Posts Tagged ‘desert’

By Sandra Vallie

It’s hot, pushing 100, and I have to wait until it’s cooler to water the heat-sapped garden. Until it’s cooler, or dark, or 7 pm, the time the city allows watering – whatever measure I decide today is the tipping point where the amount of water soaking into the sand is greater than what the bone-dry overheated air is sucking up into itself. In the house, safe out of the sun, I’m anxious looking at the heat-limp plants across the yard. Corn leaves curled into points, drooping tomato plants and cucumber leaves flat against the ground. I know the plants are well-watered; some of what I see is self-protection and some a part of the taking up and giving off of water. As soon as the sun moves further toward the west and I carry water to the plants through the hose, the leaves and stems will fill with water and this limp spread of green will become plants again.

I’m from Michigan and this is my first year trying to grow vegetables in New Mexico. I pretty much planted the garden twice because I hadn’t learned that we can still have below-freezing nights even when the temperature in the day is 80 degrees. How much water is too much and what is enough. Why, when I asked the woman at the nursery about gardening in New Mexico, she told me to not even try. Half the plants I put in my son’s yard last fall didn’t make it through the winter, falling to the cold and what I haven’t learned yet.

For 20 years, I watched peonies, lilacs, tulips, hosta, coneflowers, azalea, iris, daylilies and butterfly bushes grow tall, wide, and fragrant. Lush. Luxuriant and juicy. Moisture in the air reflected the hundred greens growing around the yard and the air glowed. Lettuces, green, red and purple, came in the spring, followed by peas and beans that reached across the raised beds to share the poles supporting plants and pods. Tomatoes grew so fast and heavy they kicked away their cages. Cucumbers ran across the garden to the corn and climbed high enough I could pick the fruit without bending over.

I exaggerate. A little. Lush it was, very different from my yard here, each plant holding to its own space, as if each one feels it deserves only so much water and so many nutrients from the spare soil. I’ve never seen plants grow so slowly; at first it’s almost as if each morning they decide whether or not to push up, out, forward, just one little bit. As if they know that growing higher will put them closer to the sun and they’ll be hotter. My plants in Albuquerque work harder than plants in Michigan. In this place where there is so much space, where I finally feel I can be as big as I am, exuberant, joyful, expansive and – well – lush, my vegetables appear so tentative and afraid.

Cactus spread, although I don’t know that I’ll ever call them lush. There are several in the neighborhood I’m drawn to, even a couple I’m lusting after for their deep, almost hallucinatory red-purple blooms or their improbable flowers, yellow and ten feet above the plant their stalk grew from. Cactus, though, and weeds like the silverleaf nightshade, the most prolific plant in my landscape cloth- and gravel-covered yard, are what led me to write a few years ago after a visit: “Everything green here bites.” I know I’m never going to embrace a cactus or walk barefoot across the goatheads and foxtails to get to them. I yearn to load my arms with heavy-headed peonies and stargazer lilies that are deep enough to serve soup in, although I’m afraid I’d have to drain the remaining water out of the Rio Grande to do it. Before I moved here I asked a friend if I could grow roses in Albuquerque. “You can grow anything you want in Albuquerque as long as you can afford the water.”

The roots of my grandmother’s peonies I carried south are in pots out back, not growing. Soon, not yet, I’ll have to admit what I know and stop watering. I didn’t have time before we moved last fall to lift lilies or divide a few coneflowers. The rose bush by my bedroom window, though, is the same as the one that died in my Michigan garden a couple of years ago, my grandmother’s favorite. There are green tomatoes on the plants and sooner than I know they’ll be full and red enough for dinner. Lush is changing, from the huge bushes and plants that grew in the Michigan rain to the sound of water rushing through the garden hose, the sight of it spreading around the watermelon plants and at the feet of the raspberries, the corn leaves unfolding as the still skinny stalks draw up water from the soil, and the gratitude I feel that I have water to grow food with. The air may not be green from the plants, but the sky is crystal blue. While I’ve written this, it has become late enough to head outside to water and the first flowers on the cucumber plants have opened today in the heat.


About Sandra:  My fairly recent move from my job and life in Michigan to Albuquerque, New Mexico, has opened up the opportunity (for which I’m gut-wrenchingly grateful) to write in spans of hours instead of stolen minutes. Although I’ve written mostly poetry in the past few months, I’m enjoying the process of exploring different forms for different subjects. I’ve been fortunate to have a community of encouraging and creative writers in the Albuquerque Ink Slingers, a local Meetup group, and my husband’s graceful willingness to live and work in 100 degree temperatures.

Read Full Post »

Joshua Trees f auto

Joshua Trees & Desert Sands, southeastern California, postcard found in Monticello, Minnesota, March 2011, Colortone © Curt Teich & Co., photo scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The “JOSHUAS” or “PRAYING TREES” are found throughout the desert sections of the Southwest. The coarse fibrous limbs growing in unusual grotesque shapes bear branches of dagger-like leaves.

When we visited the Trumpeter Swans in Monticello a few weeks ago, we ended up going for pie and coffee at Cornerstone Cafe. But not before we checked out the local thrift shop and a new antique store that opened just around the corner. Liz and I were drawn to a table of vintage postcards, much like the postcard from Atlanta that my Uncle Jack sent to Mom in 1952.

Vintage linen postcards were printed from 1930 to 1945 by Curt Teich & Co. of Chicago; they closed their doors in 1978. In my research, I found that the company used a color printing technique called C.T. Art-Colortone. The thick paper was embossed to give the card a linen texture, and the inks were printed on a lithography press using color separation. Linen postcards often portrayed landmarks, landscapes, and roadside attractions, but fell out of fashion in the late 1940’s when polychrome printing was invented.

I thought it would be fun to post a few over the course of the year. My favorites in Monticello were a series of postcards that had been hand addressed and mailed from somewhere across the USA, back to the small town of Dover, Minnesota. In January of 1947, Ione made it clear that she sprang from the swampy Land of 10,000 Lakes, and found it hard to love the dry beauty of the California desert:

Joshua Trees b

Joshua Trees & Desert Sands – Jan 25 1947, southeastern California, postcard found in Monticello, Minnesota, March 2011, Colortone © Curt Teich & Co., photo scan © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Fri. night.

We are just a few miles from Riverside. May call Ralph Keyes. Guess we are through the desert at last. Will finish the last 100 miles tomorrow. We went thru Tuscon this A.M. I called Margaret. She was so surprised to hear me. We covered miles and miles of desert and cactus. Margaret says the desert will soon start to bloom then it is beautiful. We went through El Centro where Eva Ferrier and Don used to live. Don’t blame them for leaving here. I haven’t been travel sick yet so guess I’ll be alright.


The desert has a beauty all its own. Though I have not spent time in the California desert, I find peace and solace in the high desert country around Taos, New Mexico. I read that Mormon settlers named the Joshua tree when they traveled west toward their promised land. The shape of the tree’s outstretched branches reminded them of the Biblical story in which the prophet Joshua reaches his hands toward the sky. Joshua Tree National Park gives the tree another important place in American history: Franklin Roosevelt dedicated Joshua Tree National Park in 1936 (only 11 years before this postcard was written) to assure that California’s rapid urban sprawl wouldn’t threaten the unique desert ecosystem in which the trees thrive.

During the Ice Age, Joshua trees grew strong across the American Southwest. According to an NPR article, in the 1930s scientists explored Gypsum Cave outside of Las Vegas where they found parts of skeletons, hides, and hair from the giant ground sloth — an animal that had been extinct for 13,000 years. In layers of the sloth’s dung, there was evidence that Joshua trees were a favorite food of the sloth, including leaves, seeds, and fruits. When the desert turns dry as a bone, the only way animals like the antelope ground squirrel, desert wood rat, and blacktail jack rabbit find moisture is by gnawing through the bark of live trees. The Joshua tree is one of the “great canteens of the desert.” What would we do without ancient trees?

-related to posts: lack of oxygen haiku, Georgia Pine Over My Grandmother’s Grave, WRITING TOPIC — TREES, Spirits In The Bosque — Patrick Dougherty Leaves His Mark On Albuquerque, Tales Of A Prodigious Cottonwood, Excavating Memories, virgin cottonwood haiku, Fourteen Dozen Roses: The World As The Jungle It Is, World Labyrinth Day, Trees For The Forest Series, lone pine haiku

Read Full Post »

By mimbresman


Kayak Beach, photo © 2007 by mimbresman. All rights reserved.

Winter 1977/78Mimbres River, NM:
I wanted to explore the Cook’s Range with my Jeep CJ-5. I get to the lower Mimbres River which was flooding due to warm rain melting snow in the mountains. On the far bank of the river was a sign that read “If you’re fool enough to cross this…it’ll cost you $20.00 to get pulled out!” I got out of the idling Jeep and looked in my wallet: $8.00. (I was just 17-years old.) I looked at the river, looked at the sign, and decided to go for it. Locked the hubs, put the CJ in 4-wheel drive, low-range and start across. Meanwhile a guy across the river was starting up his tractor, ready to take advantage of the situation. No problem until I was 3/4th the way across the river…water was coming in through the bottom edge of the doors and bubbling up through drain holes, and the current was starting to push the Jeep down stream. I steer upstream, mash the accelerator and hit the opposite bank, front wheels clawing their way on to dry ground. I made it! The first vehicle to do so!

Summer 1978Gila River, NM:
Nearly drowned in a riffle due to panic. I calmed myself, stood up and found myself in knee deep water.

Spring Break 1982 – Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Rio Grande, TX/MX:
A friend and I hiked Telephone Canyon to the river while two other Range Bum buddies rafted down it in a small yellow raft. There was only room for two people on the raft so we had to take turns. The hike was hot, but the river was refreshing. We were treated to the sound of canyon wrens and mysterious flute music. We hiked out, shuttled to get the guys at the La Linda Bridge, then it was our turn to paddle Boquillas Canyon.

Spring Break 1983 – Mariscal Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Rio Grande, TX/MX:
A follow-up to the previous year’s excursion. We had a bigger raft, which proved to be a dog on the water. We ended up slogging through low water, dragging the raft for miles through the meanders before reaching the canyon.

Spring Break 1984 Death Valley National Monument, CA:
Without water here, you die. We Range Bums found ourselves hanging out at the Furnace Creek Resort swimming pool more than we wanted to. It was unbearably hot! Determined to escape the crowds, we headed to the back country and were not disappointed. We saw all sorts of interesting formations due to water erosion or because of the lack of water. The most interesting place was “The Race Track,” a dry lake bed where rocks move on their own. How exactly they move is still a mystery but it is an awesome place indeed!

June 1994 Arkansas River, CO:
A weekend whitewater retreat with two friends (ybonesy was one of them). Fun time on the water, and ended with us watching the OJ Simpson slow-speed car chase at the bar/restaurant in Buena Vista.

June 2001 Pouder Cache River, CO:
Nearly drowned in a Class IV rapid when the inflatable kayak I was in hit a raft that was pinned on a rock, and rolled. I was forced underwater by the hydraulic pressure and was held there for several seconds before I could reach the surface, where I then had to deal with bouncing down the Class IV rapid with my body. I was exhausted when I reached the shore.

July 2001 Puget Sound, WA:
Had a bad experience paddling big open water. Tide rips, strong tidal currents, waves, a weird and strange companion who I found I didn’t like too much, plus my inexperience as a paddler, all added to a very bad trip on the water.

March 2002 – Playa Mansa to Isla Borracha and back, Venezuela’s Caribbean Coast:
My wife was out of town and so I paddled the double kayak, solo, from the beach near our apartment to Isla Borracha 7 miles off shore. I was ill prepared for such an excursion; no food, only small mint candies and some water. When I got to Isla Borracha, I found there was not much there. I eventually had to paddle back to the mainland without eating. My only source of calories was “Mintitas,” small mint candies. I found that I could paddle for about 5 minutes per Mintita.

Summer 2002 – Playa Mansa, Venezuela’s Caribbean Coast:
Nearly drowned less than 20 meters from shore when I was practicing in my single kayak. I accidentally rolled the kayak, and was pinned inside the boat by the spray skirt. I tried reaching for the release toggle several times and I kept missing it. Finally, calming myself, I remembered the drill; rub my hand along the combing of the kayak until I reached the toggle. I was then able to pull and release the skirting and make a wet exit from the kayak.

New Year’s 2005/2006 – Cumana to Lechería, Venezuela:
A coastal kayak expedition with Douglas and Matt, a gay couple from San Francisco. They came to Venezuela to paddle, but had several bad experiences with police harassment. When they reached Cumana, they called me and I met them there. It was a good 5-day paddle of about 60 miles total. Very fun and interesting times. Matt was a diva, and Douglas did what he could to keep Matt from going into his “fits” (as Douglas called them). Douglas taught me how to surf my kayak on the big, following waves.

About this writing practice, mimbresman says: I wanted to write on this topic but got bogged down each time I started. Finally I decided to make a chronology of memorable experiences I’ve had with water. I guess that’s what this is all about: experimentation and writing.


Read Full Post »