The cottonwoods are migrating—at least, that's how they struck me today. I was driving through Albuquerque's North Valley, close to the cottonwood bosque along the Rio Grande. Craggy old trees with 50, 70, 80' crowns were sending flock after flock of seeds adrift, a diaspora of cottony tufts chasing the breeze downwind in search of a place to root.
|'Wild Thing' autumn sage|
Out here, "midsummer-to-frost" means from the first week of June until (quite possibly) the end of November. In other words, a midsummer-to-frost blooming garden can go strong for a good 5½ months. Such a garden is certainly lovely, and easy, and—in a small, much lived-in space where you don't want a lot of blank spots—quite sensible. But boy, is it dull. For almost half the year, you know what is blooming on any given day (i.e., the same thing as yesterday)—half a year that glosses over the change from June's blistering heat to the afternoon thunderstorms of July and August, the cool mornings and hot afternoons of September, the golden loveliness of October, the autumnal chill of November. The garden gives you no sense of the passage of time, of the rhythm of the seasons.
At some point I realized that one of the things I love about gardening is the way it puts change in the foreground, the way it makes you aware of motion and transience, of moments of emergence and passing, of buds and seed pods and dried leaves. (That's one reason I love vegetable gardening—the action-movie pace [admittedly, a 1950's action movie] from seedling to harvest to done.) With that realization, my New Mexico self stopped being a midsummer-to-frost kind of person.
|Mount Atlas daisies|
Don't get me wrong—I do love actual flowers that bloom for weeks on end. My eyes are happy looking at them for hours, my spirit eased and refreshed by their very presence. But what intrigues me and tickles my interest is the sense of before and after, of process. (After all, it's we who value the flowers above all else; to the plant, all stages of its life are equally important. Genetically speaking, a cottonwood seed is every bit as much a cottonwood as a century-old tree.) I love those moments in a garden's life that happen once a year, and briefly. They're don't cover the distance of an actual migration, but they have, perhaps, the same sense of a rite of passage, of a sea change between one life phase and the next, of seasonal ritual.
|Pineleaf penstemon with a lovely seed of some sort (to use the technical term)|
Of a ceremony, that deserves its honor guard in us, its observers.