Sunday, June 9, 2013

Courtesy of the Winds

Or Letting Go

The desert olives impress me most.  They have an actual strategy, and a long-term one at that.  The winds have been blowing here, you see—and blowing, and blowing:  the hard, buffeting winds of spring.  They are the real test of adaptation in these parts, and many exotics that fare well in drought and sun receive their last rites from the wind.

My oldest nephew gave me a book on wind a while back (Wind, it's called, by Jan DeBlieu), because he said it was such a leitmotif in my blog.  It does have force of character here in New Mexico, a personality you either learn to live with or—well, you just have to learn to live with it.  All across the world, of course, living things have learned in remarkable ways to cope with the wind.  Trees change shape to reduce the drag of it in their crowns, to keep the force of it from breaking them apart or knocking them down.  DeBlieu writes of different species rolling their leaves into tight cylinders or folding them in half, or even clumping together in masses:  all ways to reduce the force of wind in those top-heavy crowns.

Desert olives (Forestiera neomexicana)
The desert olives just let their leaves go.  They leaf out heavily in early spring, each twig and branch thick with apple green leaves on fragile stems.  While the days are lengthening, and the sun is still cool and pleasant, they photosynthesize like mad.  But as the seasonal winds rip through them, whole stems of delicate new growth get sheared away; the garden is littered with leaflets.  The dense shade beneath the trees begins to dapple.  By mid-June perhaps a third of the leaves are gone—mid-June, when the sun is reaching its strongest, and desert plants are ready for relief.  The olives will have harvested enough energy in spring to thrive, and in summer, thanks to the wind, they will have fewer tender surfaces that lose moisture, fewer that require it.  They use the spring winds to help them survive the summer sun.

Treating the wind as an asset, rather than something to be endured—other species have different tactics:  conifers and cottonwoods, maples and elms.  They all count on the wind to cast pollen, seed, and samara far and wide; the wind helps their kind survive.  Whole ecosystems rely on the wind.  DeBlieu writes of aeolian biomes in the extreme heights of the Himalayas, beyond the range of growing things.  Insects live there by scavenging pollens and seeds or bits of insect wing that have blown in on the wind.  I look at the ants hunting and gathering in the garden with renewed interest.  What exotic treats do they enjoy—or even depend on—courtesy of the winds?  Saguaro pollen from Tucson, perhaps, or microscopic mineral crystals from the great Salt Lake; a taste of the tropics from the Gulf of Mexico.  In the utter bareness of the Himalayas, the wind is the sole provider.  In the relative plenty of the high desert, it's harder to tell what needs might be met by the wind.  Perhaps none.  Perhaps many.

I've been thinking about aeolian biomes and windborne nutrients as the third anniversary of Microcosm has approached.  I am more astonished every year at what the winds of cyberspace bring us, and how they cast our words far and wide, scattering bits of our personalities around where they may take root or be enjoyed by others.  I'm especially astonished at the friendships and community those winds have blown into my life.  They have brought me beauty and kindness; they have made it possible to adapt to illness and thrive.  Now, though, as the winds of a New Mexico spring are fanning the fires of summer, I find that other aspects of my life are calling for attention.  I think it is time to let Microcosm go. 

I'm drafting this out on the patio, while the silky threadgrass ripples on the breeze.  The wind has been growing for a while now.  A gust almost knocks over the empty iced tea glass perched on the arm of the Adirondack chair.  It's strong enough to chase me inside, and from there I watch the desert olives twisting and bending.  A few leaflets blow onto the patio.  It seems a good moment to close—and to thank you for the gifts you've given so generously:  your readership and comments, your time and ideas, and most of all your friendship and caring.  You all mean the world to me.  May the winds of the world bring you many good things to savor.

And may you always discover the gifts they bring you.

Sunday, March 31, 2013


or L'Chaim

An old Taj Mahal song goes, "Remember the feeling as a child, when you woke up and morning smiled?"  I've always loved the song for that line, because I do remember feeling that way as a little girl—running to the window first thing in the morning and looking out, happy that it would be a good day just because the sky was blue. 

Mornings still smile fairly often, but I find that attitude and choice matter more these days than accidents of weather.  Not that blue skies hurt.  No, indeed.  The weather has been glorious lately, and morning, afternoon, and evening have been smiling their little hearts out.  When spring arrives in that spectacular way I always dig out my recording of Ella Fitzgerald singing "Blue Skies"—her incredible joy just goes with the joy of springtime.  Once she's done with the "business" of the first run-through and lets the words fall away, that song is one pure ray of shining light—a toast to life and its extravagant plenty.

Tulipa praestans, mid-March

I remember being stunned once by a critic of Fitzgerald's work; he said her singing lacked passion, because she avoided "deeper," more painful song subjects.  I couldn't believe it.  Since when is joy not a passion?  How can you listen to Fitzgerald and not be swept away with her in the thrill of mastery, of mind and voice and breath working to their utmost, the relish of give-and-take and getting lost in the flow of music, the exuberance of a perfect moment and the knowledge that you helped to create it, the equally awesome knowledge that you did not create it alone, the sheer gusto for that glorious groundswell of life, of NOW—  Good heavens.  Since when is that not passion?

'He Shi Ko' perennial bunching onion (Allium fistulosum)

I was thinking about that while wandering around the garden a couple of weeks ago.  Now, on the last day of March, joy and exuberance can be had for a song, with the muscari and tulips and scilla splashing color into all the corners of the garden, and the biggest sand cherry exploding into blossom while troupes of ipheion dance at its feet.  The cherry's fragrance fills the air, and the bees fly giddily from one of its thousands of flowers to the next.  Oh, yes.  It's hard not to find joy outside right now.

A couple of weeks ago, though, none of that energy had come out into the open yet.

Western sand cherry (Prunus besseyi), two weeks ago

It was still building in hidden places, a groundswell of growth happening behind closed doors.  But even then, when the world was still mostly a brown, dull place, the sheer diversity of Life could astonish:  the power of it, the extravagant, over-the-top, vibrant super-abundance of it.  What amazing variety is to be found as growth begins—the eggs of the sand cherry buds sitting in their cups; the new spring onion leaves contorting to break free of their protective sheaths; the nesting, armored scales of Carolina jessamine, gradually releasing the flower within; the eyes of the angelita daisies peeping through fringed lashes.

Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris/Hymenoxys acaulis)
And that's barely a beginning.  We haven't even gotten to the desert olive's knobbly bumps, or the fuzzy catkins blowing from aspen branches, or the boxwood flowers pretending to be leaves right up until the last minute, or the honey locust leaflets unclasping like hands—Well.  I could go on, but I won't.  You have your own spring (or autumn, depending) to wax rhapsodic about.  And if you don't now (I'm looking at you, northerners), have hope.  The day is coming very, very soon.

The day when that groundswell of energy spills out into action, taking you with it—if you let it.  The day when a moment of wonder grabs you and dances you around—if you consent.  The day when you open your eyes to the extravagant plenty on your doorstep and smile back at the morning.

Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens)

The day when you walk outside, lift your hands like a glass to the clear blue sky, and let mind and body shout, "L'chaim!"