Sunday, December 27, 2015

Annual Rituals Revived

Weather: A little rain last Tuesday, very little snow blew in last night after dark.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, garlic, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, anthemis, coreopsis, golden hairy asters, most low or buried; rose stems, June, pampas, and cheat grasses.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on young peaches, sandbar willow.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits.

Weekly update: My annual New Year’s ritual of paging through nursery catalogs has been emptied of its pleasures by the reduction of companies since 2008, and the coincidental drop in the number of new plants as innovators have retired and not been replaced. The last several year’s I only looked for what I knew was there.

Imagine my delight when I got a catalog filled with surprises. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds specializes in unusual vegetables. It’s one of several who have more kinds of tomatoes or corn than you could ever grow or taste.

Most seed savers are small operations and their catalogs are usually simple lists, often printed on newsprint. The brotherhood of connoisseurs, no doubt, appreciates the simple listings presented on natural materials that can be recycled in a compost heap.

Jere Gettle probably wasn’t influenced by marketing specialists who recommend glossy, photo-filled catalogs to appeal to affluent hobbyists, though that is what he’s produced. One hopes that, unlike so many such campaigns, the costs aren’t greater than the proceeds.

Like almost any nursery catalog, it features photographs of young children holding large vegetables. It also has the usual pictures of employees holding prize-sized specimens or working in the fields. And, like some, it has a few historic reproductions of old photographs and seed packet art.

What sets their catalog apart are the four photographers. Unlike most, Gettle didn’t use stock images provided by seed suppliers. From a technical point the images are clear and appear to have accurate color. Anyone who has tried to photograph a plant, a flower or produce knows the level of skill involved.

More important is the photographer’s eye - the ability to see what’s important. They don’t just show melons, they show them with slices cut out so you can see what they look like before the insides are scraped. You wonder about the beans, and they show the flowers with the pods. In a few cases, they capture the beans in their pods.

There are some that would be called art shots like three brown netted cucumbers in a pyramid or Tennessee dancing gourds arranged like dancers. The small spoon gourds are nested while the Pennsylvania Dutch crookneck squashes are intertwined.

Two Chimayo red peppers face each other with a green one in back, while an a barefoot girl holds a ristra of maroon Estaceno chile peppers grown by Jeff Martínez. There’s also a picture of three dark ears of Po’suwaegeh blue corn from Pojoaque still attached to their dried tan husks.

More important are the pages filled with images that capture the essences of plants that you notice, like the sheen on tomatoes, the pattern of massed asparagus heads, and the starburst pattern of artichokes.

They have a small section of flower seeds, with a closeup of a sunflower head without the petals and an ever closer view of a cockscomb. Rose pink hollyhock flowers are caught along a stalk. Lupine florets fall at angles.

I have no idea if their seeds are any good. The rabbits, the birds, and the ants guarantee edible seeds never survive. But the lure of the pictures makes me willing to take some risks.

Notes: Baker Creek’s web site - - has some of the same pictures, but they aren’t as magnificent as they are on the glossy, printed page.

Photographs: All taken early this morning, 27 December 2015, after a forecast storm only blew in some snow.
1. All the snow landed on the south edges of plants or shrubs.

2. A broken hose has been laying in the drive for months. I finally removed it this week. I didn’t realize it had dug small trenches in the gravel that trapped the snow.

3. What’s interesting is that the recessed imprints left the same effects as the raised hoses would have.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Peach Bark Damage

Weather: Afternoon temperatures didn’t reach 50, so last Sunday’s snow that lay in shadows didn’t melt until yesterday; then it only disappeared from plants, but not from gravel or bricks; last snow 12/13.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, columbine, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, tansy, anthemis, coreopsis, purple and golden hairy asters; rose stems, June, pampas, and cheat grasses; young seedlings buried under leaves.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, flax, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on young peaches, sandbar willow.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, chickadees.

Weekly update: Everything you read about fruit trees tells you to keep them pruned. I’m not sure if it’s really necessary, if you’re not a commercial grower. It really may be a type of sympathetic magic that follows the form, if I do something, then nature will reciprocate.

My own experience has been, whenever I have branches cut from trees, insects problems follow. The year after I cut branches off the black locusts, trunks started falling from locust borers. Two years ago I had a branch cut from the peach that was blocking the path, and, in 2014, I dealt with bleeding wounds and aphids. A few weeks ago, I saw similar cracks with globs of reddish amber at the edges.

A tree, as mentioned in the post for 19 October 2014, has a very thin layer of living tissue on the perimeter of its wood. Beyond the current year’s active growth lies another layer of dead matter, the bark that protects it from the elements. Between the bark and the current ring is an impenetrable, narrow barrier that stops water, insects and pathogens from getting inside. It contains suberin.

Like the current ring, it is replaced each year and becomes part of the outer bark. As the tree expands in spring, it may split the bark to make room. Pieces may fall away, or fissures may appear, but the suberin layer remains in tact.

When the water barrier is broken, perhaps by an axe, the tree responds by rebuilding it. This rejuvenation is more complete when temperatures are warm. In winter, rapid changes in temperature can also damage the waxy layer. Because it’s cold, the repairs are slower and sometimes patchy with unprotected sections that stay open to attack.

These earlier cracks and wounds, while they scale over, remain weaker surfaces which can be rebroken.

Alan Biggs has determined, in ideal conditions, repairs begin immediately in the area directly under the breach. After 8 days, the boundary cells are lined with suberin. Then, within the next four days, the cells become denser with starch deposits that look like gum, and may appear red when stained.

The day I saw the resinous-looking globules was Friday, December 11 around 4:45 pm. The previous ten days had seen many morning temperatures around 15 degrees F, with afternoons rising to the mid-40s in the shade. Not the sort of days to promote cell division and defense deployment.

However, that particular day was one when a storm was coming our way. Clouds kept temperatures high - they didn’t fall below 42 in the night, rose to about 54, began falling at noon, but didn’t go below 46 that night. I suspect the unusually long number of hours of relative warmth allowed the tree to do emergency repairs.

Now, like a woman who just discovered she’s pregnant and tries to determine when from the current status of the fetus, I counted back 12 days to see if there were any weather conditions which would have injured the tree.

That took me back to the cold front with the rumbling thunder I described in the post two weeks ago. On Sunday, November 29, temperatures again warmed in the night as clouds preceded the cold air mass. Next came rain, and then, in the dark, the front. The next day’s morning temperature as in the mid-20s, but on December 1 it fell to 13.8 on my porch, the coldest yet this season. I suspect that’s when the damage occurred.

Biggs found the healing process is disrupted if the wounds are washed within 72 hours. The water removes the abscisic acid that is the hormone that plants create, in other situations, to seal the junctions between leaves and branches before the leaves fall.

It rained before the wound formed, then rain fell the day after I saw the red globs. The next day, snow filled all the crevices on the branch. When I looked this week, I saw no signs of the globules. I won’t know until spring if the damage was repaired, or if there are fine cracks in the suberin layer.

Arborists give many explanations for why sun scald and cold damage peach bark. They usually point to the fact it often appears on the southwest sides of trees to suggest the alternating temperatures that stimulate sap to flow, then freeze it in place.

Other events they mention are fertilizing or watering late in the season, which stimulates new growth that doesn’t harden off. They also mention over pruning that removes some of the canopy that protects the undergirding branches.

I suspect canopy loss was what hurt my tree. The branch that was cut in 2013 was high and on the east side of the tree. When it was gone, more light bounced off the white stucco wall and may have weakened the bark along the top of the horizontal branches below where the ladybugs appeared in 2014.

At that time, I kept washing the tree, sometimes spraying it with one of the organic soap compounds, trying to kill the invisible aphids. I also treated it with a fungicide. But that was in the spring.

Now, I can’t do anything but wait, and not let them cut any more branches than necessary. Another low growing one has become a serious barrier on the path when it’s raining. But, when the man suggested cutting other branches, I said no.

The tree was planted in 1997. Peaches rarely live more than twenty years. It may collapse anytime. I don’t expect fruit again. The last time it produced hornets flocked to the area and I had to remove everything before it ripened. The tree now lives for aesthetic reasons alone.

Biggs, A. R. "Anatomical and Physiological Responses of Bark Tissues to Mechanical Injury," in R. A. Blanchette and A. R. Biggs, Defense Mechanisms of Woody Plants Against Fungi, 1992.

Wright, R. C., W. M. Peacock, and T. M. Whiteman. Effect on Subsequent Yields of Storing Cut Seed Potatoes at Different Temperatures and Humidities, 1934.

1. Peach in snow earlier this year, 22 January 2015; chickadee at top.

2. Branches in most recent snow, 15 December 2015. You can see that all the branches are seamed from bark expansion.

3. Pealing bark, 20 December 2015. The under layer is brown and dead.

4. Globules from injuries last year, 12 May 2014.

5. Globular remains after last Sunday’s snow on open wound, 20 December 2015.

6. Ladybugs signally aphids were attacking last year, 29 May 2014.

7. Eighteen-year-old tree in full leaf, 19 September 2015. The damaged area is toward the back and near the house.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Nature Breathes

Weather: Warms afternoons before a storm that tracked south, giving us just a little rain yesterday and a little snow in the night.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, columbine, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, tansy, buried yarrow, anthemis, coreopsis, purple and golden hairy asters; rose stems, June, pampas, and cheat grasses; young seedlings buried under leaves.

We had so much water this past summer that trees grew. Now, the tree trimming company is backed up - four days to get an estimate, at least two weeks to get work scheduled, when the usual is next day. With Christmas, two weeks means early next year. They usually are maintaining their equipment and hoping for calls this time of year.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, flax, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on young peaches, sandbar willow.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, chickadees.

Weekly update: Fog turns out to be a word like asthma that presumes to describe a specific thing, but in fact is a generic term for a common symptom arising from multiple causes. The National Weather Service gives the symptomatic definition: "Fog is water droplets suspended in the air at the Earth's surface." Wikipedia describes at least 13 different kinds.

I grew up in the lowlands of Michigan. The fogs I most remember were around Waterloo which lies on the watershed between lakes Michigan and Huron. There mist rose from the swamps when conditions were right. That is, when cold air came in contract with warm water.

When I saw mists here, I assumed the same thing was happening since they often followed arroyos and canyons that had streams in their bottoms. However, they had a density and color that was different than those I remember. Here they are solid and white; there they were wispy and nearly colorless.

When it was raining yesterday morning there were no clouds. In the top picture, the sky was a featureless gray that blocked most of the badlands across the Río Grande and all the Jémez from view.

It was only in the afternoon, after it had stopped raining here and Los Alamos was reporting fog that I saw a thick wall of white behind the badlands, with some mist rising at the base. In the second picture, the sky above was blue, with higher gray clouds undergirded by white.

The temperature and dew point were the same in Los Alamos, 33 degrees F. Wikipedia says fog forms when the two are within a few degrees of each other.

The lower mists were what I often see in the morning, heat from the ground rising into the still unheated air above. But that wall was something new to me, and concentrated toward the south. I assume it was influenced by the fact cold air and heavy water vapor had moved into the area somewhere between our 6 or 7,000' and the 22,300 miles where the observing geostationary satellite was perched.

Forty-five minutes later, the sun came out. Tchicoma began emerging from the dissipating bank with clouds swirling on its sides, and whiter mists coming from the canyons between it and the badlands.

That was about 4 pm yesterday. In another forty-five minutes, the featureless gray returned and in an hour darkness fell.

Sometime after midnight we got snow, but it had stopped by the time I looked out at 6 this morning. It was still snowing in Los Alamos where it had begun about 2:30 am. The Weather Service satellite image showed cold air was still sitting high above us, but the area to the immediate west was dry.

By 7:30, the cloud bank was back, but this time it was it front of the badlands. The smell of burning wood was strong as the moisture in the air trapped particles of smoke. It was 33 degrees F here, but in Los Alamos the temperature and dew point were both 29 degrees F.

The storm was gone. The last of the clouds swirling back from east of the Sangre de Cristo were moving farther away. The sun wasn’t out, but the atmosphere was brighter. The sky was blue, and the wall had retreated from the river to the canyons.

I happened to look east as I was coming back into house at 8:50 am. Vapor was rising from the Apache plumes near the fence. I could see the nearly transparent tendrils that diffused as they rose, but the camera could only record fuzziness and distortion when they reached the relative height of the juniper in back.

It was like the steam we make when we blow into cold winds. The warmth was immediately condensing.

Wikipedia mentions plant transpiration as a possible cause of fog. It also says "exhalation of moist warm air by herds of animals" can produce ice fog.

But this seemed a little different. Whenever I’ve watched snow melt here, I’ve noticed it disappears first from things that retain heat like the dark wood retaining wall and gravel in the drive. Organic matter also shrugs it off fairly quickly by melting it from underneath. Either they too have accumulated heat or their respirations, while very slow, are not completely dormant.

All the green matter along the mountains can’t have caused those walls of white. And yet, they are called the same thing: fog.

United States. National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. National Weather Service. Glossary. Entry for "fog," geostationary GOES satellite images, and short range radar images available by location on Weather Service website.

Wikipedia. Entry for "Fog."

Yesterday, 12 December 2015, all looking toward Jémez
1. 9:55 am.
2. 3:14 pm.
3. 4:01 pm.

Today, 13 December 2015, first two looking toward Jémez
4. 7:29 am.
5. 8:51 am.
6. 8:51 am, looking east toward the prairie.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Cold Front

Weather: Some mornings very cold, but some afternoons warm enough, for brief periods, that I could keep my resolution to keep working outside; little rain 11/29.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on fernbush, yuccas, grape hyacinth, columbine, catmint, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort, Jupiter’s beard, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, tansy, yarrow, anthemis, coreopsis, purple and golden hairy asters; rose stems, June, pampas, and cheat grasses.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, flax, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on sandbar willow.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbit.

Weekly update: Two cold fronts passed through this past week. You wouldn’t have known about the one yesterday if the weather service hadn’t told you. As for the one last Sunday, nothing they said would have prepared you.

Clouds began forming in mid-afternoon, with a few sprinkles an hour later. Then, it got dark, and thunder began around 5:15 pm. Not a crack, but a rumble like a truck passing over a wooden bridge coming from the east. No rain. A few minutes later, the windows a little south of the sound lit up. The two alternated for half an hour, each following its own rhythm. The room was continually illuminated.

The rolls invoked memories of my first dramatic storm. I was about nine-years old. My family was driving from Niagara Falls to Pittsburgh through some section of the Pennsylvania mountains.

The rain started. Lightening backlit black mountains. There were no towns, no places to stop. We had to keep going to find a motel. It was the mid-1950s when such things were still rare, and I suspect still are in that area.

That trip through the dark became associated with two things: coal and "Rip Van Winkle." The one must have come from school where we had been told about dinosaurs and how they had been transformed into coal. Those were the classes that sparked so many boys’ lifelong passions.

For me, it was the geology. I knew it had all happened in Pennsylvania, and there we were driving through that state. I knew coal was black, and there we were in the dark driving under darker shapes. I imagined some dramatic process. And there we were in a storm.

Geologists still think in those terms. Why else do they search for causes of a sudden extermination by impact with an asteroid?

I’m not sure if I knew about "Rip" then, or later. Another dim memory is reading a simple version in a children’s book given to me. But, was it on a train to Chicago, or was it on the plane we took from Pittsburgh a day or so later?

It wasn’t fear that imprinted that storm in my memory, but wonder. It was pure experience, unfiltered by acculturation. Images came after the fact.

As I mentioned in a post for 10 November 2013 about another unusual round of thunder, adults aren’t comfortable with visits by nature. We seek instant explanations that reduce them to the familiar, render them insignificant.

A friend asked a meteorologist about last Sunday’s storm, and was told it was cloud-to-cloud lightening, not cloud-to-ground. Something as true and irrelevant as knowing dinosaurs coexisted with ferns, and it’s the fern prints that are found in coal mines.

Most cold fronts, like the one that passed through yesterday, happen somewhere else. We might get some winds or a sudden drop in temperature, but nothing more.

Last Sunday, we must have been in the cold front. I have no idea at what altitude such cold air moves. It doesn’t matter much when you’re at sea level. But here we pass through clouds on our way from our 6,000' to Santa Fé’s 7,000' somewhere on Opera Hill.

My image is the boundary between two air masses, for that’s all a front is according to the Weather Service, was low and we were in the clouds. That lightening was passing around us, or rather just to the east of us. The thunder came from the boundary itself, not from the accompanying lightening.

And how can a boundary be a thing, if it’s a transition between two masses? It must have some mass, the same way that sudden extinction took eons. Our language obscures realities.

I wondered about "Rip Van Winkle." I hadn’t read the story since college, and wasn’t even sure my image came from it. When I went on line and googled "Washington Irving" and "Nine-pins" I saw a reference that said, "the balls of the ninepins symbolize cannon balls and the thunder is the explosion of the artillery of cannons" from some Revolutionary war battle.

Again, so many words to protect us from experience. I don’t doubt Irving was discussing changes caused by independence; he was politically conservative. But, he was doing something more.

The story’s first paragraph is about the Kaatskill Mountains. "Every change of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day, produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains" was written by someone who’d been there.

Rip wanders high into the mountains, where "now and then heard the long rolling peals, like distant thunder, that seemed to issue out of a deep ravine, or rather cleft, between lofty rocks."

An old man carrying a keg passes and asks for help. They go through the cleft into "a small hollow, like a small amphitheatre, surrounded by perpendicular precipices" where old men are playing nine-pins. "The noise of the balls, which, whenever they were rolled, echoed along the mountains like rumbling peals of thunder"

Rip drinks from the keg, falls asleep, and wakens twenty years later.

The rest of the story parallels one’s experience of a storm so dramatic it imprints an image. One searches for a way to remember it.

We tend to go deep into the past for the words, not our own prenatal pasts, but the mythic past. I thought of coal, Irving thought of Hendrick Hudson who both explored the river flowing through the New York mountains, and was set adrift by a mutinous crew on a southern part of Hudson’s Bay never to be seen again. The grandeur of the one merged with the terror of the other, the way things do in our sub-literate minds.

The preliminary story of Rip’s nagging wife and the posthumous legend of Hudson were so much narrative dressing to make acceptable the central experience of the tale: the experience of a storm or cold front at altitudes high enough to be merged into it.

Notes: "Rip Van Winkle Essay."

Irving, Washington. "Rip Van Winkle," The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., 1819.

Photographs: Coal waste south of Madrid, 17 September 2011.