Sunday, June 08, 2014


Weather: Afternoon winds during the week; rain with some hail late yesterday.

What’s blooming in the area: Catalpa, Dr Huey, pink species and hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, silver lace vine, broad leaf yucca, red hot poker, chives, peony, datura, oriental poppy, larkspur, Jupiter’s beard, golden spur columbine, pink evening primrose, blue flax, alfalfa, sweet pea, purple-flowered salvia, Shasta daisy, yellow yarrow, Brome grass.

Vegetable patches have been plowed and, presumably, planted. First brome grass hay cut.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, alfilerillo, western stickseed, bractless cryptantha, tumble mustard, tufted white evening primrose, purple mat flower, fern leaf globemallow, oxalis, stick leaf, pink and white bindweed, yellow sweet clover, showy milkweed, amaranth, goat’s beard, native and common dandelions, plains paper flowers, cheat, feather, and rice grasses; needle grass seeds twisting and releasing.

In my yard: Privet, beauty bush, skunkbush, Johnson’s Blue geranium, Bath pinks, snow-in-summer, vinca, pink-flowered salvia, Rumanian sage, catmint, Dutch white clover, winecup mallow, coral bell, California poppy, chocolate flower, blanket flower, white yarrow.

Bedding plants: Pansies, snapdragon, French marigold.

Animal sightings: Tan snake with dark markings, geckos, hummingbird on oriental poppy, other small birds, cabbage butterfly, darning needle, ladybugs, lots of baby grasshoppers, harvester and small black ants. I’ve seen an occasional bumble bee, but no smaller ones.

Weekly update: The plagues of Exodus are no metaphor when prolonged drought blights the land.

Instead of doing anything productive this year, I’ve been spending my time coping with consequences. When the winds began, I could do nothing without first confronting Russian thistles. They blew against the gate. Before I could go to the post office, I had to remove debris. Whenever I walked out to check the progress of spring, I spent more time removing thorny carcasses from my paths than I did taking pictures. Then, I spent time removing flesh-colored fragments from my fingers.

When I finally did clean a narrow strip along the drive, I had to be cautious. Shattered bits of thistle were hidden in the grasses.

When I began clearing my main bed this week I discovered the aphids had spread. The area was too large to manage with a hand sprayer. My wrist can only do so many squeezes before the muscles tighten.

I bought a premixed insecticide that can be applied with a hose. The peach is 10 feet high, the bed eight feet wide the length of the house. Afterwards, I couldn’t weed because I didn’t want to sit on the ground with my face below the level of the highest columbine flowers.

I sprayed Thursday. Yesterday, after weeks of high winds and low humidity, it rained. Any residual effects have been washed to the ground, making it more dangerous to weed without further protection against the next generation of insects.

And now there are grasshoppers everywhere. Before I went to the store, I looked up grasshopper control on the web. I was hoping whatever I bought for the aphids might also do something about them.

Instead, I discovered we’re in the midst of a population explosion caused by the warm, dry winter that didn’t kill the eggs laid during last fall’s rains. The experts say there’s nothing to do, except cover your plants and wait it out.

That is not that attitude that built the west. That is a consequence of the prolonged attacks on bureaucrats. Too many years of low budgets and hiring freezes have shifted the hiring pool. As the best have rejected government employment for offers with more security and better pay, others take their place. The timid have learned no action is better than anything that attracts negative notice.

After the Cerro Grande fire threatened Los Alamos, the Forest Service didn’t do controlled burns that might have prevented Las Conchas and last year’s fires. Now, decades after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the Bernalillo County Extension Office claims "spraying insecticide will be ineffective and will cause more harm than good."

The state agriculture department has "determined that this is a homeowners’ issue rather than an agricultural," and therefore it doesn’t need to do anything.

There are things they can do. The way to control grasshoppers is to destroy their eggs and larvae. The weather service has found them flying into Albuquerque every night in swarms large enough to appear on radar. Has any one gone searching for where they are hatching?

All I’ve seen on the internet are anecdotal comments. One man, identified as a local meteorologist, followed the radar paths out to Albuquerque’s West Mesa. Chuck Jones said, "As soon as you walk toward the first volcano out there, there’s tens of thousands of them,"

Will anything be done to destroy the grubs? All the most likely agencies are part of the Department of Agriculture. It’s budget is being attacked by the left for its subsidies to corporate farmers and from the right for providing food subsidies to the poor and near poor. People’s pay checks are dependent on short term appropriation extensions.

Worse, the politicians who support the petroleum, natural gas and coal industries by fighting any attempt that might limit greenhouse gas emissions have turned against science. They will claim the grasshoppers, like those in Exodus, are God’s punishment for non-believers. Their answer will not be the careful, selective spraying of breeding grounds, but attacks on homosexuals and women for not breeding enough.

Natural disasters are rightly called Acts of God. There is little one can do about drought or heat. Even today’s storms, if they come, won’t help. They will only recycle the water from yesterday with more winds.

There are things, however, people can do about the consequences. The local trash service that refuses to pick up "green waste" reinforces the laziness of people who cut their weeds and let them blow away, rather than burning them, bagging them, or taking them to the dump.

The tree service that cut two of my trees last year probably doesn’t clean its equipment between jobs. Instead, they make vague recommendations that one spray the area with soapy water. They don’t say, to control the aphids they might introduce. The warning absolves them of liability.

The traumatized employees in the Agriculture Department who began as idealists are fighting for survival in an era when long-term unemployment benefits no longer exist and food subsidies are being reduced. They don’t dare do anything that might place them on a "reduction in forces" list.

Gardeners, by definition, are activists against the vagaries of nature. We water when evaporation leaves little in the soil. We know it might help a cottonwood or catalpa survive.

We study EPA warnings before spraying. Even though it may not help much, we know we may save a tree or small garden.

We know the only way to eliminate weeds is prevent them from going to seed, so we weed and weed and weed.

We can’t change nature and we can’t influence politics and we can’t change the habits of our neighbors. But, we don’t have to lose hope in the possibilities of our own efforts. We do not have to give up in despair.

ABC News. "Grasshopper Swarms So Dense They Show Up on Radar," 2 June 2014, on-line blog, quotes John R. Garlisch, extension agent at Bernalillo County Cooperative Extension Service, and Katie Goetz of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

Time. "New Mexico Forecast: 100% Chance Of A Grasshopper Storm," by Melissa Locker, 3 June 2014, website, quotes Chuck Jones.

Photographs: Peonies were a landscaping plant used by the well-to-do in the 1950s. Below are some local pictures of plantings that have survived from that time.

1. Monsieur Julie Elie peony that bloomed for the first time this week in my garden; it was planted as bare root in 1995; 1 June 2014.

2-4. Landscape peonies in Española, 2 June 2014.

5. Landscape peonies in yard of near neighbor of #2, 2 June 2014.

6. Landscape peonies in yard of another near neighbor of #2, 2 June 2014.

7. Festiva Maxima peony in may yard, planted as bare root two years ago, 4 June 2014.

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