Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Monsoon Continues

Yesterday afternoon we got what was probably our heaviest rain since the Great Flood of '06 -- 1.83".  This brings our August rainfall to 4.02".  The total for the summer is 8.20 inches so far.  As for the future, who knows?  Last month the climate people were making noises about conditions being favorable for more rain later in the summer, and this seems to be what's happening.  As a beekeeper, I'm happy about all the wildflower honey we're sure to bring in, but my back isn't so enthusiastic. 

By way of comparison, the 08 monsoon, which was our all-time record, totalled 13.35", and the 06 monsoon, the notorious "monsoon from hell," totalled 11.90".  So we've got a ways to go before we reach record-breaking levels, but the rains are likely to continue. 

BTW the river once again didn't flood.  These minor river floods are no big deal, except for turning our pasture into a soggy, muddy mess.  But it's just as well that we don't get a mess if possible.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blooming Yuccas

Between Nutt and Lake Valley.  I finally got around to cropping this one.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Blooming Catclaw

Catclaw acacia, named for the curved thorns like a cat's claws.  These thorns grab you and won't let you go.  For this reason, catclaw is sometimes called "wait-a-minute bush."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Touch of Earth Rape

Here's what it now looks like in Foster Canyon, 1/2 mile from my home.  I was none too pleased when a portable gravel-mining operation set up shop in the canyon about 6 months ago.  (I have a problem with wild nature being destroyed for profit.)  But I also knew that the canyon bottom would heal relatively quickly -- 100 years or so.  Water does that -- eats away the high spots, fills in the low spots, and irrigates the new vegetation.  In fact, this process has already begun:  they built a berm next to the arroyo, which has already been breached.  (Arroyos tend to run where they will.)  The huge hole they scooped out is already filling up with new sediment, which is full of seeds, and thus the healing process begins.

What I don't understand is why they scalped the slope like that.  For one, I'm surprised that a bulldozer can operate on such a steep slope.  For another, I'm surprised the bulldozer operator took the risk of having his machine flip over on top of him.  I guess he did it for the hell of it.  Unfortunately, this slope will never heal -- it's too steep to ever be stable, and it will just erode forever.  Maybe I'll walk over there and document the new gullies as they get bigger year by year.   

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Prickly Pears

A random clump near our home.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Joe Bageant Spells It Out

Lately I've been thinking about the utter uselessness of America's eco-liberal demographic, which I have a lot in common with.  In the face of the breakdown of just about everything, they do... nothing.  As consumers, the question has always been (and still remains) "Can I pay for it?"  If so, or if they still have any credit remaining, then everything is just fine:  that vacation in Europe, that home theater system, whatever.  If not, then it looks like certain lifestyle modifications will be called for.  But in either case, supposedly intelligent Americans seem incapable of realizing that their culture of take-it-for-granted prosperity is crumbling around them, never to return.  Not only that, but the planet is rapidly losing its life-support capability.  I've been watching this process for years, and it always amazes me that so many Americans can still consider themselves capable and confident when in actuality they are such a bunch of losers.  Delusion runs deep among our species.

With that in mind, Joe Bageant's latest essay, "Understanding America's Class System," seems relevant.  Here are some highlights:

For Americans, self-examination is not just rare, it is nonexistent, which is one source of our pathology. Missing from our national character is love of the common good, and our collective civic responsibility toward one another. But if we acknowledged collective responsibilities to the individual members of our society, then we would have to deal with the issue of class in this country. Better to medicate the entire nation. To do that, you need big government...

None of us like the idea of a ruling class. We did not from the very beginning. Yet, we no longer take effective action, because it has become impossible to identify what we might do to change anything. Instead, we react to events. That is what the ruling class wants, because if we are reactive, then outcomes can be controlled by controlling the stimuli. Keep 'em dazzled with foot work. So the stimuli keep coming at us faster than we can think. And they are presented as fate, or the result of "fast changing world events," or a banking collapse no one could have predicted -- things to which we must respond immediately. Most of us just give up. Which again, is what the ruling class wants us to do -- become a uniformly pliant mass...

And besides, the ruling class holds all the money, not to mention the media that informs the populace as to what is going on in our country. It controls our health care, our banking and retirement funds. It controls our education or lack of education, and it controls the price, quantity and quality of the food we eat. It controls the quality of the air we breathe, and soon, through pollution credits, even the price they will pay for that air. Most importantly, it holds concentrated legal and governmental authority, not to mention the machinery of both parties to grant itself more authority.

In the face of all this stands a very diverse public, which regardless of what some might claim behind a few beers, is not about to take up arms or use force to unseat the ruling class. When your life and your family are so utterly controlled by persons and forces that you cannot even see, you don't take such risks. That's not gutlessness. It's common sense.

After decades of hyper-militant consumerism and its attending alienation, and a national consciousness spun from pure capitalist bullshit and mirrors, it is testimony to the American people that they can still see to piss straight, much less recognize any sort of truth whatsoever. Yet, a portion of Americans are beginning to grasp the truth about what has happened to their country -- that it has been bought and paid for by an elite class in a nation that is supposed to be classless. They are beginning to realize that, when it comes to actually governing our country, we are powerless as individuals -- even members of the political class -- and serve the overall will of its true owners. It's been that way so long we've become conditioned to accept it as a natural state, something we cannot change, and do not even know how to question, because, like the atmosphere, it's just there.

The higher truth is something we recognize when we encounter it. We may not have the right words, or all the facts, but we can feel it in our bones. Intuition is the first glimmer in the distance. It goes unsaid that we always have the choice of not looking in truth's direction, or not looking for it at all. Seldom is it a pleasant sight, which is the chief sign that it is truth. Even the best of it arrives to the sound of ominous bells

Fried Eggs

Prickly Poppies look like fried eggs.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Railroad Grade

On the way home I took a picture I've been meaning to take for years -- the railroad grade south of Lake Valley.  It's hard to imagine it now, but thousands of miners, families, and service personnel used to live in the Lake Valley-Hillsboro-Kingston area during the late 1800s.  Little trace of them remains.  Back then, you had two transportation choices:  trains, and horse-drawn conveyances (wagons and stagecoaches).  So there was an incentive for the monied interests to build a railroad spur between Nutt, on the main Santa Fe line, and Lake Valley.  This spur, built in 1884, was used to transport people and supplies into the area, and silver ore out.  People living in Hillsboro and Kingston still had to ride the stagecoach to Lake Valley, but it sure beat having to take it all the way to Nutt.

The mining boom didn't last long.  Such booms never do -- the game plan is always to extract the minerals as quickly as possible, in order to make as much money as quickly as possible.  Silver was devalued in1893, which ended the boom, and Lake Valley's "downtown" burned to the ground in 1895.  But the railroad remained in service until the 1930s, at which time the rails were pulled up and moved elsewhere.  The old railroad grade, unmaintained and slowly eroding, parallels the highway to Nutt, and can be easily traced if you know what to look for.  It remains as mute testimony to the one and only time that industrial America sent its tentacles into this isolated area.   

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mountain Wildflowers

We drove down the west side of the Black Range to the Iron Creek Campground where we had a picnic amid the cool pines.  There were dozens of kinds of wildflowers in the vicinity.  Here are a couple:

Friday, August 13, 2010

Emory Pass

After driving through a driving rain, we arrived at Emory Pass, where we enjoyed the view as usual.  The haze is caused by billions of raindrops falling through the air.  That's the banner cloud over the San Andres Mountains in the distance.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sawtooth Ridge

Between Hillsboro and Kingston.  As you can see, we are now under the banner cloud.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


We saw this magnificent mullein patch south of Hillsboro.  These plants are 6 feet tall.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Berrenda Creek

Here we are at the ash tree next to Berrenda Creek.  A couple of years ago, the creek was running bank-full and we had to turn around and try another way to continue.  The paved road was blocked by high water as well, so we had to go all the way back to Hatch so we could take an alternate route to Hillsboro.

Laura and Sheila lounging in the roots of the ash tree.

Monday, August 09, 2010


Descending the slope to Berrenda Creek, we crossed this little rivulet that runs only after heavy rains.  After taking this picture, I turned around and saw a tourist looking at me:

There's that banner cloud again.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Favorite View

Driving north past Lake Valley, we turn west onto the Berrenda Creek road, drive awhile, top a rise, and this is what we see.  The banner cloud is still with us.  Just to the left of the foreground peak on the right side of the picture, rain is starting to fall -- that's the gray smudge at the bottom of the cloud.  We'll be in the middle of that rain before long. 

In 1988, some of us from a local spiritualistic church fantasized about creating a spiritual retreat up here -- it's reasonably close to Las Cruces, and is very secluded.  This was a totally unrealistic fantasy, of course, but this view has had a particular resonance for me ever since.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Green Desert

The hills east of Nutt were as green as I've ever seen them.  Usually the only green is the olive-drab of the creosote bushes higher on the hill.  There's that banner cloud again.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Lake in the Desert

On Wednesday Laura and I took the day off and took our favorite trip to the Black Range.  I'll be posting pictures from this trip for the next week or so.  This first picture shows a lake in the middle of the Uvas Valley that's usually a dry lake bed, or playa, except after heavy rains.  They've obviously had some heavy rains in the Uvas Valley recently.

In the background is the Black Range.  The dip in the middle of the Black Range is Emory Pass.  We ended up about five miles on the other side of Emory Pass, amid the cool pines.  Conditions in the lowlands:  100 degrees and dry.

The moisture conditions were perfect for the formation of a magnificent banner cloud over the Black Range.  Once the monsoon gets going, a feedback loop is created in the mountains -- the mountain topography creates updrafts which in turn create a banner cloud, which rains on the mountains, which raises the humidity, which adds more moisture to the banner cloud, which creates even more rain, and so it goes.  In a wet summer, it can rain every day in the mountains.

The Black Range banner cloud has a typically flat bottom.  Beneath the bottom of the Black Range banner cloud, and immediately above the mountains, is yet another banner cloud.  It doesn't show in this picture very well, but this other cloud is noticably pinker, meaning it is much farther away.  (This is caused by "atmospheric reddening" -- the same reason that sunrises and sunsets are red.)  I checked on the map and sure enough, this is the banner cloud over the Mogollon Mountains, in the Gila Wilderness, north of Silver City -- 100 miles from where this picture was taken. 

You can see why they called me "Ranger G" back in the 80s.

Coming next:  Green Desert.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Portulacas on the Porch

Here's the entry porch to the Ark, festooned with festive hanging pots of portulacas.  Last year I used gazanias for this application, but they had trouble withstanding the harsh exposure to the hot afternoon sun.  So I figured that portulacas, with their fleshy leaves, would be less likely to dry out.  This is another experiment that turned out well; it's always refreshing to encounter such a situation.  At the bottom of the porch I've mounted little solar lights that were on sale for $1.50 each.  No more stumbling up the stairs in the dark!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of underground fungi.  These fungi can cover many acres, and can be very long-lived -- one colony has an estimated age of 2400 years, and covers 2200 acres.  My south pasture contains a fungus that produces mushrooms after heavy rains.  Between July 22 and 29 we had 3.18" of rain, but even more importantly, we had at least .44 inch of rain on five of those eight days.  This ensured that the soil stayed moist -- ideal conditions for mushroom growth.  And grow they did -- there must be a hundred of them scattered throughout my pasture.  The weather has now returned to its hot, dry default state -- ideal for the spores to blow away and spread to new locations.  It's always good to know that somebody (and it's not humans) has it all figured out. 

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Midsummer Die-Off Syndrome

Here we have two Jetsetter hybrid tomato plants.  The one on the left is normal, but the one on the right decided to give up the ghost several days previously.  From the first onset of symptoms to total decrepitude takes about a week.  This syndrome, whatever it is, forces me to grow extra tomato plants to compensate for the ones that die prematurely. 

Here's a pair of Early Girl hybrids.  The one on the left is normal, and over 6 feet tall -- just the way I like it at this time of year.  The one on the right has been suffering from the syndrome for about a month.  It's still alive, but permanently stunted, and is producing tiny tomatoes that are too small to bother with.  I suspect there are several types of "syndrome" at work here.

Many people have complained about how difficult it is to grow tomatoes these days.  I remember in the early 90s we grew heroic quantities of tomatoes to sell at Farmer's Market.  Maybe the occasional plant would crap out, but I don't remember such a high percentage of my plants dying. 

One more problem:  Ideally, tomato plants would remain healthy until frost.  That way, you can pick the green tomatoes when frost is predicted, and ripen them indoors.  One year I had tomatoes till the end of January.  Every tomato plant that dies early is one that won't be providing green tomatoes at the end of growing season.