The dog days started early this June in central New Mexico. Temperatures rise daily to 95 degrees F (35 C), prompting people to stay close to their air-conditioned refuges. Hot yes, but for us the mornings bring an extra dose of delight to the Land of Enchantment. We wake at 6, make the tea, don dressing gowns and make haste to the outdoor table and chairs, where we will salute the morning in the pre-dawn refreshment of, say, 65 degrees F (18 C).
This we savor in the knowledge that the Sun is rising steadily from the east, and the great shadow of the Sandia Mountains, towering 11,000 feet (3,250m) high, is advancing across the western desert to reveal us, the Village of Los Ranchos, and everything around us, in a radiance that is awesome, sweltering, life-giving and entirely wonder-full. Still we take our time.
My Missouri wife claims to be a hothouse flower, comfortable at 95 degrees given a modicum of shade and breeze, while my Yorkshire genes bear a fondness for coolness and (even) rain. But we both relish the coolness of summer mornings, when other creatures, notably hummingbirds and other birds, are taking their first meals of the day. Neighbors rush down the lane on their way to work, or golf, or a restaurant breakfast. Unnoticed as lizards in the leaves, we watch from our freshening retreat until the rising warmth will coax us into serious action.
This is a good time to think, intersperse talk with appreciative silence, and reflect. Tiwa Indians were enjoying the welcome of morning perhaps as long as two thousand years ago, in this very place on the Rio Grande floodplain, 5,000 feet (1,500m) above sea level. I have found shards from their pottery in my garden, gifts from times long gone, from people whose descendants still live nearby at Sandia Pueblo and elsewhere among the 19 extant Indian reservations in this scarcely-populated state (the Navajo and Apache people also have a number of reservations in New Mexico). I imagine their thoughts would have centered on more basic issues – prospects for the harvest and hunting season, plans for sacred dances and pilgrimages, relationships with nearby tribes. I think a little deeper and realize that all humanity concerns itself still with similar things. Plus ça change . . .
As we sit, chat, and ruminate, hummingbirds are busy around us, sipping at the pools of kitchen-brewed nectar that Dee has provided, chattering among themselves, inspecting garden plants to find insects for their hungry chicks. Finches fly in to drink at the shallow terracotta bowl, a distant pheasant crows. We talk about the reduced lizard population, the unusual absence of roadrunners from our garden this year, the remarkably iridescent green sheen that is sported by hummingbirds, and skunk scat that is dotted with mulberry seeds.
And we talk gardening – for example what will we do about the many volunteer redbud (Cercis canadensis) mini-saplings that have sprouted over our half-acre? Pull them up? Give them away? Dee is for keeping most of them, to provide more shade; I fret that they will rob nearby vegetation of water and sunlight. The question is unresolved but we don’t mind.
I muse that the redbuds are special because they were spawned by the short, rounded mother tree that grew unbidden at my front door, positioning itself in the perfect place to provide a shady refuge for its human hosts. I had never seen a redbud at close quarters before. So this seemed like a magical gift, which sprouts its first flowers early, some emerging stem-less on its slender trunk, and which at the end of the year is hung with clumps of dry brown pods that clatter like castanets in the seed-spreading air currents of autumn.
Inevitably the Sun pops over the Sandias and I get up to attend to a few plants that have not yet been supplied with sippets of water from the quarter-inch irrigation tubing. Among them are the tiny seeds of the extra-hardy “Mexican Primrose” (Oenothera speciosa) that I scattered last night along the gravelly edge of our xeriscaping. Black ants, decent neighbors that do us no harm, have emerged from their nest and are climbing the stuccoed garden wall to hunt and scout during the hours that it is too hot to hang around their scorching patios; they will stay abroad or remain safe underground until the Sun begins its descent.
Life is good. But now it is time for us to start a more nearly standard day. Breakfast is two eggs and half a poached ripe tomato on toasted bread that contains a scrumptious variety of grains, nuts and seed. And more tea. We’re still outside, and here on the north side of the adobe haciendita we can admire the slow, snowy descent of countless seeds as they parachute in drops of sunlight from the neighbor’s cottonwood tree, Populus wislizeni. Each seed is enclosed within an inch or more of natural white cottony floss, so that these sunny blobs wander the air currents haphazardly, bound for an earthy destination where saplings might sprout, except that it seems in our little domain that the matriarch redbud has claimed a monopoly in this arena of the garden’s natural business.
A couple of stripy whiptail lizards – I thought the neighborhood cats had murdered them all – come out from their night sleep to bask on the vertical surfaces of the sun-flooded patio wall, pregnant with fatherless yet fertile eggs. Something in me is waking, too, though nothing near so miraculous. It’s time for a workout at the gym, answering emails, paying bills, other regular stuff – and waiting for the next gourmet New Mexico morning.
¡Hasta la mañana por la mañana!