Flowers–Texas Panhandle Tough


In spite of only one inch of rain since last autumn, many flowers persist:  sundrops, black foot daisies, chocolate flowers, wine cups, primrose, desert (Mexican) birds of paradise, red yucca, salvia, catmint, native grasses, milkweed.  I took these photos after feeding the horses this morning.

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Iris Tough


In spite of less than 3/4 inch rain since last fall and minimal watering from the 400 foot deep well, iris bloom everywhere–even in unamended caliche, a glorious reminder of nature’s resilience.

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When I thinned these a couple of years ago, I had so many that I stuck them everywhere, even here at the end of the driveway.  I have watered them only once.

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A friend gave me just one.  I planted it by the barn among others of the color in the first photo.  In spite of the drought they multiplied a lot this past year.  Probably all the rain from last summer helped before it quit raining.

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I planted these a couple of years ago in front of the barn.  I watered them a few times this spring but none during the winter.  This particular iris reblooms in the fall and multiplies so fast it is difficult to keep up with separating it.

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Possibly because of their location by the retaining wall near the barn facing west, these are always the first to bloom.  I did water them a couple of times this spring. Insects have found them.

 

Day 127


Tan grass stretches miles and miles as far as eyes can see.

The water in the indigo bird bath evaporates in one day.

Playa lakes, full last summer, surrounded then in emerald grass, lay waterless.

Thirty-five miles an hour winds create fog-like clouds of dust across the horizon.

Grit, wind hurled, buffets cars and trucks driving down the long, straight highways.

Dust-fed sunrises and sunsets clad skies in orange, hot pink, vermillion, violet, mauve.

Day 127 with no measurable precipitation.

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Note:  I wrote this ten days ago.  That evening it rained .01 inches.  None since then.  We are approaching four months with just that .01 inches, nothing more.  Every time it warms and the winds come, the weather forecast mentions high fire danger.  All counties and state parks near here have burn bans.  March is a windy month.

Sunday Poem–Rain


It’s raining! It’s raining!

It has not rained in more than a month.

I run out the door,

spreading my arms skyward.

I laugh out loud, dancing in the rain.

A smile smears joyfully across my face.

I run across the patio,

rain drops pelleting my face, my arms.

I laugh out loud, dancing in the rain.

My dog stands, rivulets of rain running off her.

Lightning explodes, thunder booms bass,

the steel roof plays staccato music.

I laugh out loud, dancing in the rain.

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From my book “On the Rim of Wonder”.  This poem holds true today.  After a summer with lots of rain, it quit.  It is very dry with a high danger of wildfires now that the summer vegetation has dried, perfect fuel.

 

Rain


 

 

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Early, in that land between wakefulness and dreams, it started to rain.  It rarely rains here in the morning; I thought I was dreaming.  Several hours later it is still raining.  Last night the weather forecaster said we are actually a little ahead of normal for the year, an unheard of event in recent years when endless drought reigned.  Because I am thinking none of  you who read my blog posts will believe it is really raining that much after reading numerous posts about drought, I decided to take some photos of the cloudiness and wet.

 

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The following poem was written when it had not rained in a long time like this spring when it had not rained for months.  Now that is has started raining, it cannot seem to stop, certainly a better situation than several months ago when 50 houses in a nearby town burned down because of a giant wildfire.

 

 

 

It’s raining!  It’s raining!

It has not rained in more than a month.

I run out the door,

spreading my arms skyward.

I laugh out loud, dancing in the rain.

A smile smears joyfully across my face.

I run across the patio,

rain drops pelleting my face, my arms.

I laugh out loud, dancing in the rain.

My dog stands, rivulets of rain running off her.

Usually she hates rain.

Lightning explodes, thunder booms bass,

the steel roof plays staccato music.

I laugh out loud, dancing in the rain.

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Seven: Species Vanish


We all know extinction occurs.  Nearly everyone knows different species of dinosaurs at varied times roamed the earth for millennia.  Bones of all sorts of animals and various hominids are dug up off and on.  Scientists study them, determine their age, where and how they lived.  Scientists and sometimes even average persons develop theories about why they went extinct.  Regardless of which theory a person decides is accurate, these ancient extinctions generally took thousands of years. Recent extinctions are different, e.g. carrier pigeons.  Millions existed a couple of hundreds of years ago; now they are gone.  Why?  Humans.

Various causes exist for the extinctions of ancient species.  A major cause is the climate change caused my the changing tilt of the earth’s axis.  These changes occur over thousands and thousands of years.  What is different now?  Let’s take corn.  Native Americans cultivated rainbow colors of corn in small, frequently irrigated fields.  Where is most corn grown now?  Giant fields of GMO corn grow from horizon to horizon in the Midwest.  And if Monsanto had its way, no other corn would continue to exist for long.   Iowa is a good example.  Wherever this corn is grown, native grasses and other native plants totally disappear, in part due to cultivation.  A bigger issue is herbicides–to have clean fields, nothing and I mean nothing but corn must grow there.  A farmer’s expertise as a farmer is measured my just how super clean his fields are.  The only way to get these totally weedless fields is to use herbicides.  Biodiversity is a key to environmental health.  Little biodiversity exists in giant fields of crops like corn and soybeans.  Fertilizers to obtain huge yields wash downstream and in the Midwest eventually end in the Gulf of Mexico and cause giant marine algae blooms which pulls oxygen from the water to create a dead zone where no marine animals or fish can live.

Perhaps readers have heard of the plight of monarch butterflies.  Compared to just ten years ago, the population has dropped dramatically.  What happened to them?  Roundup.  Over 100,000 tons of Roundup and other brands of glyphosate herbicides are annually applied to crops in the US.  What do monarchs eat?  Milkweed.  Since 1999, 58 per cent of the milkweed has disappeared.  Recently, monarchs experienced a 30 per cent reduction in their numbers in one year.  Are we headed toward a mass extinction?  Some scientists think so.  These scientists are not talking about tigers, elephants, and rhinos being killed at an ever increasing rate for their body parts, but rather about the less noticeable extinctions of various plants and less obvious animals like frogs.  And then there is the problem with bees.  Bees are disappearing at an ever increasing rate due to not only diseases but due to herbicides and pesticides.  Without bees to pollinate the giant fields of almonds and various fruits in California, for example, those foods won’t exist.  See a previous post for more discussion on the importance of bees.  So why care about frogs?  Scientists consider frogs and amphibians in general an indicator of the health of an ecosystem.  Certain more tropical species of frogs are especially subject to the effects of climate change and they are disappearing.

Where I live big bluestem, blue grama, buffalo grass, and other native species grew from horizon to horizon.  This is the high plains.  Root systems of some plants grow twelve feet deep.  It has not rained in over a month.  Where the native grass once grew, crops are now grown.  This time of year finds open fields. Without rain, with the recent endless high winds, dust fills the sky.  To safely return home from town Sunday, I had to turn on the car lights to see.  The dryness fuels wildfires.  Earlier this week, over one hundred homes burned down in a wildfire north of Amarillo.  Drought.

Many human inventions are wonderful and make many lives better, but for some of them, I cannot help but wonder at what cost.

 

 

Random Thoughts at the End of a Rather Long Day


When I realized the time and know 5:30 tomorrow morning will come sooner than I may prefer, I decided I had to write something here to fulfill my commitment to write daily for at least one month–three weeks down and one to go.  Will I continue?  Don’t know yet.  Pluses:  I have gained quite a few new followers, at least ten, maybe more–have not taken an exact count; it proves that if you stick to something, there are pay offs; and it forces me to think about some things I’ve read or experienced in a way that I might not if I were not going to blog about it.

What are some of those things I am thinking about?  First, the weather.  We desperately need rain and this statement comes from someone not all that fond of rain.  I like the green results but do not like to be out in the rain normally.  It is a wonder I love Costa Rica because it rains almost daily at least it did when I was there two summers ago.  Fire warnings are even currently posted on overhead flashing signs on the interstates–not daily, but every time the wind rises which here is almost daily.  Second, when I think about the destruction of volcanoes–from reading another chapter in Apocalyptic Planet last night, I keep wondering what would happen today if another explosion like Krakatoa in the 1800s occurred.  Mass famine I imagine and a bunch of certain types of religious people claiming the end of the world.  Third, after spending two boring mornings giving STAAR tests–the state standardized tests in Texas, and another morning left to go, wondering exactly why I still think standardized tests are good.  Fourth, wondering how to turn this blog into a sort of website where people who want a signed copy of my new book, On the Rim of Wonder, can order it directly from me on this blog/website (I have had requests already which is, of course, a wonderful thing since book marketing is not all that easy).  Fifth, well this will have to wait until another day when my mind is really sharp and we can have a discussion about the effects of poverty and why it is so difficult to escape.

In the meantime, while I was out watering around my house–to keep my xeroscape garden alive (even drought resistant flowers need some) and to, I hope, make my house safer in case of a wildfire, I thought about all the lovely flowers blooming in spite of the dry weather.  Here they are in all their enduring beauty.

 

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Water, Water, Where?


Today, I drove about fifty miles to watch a play especially produced by my friend, King Hill, for the Gem Theatre in Claude.  I almost did not go because of high winds and blowing dust.  Between 8 and 10 this morning visibility was so low  it was impossible to see the horizon.  High wind and blowing dust warnings started yesterday.   Now, as I write this, these warnings have continued for more than 24 hours.  Red flag warnings flash across the TV screen. Thankfully, not quite the dust bowl extremes, not yet anyway.

Originally, a green sea of grass covered all the land where I live in the Panhandle of Texas, the Llano Estacado. Immense herds of buffalo roamed free.  This prairie grass protected the land from erosion.  Rivers and an occasional canyon interrupted this endless sea, including the Canadian River, Palo Duro Canyon and the network of canyons running into it.  Once the Spanish brought horses, Kiowa and Comanche ruled this sea for more than a hundred years.  Under a full moon, the Comanche reigned by night raids from Nebraska to Mexico.

What happened?  Plows brought by people from the East dug up the grass.  These people planted the crops they knew, wheat, corn.  They settled in towns and homesteaded the country. They brought cattle and in some areas developed gigantic ranches.  Hunters killed all the buffalo except a few the famous rancher Charlie Goodnight and his wife managed to save.  Remnants of this southern herd now live at Caprock Canyons State Park near the tiny town of Quitaque, Texas.  Those who farmed dry land farmed.  In a normal year crops grew, the people prospered.  In dry years dust blew because there was no grass to hold the dirt.

Today, giant pumps pull water from the aquifers, the Ogallala, the Santa Rosa. My well is 400 feet deep, some are nearly 900.  More and more people move here from other parts of the United States.  They want lawns like the ones they had where it rains forty inches a year.  It does not rain much here, twenty in a good year, ten in a bad year.  These aquifers lose much more water to irrigation in a year than are replenished by rain.  Farmers grow corn,wheat, cotton, and milo, all irrigated.  In some places where  the water became to saline for crops, the pumps sit abandoned.

Today, I drove by miles and miles of dry, thirsty grass, perfect fuel for the wind driven wildfires which sometimes start this time of year.  In other places irrigation pivots rained water on immense emerald fields of wheat.  I could not help but wonder how much of this water evaporated in the sixty mile an hour wind.  As I finish writing this with the TV on  weather watching, I see Fire Weather Watch, High Wind Warning, Red Flag Warning flash across the screen. I hear the wind roar and heavy outdoor furniture slide across the patio.  I’ve seen wildfires, had a half mile of cedar post fence burned down.  All it takes is a tiny piece of cigarette thrown from a truck or car, a flash of dry lightning.  They predict three more days of this.

I love the space, the vermillion sunsets, the intense blue of the sky.  I watch my neighbors water, water, water their new houses in the country.  I think about those pivots irrigating in the wind, and I wonder what will happen when all the water’s gone.

 

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Apocalyptic Planet-Part Five: Civilizations Fall


Whether it is my innate ambition, something my parents instilled in me, or something else unknown, I try to learn something new every day.  Craig Childs starts this chapter of his book by talking about a Phoenix landmark.  Back when I travelled to Phoenix regularly, I knew this place as Squaw Peak.  Now its name Is Piestewa Peak.  The name change is probably a good thing.  I never knew before reading this how dreadfully pejorative the word squaw is.  Basically, it means Indian bitch as well as other things related to the privates of women.  All languages seem to possess an accumulation of dreadful words geared to putting women down one way or another.  Slang words for the private parts of a man rarely mean anything pejorative, at least not that I know of.  The new name, a Hopi name, a blessing word, is a word that calls water to this place.  Not a bad idea in Phoenix or most of the Southwest for that matter.

The name Phoenix fits.  Underneath modern day Phoenix, an ancient city lays buried, a quite sophisticated city with ball courts, temples, irrigation canals.  This city existed at least a thousand years ago.  Its inhabitants grew corn, cotton, beans, and agave.  Farmers, hunters, carvers, all sorts of artisans and merchants apparently lived there.  Now they are called Hohokam taken from an O’odham word meaning “ancestors”, the “ones who have gone”.  We find forgotten cities all over the world, Palmyra, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat.  What causes these sophisticated civilizations to fall?  If you read a bit, look further, you find common themes:  environmental decay, resource depletion, conflict, disease, social problems.  Angkor Wat fell because it could not maintain its complex irrigation network.  Ur in Iraq fell because a drought caused its port to dry up.  Usually, the demise of particular civilizations occur over time, e.g.Rome.

Childs notes that human patterns often follow animal patterns, or at least mammalian patterns.  For example, when over population occurs, behavior changes.  Parental care and cooperation become replaced with aggression, violence, competition for resources, dominant behaviors.  These types of behaviors are particularly detrimental to females and the young without whom the society (or animal population) cannot replace itself.  Generally, in animal populations, when this occurs, reproduction slows for several generations and the imbalance corrects itself.  For humans, it is not so simple.  Hohokam bones indicate mass starvation and malnutrition.  Other civilizations, e.g. the Anasazi, seem to have disappeared without a trace.

Today, most of the world’s largest cities have immense infrastructures that keep them going, miles of underground sewage tunnels, water mains, etc.  Here in the US in our oldest cities, much of what we take for granted is very old and deteriorating.  New York City and Chicago have water main systems that some experts claim are near collapse or at the very best badly in need of repair.  Doubtless such conditions exist in old cities throughout the world, most of which are much older and larger than the majority of cities in the US.  Yet, they continue to prosper.  Have we passed a point when civilization cannot fall?

Childs completes this discussion by describing his visit with his wife to Guatemala.  They visited all the best known Mayan sites, visited with natives.  His wife managed to get invited to a Mayan fire ceremony, a renewal ceremony.  History books tell us the Mayan civilization is dead, ended.  But it is not.  The Mayan culture still exists.   At least six million still live in the Central America.  What would have happened to Mayan cities if the Europeans had not brought epidemic diseases and better fire power?  We will never know, of course, but no matter how many civilizations rise and fall, change continues and humans continue to inhabit the earth.

The new question is this:  can this planet we live on sustain the ever increasing numbers of humans who inhabit it??

Apocalyptic Planet-Part Two: Hadley Cells, Weather and Drought


Hadley cells, the wind systems in each hemisphere , form patterns of atmospheric circulation in which warm air rises near the equator, cools as it travels poleward at high altitudes, sinks as cold air, and then warms as it travels back to the equator.  They are named after George Hadley, an English scientific writer.  Tropical regions receive more heat from solar radiation than they radiate back to space and such areas have constant temperatures.  More simply, warm air rises (heat rises) and then flows poleward at high altitudes, cools, drops, and flows back toward the equator at lower altitudes.   Then the process repeats itself.  When the air rises and leaves these tropical areas, it loses moisture as it heads to subtropical areas.  The majority of the worlds large deserts lay in these subtropical areas.

Hadley cells are expanding.  Precipitation has declined in tropical areas since 1970.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Southern Asia, the Sahel, Southern Africa, the Mediterranean, and the US Southwest are getting drier and drier.  Even wetter areas now experience long dry spells between extreme events of rain and snow.  Examples in the US include the cold and snowfalls in the Midwest and Eastern Seaboard this past winter.  Texas and New Mexico continue to experience a prolonged drought.  In the next thirty years scientists predict a 30 per cent decline in water resources.

In some places both governments and individuals create innovative and sometimes simple measures to counteract desertification.  In India near the Thar Desert, the government mandated the dispersal of grass seed to hold the ground.  Studies indicate that the grass seed grew better when planted by hand than when dispersed from airplanes.  Also in India orans, small sacred groves, have helped preserve shrubs and grasses and even trees, a genetic bank that would otherwise have been lost.  Childs describes how his friends who live on the outskirts of Tuscon have coaxed their water table fifteen feet higher, using ordinary shovels and hard work.  They built contour traps and “massaged” the ground.  Hardly worth noticing except when it rained, the rain sank into underground catches.  Their properties now look like small areas of refuge in the vast desert.  In some areas of the Sahel people have been able to plant and nurture trees in such a way that areas of green exist where they had disappeared.

Archeologists and geologists know that periods of drought occurred repeatedly for millions of years.  For humans and the animals we know, drought has never been easy.  Large areas of civilization cannot exist without water.  We can affect our future in positive ways and prepare ourselves if we choose.