Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lava Stone Walls

Weather: It’s the time of year when there’s maybe an hour between the time when it gets warm enough to work outside and the winds start. Sunday and Thursday they were the harbingers of storm fronts that came through so low, the moisture in the winds fell on the ground. On Sunday it never quite rained, but water was in the air for hours. On Thursday, we got enough to call it a shower, but it only lasted two minutes. Last rain: 3/15.

What’s blooming in the area: Cranesbill in my drive. Apricots on Friday; they must be the dumbest trees that grow here; they get one warm day, and think it’s spring; instead they’re the first crop failure.

What’s reviving: Alfalfa under dead stems, Apache plume, purple asters, bouncing Bess, smooth brome grass, golden spur columbine, daylilies, Dutch iris, Queen Anne’s lace, tulips at both ends of the garage that get more sun, white yarrow; color is returning to Vinca leaves.

Tasks: I need to clean areas that were ignored for a year or more. I started near the crab apples where I planted alfalfa, thinking I would cut it with a weed eater. That never happened. So now, I’ve been out with loppers cutting last year’s dead stems, and a small floral rake breaking off the older stems and grasses under them. It worked fine on Thursday morning, but then we had just enough moisture to dampen the stems. On Friday, they were much harder to cut.

Animal sightings: Something heavy, probably the ground squirrel, stepped on all the thick plastic posts holding up a grapevine and bent some to the ground. It simply removed others.

Weekly update: I saw the most extraordinary thing last week when I was looking at a Ugandan video on YouTube. In the background was the stone wall shown in the above screen print that could have been built in Española.

Some years ago I started taking pictures of area walls and fences that were built by local farmers and craftsmen. [1] I saw more here than in Santa Fé or Albuquerque where walls were stuccoed over.

One defining characteristic was the exaggeration of the mortar. It was stained red or dark gray and often extended beyond the stones. This was an aesthetic difference that distinguished these walls from ones in other parts of this country or Europe where the tendency was to use as little mortar as possible.

Not everyone here who had a stone wall had one with decorative mortar work. I assumed that meant there were certain masons who had the skill to do such work, and they probably had come here from someplace like Zacatecas. However, I never found pictures of Mexican walls like ours. I suspected that lack of evidence simply meant people didn’t post pictures of their walls on the internet.

There would have been nothing unusual about African slaves being the source for such stonework. They certainly existed in México.

However, Uganda was on the east side of Africa, and most of the Spanish slaves came from Angola and southern Zaïre on the west side. Certainly, some from the central lakes district were taken in raids and moved west, but one wouldn’t think there were enough to be responsible for the local stonework.

The video probably was shot in the Ugandan capital city of Kampala or in Masaka. Both were in the ancestral lands of the Baganda on the western side of Lake Victoria. The area wasn’t much influenced by Europeans until the last half of the nineteenth century, and then the United Kingdom declared sovereignly in 1894. The wall may have been built for an Englishman.

One is left with one of those puzzles one finds more in human than in plant history: the independent development of an idea in two places at two different times.

Notes on photographs:
1. Screen print from "Kumbaya - Jose Mc Ft Juicy Landy." Uploaded to YouTube by tamjoe7 on 18 July 2013. A PVibe Production directed by ORIS.

2. Local wall, 28 February 2016.

3. Local wall, 17 January 2012.

End notes:

1. For more on local walls see index entries on Landscaping Walls.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Southern Hemisphere Plants

Weather: As I mentioned last week, it has been an abnormally cold winter. This week was no exception. It was 9 degrees on my front porch on Wednesday morning. Last night’s 70% forecast of snow materialized as only high, drying winds.

What also was unusual was that I never felt cold. Now that the morning low is around 20, the typical low for our winters, I’m often cold in the house. Apparently, the furnace comes on more often when it’s very cold, so the air in the rooms stays warm. When it comes on a little less often, the heat has time to rise and the cold air rises from the floor.

What’s blooming in the area: Cranesbill at post office.

What’s reviving: Leaves on the cliff roses and fern bushes.

Weekly update: Most of the plants on my indoor porch are from southern Africa. The one that’s from somewhere else, the moss rose, is native to Argentina and nearby Uruguay and Brazil.

This was not a conscious choice of my part. They are simply the ones that survived the drought and temperature extremes of the east facing room.

What the plants have in common is they’re from the Southern Hemisphere where our winter is their summer. Seasons are managed by the sun, which is high in summer and low in winter. Generally, plants bloom in the environment’s summer and go dormant in winter. Exotic imports don’t have some vestigial preference for their ancestral home. They adapt and bloom when conditions are right. If they don’t, plant breeders abandon them for more pliable species.

They should bloom in our summer. The fact the ones on my porch bloom in our winter made little sense until I looked up. Or rather, I didn’t look up because the sun was coming into my eyes over the roof of my neighbor’s roof. That happens every winter. Last fall, it started bothering me on October 4.

The porch doesn’t get sun from above but through the windows, and the windows get more light when the sun is low to the horizon.

The plants currently blooming are zonal geraniums, an ivy-leaf geranium, and aptenia. The ones not blooming are the snake plant, which bloomed last winter, and the moss rose, which has gotten luxuriantly green instead.

The rochea never bloomed until I moved it this summer from the side of the porch, to the front where it got more sun. It put out new growth, then in October, soon after the sun was in my eyes, thrust up a bud stem. It’s still in flower, though the tiny white flowers can’t be seen from a distance.

Notes on photographs:
1. Rochea (Rochea coccinea), 10 March 2018.

2. Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora), 10 March 2018.

Sunday, March 04, 2018


Weather: It has been a cold, dry winter. We had a week of rain in October, and nothing to measure after that. It got down to 3 degrees in December and to 2 the end of January. The first time the temperature fell so low I wondered if the sensor for the digital thermometer was working. I put out a mercury thermometer to test, and the sensor battery was good. It was that cold.

The winds started a couple weeks ago, and any moisture that survived is being sucked away. In its place, the winds have been depositing Russian thistle and white pigweed carcases outside my gate.

What’s blooming: Cranesbill on the west side of the post office in town.

What’s reviving: Sweet peas have some green leaves, and there’s new growth at the tips of the blue flax. Some low ferny green plants are up outside the gate, but this early I don’t know if they’re western stickseed or tansy mustard.

Animal sightings: Chickadees stay here year round, and nest in the eaves of my neighbor’s metal building.

Weekly update: The thumb I injured in October 2016 has not recovered. I did very little work in the garden last year to let it rest, but it didn’t improve. It was a hot, dry summer and little grew, so the neglect probably had few consequences. I could still turn on the water.

What did suffer was my awareness of nature. Since I couldn’t work outside, I didn’t go out as often, and observed less. Then, because I had to learn a new way to write with my right hand, I took fewer notes. Since I wasn’t taking notes, I looked less. And, since I couldn’t use my thumb on the space bar, I didn’t post to this blog.

Nursery catalogs stopped reviving my garden interest years ago when companies were consolidated, and the only new seeds were for greenhouse growers. However, I force myself each year to look at them to order the reduced number of seeds I buy. That activity does act as a stimulus.

The reason I order seeds is the local stores stopped carrying them a few years ago. There’s one hardware in Española, one plant store in Santa Fé, and one plant store in Albuquerque that carry Lake Valley, and that’s all that’s reliably available.

I did my annual seed shopping Saturday morning. When I was checking out, the girl said her grandfather in Dixon always maintained a garden for his wife. He planted corn and both green and red chilies. She said he was the one who did the canning.