Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Trees without Walls


Weather: The first really cold morning, last Saturday. Some rain fell Thursday and Friday, but most stayed west of the Rockies. Last rain was 9/23.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, buddleia, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, datura, morning glories, Maximilian sunflowers, zinnia, pampas grass.

Beyond the walls and fences: Yellow evening primroses, bindweed, leather leaf globe mallow, broom snakeweed, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, golden hairy, heath and purple asters.

In my yard: Large leafed soapwort, calamintha, winecup mallow, Mexican hats, chocolate flowers, coreopsis, blanket flower, French marigolds, Sensation and yellow cosmos, chrysanthemums.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, sweet alyssum, gazania.

Inside: Zonal geraniums, moss roses.

Animal sightings: Small birds, geckoes, small bees, hornets, ants, grasshoppers.


Weekly update: There is no such thing as an environmentally friendly building, or an ecologically neutral footprint. No matter the materials, the design, or the intentions of the owners, walls introduce change.

If a wall faces south it absorbs heat from the sun, then reflects it back in the evening to protect areas from the worst winter temperatures. On its other side, it casts a shadow where snow doesn’t melt and the ground stays colder longer in the spring.

Depending on its orientation, a wall deflects the wind, which in turn diverts the rain. One side has wind erosion, the other side drought. If a wall is freestanding with a broad top, or if it’s part of a building with a roof, its overhangs create drip lines.

Plants exploit these microclimates.

Down the road from me, a man had an apple tree outside his trailer. I don’t know that he had ever did much for it, but it flourished.


I don’t know what happened to him, but one day in 2013 I saw a couple men dismantling his added entry porch. A few days later the trailer was gone, and the ground scraped bare.

However, the men saw the apple tree, and had that superstitious regard men have here for fruit trees, and carefully worked around it.


The tree survived, but it had lost its passive water source. Drips from the roofs of the trailer and the porch had kept it alive. It barely made it through this past winter. There were leaves on only one side this spring.

Then came July, that month when afternoon temperatures were in the 90s, not their usual 80s, and humidities fell below 10%. The tree is now barren in a field of Russian thistles that returned.


A catalpa on the road to Chama experienced the same bereavement. A roofed area stood near the road. I assume it once had been a produce stand, because no one stores anything of value like hay or heavy equipment that close to a highway. I suspect the owners had retired or died, and the trees survived on water from the roof.


In December of 2014 I drove by after a dozer had leveled the house, and was clearing the grounds. A few days later the owners installed a pipe rail fence near the road to replace the barrier created by the stand and scrub vegetation.


The catalpa and another tree managed to survive. The drive on one side has been paved, and asphalt, or whatever it is that’s used these days, doesn’t absorb as much water as gravel. The surplus rolls to the side and creates it’s own drip line at the edge. The roots must have spread into the spillway, though the branches showed no indication of the underground patterns.

This summer was brutal, but one side of the catalpa has leaves. More important, those leaves are green. They didn’t bleach out from the iron in the soil become too dry to feed the roots.


Some Siberian elms have just suffered a similar set back. A trailer burned on one of the busier two-lane streets in town in 2014, and for some reason it wasn’t cleared.


At some point, the owners put up some yellow tape to keep people out, but that was the only warning the remains were probably unstable. With no owner to keep them cut, a row of elms sprouted in the drip line.

Finally, this past March the trailer was cleared but not the grounds. I wonder how long those elms will survive, because even an elm will eventually die if you can manage to withhold the water long enough.


Photographs:
1. A house in the village, 29 September 2007, when morning glories covered the front wall and a pink rose bloomed by the entrance.

2. Same house this week, 23 September 2016. The person living there, who may not have been the same one who was there in 2007, let things go wild and erected coyote-style privacy barriers. A couple weeks ago, whoever owned the house had scraped the land clear, removed every sign of vegetation, including iris which usually are left alone. The rose may be huddled against the porch.

3. The Apple Trailer down the road, 19 April 2012.

4. Apple tree after the trailer was removed, 24 August 2013.

5. Apple tree this past week, after a brutal summer, 25 September 2016.

6. Produce stand, 12 September 2014. There’s a tree at the back left corner that’s surviving on water from the roof.

7. Produce stand, 7 December 2014, after the produce stand was razed.

8. Catalpa growing where the edge of produce stand had dropped water, 23 September 2016.

9. Burned out trailer in town, 9 December 2014. Whatever trees had grown in front had been singed by the fire.

10. Trailer space this past week, 23 September 2016, after the trailer was removed. A row of bright colored elms grow at a fairly uniform height where water had fallen from the charred frame.

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