Friday, June 10, 2011

Life with garden desperados

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — There can be an upside and a downside to a prolonged drought.
The downside is that it can be very tough to get anything to grow.
The upside is that there are fewer weeds to leave you with chronic obsessive-gardening backaches, and so far, at least, fewer noxious flora and fauna to prick, bite and/or poison you.
This year, what the freeze and the drought didn’t get seems to be fodder for UDCs (Unidentified Desperate Critters).
Something keeps gnawing off large chunks of my only surviving cactus, a prickly pear that apparently is not quite prickly enough.
Another UDC (or maybe the same one, moving into to the back yard) munched all the buds off my new gardenia plant just as it was about to bloom and seems to have killed it off.
Some UDCs which I have tried, but never managed, to catch in the act, swoop in every night and leave a fresh crop of tiny black pellets in the corner of my patio doorway every morning, sometimes with a deposit of moth wings. (Any ideas on possible suspects, experienced Southwest nature experts?)
Families of quail and the occasional pigeon stage periodic invasions. I don’t know if they’re eating bugs or plants, but nothing other than the pines, cedars and the few agave survivors seem to go unsampled.
Not that I begrudge them what they can forage. I throw treats over the wall for the neighborhood roadrunner, who does a good job of wrangling desert rattlesnakes out of the suburban courtyards and deserves extra treats, I feel.
I try to keep up with demands for fresh kegs of hummingbird nectar at the Humm-diner.
And I worry that the regular wind drifts of dried leaves from my neighbors’ dead (but still, reportedly, deadly) oleander bushes will poison whatever new growth I can coax along, and some neighborhood pets and wild UDCs trying to survive.
I commiserate with my loved ones in other parts of the country, recovering from recent encounters with poison ivy and was going to admonish myself that it could be much worse, until I did a little online research that revealed we have poison ivy in New Mexico, too.
I grew up hearing tales about the summer when my dad went skinny-dipping and, to get dry, rolled in what turned out to a big patch of poison ivy.
After violently allergic full-body reactions, he was confined to bed for most of the summer. He was still in his mid-teens then, and got very, very bored. He learned cribbage and canasta and bridge and even allowed his sister to teach him to knit. He read the entire encyclopedia. Since he had a photographic memory, it all made for some entertaining dad moments when he grew up and had adventurous kids and dogs.
My mom, on the other hand, was immune to poison ivy and could gather and arrange big bunches of the shiny leaves in attractive flower arrangements with no ill effects.
So far, I haven’t encountered any poison ivy in the Land of Enchantment myself, but I have friends who have been hospitalized after backyard encounters with noxious vegetation here.
I’ve suffered a few slings and arrows and spikes from a cactus or two, but I figure anything tough enough to survive in high desert country has a right to bear arms and defend itself.
I try to remember to wear heavy duty gloves, even if I’m just deadheading petunias or grooming the brown needles from the green dreadlocks of the pine grove. And I’ve been on the planet long enough to know you should never turn your back on the ocean during hurricane season, or on an ocotillo in a windstorm.
After months of drought, the UDC list seems to be moving up the food chain and scattered suburban sightings of bobcats, mountain lions and bears no longer seem surprising.
I think about how we human critters would feel if the green chile crop fails. And I sympathize with drought-ravaged desperadoes everywhere and pray we all get through this tough year together.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450

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