This spring, for the first time in my twenty-three years in Santa Fe, I will not be planting a flower garden.
At least, it will be much diminished: five large pots of annuals rather than twelve—all requiring three-times-a-week watering, and we are now only allowed two—and a strip outside my bathroom rather than a big expanse of English–type annuals and perennials, which were never suitable to the southwest even in wetter years but were the sign and signal of east coast and west coast refugees.
I still have the bluegrass lawn an earlier owner planted, now so deep rooted I can’t beat to pull it out, although I did replace a small patch with gravel. The bluegrass is watered by buried irrigation pipes; that doesn’t lose as much to evaporation as hand watering does, but still…
And now I’m debating resigning from my health club because it uses unconscionable amounts of water for its golf course—golf courses should never have been allowed here. A news photo shows an above-ground sprayer soaking a cement sidewalk.
But back to my garden. The plants that do thrive here are the same plants I see on my hikes; they adapt well to drought and the thin sandy soil. These plants really don’t require any watering at all. But they are spindly and prickly and harsh, as befits the desert, and bear no resemblance to the flowers and leaves that evoke Andrew Marvell’s “Green thought in a green shade.”
The desert plants are handsome and strongly defensive—several of them have slashed my legs when I passed too close. They remind me of the skinned-off patches I’ve seen here and there on the trunks of the Ponderosa, strips carved off by hungry Native sheepherders on their way to market in Santa Fe. They chewed the bark until it was soft and the saliva that produced took the place of food, at least for a while.
I wonder how we who seems so soft, even swollen now, with our comforts that have become necessities will adapt to what’s coming.
A wire-service article in the New Mexican reported that scientists have begun to study the species that will be able to adapt: those that are not picky about what they eat.
I think of the fussiness we have all come to accept as our natural right: no sugar, no salt, no saturated fat, no allergy-provoking nuts, no cow’s milk, and now no gluten. We’re not like the desert salamander that will eat anything that crawls or flies past. We are more like the rapidly disappearing Pinyon Jay who will only eat the nuts of a tree that is itself dying from the drought.
And yet, there is hope in these spindly, sharp-edged desert plants. One of the cactus pushes up a ten foot tall spike with a bloom on top every ten years, and then dies. It reminds me of Sido, Colette’s mother, who turned down a chance to visit her beloved daughter in Paris because a once-in-ten-years plant was about to bloom.
I think the harshness of what is coming, for all of us, may produce some rare blooms.