Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A year without cosmos

Except for a patch growing by our driveway it appears the Lady Upstairs may have cancelled the annual outburst of  cosmos which in a good year covers countless acres of open land around San Miguel.


The ones growing by the driveway, typically spindly and with flowers delicate as fine silk, attentively follow the sun as it travels across the sky (Mexicans call cosmos girasoles or "sunflowers").

These have prospered because we planted ornamental grasses and agaves in that area and the cosmos seeds apparently took advantage of the extra water. Wild flowers can spot a survival opportunity when they see one.

Their cousins in the open fields haven't been so lucky and more important, neither have the corn, beans and squash crops so essential to the subsistence farmers around us.

We had been hearing about how the terrible yearlong drought that has scorched most of Texas and the northern edge of Mexico has ruined crops and killed livestock. That while other parts of the U.S. have experienced tornadoes and unusually high precipitation and heat.

When we visited Chicago six weeks ago monsoon-like rains kept the grass on the parks growing and the city's lawnmowers going all day long, beginning at 7:30 a.m. Driving down Lake Shore Drive with some friends one afternoon the cascades of rain and the flash flooding made it feel as if we were visiting Bangladesh.


Around the ranch the weather has not experienced either extreme. The Texas drought hasn't reached us so the fields are still generally green, but the rain we've received so far this year has not been enough. Also, we've had generally cool temperatures, unlike the heat waves in Texas that have sucked the moisture out of the ground.

Rains in the San Miguel area are supposed to begin around June and build up to torrential gully washers by July. So far this year we've had a few heavy rains of an inch or so, but the rest have been but teasing drizzles and impressive but unproductive shows of thunder and swirling dark clouds.

The craters and other depressions in the landscape that should be filled with water are just muddy and covered with opportunistic beautiful wild flowers.


Our only measuring device is a 99-cent plastic rain gauge, which has started to tilt back slightly in the dry soil as if it too were imploring the clouds for rain. As far as I can tell we've received only five to six inches, far from the usual 24 inches or so we should receive between June and September.

Two months ago we planted 15 10-foot-tall evergreens that despite a good drenching at planting quickly started to yellow. Suspecting some dreaded pine scourge I called Louis Franke, an American nurseryman and possibly the only person in San Miguel to carry some sort of factual botanical database in his head. He quickly diagnosed the problem as lack of water. It just hasn't rained enough this year. 

Félix the gardener, who from now on will be referred to as just Félix, started a crash watering campaign and all but two of our evergreens recovered. 

Things are far worse for the farmers around us, including Don Vicente, whose six hapless mutts show up at our gate every day looking for food.  From our terrace we have a panoramic view of his rancho of  about 50 hectares of marginal soil and rocks, dotted with some mesquite trees.  


When the rains finally came in July we saw him patiently plowing his land with a contraption pulled by two horses, followed by two of his sons sowing corn and bean seeds from a bucket. Despite such primitive methods the result was amazingly symmetrical: Perfectly straight rows, from the stone fence closest to us clear out the man-made pond at the back of his property. 

But by now most of the beans are fried and the corn stunted if not dead. Vicente has no way to irrigate the land and has no choice but to sit and watch his entire crop, his chief means of subsistence during the winter months, slowly die. 

It's no more sickening, I suppose, that what his counterparts in Texas are going through, except the latter may receive some disaster help from the government. Vicente, his wife, 14 children and his motley herd of sheep, goats and cows are on their own. 

I'm sure Vicente will survive. Subsistence farmers are nothing if not used to living on the brink. 

And in the next few weeks we might still get a few gully-washers that could save some of the crops of Vicente and others like him. Some patches of corn down the road are about shoulder-high, probably because they were planted earlier in the season, and may come through. 

And so there's still a chance the cosmos, yellow daisies, tiny zinnias and other wild survivors in the fields might come back for their yearly show. 




2 comments:

  1. For all out sophistication, we are as dependent on weather cycles as any cave-dweller in southern France.

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  2. The farmers in Southern Alabama and NW Florida are in the same straits. There was no rain and we had 99 degree weather for 6 weeks. Then the Alabama legislature decided to exclude immigrants from the state (anything else I could write about this gets vile) and that left no farmworkers to pick the fields which were irrigated. The farmers have taken it on the chin. Precede all this with the tornado outbreak on April 27 and you can see it was a year of the Biblical plague.

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