Sunday, December 4, 2011


or Building Character

After a howling beast of a windstorm Thursday night and a fussy, festering day on Friday, Saturday morning gave us a snowfall, the first (and for all we know, only) one of the season.  It was just an inch, but it fell beautifully, and its .11 inches of moisture helped to offset the desiccating effect of the earlier winds.

Offset, but not negate.  The snow didn't compensate fully for those drying easterly winds any more than it returned the two inches of fallen leaves and four inches of pecan shell mulch that used to protect my garden beds.  The wind scoured them down to bare dirt in places, and I have no idea where, this side of the Grand Canyon, all those pecan shells ended up.  Perhaps the next time a west wind comes along it will return them, but that may be a little too much symmetry to ask for.  (And may I just say, it is really exasperating to lose 240 pounds of mulch the very week that the cold weather hits.)

The snow didn't return things to neutral.  It didn't right the balance, but then, I'm not really sure we had a balance to set right; a lack of equilibrium is what gives New Mexico its character.  The relations between earth, air, fire, and water are normally out of kilter here, heavy on the first three and light on the last, and this year water has been nudged almost off the scale altogether.  The snowstorm helped it hang on a little longer is all.  We're just happy that it settled the dust—and oh, it smelled so fresh. 

By the time the day was bright enough to allow photos on Saturday morning, the snow was beginning to melt.  It was in that nameless in-between state, neither frozen nor liquid water, not even properly slush, where it still had snow's ability to negotiate with gravity, but the negotiations were beginning to falter.  It balanced or fell at random places, filling out the wrinkles in some of the withered sand cherries and turning them almost round again, sliding from others and leaving them gleaming wetly along every ridge and fold.  Each little bit of branch and stem shaped water differently.

On the sand lovegrass (Eragrostis trichodes), the water droplets dwarfed the tiny seeds they haloed or came to rest at odd places along the symmetrically branching stems.  They reminded me of a hanging mobile, all delicate weights and counterweights and wires that are just unbalanced enough to move at a light touch, to create a new shape every time they come back to stasis.

Generally speaking I'm a confirmed—nay, obsessed—symmetry fiend.  I don't mean to be; it just happens that way.  So there's a certain irony in my singing the praises of unevenness and imbalance, the way they give rise to character and beauty, the way they bring particularity into the foreground.  A talk with a friend today and other bits of happenstance recently, though, have reminded me of the joys of letting a passion throw your life out of balance—or put another way, of finding an idiosyncratic balance among out-of-kilter elements. 

It will either build your own character, or the characters of everyone who knows you...


  1. I love the picture of the sand lovegrass, and your description of it, with those impossibly delicate spots of ice and droplets, like tiny weights. Much to be said for balanced asymmetry in my book.
    On the downside, even having suffered nor'easters in Massachusetts, I cannot imagine a wind that would blow away 240 pounds of pecan shells. I do hope they somehow reappear, if not in your garden, then as a magical gift to someone who perhaps needs them even more than you did...

  2. When my life is thrown out of balance is the time I learn those hard lessons...I strive to achieve balance knowing it is elusive and I won't get there..but I try to get close...sort of feel like I am on a pendulum at times...beautiful pics of the snow...

  3. must have been quite some wind to whup your mulch out of a walled garden.

  4. Jill, the lovegrass is one of my favorites because its seeds are so delicate--when they're backlit they practically sparkle. I don't think I've ever experience such strong, sustained winds before unless a hurricane was involved. They said it was the worst here in 20 years, so I ought to be able to mulch again with a clear conscience for the next couple of decades. Thank you for that lovely image of mulch as a form of charity... I feel all Christmas-y all of a sudden.

    Donna, I may have begun to give up on balance (to an extent)--it can also be kind of dull... Many of my favorite people are the ones who are pleasantly out of whack.

    b-a-g, yes! Hip hip hooray!

    Diana, it was ferocious--not as bad as the Santa Anas they were dealing with in California, but almost 90 mile per hour gusts. I figured the mulch would have drifted up against one of the walls and could be re-arranged, but it's just GONE. So are the leaves--at least I don't have to wonder whether to rake any more.

  5. Oh, I love that line "the joys of letting a passion throw your life out of balance." Perfectly said! I'm going to try to remember that!

  6. I am happy you were able to experience a bit of snow; that must have been lovely to view in Albuquerque.

    How exasperating to lose all of your mulch, though; not only due to the expense but also the work!

  7. Imbalance is what creates beauty. Isn't it the basis for the 'rule of thirds in photography'! Your imbalance photos are great.

  8. Love your photos Stacey! It all looks very beautiful.

  9. Gorgeous photos! I have never experienced a windstorm that blew away inches of mulch ... humbling to recognize how exposed we are to the elements ...

  10. Holy cow! I think you got more snow than I did. We are having a freakishly dry season and didn't get our first snow until December 3rd, and it was less than an inch, more ice than snow, really. But tonight the temperature is supposed to get down to minus 3 degrees, so I'm pretty sure any further precipitation we get will be snow rather than sleet.

    Around here, I refer to high winds as "Nature's Hair Dryer", lol. Our main concern is branches coming off the 30-plus year old maples in the yard. Winds like you experienced would pretty much make a mess of anyplace, I suppose.

    But the snow did allow you to get some beautiful photos, so imbalance is good for something :0)

  11. Holley, it's kind of like what you were saying in your post about Crossing the Line—and like your catenary—just being willing to go all out for something, even if other things go by the wayside.

    Debra, it's really happy-making to see snow here—it just washes everything so clean. And yes, thank you, that's it exactly! The exasperation of having all that lugging go to waste! My garden is small enough that I really can't complain (too loudly), but, well, really, I can.

    Andrea, theoretically I know and believe that about imbalance and generally pursue the “rule of thirds” enthusiastically in photos. Elsewhere, though...

    Thank you, Christine—it's a far cry from a Cape Town summer!

    Sheila, thanks. I wonder if more of the mulch blew away than would have normally just because it's been so dry. With all the walls, too, there's some serious wind funnel action happening in the garden. It's definitely disconcerting to realize how vulnerable we are when nature gets serious.

    klbrowser, that's the first time ABQ has beaten S. Dakota in a snowing contest... It must be nice for you all to have some respite up there for a while.

    Breaking branches and falling trees are really the problem, aren't they? My neighborhood is young enough still not to have any big trees, really, but the more established parts of town had quite a bit of breakage—and branches falling on power lines and all those good things. Nature's Hair Dryer needs a “low” setting...