Sunday, December 09, 2018

Birds’ Nest


Weather: The cold mornings, perhaps combined with the layer of snow that fell early Friday, finally killed off many of the perennial tops that had remained green.

Last useful snow: 12/7. Week’s low: 11 degrees F. Week’s high: 47 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Stems on roses; leaves on cliff roses, juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, yuccas, red hot pokers, Dutch iris, grape hyacinths, blue flax, winecup mallow, beards tongues, snapdragons, pink evening primrose, vinca, sweet peas, Queen Anne’s lace, chrysanthemum, June, needle and cheat grasses

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, fernbush, buddleia, pinks, winterfat, snow-in-summer leaves

What’s red: Stems on sandbar willow; leaves on alfilerillo

Animal sightings: Small birds.


Weekly update: It snowed in the night, so every horizontal surface was covered with snow at dawn on Friday. The birds didn’t come out until the afternoon, after it had melted. I don’t know where they spent the morning.

I discovered an empty nest in the crook of the apricot tree Monday. It would have afforded no shelter. It was as level as it could have been made, with a rim that would have been covered with snow.

The birds that winter here don’t bother with nests. Generations of chickadees live in my neighbor’s metal building. Some used to live under my eaves until a pigeon tried to move in. I chased it out, but the small birds didn’t return. Perhaps the prowling cats kept them away.

The small birds I saw after the snow had the dark hangman’s hoods I was told characterized juncos. They flitted from my young cherry trees to the farm fence. The only place I can imagine transients would find shelter is another neighbor’s arborvitae. I know birds live there, because I hear them. All I ever see is brown bodies.

My friend who feeds birds in Santa Fé has an arborvitae near his feeders. It’s always filled with birds, and I gather different species coexist in the evergreen branches.

I have no idea what type of bird built the nest. I didn’t notice any special activity in that area.

It was something fairly large, as small birds go, or something that hatched a lot of eggs. It used some garlic chive stems and possibly winterfat twigs. It also tore pieces off a shop tower that blew into my yard from the chickadee neighbor.


Notes on photographs: Birds’ nest, 3 December 2018.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Birds and Seeds


Weather: Snow was promised a couple times, and a little did materialize today. Mostly we got the collateral weather: warm nights while the moist clouds moved overhead and raw winds in the day.

I don’t know if the ground is frozen yet or not. I never dig to find out. I do I’m having problems opening my gate. The ground there heaves a bit in the winter. A few years ago I put a narrow line of blocks under the gate wheel. My neighbor cut down some winterfat, and the bare soil blew onto my drive. So, the sum of tiny changes: the blocks probably have sunk a bit, the ground may have heaved a bit, and there’s a bid more dirt to clear - and the gate was dragging this week.

Last useful snow: 12/2. Week’s low: 10 degrees F. Week’s high: 56 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Leaves on area hybrid roses, Apache plumes, cliff roses, juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, red hot pokers, blue flax, hollyhocks, winecup and leather leaf globe mallows, beards tongues, snapdragon, golden spur columbine, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, vinca, coral bells, alfilerillo, Saint John’s wort, cat mint, violets, sweet pea, Queen Anne’s lace, alfalfa, Shasta daisy, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, blanket flowers, anthemis, white yarrow, dandelion, purple asters, June, needle and cheat grasses

Some arborvitae beginning to turn brown.

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, buddleia, pinks, winterfat, snow-in-summer

What still has dead leaves: Area cottonwoods and Russian olives; trees of heaven have their full heads of seed clusters that probably catch as much snow as leaves. My cottonwood finally dropped its leaves.

Animal sightings: Small birds. My bird feeding friend told me the mysterious black hooded birds I saw a week ago may have been juncos.

Weekly update: I forced myself to go out one afternoon and start cutting down the dead Maximilian sunflower stalks. Of course, I got waylaid by all the things that blocked my way.

I began by cutting the dead stems on purple asters and leather leaf globe mallows whose seeds were constantly getting into my clothes. The aster parachutes have been especially troublesome this year.

The globe mallow stems were still green, and wouldn’t cut with my dull loppers. It’s not like I was encouraging them to sprout near my car, so tore at them anyway.

Next, without thinking, I sat on the block walk to cut shorter stems, and slash the garlic chives and hollyhocks that were growing between the blocks. As I went, I swept the blocks with a plastic whiskbroom.

After a half hour, I began to get cold. The air may have been in the mid fifties, but the ground was not. I hadn’t thought to lay a piece of cardboard for insulation.

I went out two days later and discovered some animal had kicked debris over the cleared path. I suspect it was a bird. I don’t know if it detected some residual heat in the area or was drawn by something else. I suspect it was hoping to eat whatever I had planted. Welcome to it, since all that could have been sown were globe mallow, aster, and garlic chive seeds. The last are so plentiful, there was no need to destroy my handiwork.

Notes on photographs: Water serpent and cloud painted on a local stucco wall.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Climates, Microclimates, and Crab Apples


Weather: Except for Thursday and today, every morning’s low temperature was between 15 and 19.

Last useful snow: 11/12. Week’s low: 15 degrees F. Week’s high: 58 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Leaves on area hybrid roses, Apache plumes, cliff roses, juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, red hot pokers, blue flax, hollyhocks, winecup and leather leaf globe mallows, beards tongues, snapdragon, golden spur columbine, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, vinca, coral bells, alfilerillo, Saint John’s wort, cat mint, violets, sweet pea, Queen Anne’s lace, alfalfa, Shasta daisy, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, blanket flowers, anthemis, white yarrow, dandelion, purple asters, June, needle and cheat grasses

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, buddleia, pinks, winterfat, snow-in-summer

Tasks: Another week spent inside looking out.

Animal sightings: Robin, other small birds


Weekly update: The weather bureau is a bit like the indifferent clerk in a returns department who tells you "climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." [1] And, no returns or exchanges are possible because you’ve already used what you were given.

We’re taught about the one in the simple ways children are taught. In Michigan, that meant I learned the to spell the word "temperate." Simultaneously, I learned to pull on leggings and boots in the winter, and changed to shorts and halters in summer. The one was an abstraction, the other part of daily life.

My trees behave like I did getting dressed to go outside. Instead of eyes, they sense changes in sunlight, temperature and water and alter their metabolic rates so less chlorophyll is produced. The green stuff is the nutrient the plant needs, and when it disappears, the tree sends other chemicals that protect it by sealing off the malfunctioning parts. When the seals are complete, the leaves fall.

Of course, that’s just a paradigm like climate. The reality is some trees either don’t process the signals properly or are genetically unable to. So, when we went from Indian Summer to sub-freezing temperatures in a week, some of my trees still had leaves that were killed by the effects of cold but weren’t prepared to drop.

Several weeks have passed since the shock of November 6. Many of my trees that had bundles of dead leaves have now dropped them, but not the cottonwood. I do think its internal communication systems have been slow to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

The other tree that still has its full complement of dead leaves is the red-leafed plum.

The red-leaved crab apple has managed to denude itself. It’s near the house, and in what I’m realizing is, to add a confusing term, a microclimate warmed by heat escaping from the drafty porch I keep warm with a space heater. Because the area gets some heat, the tree must have remained active enough to continue producing the ethylene necessary to dissolve the connection between the leaf and the branch.

Microclimates are neither climates nor weather because they created by humans. Many of the perennials that are still green are on that side of the house, but I’m not sure if its just the heat or their biogeographic heritages. Most are plants that came from colder environments: sweet peas, pink evening primroses, tansy, vinca, snapdragons, pinks, and snows-in-summer.

My other microclimate is on the northwest side of the garage when I planted the lily, daffodil, and tulip bulbs. Even though it gets afternoon sun, its not enough to warm the area. When I walked by yesterday the concrete block path still was covered with ice.

I’m not sure how birds respond to unexpected bursts of weather. Again, there is that discrepancy between their annual migration patterns and what’s scavenging seeds in my yard. The goldfinches usually spent some time here stripping the Maximilian sunflowers, but this year I only saw them one day.

I have a friend who feeds birds who tells me they haven’t been to his place in Santa Fé either. "Feed" is much a confusing term as "climate." "Cater" might be a better way to describe how he buys specific foodstuffs for birds he expects to stop in his yard. The thistle seed for the goldfinches remains untouched.

Yesterday, I looked out and saw some small birds in an area where I sometimes see chickadees and goldfinches. When I looked closer, they were neither: they had very dark, solid-colored heads and small brown bodies. Near them was a robin. Unmistakable and out of place.


Notes on photographs: Many mornings this week frost has settled on plants after dawn, then melted away. The first shows the tree outside my porch, with the shadows of its branches thrown on the screen. The second catches the light reflecting off the melting frost. The last shows the shining moisture through the shadows. Taken 23 November 2018.

End notes:
1. "What’s the Difference Between Weather and Climate." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Centers for Environmental Information website.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Smoke


Weather: Snow, then cold. Last night the stars were bright and the air filled with smoke.

Last useful snow: 11/12. Week’s low: 14 degrees F. Week’s high: 55 degrees F in the shade.

What’s still green: Leaves on area hybrid roses, cliff roses, juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, iris, red hot pokers, blue flax, hollyhocks, winecup and leather leaf globe mallows, beards tongues, snap dragon, golden spur columbine, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, vinca, coral bells, alfilerillo, green leaf five eyes, Saint John’s wort, cat mint, baptisia, violets, sweet pea, Queen Anne’s lace, alfalfa, Shasta daisy, Mexican hats, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, blanket flowers, anthemis, white yarrow, dandelion, asters, June, needle and cheat grasses

What’s yellow or yellow-green: Broom snakeweed,

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, buddleia, pinks, winterfat, snow-in-summer, Silver King artemesia, golden hairy aster, chocolate flower

Tasks: Someone who keeps his shrubs and trees pruned was out Tuesday amputating his catalpa.

Animal sightings: Cat, small brown birds


Weekly update: Canute knew he couldn’t control the tides. Saturday, Trump said "I want great climate, we’re going to have that." I’d settle for something I didn’t like a few years ago when winter temperatures hovered around 20 degrees.

So far, we’re repeating last year when it got down to 11 on this day and 10 the next morning. Then morning temperatures returned to the low 20s until December 5 when they reached a low of 5 and stayed below 10 until the solstice.

We haven’t been as cold yet this year, but the fall below 20 degrees started last Tuesday when it was 14 outside.

The laws of physics don’t hibernate, especially the one about heat rising and cold falling. This morning when it was 16 here, it was 31 in Los Alamos, 30 in Santa Fé. It’s not just that our heat rises, but their automobiles produce more fumes that trap the increased heat their producing to keep warm.

I’ve been wanting to get outdoors to continue cutting winterfat and Maximilian sunflower stems. It’s not just because they need it. I have to maintain my summer work schedule if I’m going to counteract the affects of age on my bone density.

Yesterday, when it finally was warm enough to go outside the smoke from California arrived. It looked like it was flowing north, then east on NOAA maps. But storm fronts of some kind (more of those forces of physics) were pushing the smoke south, especially east of the Sangre.

In the house, my eyes were stinging. I alternated between being stuffed up and breathing through my mouth.

Now smoke is something we’ve all become familiar with. I’ve learned the effects are worse when they’re actively fighting the flames with retardants than when the firefighters are letting a blaze burn itself out.

The smoke in California must be geometrically worse than anything Las Conchas produced. Because the fires are so near settled areas, they’re using more retardants. But worse, it isn’t just trees and shrubs that are burning. Buildings are always toxic, and automobiles worse.

The fact Paradise turned into a charnel house is probably only worse psychologically. It’s an image from Halloween that one could be inhaling bits of someone’s grandmother.

Notes on photographs: Cook’s hardware has murals on the outside of its storage building. The original one with the train on flat land (top) was painted over, and the one of the train near the San Juan bridge (bottom) was painted on an abutting wall. Not only does it represent an idealization of our past, but a past when the only pollutants came from steam engines.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Computers vs Reality


Weather: From Indian summer to winter solstice weather in two weeks. This week a cold front came through Thursday night, and the air temperature fell to 17 in the night. It rose before dawn, then dropped back to 21.

Another storm is forecast for tonight with even colder temperatures after. Clouds have been coming and going all day, with hard rain a little after noon. The moisture is a warning that makes the day feel ominous.

Last useful rain: 11/11. Week’s low: 17 degrees F. Week’s high: 62 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses in area, sweet alyssum, single flowers on plants in protected places

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, and other evergreens, iris, red hot pokers, scarlet and blue flax, hollyhocks, winecup mallows, leather leaf globe mallow, beards tongues, snap dragon, golden spur columbine, bouncing Bess, pink evening primrose, vinca, coral bells, alfilerillo, green leaf five eyes, Saint John’s wort, cat mint, baptisia, violets, sweet pea, Queen Anne’s lace, alfalfa, Shasta daisy, Mexican hats, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, blanket flowers, anthemis, gazania, white yarrow, dandelion, purple and Mönch asters, June and needle grasses; new cheat grass emerging

Apache plume and cliff roses are behaving like evergreens; some leaves turn yellow then fall, leaving the rest.

What’s red or turning red and orange: Purple leaf plum

What’s yellow or turning yellow and orange: Broom snakeweed,

What’s gray, gray-green, or blue green: Four-winged saltbush, buddleia, pinks, winterfat, snow-in-summer, Silver King artemesia, golden hairy aster, chocolate flower

Tasks: The week of Indian Summer meant all the leaves fell at once when the temperatures turned cold. For the first time in years, there are piles of leaves in the drive. The leaves that didn’t turn color died this week, and remain on the cottonwood and black locust trees. I have no intention of raking them, even if were possible on gravel. They aren’t going to kill a lawn, and eventually will blow away

One tree that kept its leaves was the Siberian elm. When the leaves disappeared from other trees, it was possible to see all the places it had invaded without being noticeable during the summer.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds, earth worms


Weekly update: When I voted Tuesday in the local precinct, I was reminded again of the problems confronting areas that do not conform to big city patterns. We have no physical address, we have directions. I have a PO box, and had a hard time remembering by county road. Fortunately the poll worker was understanding; he said his physical has changed three times since the county started assigning building and road numbers (not streets with house numbers).

I’m sure one group that lobbied for the change was large service and delivery companies. Address meant they didn’t experienced drivers.

Whenever I call one and try to give them directions, they say it’s not necessary, the GPS will tell him where to go. I usually manage to get them to have the driver call when he’s in the area, so I can meet him at the road to open the gate. Inevitably, I watch him drive by and come back.

Many mail order nurseries that fill by box with catalogs refuse to ship to the box, because they give the lucrative business to UPS. If you want to start a friendly discussion with a stranger in this area, just mention a recent delivery problem and he or she will top you.

I wanted some lily bulbs and only one company has ever shipped ones that remained viable. Last spring I made arrangements with a friend in Santa Fé to have them shipped to him. Naturally, he told me his UPS story. The driver regularly confuses him with someone else, and the one calls the other when a package has been misdelivered.

When I didn’t get anything by the end of October, I assumed the nursery hadn’t shipped or the package had gone astray. But no, I got an email Friday night saying the package had arrived. Naturally, I didn’t get it until Monday, because there’s a built-in delay with UPS that doesn’t exist with the post office.

The nursery must have put the zip code into their database and come up with USDA zone 6. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had said a cold zone 5; the computer understands our needs better than we do. It also protects the company against people who genuinely don’t know, and removes one step from the order entry process.

Ahead of the Wednesday night cold front, morning temperatures were down to 23 on Tuesday and 22 on Wednesday. Even though I waited until late afternoon, the soil was wet and cold. I’m not sure if the worms were still active or just agitated when I uncovered them.

It didn’t take two days to plant the bulbs because I had ordered so many. My hands got cold. I went back out Thursday to lay some of those wire mesh screens over the bed. I had bought them early in the summer to protect the seedlings from the rabbit; now I wanted to make it harder for the ground squirrel to scavenge.


Notes on photographs: In addition to the murals on walls around Cook’s and Hunter’s old car business, individuals have landscapes painted on their own walls. Many try to recapture local farm life. This one is on private property in town. Pictures taken 19 August 2018.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Laws of Physics


Weather: Rain, lots of rain, followed by cold temperatures.

Last useful rain: 10/31. Week’s low: 25 degrees F. Week’s high: 68 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming: Hybrid roses, sweet peas, sweet alyssum, large-flowered soapwort, chrysanthemums, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, senecio, bachelor buttons, gazanias

What’s red or turning red and orange: Purple leaf plum, Bradford pear, spirea, snowball,

What’s yellow or turning yellow and orange: Apache plume, apricot, apples, potentilla, cottonwoods, Siberian elm, lilacs, beauty bush, brome grass

What’s gray or gray-green: Four-winged saltbush, winterfat, buddleia, fern bush, snow-in-summer, Silver King artemesia, golden hairy aster

What’s still green: Cliff roses, juniper and other evergreens, black locust, alfalfa, iris, red hot pokers, garlic chives, scarlet and blue flax, hollyhocks, winecup mallows, leather leaf globe mallow, pinks, beards tongues, golden spur columbine, vinca, Rumanian sage, cat mints, baptisia, violets, Queen Anne’s lace, Shasta daisy, Mexican hats, coreopsis, anthemis, yellow and white yarrows, dandelion, June and needle grasses; new alfilerillo emerging

Tasks: Some more of the market gardens have been cleared; in others the stalks were knocked down, but remain in rows

Animal sightings: Small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants


Weekly update: The laws of physics can be finessed, but they cannot be violated. No matter the weather, the Earth continues its ordained journey around the sun. We had an endless mid-June when temperatures were high and humidity low.

Then, as heated ocean waters met the coming cool weather, hurricanes formed off Central America and México. We got three days of rain with some snow with Tara in mid-October. We got more the end of October, probably as Michael finally moved away from Florida. This past week we got rain Tuesday and Wednesday while Xavier was forming and cold fronts were coming from the northwest.

All that moisture meant plants that had been in remission began their August bloom cycles. More amazing, last week we had an actual autumn when the leaves on trees turned colors, but did not fall. Usually the leaves turn and drop immediately.

Time can be stretched like an elastic band, but when it reaches it fullest extent it snaps back. The leaves are on the ground.


Notes on photographs: All were taken 25 October 2018; all were members of the rose family.
1. Sandcherry (Prunus besseyi)
2. Elberta peach (Prunus persica) with yellow catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)
3. Bing cherry (Prunus avium).

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Cold without Frost


Weather: Snowed Monday. About a week ago the weather service hinted at the coming change of seasons when it suggested the storm was being driven by the jet stream rather than the hurricanes in the Pacific. It didn’t say that exactly, but that’s what I understood to be the definition of summer and winter.

Hurricanes are still forming off the western coast of México, but those northern winds are directing the waters from Vincente and Willa into southern Texas.

We did get some residual rain late in the afternoon Tuesday, and winds on Wednesday.

Last useful rain: 10/16. Week’s low: 29 degrees F. Week’s high: 66 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, silver lace vine, sweet peas, Maximilian sunflowers, chrysanthemums

What’s blooming in my yard: Calamintha, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Bindweed, greenleaf five eyes, chamisa, senecio

What’s red or turning red and orange: Sand cherries, spirea, snowball, Virginia creeper leaves; Russian thistle stems

What’s yellow or turning yellow and orange: Sweet cherry, peach, apricot, pasture roses, cottonwoods, catalpa, globe and weeping willows, skunk bush, caryopteris, grape, milkweed, Maximilian sunflower, goldenrod, daylily leaves

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum

Tasks: Monday I passed people who obviously had planned to work outside before the snow started falling a little after 7 am. One was loading tree limbs that had been cut to make room for a trailer. He was standing beside his truck warming his hands. Two younger men were cutting the tops of ornamental grass. When I passed them, they two were taking a break to warm their hands.

I took advantage of the clouds on Wednesday to cut winterfat in the afternoon.

Animal sightings: Small brown birds, geckos, sidewalk ants


Weekly update: Monday’s cold did not bring frost; the snow landed on leaves after 7 am, and soon melted. Plants sped up their preparations for winter, especially the purple asters which went out of bloom. Almost none of the so-called weeds are still blooming in my yard.

Cultivated plants responded differently. Those classed as cool-weather bloomers, like roses and sweet peas, continued their late flowering. The annuals grown from seed, like the Sensation cosmos and African marigolds, apparently were able to stay warm enough to stay alive.

Some shrubs, like the sand cherries, turned color long ago, and others like the choke cherry are bare. But many others, like the cottonwood, haven’t begun to slow down their metabolisms enough to lose much color.


Notes on photographs: All pictures taken 19 October 2018 after two mornings when temperatures fell to 31, but before they day they went down to 29.

1. Blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata) grown from seed; this was the second or third year for ths particular plant.

2. Perennial sweet peas (Lathyrus latifolia). They went out of bloom in August and started blooming again the first of October. They picked this location themselves.

3. African marigold (Tagetes erecta). The seeds were planted in mid-May, began growing after rains in July, and started blooming mid-September. They’re in a sheltered area between the black locust to the west, Maximilian sunflowers to the south, and wooden fence to the east.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Outbuildings


Weather: Each year when we reach this time in October when we get some rain, I stop watering and let the plants adjust to nature’s water levels.

Last useful rain: 10/14. Week’s low: 38 degrees F. Week’s high: 70 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, silver lace vine, Russian sage, datura, sweet peas, Maximilian sunflowers, chrysanthemums, zinnias

What’s blooming in my yard: Calamintha, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Sensation cosmos, African marigolds, morning glories

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, chamisa, broom snakeweed, senecio, purple asters.

What’s red or turning red and orange: Sand cherries, spirea, Virginia creeper leaves; prostrate knotweed stems

What’s yellow or turning yellow and orange: Sweet cherry, choke cherry, peach, apricot, catalpa, skunk bush, caryopteris, grape leaves

Bedding plants: Petunias and dwarf marigolds locally

Tasks: It’s a hard time of year to work outside. My body has no problem adjusting to changing hours of daylight, but my mind is another matter. It’s used to my doing physical labor right after breakfast, and then getting on to other more cerebral activities. When I can’t because it’s still too cold, it doesn’t want to go outside in late morning.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small brown birds, geckos, hornets, sidewalk ants

The Maximilian sunflowers are out of bloom and the leaves turning yellow. Earlier today I saw the first batch of birds harvesting the seeds. They probably were goldfinches that blend into the pied foliage.


Weekly update: Last year at this time I had hired a dumpster and was cleaning out the garage. I was forced to that expense because I could never find anyone with a pickup truck willing to work, and I simply couldn’t get rid of stuff one trash container at a time.

This problem seems universal. Even when people have trucks to haul away trash, they seem to limit themselves to taking away brush, large weeds like Russian thistles, and crop debris. Manufactured objects just take on roots.


Once upon a time, when men had to build their own storage sheds, the labor acted as a deterrent against amassing stuff. The adobe ones mostly are ruins now, and few wooden ones exist, perhaps because of the cost of wood, perhaps because frame construction isn’t as indigenous as block.

Businesses of different sorts offer easier alternatives: self storage units fill vacant lots and portable sheds are hawked. The problem with these is they fill up, and rather than clean them, more sheds are installed.

Very often the first is well done, but the next is more ephemeral.


I’ve lived in Michigan, Ohio, and west Texas where tornadoes are always a threat. When I drive by these sheds I wonder about how well they are installed. My one neighbor put a cement slab under his first, and had the sellers erect it and its mate.

Another neighbor put his on an existing slab, but probably on some kind of blocks. He told me that’s where the ground squirrel lives.

Like you I’ve been looking at photographs of destruction in western Florida. The winds apparently got under metal surfaces and lifted the sheets away. They show buildings stripped of their siding, and not just the usual trailers. If such winds every happened here, all our sheet metal roofs could disappear.

One child was killed when a carport flew into her house. Those metal canopies on poles are ubiquitous here. I’m not sure it mattered in Florida how strongly they were attached, but here I wonder about them in the spring winds.


Notes on photographs: All taken in the area on 23 May 2018.
1. This began as a garage and attached carport. A few years ago the carport was walled. Later, the metal barn was added.

2. The one on the left was first.
3. Two wooden buildings.

4. Another outbuilding was installed first. Then the one on the left. After that, the one on the right was built.

5. I’m not sure of the order for the carport and two sheds. You can see both sheds are perched somewhat unsteadily on blocks, unlike the ones in #2 which were professionally installed.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Season in Review


Weather: Another hurricane stayed west of the Rockies, giving us only mist. This year, they ones from the Pacific that sometimes come up the valley either have been kept south to go into Texas or stayed beyond the mountains. Since Tuesday, winds have come up every day around noon and continued late in the day.

Last useful rain: 10/2. Week’s low: 33 degrees F. Week’s high: 84 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, silver lace vine, Russian sage, datura, sweet peas, Maximilian sunflowers, chrysanthemums, zinnias

What’s blooming in my yard: Calamintha, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, white cosmos, African marigolds

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, chamisa, broom snakeweed, senecio, áñil del muerto, pigweed, Russian thistles; purple, heath, and golden hairy asters peaked. Seeds from tahoka daisies have become a nuisance; the tridents stick in my pant legs.

What’s red or turning red and orange: Sand cherries, spirea, Virginia creeper leaves; prostrate knotweed stems

What’s yellow or turning yellow and orange: Sweet cherry, choke cherry, peach, apricot, catalpa, skunk bush, caryopteris, grape leaves

What has fruit: Apples have been dropping for some time. Pyracantha berries are bright orange in the area. My purple grapes are turning into raisins, uneaten this year by the ground squirrel. The privet berries finally turned black and glossy. The Woodsi roses are the only ones with hips in my yard.

Bedding plants: Petunias and dwarf marigolds locally

Tasks: It’s too late to clean beds; plants are dropping leaves to cover themselves this winter. I can get out the pruners and go back to removing winterfat that’s grown in places I don’t want. I stopped earlier this year because I couldn’t burn the debris in the drought.

Animal sightings: Rabbit, small brown birds, geckos, hornets, sidewalk ants


Weekly update: Usually when the heat passes in summer, some annuals come into bloom. This year, only one neighbor has zinnias. Mine have peaked and never got more than six inches high.

Sensation cosmos usually are blooming now, but I haven’t seen any yet. The white ones always have done better in my yard, and the Purity have been blooming since mid-August, even if they remained short. The rose-colored Dazzlers I planted in early June put one their first flower this week. The yellow, which are a different species, came up, produced one flower per plant, then quit.

I’ve only seen a few of the mixed morning glories. My neighbor’s came up and covered part of his inside fence, but produced no visible color. My Heavenly Blues finally began blooming this week.

My bedding plants have all but given up. The sweet alyssum that came up from seed has replaced them. The past two summers the French marigolds died in August, but the gazanias stayed in bloom until frost. This year I planted only gazanias, but had to accept a different variety. Like the old marigolds, the plants shrank all summer. While a few have bloomed since, most never did.

The other thing that usually happens this time of year is perennial buds from early summer that didn’t open begin to flourish. A few neighbors have some nice roses, but not many. Betty Prior has had only one cluster open at a time. Some other roses that didn’t appear in the spring are like the yellow cosmos: they put out one late flower.

I have some red hot pokers blooming, as does my next door neighbor. Two weeping yuccas in the village are blooming, as are the Arizona yuccas.

Otherwise, one branch on the Rumanian sage is back in bloom, and a few Jupiter’s beards have put out flowers.


Notes on photographs: All were taken 4 August 2018.
1. Red hot poker (Kniphofia uvaria) that self-seeded.

2. Heavenly Blue morning glories (Ipomoea tricolor) growing through wire mesh put down to keep the rabbit from eating the seedlings. Purity cosmos are blooming with them.

3. Purity cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus).

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Columbine Returns



Weather: Fall arrived on Friday when the morning temperature near my house fell to 33 degrees.

Last useful rain: 9/26. Week’s low: 33 degrees F. Week’s high: 82 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, buddleia, silver lace vine, Russian sage, rose of Sharon, datura, sweet pea, coreopsis, Maximilian sunflowers, chrysanthemums, zinnias, pampas grass

What’s blooming in my yard: Chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Mönch aster, white cosmos, African marigolds, bachelor buttons, larkspur

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, stick leaf, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, broom snakeweed, Hopi tea, horseweed, wild lettuce, plain’s paper flower, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, Tahoka daisy, pigweed, Russian thistles; purple, heath, and golden hairy asters; quack grass; seven-week, black, blue, and side oats grama

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum; petunias and dwarf marigolds locally.

Tasks: The days get shorter, and so does my time to work outside. This week I switched from a three-day watering cycle back to a four-day one. It’s now dark at 6 am, when I used to start.

Animal sightings: Cat, small brown birds, geckos, small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, sidewalk ants, crickets

The neighbor’s cat doesn’t like cold air. Some mornings it looks like it would dive into the house in the morning, even though the rest of the time it treats me with suspicious indifference.

Weekly update: This summer I cleared the golden spur columbine that was crowding the daylilies. I also did some leveling with new soil.

The columbine is back with a vengeance. The plants in the new soil have woods that are at three to five inches across, and deeper than my spade will dig. I get out what I can, but the remains will regenerate. I had hoped to plant something else there, but not I fear the columbine roots will choke anything from underneath.

The plants also reburied the daylilies. There’s one small rose that’s disappeared completely. When I did them out, I find the same kinds of massive roots have replaced the smaller ones I removed earlier.

Seeds landed between and right next to leaves that stopped the flow of air. They put down narrow roots, then expand. It's hard to get them out without damaging the daylily or poker root. Even then, the buried remnant is likely to squeeze out the desired plant.

When I remove the plants, I discover the ground covered with small seedlings. What with the cool temperatures and bits of rain this is their season to grow.

Notes on photograph: Tree of life on sign for a business painted on the side of an adobe building, 19 August 2018.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Grass Attacks


Weather: Decent rain on Thursday. In the past week the golden spur columbine has doubled in height and seedlings have come up in every available space. They buried some recently planted iris.

Last useful rain: 9/20. Week’s low: 43 degrees F. Week’s high: 90 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, buddleia, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, silver lace vine, Russian sage, rose of Sharon, datura, sweet pea, coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, Maximilian sunflowers, chrysanthemums, zinnias, pampas grass

One person planted annual four o’clocks in a raised bed at the end of his trailer. They’ve now been there several years, getting larger and bushier every year. I don’t know if they winter over or if the owner lifts the roots and replants them in the spring.

This year, I ordered some seeds to see if I would have his luck, especially since the perennial species has naturalized in my yard. The plants remained small through the heat of June and July, then began blooming a couple weeks ago. They’re nothing yet to compare with my neighbor, but maybe they’ll survive like his.

What’s blooming in my yard: Large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, pink evening primroses, calamintha, scarlet flax, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Mönch aster, white cosmos, African marigolds, bachelor buttons, larkspur

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, stick leaf, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, leather leaf globemallow, goat’s head, prostate knotweed, yellow evening primroses, broom snakeweed, Hopi tea, horseweed, wild lettuce, dandelions, plain’s paper flower, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, Tahoka daisy, pigweed, Russian thistles; purple, heath, and golden hairy asters; quack grass; seven-week, black, blue, and side oats grama

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum; petunias and dwarf marigolds locally.

Tasks: I had another hose fail this week, but in a new way. The rubber pealed away on the inside, blocking the flow of water.

I’d known something was wrong a couple weeks ago when beds were getting less water. I checked that I hadn’t left another hose running some place that was diverting the water. Then I climbed into the well to purge the sand filter. Nothing changed. It didn’t seem right to call the maintenance company to change the other filters: they’ve never created this serious a problem.

Friday no water came through. I walked the line and found no leaks or kinks. Then, I detached the hose from its connection and water came pouring out. I reached into the hose and felt something hard a few inches from the end I thought was a stone. When I got it into better light I saw the rubber.

Animal sightings: Cat, small brown birds, geckos, small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, sidewalk ants, crickets

When I was weeding this week I found a dead crow in the grass a few feet from the utility pole. I asked my neighbor, who had worked for electrical utilities, if it had electrocuted itself. He said it was possible: if it put its beak somewhere near a certain place near the pole then current would jump to it.

He suggested I look for singed feathers. I didn’t get that close. I removed it wearing rubber gloves and a face mask. Besides, it probably had died just before I smelled something bad last April, because only the feathers and bones were left.

As I’m sure someone already has said: gardening is not for the squeamish.


Weekly update: I wonder sometimes if it’s inevitable that steppe vegetation will completely replace native grasses in this area. When a winterfat or four-wing salt bush gets started it kills everything under it, leaving the soil open to the kind of wind erosion I mentioned last week. The area remains bare after I cut down the intruder.

I know grasses evolved as a plant type before trees and plants at a time when the Earth’s climate was very different. I thought it possible the native grasses simply hadn’t adapted as well to the changes and were vulnerable to the plants that emerged with the new conditions.

I have one area above the retaining wall where nothing would grow. I put in some bulbs and the ground squirrel ate them. I finally managed to get some miniature roses to grow and the rodent bit them all off at ground level and no more would grow.

I noticed what looked like crab grass did grow, so I planted some blue grama and buffalo grass seed. Some finally survived, I think the buffalo.

Then, everything started to invade. The golden hairy asters and hollyhocks have been the most aggressive. Next, the pink evening primroses moved in. This week, while I was removing those ground squirrel mounds I mentioned last week, I found quack grass on the perimeter getting ready to drop its seeds.

Apparently the lush grass creates a ground cover that retains water and traps seeds. Alas, as soon as the seedlings grow they kill their nurse. Or, I kill them.


Notes on photographs:
1. Perennial four o’clock (Mirabilis multiflora) in my yard, 19 August 2018.
2. Annual four o’clock (Mirabilis jalapa) in my yard, 8 September 2018.
3. Annual four o’clock in neighbor’s raised bed, 9 July 2018.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Footings and Mortar


Weather: Morning temperatures fell to new lows. While this may be expected this time of the year, I suspect Florence and all the other tropical disturbances were drawing the moisture away from this area. That upper atmosphere water acts as a shield that keeps heat from rising. With it gone, temperatures fell to 43 on Thursday and to 38 on Friday when Florence was close to the North Carolina coast. Humidity levels fell to 10% in Los Alamos and Santa Fé on Thursday afternoon. This morning the air is moist and warm again.

Last useful rain: 9/2. Week’s low: 38 degrees F. Week’s high: 87 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, buddleia, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, silver lace vine, Russian sage, rose of Sharon, datura, sweet pea, annual four o’clocks, farmer’s sunflowers, coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, chrysanthemums, zinnias, pampas grass

What’s blooming in my yard: Garlic chives peaked, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, lead plant, pink evening primroses, perennial four o’clock nearly gone, calamintha, scarlet flax, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Mönch aster, purple and yellow cone flowers, white cosmos, Maximilian sunflowers, African marigolds

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, stick leaf, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, scarlet creeper, leather leaf globemallow, white sweet clover, goat’s head, prostate knotweed, white prairie and yellow evening primroses, broom snakeweed, Hopi tea, horseweed, wild lettuce, dandelions, plain’s paper flower, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, Tahoka daisy, pigweed, Russian thistles; purple, heath, and golden hairy asters; quack grass; seven-week, black, and side oats grama

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum; petunias and dwarf African marigolds locally.

Tasks: For reasons still unknown, the ground squirrel left piles of dirt around the iris growing in front of a retaining wall. The soil it brings up hardens and absorbs no water. I wonder how it can support roots a few inches underground, but perhaps the grasses and other cover keep it from drying out.

I suspect this is what is uncovered when that vegetation is removed, and the wind takes away the veneer of top soil. None of the seeds I planted in barren areas this summer grew more than a few inches. Some were in the path of a leak that kept them very wet.

Animal sightings: Cat, rabbit, hummingbirds, other small brown birds, geckos, small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers, sidewalk ants; heard crickets


Weekly update: About six weeks ago, one area in Santa Fé got a lot of rain in a short time. My friend who lived there said water reached his retaining wall that edged the sidewalk on the house side.

His street sloped down into a T intersection. The pavement, curbs, and sidewalls channeled the water, while the crown directed it toward the wall of a woman who lived at the corner. It eroded the mortar and the wall came down in a single piece. The flood waters then crashed into a wall on the other street and took out another wall.

They probably were built by the same mason. Both walls used half-high, hollow, cinder blocks with a solid layer at the top.

When I investigated local walls a few years ago, I noticed many of the earlier ones had rough textured grout. I assumed it was used before Portland-cement mortars became available in town. I assumed Santa Fé didn’t have the same problems. But, this neighborhood was developed in the middle-1950s for middle-class families, and the mortar resembled putty.

My friend also told me people had advised the woman to apply to FEMA for assistance in rebuilding the wall. I thought, but didn’t say, FEMA? I know it was a bad storm, but isn’t that money better spent in Puerto Rico? Or saved for real disasters, like the ongoing one in the Carolinas?

The last time I saw him he said she had decided a FEMA loan wasn’t worth the paperwork, since it only covered 30% of the cost. Her greater problem was finding someone to do the repairs.

I always thought my problems with finding people to build fences arose from the fact I lived in the Española valley, and tradesmen simply refused to travel north.

I did also know a hierarchy of skills existed in Santa Fé before the economic crash of 2008. Contractors who worked at Las Campanas struggled to keep their crews together when the work stopped. Many who were immigrants simply left. With Trump’s war on Spanish-speaking immigrants, more may have returned home.

Newspapers proclaimed the economy was near full employment this week. They believed that was the result of the Republican tax cut, but in some occupations it may simply have been the elimination of skilled competition.

The woman discovered the result was the few men who were willing to bid on her job had highly inflated ideas of their worth, based on what better skilled men had earned in Las Campanas. One told her she had to supply both the stone and the grout, a demand that suggested he didn’t believe his skills were up to the task and wanted to have something to blame if the wall failed again.

Every tradesman I ever talked with wanted to supply everything so he knew the quality and could add the markup to his profits.


After I saw her wall, I thought again about the ones I built around my garden. Her wall had footings, and I simply had laid bricks on top of the soil. I wondered why mine hadn’t failed like hers. When I looked closely I saw her footings, like many I’ve seen here, were level with the surface of the ground, rather than raised like the slab under a house.

I don’t know anything about the relative strengths of currents in layers of water, so I don’t know if they’re stronger at the very bottom were her footings met the wall. The bricks in my low walls footed themselves when they sank partly into the ground, so they didn’t have weak areas exposed to running water.

When I was removing the bad dirt around the iris this week, I noticed the bricks had sunk so low the top layer of soil washed away. Before I could recover the exposed rhizomes, I had to add another layer of bricks to hold the soil. At least, I didn’t have to hire someone to do the work.

Notes on photographs: All taken in Santa Fé 21 August 2018, at least two weeks after the storm.
1. The wall came down in a piece.
2. Close up of the grout between blocks that failed.
3. Close up of the footing after the grout was gone.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Locally Grown


Weather: I suppose it was inevitable that with the summer temperatures so high the natural change to fall would be abrupt, but it was still a surprise. Leaves on some cherries and peaches have started to turn color and drop.

Last useful rain: 9/2. Week’s low: 48 degrees F. Week’s high: 84 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, buddleia, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, silver lace vine, Russian sage, rose of Sharon, datura, sweet pea, annual four o’clocks, alfalfa, farmer’s sunflowers, coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, chrysanthemums, pampas grass

What’s blooming in my yard: Hosta, garlic chives, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, lead plant, pink evening primroses, perennial four o’clock, calamintha, scarlet flax, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Mönch aster, purple and yellow cone flowers, zinnias, white cosmos, Maximilian sunflowers, African marigolds

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, stick leaf, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, scarlet creeper, leather leaf globemallow, white sweet clover, goat’s head, prostate knotweed, white prairie and yellow evening primroses, crane bill, broom snakeweed, Hopi tea, horseweed, wild lettuce, dandelions, plain’s paper flower, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, purple and golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy, pigweed, Russian thistles, quack grass, seven-week and side oats grama

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum; petunias and dwarf African marigolds locally.

Tasks: The market garden fields that were abandoned have been colonized by áñil del muerto and native sunflowers. While áñil is dense in many places in Santa Fé, these fields are the only ones with many plants locally.

I’ve got hoses that are beginning to fail. I don’t know if its age or an animal has attacked them. I do know I can’t replace them; Amazon no longer has them available. I’ve installed a couple 50' hoses where I need 25' just to save some plants. Manufacturers and merchants who’d rather have one short than one left over at the end of the season don’t know the true cost of their calculations of unused inventory.

Animal sightings: Cat, rabbit, hummingbirds, other small brown birds, geckos, small bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers, sidewalk ants; heard crickets


Weekly update: Genetic diversity is one of the keys to species survival. When a flower produces a number of seeds with minute differences, chances increase that at least one will be able to survive the unknowns of the next season.

Thus, the datura that came up from seed did much better this summer than the purchased plant, though both had parents from the same grower.

My seedling produced a few flowers in July then went out of bloom. Area plants that have been around for years began blooming in May and never stopped.

Then, on 28 August my seedling was covered with buds and the purchased plant had one. Most, but not all those buds have opened. Yesterday, I discovered the small bees, which had disappeared in mid-summer, were back. One was a datura flower.

Perhaps the tryst of a local bee with the local seedling will mean I’ll finally get some plants as durable as my neighbors.

Notes on photographs: Small bee on Datura wrightii flower in my yard taken 8 September 2018. I’m not sure about the species of these bees.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

City Sidewalks


Weather: We have tropical storm Gordon headed for Louisiana and hurricane Olivia moving to the west. I often wonder how storms on both sides of México interact.

Last useful rain: 9/2. Week’s low: 43 degrees F. Week’s high: 89 degrees F in the shade.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, yellow potentilla, desert willow, trumpet creeper, bird of paradise, silver lace vine, Russian sage, rose of Sharon, purple phlox, datura, sweet pea, annual four o’clocks, alfalfa, farmer’s sunflowers, coreopsis, black-eyed Susan, chrysanthemums, pampas grass

What’s blooming in my yard: Miniature roses, caryopteris, hosta, garlic chives, golden spur columbine, large-flowered soapwort, David phlox, winecup mallow, hollyhocks, lead plant, pink evening primroses, perennial four o’clock, calamintha, larkspur, chocolate flowers, blanket flowers, Mönch aster, purple and yellow cone flowers, bachelor buttons, zinnias, Maximilian sunflowers

What’s blooming outside the walls and fences: Apache plume, purple mat flower, stick leaf, velvetweed, bindweed, silver leaf nightshade, greenleaf five eyes, scarlet creeper, leather leaf globemallow, white sweet clover, Queen Anne’s lace, goat’s head, prostate knotweed, toothed spurge, purslane, yellow evening primrose, Hopi tea, horseweed, wild lettuce, dandelions, goat’s beard, plain’s paper flower, áñil del muerto, native sunflowers, goldenrod, golden hairy asters, Tahoka daisy, pigweed, Russian thistles, seven-week grama, quack grass,

Bedding plants: Pansies, sweet alyssum; petunias and dwarf African marigolds locally.

Tasks: Most of they hay fields were cut over Labor Day weekend.

The change from summer to fall is marked by the weeds. During the summer heat it was possible to weed an area and see the results a week later. With the rain, all the weeded areas have regrown. The only solace when I removed garlic chives for the third time from one bed is most were new seedlings, and not ones I’d missed earlier.

Animal sightings: Cat, rabbit, hummingbirds, other small brown birds, geckos, bumble bees, hornets, other small flying insects, grasshoppers, harvester and sidewalk ants, earth worms; heard crickets

The ant hills are multiplying as quickly as the weeds. I know the experts say a new queen is required to start a new hill, but I swear they’ve taken lessons from crack houses. I no longer shut down one hill than two new ones appear, one next to the old and another a bit away.

As the summer progresses the hills become less obvious. Instead of piles of sand or gravel, all they do is make holes as invisible as possible, usually between some stones. When that’s not possible, they create an opening under a tahoka daisy or a small stick. 


Weekly update: Country song writers lament the attraction of bright lights and city streets that lure their true loves away. As I weed, I’ve decided the appeal transcends humans. The rabbit and the ground squirrel much prefer to walk down my block walks and gravel drive to getting their paws dirty in the grass lands beyond the cultivated beds.

So-called native wild flowers have shown a similar proclivity for my tile drainage areas. The coral beard’s tongues died when I planted them in beds in different locations. Instead, they went to seed in the tiles in front of the house. They were soon joined by the chocolate flowers.

I had said to myself, nothing in the tiles. They gave me an ultimatum: leave them alone or they would leave.

Now the blue flax as taken up residence in the tiles on the west side of the house. It tended to die out in winters and come back from seed. This year the seed just chose a domesticated area, rather than a wild one.

Beyond perversity, there are two reasons they move. The tiles trap moisture in the way rocks do in nature, and so I unwittingly recreated a necessary part of their environment. Second, the chocolate flowers and domestic coreopsis were escaping the more aggressive golden spur columbine in front, while ladybells recently had taken over most of the real estate reserved for the flax.


Notes on photographs: All were taken 3 September 2018.
1. Chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata) growing in cracks between tiles that it enlarges.

2. Lanceleaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata) growing between tiles.

3. Blue flax (Linum perenne) in a crack, with Queen Anne’s lace on the left and ladybells on the right. Only the flax will be left alone.