The smell raised hackles on the back of your neck you didn't even know were there. Fire—fire—powerful, immediate. Smoke pooled on the roads and dimmed streetlights; its acridity caught in your throat and stung your eyes. The city's emergency lines were flooded with calls, and officials must have had a sleepless night before ascertaining that no fire was burning in town. The smoke, so fresh that you could taste the pine in it, had blown in from the White Mountains in eastern Arizona, more than 200 miles away.
Since Thursday, the night when we first encountered its smoke here in Albuquerque, Arizona's Wallow Fire has burned more than 180,000 acres and is still zero percent contained. What it must be like closer to its source I shudder to think. Yet even though the fire has grown, for us the effect has dimmed. We've had haze and ash, but not that powerful sense of presence. It was only the first night that wind conditions were right to give the smoke such a long reach.
|Sunrise through smoke (and an upstairs window screen—sorry about that...)|
I'm always amazed at how deeply into an ecosystem a single plant can reach. Take Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa), for example. It's a native shrub of the rose family that grows on mesas and gravelly slopes from Texas to California, a range of maybe 500 by 800 miles, spanning a stretch of country that does not molly-coddle its plants with such luxuries as, say, water.
|Apache plume with color-coordinated spider|
Apache plume can endure just about anything, including cold, heat, drought, salt, excessive calcium, malnutrition, alkalinity—anything except for wet feet in winter (and really, who can blame it). It blooms with varying degrees of enthusiasm from April until Octoberish, its flowers and seed plumes gracing the plant at the same time. The seeds generally cling tightly but eventually disperse on the wind (especially if you run your fingers through them as you walk past).
This little shrub stabilizes slopes, prevents erosion, provides forage for deer and other browsers, offers nectar to insects, and gives shelter to small birds. At a conservative guess, a good score of species depend on it for their survival. A couple of winters ago I saw a small flock of ruby-crowned kinglets taking cover and lunching on some incidental insects in an Apache plume here in town; they barely moved the leaves as they worked out their complicated seating arrangements. They had such bright, interested eyes.
I've been thinking about things that have a greater reach than you expect as I've been writing this, my 100th post, on the eve of my blog's one-year anniversary. When I started writing I wanted Microcosm to be three things: a creative outlet, a reason to look more closely at everyday beauty, and a way to connect with people with similar loves and interests. On all three counts it has more than met my expectations. I have loved the whole process of looking, thinking, photographing, writing, crafting. Having ("having") to look closely and see things afresh for an admittedly self-imposed but still twice-a-week deadline has given me a passion for looking closely that, if anything, has grown beyond its starting point.
Somehow all of these thoughts, dispersed on the winds of cyberspace, have found readers. And you, my dears—you have opened up your lives and gardens in turn and offered a camaraderie that is beautiful and precious. Bless you. After all, you've been with me as I've mused about the nature of weeds, gone dreamy-eyed about hot-air balloons, fretted about the coming of winter, and waxed rhapsodic about spring migration. What reward can I give you?
None, except that of appreciation, and my companionship in return.
Sometimes I wonder how much more interpretation a scant 400 square feet of garden (including patio space) can sustain. I've begun to wonder that with every single post—what can I say new about flowers or leaves or stems or fruit? What does the patio have to offer today that I haven't already shared with you? Somehow, Mother Nature always comes through.
You'd be surprised what a long reach she has.