Thursday, August 9, 2012

Rifts

or Unconformity

The finches are calling to one another from the feeder in the side yard and the desert olive in the back, from the neighbors' sycamore across the way.  Their calls strike me as a kind of echolocation:  sound waves sent out to meet another bright body and be reflected back from it.  Lesser Goldfinches are not comfortable being alone.  Their whistles and sighs and rasps—"Are you there?  I'm here."  "I'm here.  Are you still there?"—are a way of affirming each others' presence and and making the strength of connection clear.  They are a kind of safety net, a reassurance that all is as it should be.

Humans are social animals, too, or so said Aristotle, more or less.  True aloneness is for the very few:  ascetics who seek enlightenment through solitude; misanthropes who shun their fellows.  Solitary confinement is an extreme form of punishment that trespasses on the cruel and unusual.  We are wired to live in community.  A rift between people is a hard thing and a sad one, our own version of the goldfinch whistling to its kin and hearing nothing in reply.  In the face of that emptiness, we, too, grow distressed.

I've found myself thinking about rifts this week, after my old friend from out of town and I drove to the Sandia Crest and rambled around for a few hours along the knife-edge of the mountains on the eastern rim of the Rio Grande Rift.

An off-shoot of the Sandia Crest trail, somewhere around 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) above sea level,
and about a mile above the Rio Grande valley.

The Sandias aren't actually part of the Rocky Mountains.  Unlike the Rockies, they weren't formed when the earth's surfaces crumpled together, but rather when they tore apart.  Movement along California's San Andreas Fault put pressure on land in what is now southern Colorado and New Mexico, causing the crust of the earth to split.  In the same way that  pie-crust dough, rolled too thin, tears apart in a series of ovals, so the earth, as it tore, formed a series of long, rounded valleys:  the San Luis in Colorado, and the Española and middle Rio Grande valleys in New Mexico.  In the middle Rio Grande valley, the break on the east side of the rift tilted the Sandia Mountains up; on the western side, the weakened earth allowed heat to vent as volcanoes.

Looking west over the Rio Grande valley, with the river in the foreground, and the cities of Albuquerque, Corrales, Rio Rancho, and Bernalillo alongside it; volcanic Mount Taylor is in the background about 60 miles away.

In between mountains and volcanoes, the land sank, inviting water to drain into it.  Those waters became the Rio Grande.  The river then nurtured life in a variety and to an extent that otherwise would not exist in the desert.  The shady bosque—the cottonwood forest—that runs the length of the middle Rio Grande valley, the seasonal flights of sandhill cranes that I love, the large human settlement of Albuquerque along its banks, would not have been possible without the Rio Grande Rift.

The Sandias themselves are full of rifts of different kinds:  the Great Unconformity, a mysterious gap of eons between the mountains' Precambrian granite bones and their surface coat of late-day limestone; the cracks in stone worked by time and weather and exacerbated by the insistent roots of limber pines;

Some of the Sandias' limber pines (Pinus flexilis) are more than 1,500 years old.

the disparity between the long lives of the pines and the brief ones of flowers.

Coral bells, or Sandia alumroot (Heuchera pulchella)

In the mountains, as in the valley, a great diversity of life is made possible because of the Rift.  Sandia coral bells, now much-loved nursery plants, grow wild only here, in the limestone crevices of these mountains and the neighboring Manzanos.  Alpine flowers flourish on the open heights.

One of many Painted Lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) among Geyer's wild onion (Allium geyeri)
and miscellaneous small, yellow flowers.  (That's as specific as I can usually get with small, yellow flowers.)

Columbines gleam among the high-altitude spruce and fir.

Desert columbine (Aquilegia desertorum)

The Rio Grande Rift and the many smaller rifts within it are stories of possibility, of new avenues for life, of openings where roots can take hold and water can flow, and small beings can find shelter and safety.  Not all of those possibilities will turn out well; many years hence these roots may widen the gaps in stone to their own destruction:

A limber pine on the edge.

but in the meantime life will have thrived on the glorious brink of disaster for centuries.

I am struck at what a different effect rifts have on us humans.  Try as I might, I cannot twist these geologic stories of possibility around to a tidy moral tale.  My own experience of rifts does not conform to the mountains'.  My friend has returned home, and I am mildly bereft.  When I walk in the door the sense lingers that I should be walking into a conversation.  I'm not.  A gap yawns between friendship lived in person and friendship across continents, a rift, even though no division but space lies between us.

In the face of a chasm, we don't look expectantly for creative niches to fill.  We reach out to nullify it, to bridge it by any means possible.  We call out plaintively like the goldfinches, "I'm still here."

Are you there, too?

29 comments:

  1. Still here, my friend!

    And what a bonus to see that Heuchera can actually grow wild somewhere. I too have Painted Lady butterflies currently exploring my (carefully cultivated) wild onions, as well as my fair share of miscellaneous yellow flowers (coreopsis, actually). That columbine, however, is all yours -- and divine.

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    1. I am so glad that you are, Kathy!

      I was delighted to see the Heuchera growing all over the place, just like it belonged there. I think this is the "rock garden"/alpine nursery version of Heuchera. It's pretty tiny compared to the bigger "regular garden" versions.

      You have to wonder what Painted Lady butterfly breath is like, what with all those onions.

      Coreopsis is such as "essence of summer" flower. I LOVE that yellow. It must look gorgeous in with your other prairie-type flowers--and do well even with your drought?

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    2. Champaign sits atop a miraculous underground aquifer which shows no signs of running out anytime soon. So we amateur gardeners water with abandon while the corn dies in the fields around us... fiddling while Rome burns, I fear. My rain barrels are only a token of conservation...

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  2. I am here too. :)

    Yes I think many people miss that net, the constant reassurance of presence and support.

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    1. Hooray! Thanks, sweetbay. I'm beginning to realize that a lot of conversations aren't really about the actual topic under discussion--they're just ways of being a presence.

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  3. What a wonderful post and great pictures too. Coming from a small island with no rifts or mountains the space would just humble me and fill me with awe in the face of such vastness and grandeur. Your pictures are enough to give me a glimpse but the experience must be inspiring.

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    1. Gra, thank you. Even coming from the mountainous West like I do, the vastness is still humbling and awe-inspiring. Thanks for your comment. I'm glad to meet another small-garden gardener--I look forward to learning about your island.

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  4. I'm here! Sometimes I think that what we're doing in blogging about gardening and nature - calling across a rift of most of a culture that is blind to our loves - and wanting others of our species to call back...

    Such a lovely and informative post. The landscape in New Mexico is awesome, in the real meaning of the word. I, too, tend to marvel at the resilience of plants growing on the edges and the adaptability of trees to the most inhospitable spots.

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    1. Sheila, I couldn't agree more, that blogging is a way of reaching out to find kindred spirits, when otherwise we feel at odds with the mainstream.

      Seashores and deserts (and mountains) seem to be alike in testing plants' resilience to the utmost. Awesome really is the best word!

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  5. I'm with Sheila, blogging is a way to swap "I am here" calls with like minded people, and helps bridge those rifts caused by being apart from those we would love to be able to chat to more casually, more frequently. Lovely writing on the fascinating geology too.

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    1. Janet, sometimes I'm in awe at how blogging among people you've never met makes real connections possible. It's lovely, too, how reading about people's gardens becomes a way of keeping with their state of mind and well-being; my folks certainly get a sense of how I'm doing every week from what I say in the blog--even if it has nothing to do with me, or so I think.

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  6. I'm here, Stacy - at least I think I am (but then I get easily confused). Gosh but what a landscape and photographed to perfection. I have an old friend who no longer responds to my "Are you there" calls and I feel a little adrift. And sad. But then I started to hear a response from someone in New Mexico - of all places. If we keep on calling, someone, somewhere usually responds. At least so I find. BTW in the UK we have Munroe’s - mountains of 3000 feet or more. And they are BIG! Your Sandia Crest is three times that!! I hope you climbed it from sea level? No cable car? No driving to a handy 2000m car-park? And BTW x 2 that aquilegia is a jewel. Totally smitten Dave

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    1. Isn't it hard to know what "here" means, Dave, in this here virtual age? (Rhetorical question.) Yes--calling out is really the key to finding our kin out there in the world, like sounding a tuning fork and setting up sympathetic vibrations. Who knew that would work between Sussex and New Mexico?

      Oh, gosh, don't be quite THAT impressed by the Sandia Crest! The middle of the US is pretty high above sea level to start with, so the mountains' bases are at about 5,000 feet before they start climbing. I know you'll be horribly disappointed in me, but I just drove to the top and got out at the parking lot and wandered around pretty much on the same level. Easy peasy, though the car might see things differently.

      I'm used to mountain columbines being blue (Colorado's columbines are A. caerulea) and was pretty smitten with these myself.

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    2. Was once in an aeroplane landing in Jo'burg watching the metres count down - and forgot that Jo'burg, unlike Cape Town, is a thousand metres up!

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    3. Diana, growing up in Denver, Colorado, the "Mile High City," we got used to hearing visitors be confused when the airplanes would land in the prairie--how could the city be a mile high and not be in the mountains?

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  7. I recently saw the movie "Castaway" on television. The fact that he decided to leave the island, facing death, instead of facing anymore isolation and loneliness really made me wonder what I would do in that situation. Is life really living without friendship? Yet, would I risk my life for the possibility of companionship? I wonder when silence to the call of "Are you there?" would become unbearable. Perhaps that's why some people like the television on all the time - just for the noise. I'm learning (as I get older) to try to cultivate relationships a bit deeper, and hopefully stronger. Not just a call back "I'm here." But a call back, "I'm here for you". BTW- I love that heuchera grows wild there. I love that plant, but it does not do well here. I suppose it misses the alkalinity of the limestone.

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    1. Holley, I've never seen that film but will have to track it down. Those choices are really hard, and faced, I think, by a lot of people in less extreme circumstances, too. When I worked in radio, I'd get a lot of calls from elderly people in the middle of the night who lived alone and whose families lived at a long distance. They wanted someone to talk to about small things, like their toaster going on the fritz, and should they repair it or replace it? They had people who loved them and would take care of them at need, but no one right handy just for daily companionship. "I'm here for you" is a much lovelier, stronger thing than "I'm here." I wonder if any of the finches say that for each other? :)

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  8. Stacy we love being here with you in NM...just an amazing geological history and such diverse plants. I have not seen much of this valley but it reminds me of spots in AZ that have similar pines growing in boulders and stone in such an unimaginable way. I think as bloggers we enjoy hearing our finch friends chipping back calling around the world and sharing such an amazing experience.

    I have been away from NM for too long and need to visit again this coming year. I hope to make it a yearly visit to explore more of this beautiful Land of Enchantment.

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    1. Donna, I haven't spent much time in the mountains of AZ, just a little around the Grand Canyon and a quick wander through the arboretum in Flagstaff, but I do get hints of the similarity. I'm going to think of bloggers as finch friends now...

      NM really resonates deeply with some people--I hope you can come out here again soon and get your fill of it for a while!

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  9. Can't take my eyes off those photos Stacy.
    Your post reminds me of building bridges. Sometimes I have a disagreement with someone and a short rift follows, but that just clarifies the boundaries, allowing for a stronger bridge to be built in between.
    The people I have rifts with usually end up as my closest friends!

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    1. b-a-g, not to embarrass you, but I think your gift for allowing rifts to happen and then crossing them with bridges says wonderful things about you. It's much easier to brush problems under the carpet, but much more valuable to be able to trust someone to disagree and seek understanding, and come out on the other side a better friend!

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  10. As always: your blogs are all all about beauty, Stacy. The photography is spectacutlar. Hello from VA!
    -Ronit

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    1. Thank you, Ronit. Welcome back!
      Hugs,
      Stacy

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  11. Those limber pines are seriously tenacious! Love it! There's another post for you right there.

    Beautiful images and imagery as always

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    1. Thanks, Karen! Some of those trees were seriously defying gravity!

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  12. Hi Stacy, those are some dizzyingly high photos with far-reaching views. Thank you for another thought-provoking post. Thinking about it, my other half and I "call out" to each other a lot when we're together, like the Goldfinches. It's a comfort thing reminding us that neither one of us is far away and that we're still aware of each other even though we're doing different things in different rooms.

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    1. Hi Sunil, the views are really sublime from the Crest--my photos don't come close to doing them justice. The intimacy you describe is so lovely--a reminder of presence and companionship, as if that awareness is a little, loving gift.

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  13. My G Reader has run away from me, those few days off the internet have banked up about a hundred blog posts.

    Each of your photos today echoes back to you - I'm here, I'm with you.

    There is a brand new blog on Blotanical from Tijeras. http://mountaingardensnm.blogspot.com/2012/08/fresh-produce.html

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    1. Diana, my Reader has run about as far amok--eek. Thanks for the info on the blog in Tijeras--I'll pop over and be neighborly.

      I hadn't expected this post to be quite such an echolocator itself!

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