Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Long Reach

or Dispersed on the Wind


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.


  1. Mother Nature is such a wonderful inspiration for us both...I find I am never without something to write about because of her vastness, her mystery, her changeable moods...I love coming to read your posts and am so glad to have found you...congrats on 100 posts and happy upcoming anniversary!!

  2. Mother Nature has certainly been an inspiration for both of us with her mystery and changeable moods...I am so glad to have found your blog and enjoy reading your posts...congrats on 100 posts and happy upcoming anniversary!!

  3. Congratulations on the first anniversary of your blog. It's been a blessing and an inspiration to me and I'm so glad to have found it!

  4. Phew. For a moment there Stacy, I thought you were packing it in!! Phew.

    Well done on reaching your first anniversary and I very much look forward to reading the next 104 posts (is my maths right? Unlikely). I've also found that blogging concentrates the mind and forces me to look at plants and animals much more intently than before. There has been so much incredible detail and heart stopping beauty that, ordinarily, I would have missed. I've found that aspect of blogging hugely rewarding. And meeting people from all over the world has been an unexpected bonus.

    I very much like reading of the strange sounding (and sometimes looking) fauna and flora of NM. It often seems to me that you inhabit somewhere very alien to me - the planet Tatooine springs to mind. But then I'll read that you're growing semps and rock roses and battling (halfheartedly, I suspect) the neighbour's cat and realise that perhaps where you are is not so very different from Sussex.

    Actually who am I kidding? It's tremendously different! (Cactus as weeds for goodness sake). And hoorah for that. Do keep posting - yours is one of very few blogs that I read always.


  5. Stacy - Congratulations on your blog anniversary. I have the impression that a lot of people start blogging, but not many last as long as a year. I'm sure this is just the beginning for you.

  6. Donna, that sense of mystery is endlessly intriguing, isn't it? I'm so glad we crossed paths as well--discovering kindred spirits has been one of the loveliest things about blogging.

    Ginny, thank you. I'm touched--and glad to have found your blogs as well, with all the joy that shines out from them.

  7. Dave, you know, I do think about packing it in every so often, when I find myself wondering just what more any reasonable person can say about a Western sand cherry once again, but not yet.

    I wonder sometimes what it is about blogging that concentrates the mind so much--maybe it's knowing that you will be crafting something from those beautiful details, or maybe it's just that you suddenly have a host of people you can actually share the beauty with (and who won't interrupt you with stories about their dentist appointments...).

    The landscape here really is outer-space-y in many ways. I took a short hike in the foothills this morning and actually thought about you and your opuntia, because the whole area was lousy with prickly pear. But the garden-y bits probably have a lot of similarities. And cats can be annoying (in their own lovable way, ahem) anywhere. I'm so glad you enjoy the blog--thank you. That's very encouraging.

  8. B-a-g, thank you! When I started, I really didn't know whether I'd be able to keep it up or if I would fizzle out after a couple of months like so many do. Instead the blog has really worked its way into my life in surprising ways. You and your experiments look set for the long haul, too--I always look forward to seeing what you have to say.

  9. Congratulations on your 100th post and the first anniversary of your blog. It's great to have fellow blogger who gardens in a like climate.

    Your blog has changed my perspective on how I view things. I won't ever look at the position of benches or outdoor seating in the same way! I found myself thinking, hmm-what would Stacy think about the seating, after visiting a community garden this weekend. (Re: Benchmark post)

    And it's great to be able to share in regional events. The smell of fire was very alarming the first day. Now it's just an annoying catch in my throat that won't go away.


  10. Happy Blogaversary, Stacy. I'm glad you haven't run out of things to say, yet; I would be bereft if you did. -Jean

  11. Stacy, no two days are the same in a garden, even a small one. You have a gift for writing, and I always enjoy visiting your blog. I LOVE that photo of the Apache plume going to seed. It's so joyful ...

  12. Girl Sprout, thank you. It's been wonderful to know another blogger who says, "Arrgh, wind!" at just the right times and who shows drool-inspiring photos of my favorite nurseries.

    Who knew blogging had such power to change the world for good?! (One bench at a time...) I hope the seating at the community garden was satisfactory.

    That first day was something else, wasn't it? Though last night wasn't much better. The color of the light yesterday evening was almost surreal.

  13. Jean, you're so kind, and always so generous. Thank you. If nothing else, over the last year I've come to have a lot more faith in the creative process than before--it's amazing how if you just set yourself to writing, something does come along to write about.

    Sheila, thank you so much! That photo is one of my favorites ever, for just that reason--such exuberance in those waving plumes on a gorgeous blue-sky day. And thank you for the vote of confidence--it really does mean a lot.

  14. Congratulations on your 100th post! I recieve such wonderful insight from your words. And they give me peace and wonder when I need it most.

    Hope and pray you are safe from the fire.


  15. (Sorry, still catching up on another 70 posts in my reader.)

    Can it be only a year? And I can no longer remember just where or how I found you. Clicking someone's blogroll or one of your comments?

    Happy happy first blogaversary! With the way of looking, and the words, you will always blog with us. I wish and hope.

  16. Elaine, thank you so much--I'm so glad to have become "acquainted" with you. The fire is 200 miles away, so we're not in any danger from it--it's just the smoke that's been blowing across, though that's been pretty intense. Thank you for your concern!

    Diana, for some reason I think there's a Garden Rant connection--I commented on something over there and you backtracked? I don't recall either, but you've been with me almost from the beginning, which has been lovely.

  17. I have my first Simply Linked. It DOES work!

    And you have a favicon. Changing the blogsphere, one orange B at a time ;~(0) And we're proving the power of comments ...

  18. Diana, the favicon comes and goes at random, but it's a start. And the interaction in comments is half the fun!