sources of water. If they tap the headwaters of the Santa Cruz dam, they may do a favor for the people who depend on it for irrigation. The rivers will be contaminated by ash and may eventually contain fire suppressants. Better to have it fight the fires than come downstream, even if it exacerbates the effects of the drought.

The real problem is what will happen with the monsoons when water washes over heat-glazed soil, or next winter when snow accumulation and melting is altered. If the terrain is too difficult for fire fighters, one wonders how humans can get there to remediate it.

From a tame forest you can draw morals about the sagacity of controlled burns to manage underbrush, and wonder why Valles Grande and woodsmen in the Sangre didn’t take more proactive steps to protect their land.

Cañon Jaroso reminds you of the insignificance of human action when the natural elements are active. It never was the land of Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, or Hansel and Gretel. It’s become the world of Mediterranean artists who painted scenes of damnation with skies colored by volcanic ash. It could be Dante’s Inferno.

Notes: Maitland’s 2012 book is interesting. Unfortunately for me, she spends more time describing her reactions to the forests she visits than she does to actually saying anything about the woodlands. Likewise, instead of analyzing the Grimm brother’s tales, she publishes her own versions. She finally concludes, "you cannot learn about stories or woods by reading books about stories or woods" (p317).

Comments on the fires from an interagency web site, New Mexico Fire Information, at

1. Rio Frijoles before the Santa Cruz dam, 16 February 2012. It still is in the juniper belt, not the mixed conifers where the fire is burning. Higher mountains are just visible at the back right. The river is marked by the red of the sandbar willows snaking through the fields.

The Daily Routine
2. Jémez, yesterday, 15 June 2013, at 5:45 am. Smoke lies on the western horizon at dawn. Electric lines run everywhere.

3. Jémez, yesterday, 15 June 2013, at 10:00 am. The first clouds appear on the western horizon in mid-morning.

4. Jémez, yesterday, 15 June 2013, at 12:30 pm. By noon, clouds increase over the western horizon.

5. Jémez, yesterday, 15 June 2013, at 6:15 pm. Late in the afternoon, clouds cover the sinking sun, the white space the camera can’t capture. Rain may be falling somewhere.

6. Jémez, yesterday, 15 June 2013, at 6:50 pm. The winds begin in Los Alamos at 6:30 pm and gust to 32 mph by 7 pm, when they begin here. No rain falls.

7. Jémez, yesterday, 15 June 2013, at 7:40 pm. The sun sinks with heavy clouds that will trap the heat and smoke of the day.

History of the Fire
8. Jémez, the day the Thompson Ridge fire began, 31 May 2013, at 6:50 pm.

9. Jémez, 3 June 2013, at 6:15 pm. This was described as a day with "unstable conditions" and "extreme fire behavior." Conditions still weren’t safe for the firefighters to work.

10. Sangre de Cristo in background, 13 June 2013 at 4:40 pm. Tres Lagunas is still burning and Jaroso began a few days before on June 10.

11. Rio Medio just before it joins the Rio Frijoles, 24 February 2012.

12. Jémez, 4 June 2013, at 6:45 pm. Another day of high winds and "extreme fire behavior." The weather improved the next day. Hurricane Andrea developed on the sixth. The fire became tamable.

13. Jémez, yesterday, 15 June 2013, at 8:20 pm. It’s in black-and-white, because the camera’s infrared filter distorts the colors too much at this time of day.  The grays become blues, and things really are shades of gray in the dying light.

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