Sunday, July 31, 2016
Weather: I keep track of the high and low temperatures in the shaded part of my porch. I never consider my notes accurate in the scientific sense. However, since they are read from the same thermometer in the same location, I consider them relatively valid - that is, valid within themselves, if not calibrated to NOAA.
I just compared the first 30 days of this July to last. The average temperature this year was 91.3. Last year it was 84.4. Nearly 6 degrees warmer this year. If I excluded the first two days of the month, which were cooler this year, the difference was 7.7 degrees.
This year we had something that could be called rain on five days. The most recent was July 23. Last year, we had it nine times: four were real rain, and five were scatters like this year. The number of named storms in the Pacific off the coast of México was the same - seven - but their tracks have been different. Last year some came north. This year they’ve all gone west or west-north-west.
There were signs of change this week in what the weather bureau today described as an "unbelievably persistent high pressure system over the sw U.S." A couple times enough moisture made its way north so clouds formed behind the Jémez. They produced no rain, but prevented temperatures from continuing to rise. Eventually, the temperature has to drop as the Earth moves through its summer orbit.
The trees that are suffering the most are the ones where the original owners have died or moved, and their homes are now rented by their children or on the market. No irrigation is being done. A tall evergreen at a different house showed brown boughs this week, while the aspens at another have dropped many of their leaves.
What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, fernbush, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, purple garden phlox, zinnia. Leaves on the smaller catalpas were bleaching out because there wasn’t enough water to dissolve the iron needed by their roots.
Produce stands opened along Riverside for the first time in several years. One place down the road was picking apricots. The orchard is perhaps 8' below the grade of the road. I assume the high bank trapped heat and protected the blossoms when temperatures killed those on most trees this past spring. The man who didn’t plant seeds until June 3 has squash that’s blooming and corn that’s tasseling.
Beyond the walls and fences: Buffalo gourd, scarlet bee blossom, yellow evening primrose, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, goat’s heads, white sweet clover, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, wild lettuce, horseweed, golden hairy asters, goldenrod. Little has come back since the mowing crews went through a couple weeks ago.
In my yard: Caryopteris, garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, larkspur, golden spur columbine even though leaves are turning brown, sea lavender, blue flax, catmints, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple coneflower, Mexican hats, Sensation cosmos, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, chrysanthemum.
Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.
Inside: Zonal geraniums.
Animal sightings: Two rabbits, hummingbirds, goldfinches and other small birds, red and brown snake, geckoes, sulphur, cabbage and other butterflies, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers. Ground squirrel bit into two more hoses I can’t replace.
Grasshoppers continue to ravage. I saw the beginnings of color on some apples, and saw some more trees that were completely denuded. I can’t believe it’s good for those trees to be ripening fruit with no leaves to do photosynthesis.
The tent forming insects appeared this week. I had a nest for the first time last year that was so high in my cottonwood I couldn’t get to. I tried spraying it with a hose, but it was beyond the water’s reach. What water got there caused it to collapse on itself, but not to fall.
This week one appeared low in the tree, and I cut it down. It was about a foot long and attached to three different branches. I’ve since seen them in apple trees on three different roads. Two were in yards or orchards where people take care of their plants. Those also happened to be roads where the insects don’t normally nest.
Weekly update: Roadside plants might better be called feral than wild to distinguish them from the wildflowers that grow in areas controlled by nature. The feral include natives and naturalized exotics that live on water channeled by man’s engineering.
Paved roads send rain water to their edges, where golden hairy asters and leather leaf globemallows grow a few inches from the drop points. Those perennials regrow after the mowing crews take down their taller competition. This year, only a few are blooming.
After the mowing crews and after the first monsoon rains, the ragweed, Russian thistles and pigweeds germinate in spaces not already reserved by the asters. So far this year, no rain, and few future tumbleweeds.
In my yard the yellow asters have established themselves on the downside of my gravel drive. The Mexican hats control the upside. Each has slightly different water requirements.
My drive follows a downhill slope. The asters are at the low end that gets the most water. Winterfats established themselves along the upper edges of the gravel. When the man used his backhoe to remove them while he was rebuilding my drive a few years ago, they came back along the block walk I installed about 10 feet down slope from the drive. Fewer of them survive along the state roads. I’m not sure if its because they can’t regenerate as easily from constant mowing, or their water requirements aren’t met.
Four-winged salt bushes only grow along the fence of one place that must put out just enough water to support them. Near my house they grow in the low washouts that are perpendicular to the road. In my yard, they grow over the septic tank, which traps water at a level they can use. Since I planted some trees along the rebuilt drive, they’ve come up on the far side that gets some, but not much water through underground seepage.
Irrigation ditches tend to be kept clear in the growing season, so not much grows in them besides sweet peas and goldenrod. This past month the utility company tree-cutting crews have been hacking down the Siberian elms and trees of heaven that sprang up along their banks.
Irrigation water dumps seeds of all kinds, both in the ditches and in the fields and yards. Fleabane has been particularly common this year.
I’m uphill from the local acequia and don’t have access to its waters. However, I have one small patch of fleabane that comes up some years. It appears at the boundary between the taller and the shorter grasses growing in water that seeps from the drive and from the bed I water next to it. This year it started to flower last Monday. That was two days after the last of those sprinklings.
Notes: NOAA. National Weather Service Forecast for Albuquerque, issued 31 July 2016 at 3:46 am.
1. Flea bane, 25 July 2016.
2. Same flea bane from a distance, growing with needle grass.
3. Golden hairy asters, 31 July 2016.
4. Insect tent in the cottonwood, 26 July 2016.
5. Gravel drive at the base of the slope with Mexican hats on the uphill side (left) and golden hairy asters on the other (right), 31 July 2016. White patches are attempt to kill ants.
6. Winterfat growing on the unwatered (right) side of the block path. Sandcherries are watered to the left. 31 July 2016.
7. Watered bed is in front right corner. June grass grows on the other side of the brick delimiter. It has the tall brown stalks. Behind it to the left is the gray four-winged saltbush. Behind it is the chartreuse broom snakeweed, and beyond it the lighter gray winterfat. They almost always appear in that order from a water source. 31 July 2016.
8. Fleabane’s white flowers mark the boundary between the tall needle grass to the upper right and the shorter grasses to the lower left. Winterfat is trying to invade, and if it succeeds will kill all the grasses by overshadowing them and stopping them from getting water. It’s all that can survive dry summers like this, and invasive as it is, it’s better than Russian thistles. 25 July 2016.
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Weather: Some rain fell last night and a little fell earlier in the week. Yesterday the bare ground near the chollas crumbled when I walked on it. Today, when I watered, the water didn’t sink in. I can’t believe we had that much rain last night. There must be a dry layer below the surface that is slowing absorption, even in areas that get watered every other day.
What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, bird of paradise, buddleia, fernbush, Russian sage, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, purple garden phlox, zinnia.
Beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, velvetweed, scarlet bee blossom, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, white sweet clover, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, Hopi tea, wild lettuce, horseweed, golden hairy asters, brome grass.
In my yard: Garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, larkspur, golden spur columbine, sea lavender, blue flax, ladybells, catmints, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, tomatillo, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple coneflower, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, chrysanthemum.
Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.
Inside: Zonal geraniums.
Animal sightings: Two rabbits, hummingbirds and other small birds, geckoes, butterflies, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers.
Weekly update: We’ve now had nearly three weeks of afternoon temperatures in the 90s. Before the solstice, humidity levels in Santa Fé fell below 5%, and morning temperatures fell to the low 60s. Since the Fourth the humidity has stayed above 10%. Morning lows this past week were in the mid-60s.
Molasses may run better when it’s warm, but I slow down. It’s harder to sleep. I wake wondering how soon I can take a nap. Only, I can’t because I have to run water. I can’t both sleep in the few cool hours of the day, and water plants in them. It’s too hot even then to do any more useful work. Whatever is trapped in the air makes my eyelids itch and me sneeze. I get the nap, but it begins just as the air is warming. I stumble from fatigue. Everything’s a typo.
I become a slave to my hobby. I have a friend in Santa Fé who says he waters half the yard every day with a hose every morning and can’t keep up. He’s given up on doing anything more than keeping things alive for next year.
The weeds of summer take advantage. Wild lettuce, horse weed and white sweet clover produce seeds to perpetuate themselves.
Other plants continue to retreat. Purple garden phlox that came into bloom last week at one house down the road was going out of bloom this week. It normally produces flowers all summer. Likewise, bouncing Bess, which normally produces pale florets all summer, was closing production.
This year I started noticing apples on trees at the end of June at places where they’re left to their own devices. Around July 5 I saw fruit in the well-tended orchards. I thought at the time that that was early, but I told myself we have had so little fruit the past few years I may have forgotten when it becomes visible. Today, I checked my notes. Last year I noted fruit for the first time on this date, July 24. Then it was beginning to show some color.
The reason I read my notes is I saw something strange Thursday: trees covered with apples and few leaves.
I had noticed some of my own shrubs seemed more barren. I already was wondering was it grasshoppers or leaf dropping or were the leaves just smaller? I went out to my crab apples where I suspect I had been breeding the insects. Leaves on two of the trees were damaged or gone. Only empty stems remained.
I checked two of my sandcherries. The fruit on one was still buried in leaves,
but was exposed on the other.
I’m assuming the leaves were eaten, but the deformation of some suggests other insects had attacked. On the roses of Sharon, which are one of the last shrubs to leaf, I suspect I see so much of the infrastructure because the leaves stopped developing.
1. Wild lettuce, Lactuca sativa, in the afternoon, after the flowers are gone, 24 July 2016.
2. Horseweed, Conyza candensis, in the afternoon, after the flowers are gone, 24 July 2016.
3. White sweet clover, Melilotus alba, along the fence, 24 July 2016.
4. Apples on tree with few leaves, Santa Cruz, 21 July 2016.
5. Crab apple with bare stems and nibbled leaves, 22 July 2016. White flowers are Queen Anne’s lace, Daucus carpta.
6. Sandcherry, Prunus besseyi, with leaves shielding fruit, 22 July 2016.
7. Sandcherry with exposed fruit, nibbled or deformed leaves, 22 July 2016.
8. Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus, stems visible through the leaves, 22 July 2016.
Sunday, July 17, 2016
Weather: Last rain 7/2; temperatures have been over 90 almost every day since 7/5. Humidity levels have often fallen between 5 and 10% in Santa Fé.
Plants are retreating. Oriental poppy leaves always turn brown in summer, but this past week daylily and golden spur columbine leaves have been turning yellow. Flowers on many shrubs toward the village are small and the leaves seem sparse, although they may also only be smaller than usual.
What’s blooming in the area: Desert willow, hybrid roses, bird of paradise, buddleia, fernbush, Russian sage, sweet peas, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, daylilies, rose of Sharon, hollyhock, purple garden phlox, bouncing Bess, zinnia. Some corn has tassels and some is still germinating irregularly.
Beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, velvetweed, scarlet bee blossom, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, yellow purslane, white sweet clover, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, wild lettuce, horseweed, golden hairy asters, brome grass.
In my yard: Betty Prior rose, garlic chives, large leafed soapwort, larkspur, golden spur columbine, sea lavender, blue flax, ladybells, Saint John’s wort, annual blue salvia, catmints, perennial four o’clock, David phlox, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, tomatillo, white spurge, Mönch asters, purple coneflower, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis.
Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, nicotiana, moss roses, sweet alyssum, French marigolds, gazania.
Inside: Zonal geraniums.
Animal sightings: Two rabbits, small birds, geckoes, butterflies, hummingbird moths, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers. The hummingbird has returned to the nest and laid two eggs.
Weekly update: You see the pictures in catalogs and home beautification publications - drifts of daffodils, fields of wildflowers. Then, if you’re the practical sort, you get out your calculator. If there’s a hundred daffodils in one patch, those bulbs cost $50. If there’s 50 perennials that’s more like $500. Then someone had be paid to dig a hundred holes, and no one ever places things randomly enough to resemble nature.
You wonder, however did it happen.
One landscape designer told a story some years ago about a wealthy client who saw those daffodils and told her he wanted that effect when he returned to his estate the coming weekend. When she tried to explain that it would take at least a year, he repeated "next weekend."
If there’s enough money, anything can happen.
I can’t find the article now, but I think she called all the shops in the country who suppled ready-to-bloom plants, and created his mass. I’m not ever sure now if she actually transplanted them, or just buried the pots like they do for flower-show displays. After all, he may have sold the place and moved into something grander, before the next spring would have exposed the slight-of-hand.
For those with less money, the only alternative is seeds. Unfortunately, the current suppliers only produce viable seed for varieties grown for florists and bedding plant growers. You can plant all the seed you like, but very little germinates, and it’s never in masses.
The other choice is patience. Some plants naturalize. Daylilies, tansy and Saint John’s wort send out underground roots. Sidalcea, hollyhocks, and winecup mallows all produce seeds that can out-shoulder any weed.
This summer, maybe because of the long cool spring, more varieties than usual have multiplied in my yard. The Mexican hats fill a grassy area where only a few daylilies and some trees were planted. Of course, trees need water, and where there’s water there are seeds. The prairie composites were planted across the drive, and made the move themselves. I’ve been trying to get the black-eyed Susans to follow, because they have the same habit of turning dreary by the late summer. However, this year few have come up anywhere.
The only downside to a field of flowers is bees. Despite all those warm, fuzzy extrapolations of nature as some great harmonic Gaia, those masses resulted from individual species serving their own selfish needs. The bees created that meadow effect so they would have a place to eat. Forget the commercials. It is not some place you run through in late morning.
Butterflies must have hatched somewhere this past week. Friday there were a dozen sulphurs around the golden hairy asters. Those are roadside plants whose seed blow into my yard, and the ones near the drive germinate. They yellow butterflies were joined by a few white cabbage butterflies, an occasional swallowtail, and more of those small things that were on the white sweet clover last week.
Yesterday I saw the first hummingbird or hawk moth. It was on the soapwort. This morning it was on the golden spur columbine. I only planted a couple of those yellow-flowered plants, but the moths and hummingbirds have created a mass of greedy tap-roots that invade everything I plant, because, if I plant it, it gets water.
1. Sidalcea malvaeflora ‘Party Girl." I planted some several times. The four in 2006 are the ones that naturalized.
2. Ladybells, Adenophora latifolia. I planted them at least twice, before the two in 2000 colonized. The hose is outside the bed so the ground squirrel won’t get it.
3. Goldenspur columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha. I planted four in 1997.
4. Tansy, Tanacetum vulgare crispum. I made the mistake of planting one of these in 1996. It spread everywhere, but never bloomed. I pulled them out, and put a few in an area where nothing else would grow.
5. Daylily, Hemerocallis. I bought tubers several times, before the ones in 2008 started to reproduce. The flowers are sterile, so they only expand underground. Mexican hats in front.
6. Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera. I planted four of the yellow species in 1996, and four of the red in 1997 with two more 1998. The coral beardtongue in front also planted itself.
7. Golden hairy aster, Chrysopsis villosa. I don’t plant these.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Weather: Last rain 7/2. Afternoon winds have been blowing branches of the peach tree against the house. When I went to investigate, I found the only fruit on the tree was on that limb closest to the house. Apparently, the reflected heat protected the blossoms when temperatures turned cold in spring. To avoid cutting the branch, I removed all the fruit I could find.
What’s blooming in the area: Desert willow, hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, bird of paradise, Russian sage, sweet peas, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, daylilies, lilies, datura, hollyhock, purple garden phlox, bouncing Bess, yellow yarrow. A food stall by the road was advertising cherries.
Beyond the walls and fences: Trees of heaven, buffalo gourd, tufted white evening primrose, velvetweed, scarlet bee blossom, alfilerillo, purple mat flower, goat’s head, silver edge nightshade, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, leather leaf globe mallow, yellow purslane, white sweet clover, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, fleabane, goat’s beard, wild lettuce, horseweed, plains paper flower, Hopi tea, strap leaf and golden hairy asters, native dandelions, brome grass.
In my yard: Snow-in-summer, large leafed soapwort, larkspur, golden spur columbine, sea lavender, blue flax, ladybells, Saint John’s wort, annual blue salvia, catmints, perennial four o’clock, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, tomatillo, white spurge, Shasta daisy, bachelor buttons, Ozark and purple coneflowers, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, white yarrow.
Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, nicotiana, moss roses, French marigolds, gazania.
Inside: Zonal geraniums.
Animal sightings: Two rabbits, hummingbirds, goldfinches, other small birds, geckoes, swallowtail, cabbage and small butterflies, small moths, bumble and small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers.
Weekly update: Plants are creatures of habits. If you never water, your yard is filled with those that germinate with the monsoons like pigweed and Russian thistles. If you water twice a day, you have a lush environment, but, if you don’t have servants, you can never run out-of-town on an errand.
These habits are absolute. Change your habits, and your environment changes. Some 22 months ago, a for-sale sign was posted outside a house near the village. The realtor listing said "the yard is shaded with huge trees." Now one of the tall evergreen trees in front has died, and, in the past week, another two have begun turning brown. They couldn’t survive the prolonged loss of attention.
This year, the habits of the universe changed. Until the Fourth, the weather was fairly typical. Afternoon temperatures were in the high 80s, rather than in the 90s that occurred around the solstice. Some rain fell, and the first tropical disturbances formed off the western coast of Central America. Some roses that had gone out of bloom in mid-June were putting out new flowers. Seeds germinated and put out their second leaves.
And now, the heat as returned. Those tropical storms are all moving west or west-north-west, rather than towards us. The roses gave up. Seedlings stopped growing. One friend complains his tomato only blooms, but doesn’t set fruit.
This morning the weather bureau used superlatives to describe "an extremely rare period of critical fire weather conditions" caused by "an unseasonably strong storm" to the north that will generate winds here where "the recent very warm and relatively inactive weather pattern has resulted in dry fuels" for potential fires.
They say no more, or rather they explain it all through the mechanics of heat and the ridges and troughs that used to be called highs and lows. Why those ridges are creating east-west barriers against the northward flow of moisture from the Pacific is beyond their purview.
The one thing that hasn’t changed its habits this year is the ground squirrel. This past week it destroyed three hoses and the connector for a brass valve. It wasn’t the cost that was the problem - though the replacements ran nearly $50. I couldn’t run any water for two days.
When I surveyed the damaged, I discovered it wasn’t just seedlings that had died. Water was no longer reaching as far as it had when I planted. I ran the water longer, and plants that had been irrigated still were dry.
I used to think this summer failure was caused by evaporation. I reasoned the water from the drip hoses simply disappeared before it could reach the ground when humidity levels in the air got too low. This week I realized that would explain a general reduction in water, but not the spatial patterns. I don’t know enough about physics to know how heat affects the flow of water through garden hoses, but I suspect somehow either less water is moving, or its moving at a lower pressure.
I’ve been out with a regular hose watering the seedlings that have somehow had their sustenance cut off. The whole point of spending money on soaker hoses was to avoid standing in the sun.
When heat is as remorseless as it has been this year, it’s hard to know when to plant. One person’s corn is in irregularly heights, while another, who planted a few weeks later, is uniform. The plants that are doing the best are the reseeds, but that may just be luck and not wisdom on nature’s part.
Notes: NOAA, National Weather Service, Albuquerque. "Red Flag Warning" issued 10 July 2016 at 4:39 am, in effect "from 2 pm to 8 pm mdt today."
Photographs: Clover taken 5 July 2016; rest taken 10 July 2016.
1. Sea lavender has many more stems this year. It must have liked the long, cool spring.
2. White sweet clover started blooming in the drive July 4, and the small nondescript butterflies or moths only entomologists know were around it.
Notice all the seedlings emerged just after the 90 degree heat relented in June. All have stopped growing.
3. California poppies germinated June 23. These are the same ones shown last week,
4. Cantaloup germinated June 19.
4. Heavenly Blue morning glory new seeds emerged June 23.
6. Heavenly Blue morning glory reseed came up May 28; this week the leaves died.
7. Corn emerged June 27. I have no idea how the nasturtium seed got mixed in, but it was there the same time.
Sunday, July 03, 2016
Weather: We’ve entered the period of faux monsoons, when the clouds form and the wind follows, but no water. Their benign effect is the clouds cover the sun and prevent the high temperatures of the solstice period. Last rain 7/2.
What’s blooming in the area: Desert willow, hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, Russian sage, Spanish broom, sweet peas, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, red-tipped yuccas, daylilies, lilies, datura, hollyhock, bouncing Bess, yellow yarrow; can see green apples on some trees.
Beyond the walls and fences: Tamarix, buffalo gourd, showy milkweed, tumble mustard, tufted white evening primrose, velvetweed, scarlet bee blossom, alfilerillo, purple mat flower, goat’s head, silver edge nightshade, bindweed, green leaf five eyes, leather leaf globe mallow, yellow purslane, scurf peas, alfalfa, Queen Anne’s lace, fleabane, goat’s beard, plains paper flower, Hopi tea, strap leaf and golden hairy asters, native dandelions, brome grass.
In my yard: Rugosa and miniature roses, snow-in-summer, larkspur, golden spur columbine, Johnson’s Blue geranium, sea lavender, blue flax, ladybells, Saint John’s wort, annual blue salvia, catmints, sidalcea, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, tomatillo, Shasta daisy, bachelor buttons, Ozark and purple coneflowers, Mexican hats, chocolate flower, coreopsis, blanket flower, anthemis, white yarrow.
Bedding plants: Wax begonias, snapdragons, nicotiana, French marigolds, gazania.
Inside: Zonal geraniums.
Animal sightings: Two rabbits, small birds, geckoes, swallowtail butterfly, bumble and small bees, dragonfly, hornets, ants, small grasshoppers; heard crickets.
Weekly update: In Cao Xuequin’s Dream of the Red Chamber, no one set out on a journey without consulting an almanac to find an auspicious date. The idea of a providential day was extended to significant social events like marriages when horoscopes were used in place of accumulated weather history. That all sounded quite quaint until I moved to the southwest, and weather became more than a scrim to life.
When I lived in Michigan, I only worried about last probable frost dates when I planted seeds or bedding plants. In Abilene, Texas, I discovered you did nothing until the spring winds died down. I thought it was enough to plant trees and shrubs a few inches below ground, but I was wrong. That was not enough to protect them. I’m not sure yet how anything besides prickly pear gets started there.
Here, as I mentioned in the post for 5 June 2016, you not only have temperature and wind, but also unpredictable rains to consider here in the valley. Few of the seeds I planted the morning of that unforecast deluge have germinated.
My biggest problem this year was my burn pile. I had started clearing dead weeds from the drive early last winter, and piled them in the gravel drive. I didn’t want to bother cutting them into small pieces for the trash, and thought, "oh, I’ll burn this weekend." It didn’t occur to me I couldn’t light a fire when it was so cold water wouldn’t run through the hose I always have at hand.
So the pile grew larger, the weather warmed enough to thaw the hoses, and the winds began. I watched the pile shrink. I wasn’t sure if things blew away or they settled. All I knew was, I couldn’t burn on a weekend when the winds were blowing.
Finally, in June there was a calm morning, and I thought, maybe. But then, I looked at the weather forecast and realized it was too hot and too dry. We had entered fire season. While I knew I took every precaution - siting the burn pile on gravel near a hose outlet - I wasn’t ready to risk an unexpected gust.
Toward the end of last week the forecast included heavy rains, and I thought, "if I don’t do this soon, everything will be too wet to ignite." Last Saturday morning, a propitious moment arrived. The air was damp and there was no wind. A single match ignited a fire that took an hour to burn through the yards of accumulated matter.
As I stood watching the smoke flow east, even with no wind, I noticed the weeds in the drive were growing and the grasshoppers were getting larger. Now, when could I do something about them?
The weed killers say they begin immediately, and if it doesn’t rain within three hours, the chemicals will work. That just means finding a morning when there is no wind and my wrist muscles feel up to the task of squeezing a trigger over and over and over. Whether or not I was in the mood, I forced myself out this morning. The weeds that will turn woody by the end of the summer already were brushing the bottom of my car.
Of course, they herbicides only kill the plants; they don’t vaporize them. This coming winter I’ll be out again, gathering their corpses into a pyre.
Now I just have the grasshoppers that apparently are breeding in the alfalfa growing at the far end of the property by the crab apples. They aren’t going to stay there.
Of course, the time to have treated them was with a grub killer before they hatched. As they say, if I had only known then what I know now about what they were up to.
This is the worst of the tasks because the only thing available is one of those bottles you attach to a hose and spray. That means collecting hoses from other parts of the yard and taking them out there, then dressing in a rain suit, donning a mask and putting on rubber gloves. As I know from watching the smoke last week, there is no such thing as a completely windless day here. Then, timing is even more critical: it must be done sometime early in the day before the bees are out, but after the early birds have retreated.
I couldn’t do it last week, because rain was in the forecast. Unlike weed killers, insecticides don’t always work immediately, and when they wash away the effort was wasted.
The Chinese used their almanacs to decide when it was safe to travel over unimproved roads with no bridges over what could be raging rivers. Since we launched satellites, we rely on the weather bureau’s computer simulations to predict flows of moisture and wind in the atmosphere. They are more accurate, but there are variables their experts haven’t quantified enough to put into the formulas. Rain was forecast for much of the past week, even an 80% chance of heavy rains one night. Of course, that didn’t happen, but light rains did fall a few days. Enough to justify burning before and holding off on the grasshoppers, but not enough to justify planting more seeds.
Like the Chinese, I’m stuck with the prognosticators I have, and my intuition on what constitutes an auspicious day for the big tasks in the yard.
Notes: Cao Xuequin, The Story of the Stone. The last volume, written with Gao E and translated by John Minford (Penguin, 1986), has the most references to divination. Page 344 has references to horoscopes and planning a date for a journey; page 386 mentions plans for a wedding journey. Page 68 describes other divination rituals.
Photographs: All taken 28 June 2016.
1. Desert willow that was planted in 2013. This is almost its very first flower.
2. Summer Glow tamarix will more flowers than usual, perhaps because of the cool spring.
3. California poppy seedlings the way they were planted between some French marigold bedding plants.
4. California poppy seedlings after the rains washed the mulch and seeds away. These are in a small depression at the other side of the #3 bed.
5. Sensation cosmos seedling that survived the deluge with a zinnia.
6. Sensation cosmos that planted themselves with a Catawba grape.
7. It’s too soon to know if any of the larkspur I planted the day of the gullywasher survived. These planted themselves last year, both in and outside the brick defined bed.
8. Zinnia seeds that survived in the #5 bed, where hoses caught the seeds and their covering soil. It’s bare between the hose and the bricks behind where the cosmos were planted.