Sunday, September 21, 2014


Weather: Remnants of hurricane Odile were diverted; instead of water we got cold temperatures Thursday morning; last rain 9/5.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, silver lace vine, trumpet creeper, datura, morning glories, bouncing Bess, sweet pea, Russian sage, zinnias from new seeds and reseeds, African marigolds from seed, Maximilian and cultivated sunflowers, pampas grass. Pyracantha berries turned orange.

One man reaped his hay this week in four stages. He first drove through to cut stalks. Next he threw the mown stalks into heaped rows. After they dried, he baled them. Finally, three men picked up the bales. One drove the tractor. A second walked beside the flat-bed trailer and handed the bales to the third who stacked them on the trailer floor.

Beyond the walls and fences: Pink and white bindweed, goat’s head, stickleaf, leatherleaf globemallow, pigweed, ragweed, Hopi tea, snakeweed broom, broom senecio, native sunflowers, goldenrod, plains paper flowers, áñil del muerto, tahoka daisy, golden hairy, heath and purple asters.

In my yard, looking east: Large-flowered soapwort, garlic chives, Jupiter’s beard, hollyhocks, winecup mallow.

Looking south: Betty Prior and floribunda roses.

Looking west: Catmint, calamintha, David phlox, purple coneflower.

Looking north: Yellow potentilla, hosta, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, chocolate flower, blanket flower, anthemis, coreopsis, chrysanthemum.

In the open, along the drive: Buddleia, white yarrow.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, blue salvia, moss rose, French marigold.

Seeds: Larkspur, reseeded Sensation cosmos from last year’s plants, yellow cosmos.

Animal sightings: Ground squirrel, geckos, other small birds, bees, grasshoppers, hornets, large and small black ants.

I’ve been cleaning house and finding more than the usual numbers of spider webs. I’ve also found more species than the familiar daddy long-legs. I blamed my negligence for the arachnid diversification until I talked with a friend in Santa Fé. He said he had more spiders his year than usual and more varieties. He attributed them to the warm winter and wet summer.

Weekly update: It’s a commonplace to say what you learn is defined by the questions you ask.

This week I’ve been trying to identify how red amaranth moved from southern México to the Hopi in northeastern Arizona.

Jonathan Sauer reviewed the available literature in 1950. He found only one possible reference: "In the state of Guerrero in Mexico, immature amaranth inflorescences are ground on a metate and the resulting bright red paste is used to color maize dough."

My ignorance of Mexican history and geography is profound. I didn’t know Guerrero lies on the Pacific northwest of Oaxaca or that Acapulco is its main city. My knowledge of Acapulco was limited to celebrity news stories. However, I did notice its location on the southern end of the Mexican land mass coincided with an area where tropical storms have been forming this summer.

For the past several years I’ve been trying to discover where our rain comes from. Last year I realized humidity levels didn’t matter if the moisture was being pulled from local streams, soils and plants. Many rain showers were simply recycling our existing water as the weather was slowly moving it elsewhere.

I thought hurricanes might be the source for the moisture that fueled monsoons. I had a vague sense we sometimes got rain when a tropical storm moved near the mouth of the Río Grande in the Carribean. When I looked at the National Hurricane Center’s website I discovered there are more storms than those in the Atlantic that threaten US cities.

NHC has a separate map for hurricanes in the eastern Pacific. Most of the disturbances this summer originated along Mexico’s western coast between Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta, some a bit farther south, some to the west in the ocean.

I also learned Acapulco had been the port for Spanish trade with the Orient that went through Manilla. It took advantage of the western trade winds used by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Later, in 1565, Alonso de Arellano and Andrés de Urdaneta discovered, to get home, sailors had to sail north to reach the east bound westerlies at 38 degrees north off Japan.

I was aware of the two wind streams in the Atlantic. The trade winds are the ones sailing ships used in the triangular trade that moved slaves from Africa to the Carribean. Then ships moved north along the US coast dropping off slaves and picking up cargoes until they reached New England. They returned to England on the westerlies with raw materials sold in the ports of Bristol and London for cash needed to fund the next slave trip.

Arellano and Urdaneta reasoned winds must behave the same in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. North and south have the same patterns. The equator runs between with no winds. Sailors call the dead area the doldrums. Scientists term it the Intertropical Convergence Zone.

Hurricane formation is a function on the earth’s movements around the sun. After the solstice, the ocean waters heat enough for storms to form. Rotation isn’t possible near the equator, because it doesn’t spin fast enough. The southern boundary for hurricane formation is 310 miles north of the equator. Acapulco is 1,166 miles distant.

The northern boundary for very warm water is the Tropic of Cancer. The northernmost point that has the sun directly overhead on the solstice lies at the 23.5 latitude. Canton, which became the primary export center for China, is at 23 degrees north.

There are, of course, other factor contributing to hurricane formation, but this was enough to explain how hurricanes affect our weather. The Hopi know monsoons come from the southwest, the direction associated with blue corn.

Whether or not the water that moves up through the Gulf of California reaches the Española valley is determined by other wind forces from the north and east which redirect its course. Christina arrived in mid June, Douglas in early July, Marie in late August. Last week the remnants of Norbert were deflected by winds from the east. They flooded Phoenix and Las Vegas when they dumped their water in Arizona and Nevada. This Thursday Odile stayed to the south as cold air moved in from Colorado.

The potential for destructive storms between the solstice and the equinox is the main reason sailing ships using the trade winds could only make the round trip once a year. Winter conditions were the other.

Acapulco, as the port for the Spanish trade with China, would have had good roads to Mexico City. Once communications existed between the two areas, more than trade goods would have moved northeast from Guerrero, even after the Spanish trade ended in 1815. Anything in the market stalls of the capital could move north to the Hopi.

It’s unknown if anything did. I’ve not been able to read Sauer’s original source. Pedro Hendrichs’ book is out of print, but not out of copyright. Google confirmed the words metate, maize and alegría appear on the page cited by Sauer, but wouldn’t let me see them.

Hendrichs identified alegría elsewhere as Amaranthus paniculatus var esp Leucocarpus, a synonym for the Hopi’s Amaranthus cruentus that grew in nearby Oaxaca. The word alegría is more commonly used in México for the Amaranthus hypochondriacus used by the Aztec for ceremonial dough figures. Hendrichs also said "In ancient times, the Indians made idols of the little" paniculatus seeds they offered to the gods. They ate "them after finishing the ceremony."

It’s not obvious Hendrichs identified the plant correctly. He was not a botanist, but the son of a German hardware salesman who sent him to México before World War I to expand his markets. He returned after the war to write ethnographic studies.

This book was about the Río Balsas that flows through Guerrero to empty into the Pacific at Lázaro Cárdenas, some 200 miles north of Acapulco in Michoacán. The 479-mile-long river could have been a separate conduit for seeds to follow to reach Mexico City.

It’s well known that discoveries, whether by the Hopi, sailors or me, involve more than asking the right questions. It also helps to be open to serendipitous happenings. Or, as scientists say one forms hypothesis, but must pay attention to anomalies.

Notes: Much of my information is from Wikipedia.

Hendrichs Pérez, Pedro Rodolfo. Por Tierras Ignotas, volume 1, 1945.

Sauer, Jonathan D. "Amaranths as Dye Plants among the Pueblo Indians," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 6:412-415:1950.

Photographs: The daily cloud cycle echoes the effects of the sun’s heat that form hurricanes.  Clouds on Friday, the day after Odile failed to arrive. All were taken looking southwest between two lilacs toward the Jémez in the general area between Los Alamos and Puye Cliffs.

1. 6:30 am. Clouds from night revealed at dawn.

2. 7:29 am. Sun rising, picking out the lime layers in the badlands; clouds dissipating

3. 7:47 am. Night clouds nearly gone.

4. 8:58 am. First clouds of new day are small, isolated puffs of white.

5. 10:01 am. Clouds joined in bands above the Jémez, with new clouds rising behind. Density of lime is fading in the badlands.

6. 10:29 am. Clouds in a denser band with some patterns to them.

7. 12:37 pm. Clouds reaching their densest state. They stay the same until late afternoon.

8. 4:44 pm. Clouds begin moving higher, streaming out overhead.

9. 6:11 pm. Clouds thinning at the south end of the Jémez and developing more to the north.

10. 6:40 pm. Winds developing, clouds thinning.

11. 7:11 pm. Few clouds left as sundown approaches.

12. 7:40 pm. No clouds left.

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