Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On Not Spitting into the Wind

or Matching Games

I'm sketching this post from my favorite chair by the kitchen window, the one that lets me overlook the garden.   A storm is brewing, though so far it's all sound and fury and no rain, like so many of our storms.   It's impressive enough, but it would be nice to be drenched as well.

Still, the wind is impressive.   It has bent the supple branches of the desert olives nearly double and bowed many of the perennials nearly flat to the ground; the sand cherries are whipping around like dune grasses.   We get very little severe weather here in Albuquerque—or, put another way, the severity of our weather mostly happens over the long haul.   We may live perpetually on the edge of killing drought, but at least we don't have tornadoes, blizzards, floods, hail, or ice storms.

What we do have is wind.   Every so often I catch glimpses of why some of the early pioneers went mad from the relentlessness of the winds.   Spring is the only season when it's really excessive, but it blows plenty often the rest of the year, too.   The true test of a plant out here—and possibly of a person—is how well it holds up against those fearsome blasts of wind.   As a general (and obvious) rule, the more native the plant, the better able it is to cope.   Our oft-scorned native redroot amaranth, with its small, widely spaced leaves, still looks fresh and whole, even in the middle of a storm; the broad, beautiful leaves of my much-loved burgundy amaranth are shreddy and battered.   The wildflower yarrow stems spring back into place almost as soon as the wind stops; my "Coronation Gold" yarrow bent at a 45° angle after our first big wind storm and has leaned lower and lower ever since.   The sweet potato vine and chard in the micro-garden are getting ripped apart; the purslane looks as good as new.

Like all of us, plants shine best under certain conditions—the key is to match them up properly.   I'm reminded of a day-trip I took a couple of years ago to Abó, an old mission site that is part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument.   It lies on a dirt spur road off U.S. 60, in the middle of low hills and scrub desert.

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

In the parking lot at the visitor's center that afternoon were two vehicles other than mine—a bright red Corvette with California plates and a New Mexico sky blue, 1950's Ford pickup with those wonderful  rounded wheel wells and hood.   In that place the Corvette was like a pair of stiletto heels on a hiking trail—out of place and a little silly.   It looked expensive, but in a worrying sort of way; I found myself wondering about its clearance and thinking about the windshield getting dinged up on the dirt road.   The Ford, on the other hand, radiated the cool of an old pair of Levis—classic, comfortable, even honest.   It was a harmonica blowing at sunset, chiles roasting over an open fire, feet up on the porch rail at the end of a long day.   Some things just go, and that Ford belonged out there in the desert in a way the Corvette never could.   It's all about being suited to the circumstances, about reflecting the actual reality around you rather than the hothouse atmosphere of another place, of wishful thinking.

The storm has passed for now.   I do a quick look around to assess the damage.   Some of the drumstick allium seedheads have broken off (which is fine, as I'm rather tired of them), but the native Mexican hats look invigorated, ready for another round.   Both flowers "bloomed where they were planted," a phrase which is all very well in its way.

But it works best if you get yourself planted in the right place to begin with.


  1. I live in an area containing all the "acts of God" weather you mentioned above, PLUS almost daily wind. I truly marvel at the resilience of ANYTHING in my yard continuing to thrive despite all the weather-related pummeling.

    That Ferrari would be terribly out of place in South Dakota too. You'd have to be either very foolish or extremely rich to want to drive a vehicle that pretty in an area where it's too cold to wash it from November until April, not to mention the risk of weather-related pummeling.

  2. Rereading the Little House books last year made me wonder how your area was ever settled at all. Sometimes I'm tempted to drop ship a bunch of pamphlets over that whole tier of the US that says, "California was invented for people like you! You don't have to suffer!" :D The people I knew (of) in Vermont who had schmancy cars also had very large garages and "real" cars they drove for every day use...

  3. We used to live in Camps Bay, where the South-Easter blew. A lot. In summer. One New Year's Eve it lifted the long roofing sheet of our neighbour's upmarket house. Terrible noise. And dumped the sheet in the next house's garden. Lucky no one was hurt.