Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring Expectations

Weather: High winds Tuesday broke a small dead branch from top of my cottonwood; winds yesterday were cold; last snow 2/23.

What’s blooming: Siberian elms, some types of crab apples, Bradford pears, peaches, cherries, forsythia, daffodils, hyacinth, tansy mustard, dandelions.

What’s coming up: Pink salvia, sweet peas, yellow yarrow.

What has new growth: Snow-in-summer, brome snakeweed, pampas, needle, and rice grasses. New leaves on roses and lilacs.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Small birds, gecko, small red ants.

Weekly update: A couple weeks ago, a woman from Alcalde was telling people in the post office how her apricots were covered with flowers. When I made some comment about a late spring frost, she gave me one of those looks she probably reserved for hornets and said, "I hope not."

Several things came to mind, but since they occurred simultaneously, they blocked each other. I just nodded and made some appeasing noise.

I was thinking, it’s only March!

I know, calendars are man-made objects that have been used by people in power to control others. But, they aren’t arbitrary. They were based on close observations of the universe, the movements of stars, the sun and moon, and on seasonal variations in plant and animal behavior.

When a month is associated with cold, it’s usually cold, and when it’s not it’s not. The old saws normally hold: winds in March, rains in April, flowers in May.

But not this year. Since the middle of last summer some configuration in the atmosphere has pushed rain south. Texas gets flooded, and we get winds. Whatever it is that’s happening, it’s not something that was used to create the original calendars.

This unknown also may explain why afternoon temperatures have been abnormally warm. Morning temperatures continue to vary from the normal mid-20's to the occasional night in the 40's. The fact cherries in Washington, D. C., are blooming more than a week early only confirms something odd is happening, but doesn’t change the cycle of nature. The last freeze date of the year is not arrived at by democratic vote.

The exception is Easter, the one holiday that moves every year depending on variations in lunar cycles. If one expects warm weather to coincide with Holy week, then this year is exactly on schedule, and all those trees and shrubs that respond to afternoon temperatures to blossom are correct.

As I noted in my post for 7 April 2013, the use of flowering plants in church yards and their implicit connection with Easter may be more of a Protestant or northern European concept that a Catholic or Mediterranean European one.

I didn’t see any flowers at any of the Roman Catholic churches this past week, although the Santa Cruz convento had a yellow forsythia and pink flowering tree. I suspect an invisible forsythia was blooming behind the wall at Sacred Heart.

In contrast, the courtyard of Bradford pears was in full bloom at the Mormons, and a Bradford pear was blooming in the courtyard at the Baptist church. A peach was blooming at Amazing Grace. An apricot was out of bloom at an abandoned Assembly of God.

It’s too early for the tulips that sometimes bloom for Easter at one of the smaller Catholic churches and at the larger Methodist one.

So, those who expect nothing because they follow an irregular spring calendar are happily surprised when their apricots bloom early. Others may notice most of the flowers for this year’s Easter are as sterile as the hard boiled decorated eggs.

The only people I’ve seen who’ve been acting on what they’ve been told, rather than on observation, are those who are pruning their trees now, after the sap has started flowing. They, no doubt like the woman in Alcalde, noticed there’s been no fruit for the past several years. But, rather than associate that with early blooms and late frosts, they’re acting on the advice of experts who say trees that have stopped bearing should be pruned back into fertility.

Trees, if they get water, tend to survive their keepers. My apricot lost most of its flowers, but a few buds are now opening high on the tree, far beyond my ability to pick them if they survive. My peach and forsythia have opened a few flowers, but kept most of their buds in reserve. If the weather stays erratic, they may never fully bloom, but continue their tentative essays until all their buds are dispensed.

Photographs: All taken today, Easter morning, 27 March 2016, around 9:30 am.

1. Bradford pear flowers; they produce no fruit.

2. Forsythia flowers tinged with brown from cold air.

3. Flowering crab apples are blooming near the river. Mine has leafed, but it’s buds are still dark balls. The leaf buds on the fruiting ones are just beginning to differentiate themselves.

4. Some peach flowers have opened, and been scotched by the cold. Most buds are just showing color, but not expanding.

5. Apricot flowers at the very top of the tree.

6. The first daffodil flower at the south end of the garage where it gets the most sun.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Ditch Maintenance

Weather: Warm afternoons with mornings below freezing; dry with low humidity in the afternoons; sun no longer coming into my eyes in the house in the mornings; last snow 2/23.

What’s blooming: Siberian elms, some types of crab apples, Bradford pears, forsythia, dandelions.

What’s coming up: Chives, Queen Anne’s lace, sidalcea, bindweed.

What has new growth: New leaves on some types of crab apples, yellow potentilla, privet.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Gold finch, full-sized gecko, small red ants.

Weekly update: No one likes to clean ditches. After the Civil War, freedmen in South Carolina were willing to plant and harvest crops, but refused to help maintain or rebuild the irrigation systems’ dykes. In one case described by Robert Preston Brooks, the army intervened to force the ex-slaves to do off-season work.

The local ditch association has budgeted $3,500 to clean ditches this year. At their last meeting in February, they’d only received two bids for the work, but had had inquiries from two others. Last year, one area had to remove two feet of dirt that had accumulated above the original level.

For better or worse, I don’t have a ditch running across my land, so don’t have that annual chore. Instead, I have culverts that run under my driveway that collect mud.

They’ve been there for more than twenty years, and never been cleaned. Last fall, I took a hoe and pulled out what dirt I could from each end of the one nearest my house.

That left me with a wheelbarrow full of muck.

On the west side of the house moving water had removed, not deposited dirt. Water from the peak of the roof dripped down, and June grass sprouted in the wet places. Its clumps further eroded the path by channeling water down their blades.

On the other side, dirt washed away, leaving a low place between that collected water. In winter the trough turned to ice.

Two years ago I bought some bricks to pave the area. The man who sold them to me told me I should lay a bed of sand first. I got that far, and discovered the sand was quite sufficient to prevent the winter hazard.

It wouldn’t stop the erosion, though. For that, I took some of the no longer needed bricks and laid a low retaining wall on the downside of the path. That’s where I dumped the muck. It wouldn’t level then because it was too wet. Now it’s too hard.

The change in design left me with a lot of bricks stacked in my drive. I looked at the other side of the house where I had bordered a bed with one row of bricks set on edge. Since, I’m basically lazy, and I had laid the bricks on top of the ground.

Over time they seem to have sunk into the ground. Grass and hollyhocks grew in front, blocking my view of what I’d planted. I decided to lay another bed of bricks in front as a barrier.

When I started working, I discovered it wasn’t that the bricks had sunk, but that they’d become buried. Apparently, in the years when I was being inundated with water from up the hill, it had washed down more dirt than I realized. The winds must have added their own contribution.

Now, I had to dig out several inches of dirt just to get the new bricks, which were laying flat, to be even with the tops of those on edge. Sometimes, I found remains of the original grass that had been buried.

Water and washed down top soil are the essence of life for plants, especially the grasses whose seeds come for the ride. For the gardener, they create problems by stealth, so gradually one doesn’t realize what’s happening until there’s real work to be done.

Brooks, Robert Preston. An Elementary History of Georgia, 1918.

La Mesilla Community Ditch. Meeting minutes, 10 February 2016.

1. Apricot flowers, 19 March 2016.

2. Peach bud, innocent of its coming martyrdom, 19 March 2016

3. Culvert after mud and leaves had been hoed out, 19 March 2016.

4. Path, house side on the right, with June grass volunteers on both sides. You can see the middle is a concave trough, 9 July 2013.

5. Same general area leveled with sand left over from a neighbor’s stucco project, 9 July 2013.

6. Path today, house side on left and new brick wall on the right. The tiles on the left were once level with the path. The muck from the culvert hardened into a crown in the middle, 19 March 2016.

7. Bed on other side of the house bordered with bricks laying on edge on the ground, 10 August 2006.

8. Brick edging when I was trying to find the level earlier this week. In ten years, three inches of dirt accumulated in front, 16 March 2016.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Raising Flowers

Weather: Sunday night’s winds blew in some Russian thistle carcasses and blew pods off the catalpa; an insignificant amount of rain yesterday; last snow 2/23.

With the warm temperatures encouraging early leafing and flowering, it’s a good to live away from the river. The timing is faster there. I assume it’s a matter of time before we get frost or snow again.

What’s blooming: Siberian elms, forsythia. First apricot flowers were destroyed when morning temperatures returned to their normal levels below freezing, and now buds that were closed then are beginning to open.

What’s coming up: Hyacinth, first tulips, bearded iris, daylilies, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, bindweed, oriental poppy, violet, winecup mallow, larkspur, broom senecio, alfalfa, brome grass.

What has new growth: Vinca, moss phlox, dandelions. New leaves on weeping and globe willows. Arborvitae and alfilerillo have greened.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, small birds, bee on one of the apricots, cricket.

Weekly update: Most of the flower designs on the odd pieces of flatware by mother collected were raised designs. I don’t know if that was because early designs and techniques were borrowed from coins or if there were some technical reason. I suspect the relatively strength of metals under manufacturing conditions influenced both.

I’ve only seen one silver design that was punched into the metal, and some of those pieces lost their plating in the indentations.

The importance of materials is most obvious in slatted spoons. It’s more difficult to cut wood against the grain, but cutting with it may introduce weaknesses that allow the opening to extend. The only ones I’ve ever seen had the simplest cuts.

Plastic spoons are equally simple, but I think that’s just cost. No one wants to pay for premium materials for a utensil that may not survive long.

Cost is critical to mass production, but it’s only recently that it’s been the only concern. The first serving spoon was sold by a company that first used flatware as a premium to motivate salesman. Charles William Stuart bought a nursery in New York in 1852 with an existing crop he peddled to local farmers. From there, he moved into direct sales.

In the 1920s, Phillip Durham says, C. H. Stuard began distributing flatware from Oneida as rewards. When those proved successful, the company, then called Empire Crafts Corporation, began the Nobility Club that used housewives to sell to their neighbors, much like Avon does today. They offered women "opportunities to purchase a piece of the ‘better life’."

The punched design was created by Oneida itself. That company had begun selling steel flatware blanks to another manufacturer, and only began selling its own products in 1881. When they couldn’t compete with higher quality companies they turned to advertising in magazines with large audiences.

Utensils made after World War II still were intended to be affordable and provide the purchaser with the mantle of upper class taste. The designs no longer were realistic like the Community Plate, nor conventional like the fleur-de-list, nor impressionistic like the Nobility Plate. They were reduced to the simplest elements that conveyed the basic design.

One slatted spoon of my mother’s had a daisy cut into the bowl.

Another had an abstract tulip.

The use of floral motifs encourages people to appreciate flowers, and possibly even to grow some. When utensils are reduced to bare functions like concrete walls and barbed wire fences, more is lost than manufacturing expenses. One can’t take time to smell the roses, if they’re not about.

Notes: Phillip Durham, "History," website.

1-2. Serving spoon with raised design, Nobility plate, made by Oneida Silver under contract to C. H. Stuart’s Silver Service Club. Design may be Royal Rose, created by Lloyd E. Ressegger and manufactured from 1939-1958. Flower may be a rose or peony, but has been simplified.

3. Flatware set with punched design, Oneida, Community plate. Flowers include one with five petals that’s not a rose, a tulip (or possible simplified fleur-de-lis) and what look like snails.

4. Slatted wooden spoons made in Portugal, sold for 2.49.

5. Slatted plastic spoon, Ekco, made in US, heat resistant up to 400 degrees F, sold for .99.

6. Daisy design, slatted spoon, stainless steel with wooden handle, made in Japan.

7. Tulip design, slatted spoon, with two marks, Universal USA and Imperial, stainless steel, one piece with handle.

8. Same as #3, back side of handle; design is simpler, emphasizes the tulip motif.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Local Fleur-de-lis

Weather: We’ve entered the killing season when the days are unusually warm, the nights still below freezing, winds on some days, and the only moisture in the air water that has been sucked from the ground; last snow 2/23.

What’s blooming: Some apricots have started to bloom. More men were out pruning their apples this past week.

What’s coming up: More cheat grass visible along the road sides.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, gold finches; crickets and earthworms active.

Weekly update: Conventional fleurs-de-lis were less common in my mother’s collection of cutlery than were the variations within the motif mentioned in my last post. When they did appear, it usually was to solve a technical problem.

Three metals have been used to mass produce flatware: sterling silver, copper with a thin silver veneer, and stainless steel. Each has its own internal atomic structures that are modified by other elements added as alloys. Ricci Argentieri says sterling is "very pliable and lends itself to intricate designs," while the hardness of stainless limits it to simple designs.

Silver plating was first done in Sheffield, England, after Thomas Boulsover discovered how to merge silver and copper in 1743 with heat. The use of chemistry to electroplate copper with silver began with the work of Alessandro Volta in 1800. George Elkington applied the scientific discoveries to manufacturing in Birmingham in 1840. When English manufacturers tried to stop attempts to introduce the processes into this county by lowering their prices, John Russell introduced automation in the 1860s.

Silver plate had the malleability of copper, which is slightly harder than silver, but could still retain detailed impressions from dies. I suspect the manufacturing problems came from finding designs that took the plating on all their surfaces. Ezekiel James says designs carrying the William Rogers name were simplified after it was merged into International Silver in 1898, no doubt to lower manufacturing costs.

My mother had a spoon on which the plain surfaces became scratched with use. The border with four-petaled flowers is at the end of the handle. Parallel grooves were used to separate that area from the central section. Rather than end the design area with a point, a design motif was used that rounded the area. I suspect that was because a point was a potentially difficult area to plate uniformly, and therefore likely to chip or wear away.

The particular motif was a fleur-de-lis simply because it was familiar. It was widely used as a small pattern that could be repeated on fabrics or in stone. More important, it was used in iron work where its durability was proven.

The primary reason fences exist is to keep people or animals in or out. Sharp points were used at the top before barbed wire to keep invaders from going over the top. Wooden pickets were no problem, but iron rusted.

Pointed caps were installed which served the same purpose, but could be replaced without replacing the fence. Buckingham palace installed gilded fleurs-de-lis that had three points in 1911. The application, which existed before, has been much copied. The parts are easily available to modern fence builders.

Here in the valley fleur-de-lis finials are used on railings that top lava stone walls. Iron isn’t as pliable as silver or copper, so the reinforcing between bars is done with scrolls.

One local gate uses short vertical bars between the main bars in the lower section to keep out larger dogs. The rods are topped by fleur-de-lis painted the same color as the iron bars.

The other place you see fleurs-de-lis is on the iron rails constructed around graves in the local cemeteries. The one on display at Larry’s Auto not only has gilded finials but the cross in the center of one end uses the motif in repeating patterns in the four arms.

Like the name fleur-de-lis, which many have tried to trace, the use of a flower symbol on local garden walls is neither coincidence nor deliberate. To say it’s merely the continuation of a number of cultural preferences is to understate the importance of inherited traditions.

James, Ezekiel. "How to Date Rogers Silver," ehow website.

Ricci Argentieri Company. "Flatware Care and Maintenance," company website.

1. Spoon handle, back side, "H, Wm Rogers Mfg Co, Original Rogers," purchased in Michigan in the 1960s.

2. Iris in my yard, 17 May 2009; two falls are still horizontal and resemble the classic fleur-de-lis form.

3. Same as #1, front side which reverses the direction of the fleur-de-lis.

4. Local iron fence with pickets.

5. "Fence with fleur-de-lis on Buckingham Palace in London," uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, April 2006, by Gryffindor. Fence was designed by Ashton Webb and manufactured by the Bromsgrove Guild of Applied Arts in 1911. The gilding is actual gold, which lasts about 30 years.

6. Local iron railing on lava stone wall with fleur-de-lis on top.

7. Local iron gate with fleur-de-lis in lower section.

8-9. Cemetery railing, displayed at Larry’s Auto Sales, Riverside at the intersection with the road to Chimayó. Fleur-de-lis are at the four corners. They are solid forms in the four arms of cross, and repeated in the filigree extensions of the arms.