Sunday, March 30, 2014


Weather: High winds keep blowing Russian thistles into the yard; last rain 3/16/14.

The seasons of drought have taken their toll on pines and other evergreens. The Douglas spruce in the village died this winter. Elsewhere, there are dead trees waiting to be taken down.

What’s blooming in the area: Flowering quince, forsythia, daffodils.

I never know if my neighbors’ pink and white flowered trees are ornamental crabs or fruit bearing apricots and peaches. Right now, when all are blooming, I guess the first if the tree is solitary, the second if there are at least two. Even so, many grow only one apricot, because there are so many they needn’t worry about a pollinator.

Bradford and Callery pears are too narrow to be mistaken for crab apples or apricots, but I have not idea which is which when I’m driving by.

Beyond the walls and fences: Bright green Siberian elms, alfilerillo, western stickseed, purple and tansy mustards, dandelions.

In my yard: Choke cherries leafing, tansy coming up, lilac leaves emerging.

Animal sightings: Small birds making more noise. Insect with long narrow black body, horizontally striped with chartreuse on the Bradford pear flower.

Weekly update: It takes time to recover from a catastrophe. The winter of 2010 was hard on forsythia. It stayed wet late, so shrubs hadn’t hardened properly when temperatures fell down to 6 after a snow in late December. What had been the rambling shrub above produced only a few flowering stems.

The next year was the year of the power outage when temperatures were below zero in February. The next two years the warming sun lured out flowers, then blasted them with cold temperatures

I didn’t do much the first two years. I thought nature was wiser than I. After all, our current form of Forsythia Intermedia began as an 1878 seedling in a botanical park in Göttingen that was hardier than its Chinese parents.

I did reroute hoses to send more water to its roots in late summer when it’s forming the leaf and flower buds that open the following spring. However, the surrounding Siberian peas also benefitted. They got so tall, the shrub was forced to lunge for the sun.

This year, it’s almost back to normal.

Forsythia is not a tree with a single trunk.

It is more like a copse with many stems rising from the roots.

When one stem dies, others can still produce the necessary chlorophyll. It didn’t matter that I didn’t get around to removing dead wood until last summer. People with shaped hedges faced greater challenges.

I don’t care where a new stem rises. When a hedge is shaped, the new growth has to come within the form, and that may take longer to happen.

When the shrubs are growing with evergreens or in mixed borders, the affects are less obvious.

Like my Siberian peas, other shrubs may fill an opening.

If the primary purpose of the hedge is to provide a natural barrier, the flowering may not even matter. Dead wood is as effective as live.

But, of course, the reason for using forsythia, rather than cropping elms or trees of heaven, is the yellow can be magnificent when it filters the sun.

1. Area forsythia with cottonwoods and weeping willows, on a ditch, 26 March 2014.

2-5. My forsythia in 2007, 2010, 2012 and this year.

6. Area forsythia trained to tree shape, with the stems tied together; 26 March 2014.

7. Base of my forsythia, 28 March 2014.

8-9. Area hedge, on a ditch, 2008 and this year.

10-11. Area hedge with evergreens, on a buried ditch, 2009 and this year.

12. Area hedge, on a ditch, 26 March 2014.

13. My forsythia, 28 March 2014.

14. Local forsythia with cottonwoods and globe willows, near a river, 26 March 2014.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Annual Grama Grass

Weather: On Friday, relative humidity was down to 3% in Los Alamos and 9% in Santa Fé. Last rain 3/16/14.

What’s blooming in the area: Forsythia flowers sparse; alfalfa emerging.

They’ve applied the color coat to the block wall and installed an ornate double gate.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo is open by noon most days, tansy mustard. Stick leaf and gypsum phacelia have emerged. Apache plume is leafing. Needle and rice grasses are greening. Crust has been active in one area of the prairie, and the moss is in the brown phase.

Tahoka daisy stems apparently get brittle when they dry. They’ve been breaking off in the winds. Seedlings are germinating in the cleared areas where they grew last year.

Russian thistle corpses are everywhere, filling gullies and covering shrubs and cacti.

In my yard: Privet and most roses leafing, peaches poised to bloom, tulips up.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: This past February I noticed the colors on the prairie had changed. It had snowed the week before. Now the flat areas I could see out the back window were lime green, rather the shade of aged mulch sprayed along the highway.

Friday, when I walked the prairie for the first time this year, I saw strings laying along the ground.

In mass, there are what I saw in February.

I didn’t recognize the grass from a distance because the ones in my driveway have not faded as much. Some are more upright and still retain parts of the their seed heads. They happen to have grown near the peach, which apparently protected the patch from blanketing snow.

It’s the annual form of grama grass that germinates soon after the monsoons have soaked the ground. Last year I noticed the grass blooming in my drive July 31, but it didn’t show much in the grasslands until the end of August. In 2012 it was July 27 when I noticed in, in 2011 it wasn’t until September 11.

When six-week grama germinated on the prairie last year in early August, the blades were short and bright green.

It was blooming in my drive by mid-August, but wasn’t in seed on the prairie until mid-September.

By then, the bright color had turned to bronze from a distance.

Bouteloua barbata isn’t considered good forage because the stalks remain low and don’t cure well. By late winter, it does contain small amounts of protein, calcium and phosphorous, perhaps too small to regenerate the soil.

Instead, the annual grama’s ecological importance may lie in its lying down. It only germinates where there is water. No water, no grass.

When the southwestern desert native goes prostrate in spring, it prevents the underlying soil, and its own seed, from blowing in the wind. It thus may help keep fertile soils that have become fertile, and protect ones that are healing from the drought.

1-3. Tahoka daisies in my yard, 23 March 2014.

4-5. Six-week grama on the prairie, 20 March 2014.

6. Six-week grama in my drive, 23 March 2014.

7. Six-week grama on the prairie, 3 August 2013.

8-10. Six-week grama on the prairie, 21 September 2013.

11. Six-week grama on the prairie, 20 March 2014.

12. Six-week grama in my drive, 18 August 2013.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Enduring Stones

Weather: Rain Friday, winds with some water Saturday. Ground friable Saturday morning.

No apricots this year. The trees started blooming Wednesday when afternoon temperatures rose to the fifties. The early mornings were in the twenties. The whitest flowers were on the trees nearest the village. Most turned dark.

What’s blooming in the area: Forsythia is ready to bloom near the village. Japanese honeysuckle leaves greener. Globe willows brighter green. Daffodil leaves coming up.

Men have been cleaning their lateral ditches, the ones that actually deliver them their water from the main ditches.

People have been flooding their fields every chance they get, even though the water doesn’t sink into the ground quickly. That seems especially true of water run in mid-afternoon, that sits overnight in the cold air and sometimes skims with ice. I suppose men want to let water sink deep, so the sun and dry air can pull it up through the roots in summer.

Beyond the walls and fences: Alfilerillo blooming in my drive, small purple mustard outside my doctor’s Española office. Probably some tansy mustard is blooming along the shoulders. Saltbushes leafing, yellow evening primrose and western stick seeds up, cheat and June grasses growing.

Russian thistles and pigweed have been on the move for weeks. They’ve been coming over the tops of my six foot fence from every direction.

In my yard: Tulip and bearded iris leaves coming up. Garlic and grape hyacinths never disappeared. Chrysanthemum and bouncing Bess have broken ground; snow-in-summer has new leaves; hollyhocks and vinca have some green leaves.

Flowering crab apple and potentilla are leafing. Fernbush has leafed. Other members of the rose family have active leaf buds, including peaches, Bradford pear, sandcherries, and roses. Lilac buds, in the olive family, have fattened into turbans, with green beginning to show in some.

Animal sightings: small birds.

Weekly update: Walls and fences have three predators.

Nature doesn’t affect granite or lava rocks much, at least in the horizon of human lives. In England, they date walls by the generations lichens on them.

Dry air does suck water out of limestone, which dries stuccos. It also dries water-based paints, stains and dyes, fading colors. Restuccoing and resurfacing have to be done.

Winds vibrate joints, so metal fasteners work loose and joints fail. Nails and screws have to be replaced. Bolts have to be inspected. Posts work loose and need to be reset.

Rain rusts untreated barbed wire. It has to be replaced. However, the rustier it gets, the more dangerous its scratches.

Fence posts and coyote poles last better than boards. There’s less exposed surface for bacteria to attach. Bark and outer dead wood in tree branches protect the interior. When that’s removed, the deterioration of the exposed surface is accelerated until nature produces a new protective coat.

The second predator is drunks, tired drivers, people with vehicles too big to handle. The excuses vary. Many have internalized a version of Rock, Scissors, Paper. They know a rock wall can seriously damage their truck or them. But, all a wire fence can do is scratch.

Stucco depends. It’s safe to brush against it, but not to confront it. Walls, fences have to be rebuilt.

The newest predators are teens with spray cans. They like smooth surfaces. Stucco

and wood fences get hit the most. It’s impossible to spray barbed wire. Rough surfaces, like rock and coyote are left alone.

It seems, the more work it takes to build a barrier, the longer it lasts and less maintenance it needs. Things made by man, boards and nails, don’t endure the way nature's trees and rocks do.

Man destroys things made by man. Nature protects things made by nature.

Photographs: Most photographs taken in the past few years in the immediate area.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Weather: Rain Friday.

The ditches started running Thursday.  Ditch leaders are warning, they “are preparing for a dry summer.”  People are told if they plant a garden, they may not get water when they need it this summer.  The association “may have to alternate weeks to water. Row Crops can not make it longer than 7 to 10 days.”

What’s blooming in the area: The winter was so mild, no one pruned his apple trees in January.  This past week, I saw a man with very long-handled clippers racing against time.  Another had a crew removing the tops of his trees.  All that remained Friday were the trunks and main limbs, and lots of brush on the ground.

Beyond the walls and fences: A tumble mustard, about an inch high, was blooming Friday across the road from the Santa Cruz church.  Everywhere, tansy mustard is getting taller and bushier.  Alfilerillo continues to sprout in my drive.  Some cheeses were up by the tumble mustard.

In my yard: So far, nothing has broken ground.  Perhaps established plants have learned to be wary of false springs.

Animal sightings: Chickadee.

Weekly update: The man building the coyote fence down the road has done nothing since the weather turned cold.  The men working on the block walk finished the first coat of stucco.  The footing ditch hasn’t been filled yet.  One stood in it to work.  It made it easy to work the base of the wall.

Neither the fence nor the wall is connected yet to the wire fences on the sides of the property.  A thief or animal can still walk around.

The concern is less with knowledgeable crooks, than with people driving through.  With so many houses in old neighborhoods leased by surviving children or grandchildren, one is never sure where a drug dealer or desperately poor teen may live. 

A wall built for one reason may be redeployed for another. The increased fear of outsiders may be behind raising some with coyote or board fences.  That’s easier than adding height to an existing stone or adobe wall.

One things that’s interesting are the walls that span the fronts of several houses.  At one time, I thought neighbors might have cooperated to hire a wall builder.

One of my neighbors has a son who lives in the next house.  They built a single bark board fence around the sides and front of their land.

I suspect more often, the property has been subdivided after the wall was built.  It’s impossible to know the original homestead configuration.  The original buildings may have been adobe.  The newer double-wides are as likely the homes of the landowners as the block houses.

If that is true, these extended walls may record the amount of irrigated land a man needed to support a family in the 1930s.  Ditches run along the backs or fronts.  Laws of gravity say the water will only flow so far.  Men may have owned land beyond the reach of water, but it probably was used for outbuildings and livestock.  The depth of land didn’t matter, only the width served by a ditch.

For some, a wall may be a silent message that they exist, that they have achieved something marked by their boundary.  For others, it may be a warning against trespassers, more effective than barking dogs.

For me, they are messages from a past that has not passed.

Photographs: Most photographs taken in the past few years in the immediate area.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Iron Work

Weather: Rain over the weekend..

What’s still green: Juniper and other evergreens, prickly pear; leaves on German iris, yuccas, garlic, hollyhocks, winecup mallow, Saint John’s wort, vinca, coral bells, tansy mustard, alfilerillo, cheat grass; some rose stems green; apricot buds fattening; fern bushes leafing.  The other shrubs and trees I plant the past two years around my drive seem to have survived the winter.

What’s red: Cholla, coral beardtongue leaves, some rose stems.

What’s grey or blue: Four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, pinks, golden hairy aster leaves.

What’s yellow or brown: Arborvitae.

What’s blooming inside:  Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: More house flies hatched.

Weekly update: The block work is done on the local village wall and the stuccoing has begun.  First they ran two large metal pipes between the columns.  They probably will support coyote fencing, but could support iron work.

People here like to top their stone walls with iron.  They rarely settle for something utilitarian.

Iron work is used, even when there are no columns to support it.

Some are high 

but most are low

While some look like people adapted fencing they could buy easily, others must be the work of skilled craftsmen 

with imaginations as well as tools.
Photographs: Most photographs taken in the past few years in the immediate area.