Monday, May 6, 2013

OT: The Tougher Side of Growing Things. And "Carmen."

Thompson Yucca

We're at about 6,300 feet elevation, and spring has not quite settled in to these parts yet. Well, it's not quite Mother's Day, is it? They say we've seen the last of freezing temperatures, but I'll believe it when it actually happens.

We're supposed to pick up some heritage tomatoes and Anasazi beans and other plants next weekend, so we'll see...

We went to a plant sale in Albuquerque the other day at a residential care facility, and I was taken somewhat aback by the lush verdure of the inner courtyard where the plants and a nice, abundant lunch for the residents were on sale. This was well beyond what an oasis might be -- in the midst of what is still a very severe desert drought in Central New Mexico. It was unbelievable. It was a veritable jungle. Koi ponds and fountains galore. All kinds of fragrant flowers out of season. Jasmine and honeysuckle everywhere. Every variety of columbine. Thick, green grass underfoot. Disorienting to say the least.

Unfortunately, nothing they had on sale was suited to our high desert environment across the mountains; nothing was really suited to any environment but their over watered courtyard jungle, come to think of it, but that was OK in a sense. Given the size of the facility, the courtyard wasn't all that large, and the plantings they had there -- and the plants they had on sale -- were a nice contrast to the xeriscapes outside.

We were in a residential neighborhood, and all the houses round about -- and the facility itself -- had desert landscaping out front. Chamisa, yucca, hardy shrubs and trees, cacti, all set in gravel. There were pots for the flowers that -- hopefully -- would bloom in the summer. But no flower beds, and with one exception, no lawns. The one house that did have a lawn looked pretty scraggly, and I bet they'll take it up before the season is done.

On the other hand,  when we've been out in the North Valley -- or really almost anywhere along the river -- the luxury of the green grass and the extensive plantings is striking. The trees are in full leaf, the pastures are thick with grass, the flowers are abloom, and gardens seem to be doing well.  It's a complete contrast to conditions just beyond the edge of the flood plain.

We've also been checking out the nurseries round about. There are several that specialize in desert plants and planting, but we have not yet been able to find some iconic plants like Thompson's yucca, which are seen in gorgeous bloom as highway plantings, and which grow wild in many areas of New Mexico. It is the State Flower, after all. But just try to find one in a nursery. I did, I found one. It was about 10' tall, in a pot, cost something like $300 and would have taken a truck and crane to move. That wasn't what I had in mind!

Lots of other kinds of yuccas though. In fact, just about any other kind you might want.

Most of the seedlings I started in April have pretty much given up the ghost or perished outright. The several freezes since starting them haven't helped, though none were left to fend entirely for themselves when the temperatures dipped.  But worse than the freezing temperatures have been the feral cats and other animals that roam the night -- and sometimes day. In some cases they've pulled out every single seedling that was outside and they've done quite a bit worse. The damage we've seen at night and in the mornings has been startling. We had to see it to believe it. We will be taking precautions in the future.

But there is something else we haven't identified that seems to be inhibiting growth. Whether it is the water, soil, temperature, altitude or what I don't know, but some of the surviving seedlings seem to have reached an early point of growth and stopped, not died or withered, just stopped growing. They seem healthy and green and all, but they don't grow. Then there are the ones that have stopped growing and have turned a reddish or grayish color instead of green. How did that happen? What does it mean?

Our soil and water are both very alkaline, which I'm sure has something to do with it. For household use, we correct the pH with vinegar, which seems to work pretty well, but I'm reluctant to do that with plants -- which I understand can be very sensitive to such manipulations. Yet it could be the alkaline water is inhibiting growth, too. We can correct the soil pH with amendments, but if the alkaline irrigation water is part of the trouble, it's not going to do much good in the long run. Neighbors have said the soil is no good for planting -- because it's so alkaline -- but the farmers around here would seem to disagree. They plant and cultivate and irrigate quite successfully, remarkably so given the drought and the elevation, but home gardeners are generally negative about the prospects of planting in the ground. "It just won't grow" they like to say. They use raised beds or pots, or they don't bother at all.

One of our former neighbors across the street planted roses one year, and she was very disappointed in the failure of the plants to flourish. They were stunted, didn't bloom, and finally after several years of struggle, they just gave up. On the other hand, irises and day lilies seem to do quite well. Once established, they say that tulips and daffodils and other bulbs and tubers will flourish. The trick is getting them established -- timing and depth and so forth have to be pretty exact, otherwise they will fail.

If there is enough rain, the wildflowers around here can take your breath away in the late spring and through the summer, but there has been no rain to speak of, so there are essentially no wildflowers in evidence. Where I have irrigated outside, there is only one variety of wild plant that seems to want to show itself, I can't recall the name of it now, but it is an invasive species (a "Russian" something or other) and I see it everywhere that people are irrigating, even on the farmer's fields. If I recall correctly, it has tiny purple flowers. Nothing else at all has made an appearance.

The trees remain in partial leaf, as if they are waiting for better weather and water conditions to fully leaf out,  but the wild lilacs aren't waiting. Good for them. However, the drought has severely affected how much growth they're putting out this spring -- not much, in other words.

I thought I saw a pair of swallows yesterday. It would be nice to think they've come back to rebuild their nests in the eaves of our front porch. There are all kinds of other birds in evidence, from the little falcon or hawk that was sitting on the wire one day to the fat robins and the meadowlarks, doves, woodpeckers, grackles, hummingbirds and all the others who come to visit -- despite the feral cat colony. There are sparrows and a kind of blackbird I haven't identified yet nesting in the eaves of the older part of the house, too.


Yesterday we attended the ballet in town, the Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico to be precise, and saw the Carmen Suite ballet for the first time. I really liked it, though we learned later that the choreography was entirely different than the original ballet of 1967, which itself told a story that was quite different from the opera and the novella on which it is based.

I saw the Bolshoi's version on the YouTube later, a version I assume adheres closely to the original ballet version. It looked and felt very early sixties to me, but I don't know that's how it was done when time was. There was very little information about the performance with the video, and my Russian isn't good enough to figure out the credits that went by too fast. (It's always been tricky for me to mentally transliterate and translate Russian, and it surprises the heck out of me when I can do it at all any more.) [I checked the credits again, slowing it down, and sure enough, it is the original choreography by Alberto Alonso. So.]

Prior to presenting the "Carmen" -- which in BRT's version follows the opera story a bit more closely, though there are some elements of earlier ballet versions as well -- the company presented two other ballets, a Mexican traditional "Huapango" -- which was pleasant but seemed to lack much energy -- and a new piece called "Bajo el Cielo de Nuevo Mexico" ("Under the New Mexico Sky") which I had a real problem parsing sufficiently enough to relate it to New Mexico in any way. Yes, there are notes, but if you have to read the notes to figure out how and whether the dance relates to the topic or subject, then I think there may be a problem with the production.

Some of the music was by Ottmar Liebert, and he lives in Santa Fe, so maybe...? No. It takes a little more than that... There were some photo projections that arguably were pictures of New Mexico skies... does that count? They could have been Minnesota skies for that matter. There are ways to capture distinctive New Mexico skies that read quite clearly "New Mexico." But photographing directly into the sun with clouds seen peripherally here and there isn't it -- and that's what the sky projections showed.

Here's one I took just down the street the other day:

New Mexico Sky

I've got tons more in the same vein... The skies here can be breathtaking and the sunsets can blow you away, but none of that was part of the photo projections in the ballet.

There were other projections of artworks by Kym Loc, nice artworks in and of themselves -- there was also an exhibit of them in the KiMo Theatre lobby -- but relating them to New Mexico was somewhat of a challenge. They related to the dance and dancers quite clearly, but how they and the dance related to New Mexico? I dunno. I guess because they're here? Sure. Why not?

The notes say the production was "inspired by the tranquility and beauty that blankets the region..." OK. Show it. "The skies, mountains, and flora combine to emit a presence that can be felt throughout one's body and spirit..." True enough; how about showing it?

The choreography and dancing was lovely and the music was evocative, though not necessarily of New Mexico.  Whatever connection between the dance and the place the choreographer (Loren Fletcher Nickerson) may have intended stayed internalized in my view, and that was a shame. On the other hand, I know how difficult it can be to translate a spirit and feeling onto the stage in any form that actually touches the audience and clearly communicates whatever is intended. In this case, I don't think whatever was intended got across.

All the music used for the entire performance yesterday was recorded, and especially in the "Carmen," I really yearned for live music.

We've attended several performances by  Festival Ballet Albuquerque which has a collaboration with the Figueroa Project. This was the first time we attended the Ballet Repertory Theatre of New Mexico. All I can say is that live music enhances dance performances immeasurably. Recorded music... doesn't.


  1. Could that invasive plant with "tiny purple flowers" be Russian knapweed? Here are some googlephotos of Acroptilon repens. It's a nasty, nasty plant and difficult to get rid of. Story around here is that the State Dept of Natural Resources planted the stuff in the 1930s, for deer fodder. Well, it probably does do well in drought conditions! But the deer weren't particularly fond of it. Meanwhile, it spread,. And spreads and spreads and spreads.

    Or perhaps, "Russsian thistle"? That's our tumble weed. It's nasty, too. Cleverly spreads itself by loosening its earthly bonds and tumbling about in the breeze, distributing its seeds as it goes. One has to admire, I suppose, these plants that are out to survive, and do.

  2. Lucky us, we have plenty of both Russian Thistle and tumbleweed.

    The smaller tumbleweeds roll along the roads in the wind, I swear looking just like a pack of jackrabbits hopping along. The City of Albuquerque puts up a giant tumbleweed snowman along I-40 each holiday season It's very festive. Other people try to make use of them somehow, either as art installations or mulch or something! They pile up along all the fence lines, over topping some, but they're nothing like the ones I saw in California that would literally bury houses underneath them. I wish I had taken pictures of householders trying to hack their way out from under them.

    Whatever is growing in our yard and garden plots may be one or the other, but my scheme is to keep it mowed and see if it can be tamed into ground cover to keep the dust down. We actually had a minute or so of rain the other day.