Spring Wildflowers and Weeding: Medicine for the Spirit

Sunday, May 5th, 2019

One of the things I love about my new neighborhood is that it's not manicured. And an arroyo--a stream channel that is usually dry on the surface but channels water underground--runs along one edge of the neighborhood.

This waterway serves as a pathway for wildlife and humans alike (oh, the nighttime coyote chorus!). At this time of year, birdsong fills the air when I walk at dawn, from the trilling of spotted and canyon towhees to flocks of busy bushtits, hoarse chickadees, and the sweet whistles of western bluebirds. 

The hills above the arroyo are polka-dotted with piñon pines and Rocky Mountain junipers, forming a dwarf woodland of short, wide trees. In between the trees, shrubs, bunchgrasses, and wildflowers stipple the adobe-colored soil.

The houses and condo developments sit within this still-more-wild-than-not landscape, rather than obliterating it. Which delights me, since I can walk out my door and be immersed in nature. While still living walking distance from the neighborhood Sprouts grocery and other urban amenities.  

A winter of abundant precipitation has sprouted a glorious progression of spring wildflowers. Some are familiar from the years Richard, Molly, and I lived in southern New Mexico; others are new. Here are photos of the blooming as I have witnessed it:

Woolly milkvetch (Astragalus mollisimus), the first spring flower to appear on my walking route. It's hard to imagine a more vivid antidote to winter than those magenta flowers.

Unless it is the sunshine yellow cushions of this diminutive bladderpod (Physaria species), which I'll be able to identify once it has seedpods.

I thought the bladderpod flowers maxed out yellow until the fringed puccoon (Lithospermum incisum) started to bloom! 

And then the perky sue (Tetraneuris argenteus) upped the ante to pure gold, like splatters of earthbound sunshine. 

Perky sue en masse, a chromatic splash of color. 

Then more purple flowers began to bloom, starting with plains verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida), which broadcasts a lovely sweet scent. 

Scorpionweed (Phacelia integrafolia) unfurls its lilac blossoms with the outrageously long dancing stamens... 

Just as wax currant's dangling ivory bells open (Ribes cereum). Scorpionweed appeals to native bees, wax currant flowers' abundant nectar feeds  migrating hummingbirds.  

More milkvetches bloom. Thanks to help from Al Schneider of Southwest Colorado Wildflowers, I think the carpet-former with the dainty flowers above is Nuttall's milkvetch (Astragalus nuttalliana).

This ivory milkvetch may be Astragalus bisulcatus, but I'll have to wait for seedpods to make a definitive ID. 

The surprise on this morning's walk was this charming and very tiny bristly nama (Nama hispida), with purple flowers the size of my thumbnail on a plant all of two inches tall!

Of course, all of that wonderful winter and early spring moisture sprouted seeds of invasive weeds too. So I am--of course!--pulling weeds around my neighborhood to help control these aggressive plants that germinate en masse and crowd out the wildflowers that our pollinators and songbirds depend on.

I started with tansy mustard (Descuriana sophia), an annual that sprouts over the winter, and then shoots up a flower stalk with tiny yellow cross-shaped flowers as the soil temperatures warm up. Like all annuals, it seeds prolifically, but is easy to eradicate by pulling the shallowly rooted plants and bagging them, seeds and all, for the trash. 

Now I'm working on cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), another Eurasian invasive annual weed. Its nodding seed-heads are quite distinctive, and it is also easy to pull until it dries out. Cheatgrass gets its common name because it is often the first grass to green up, making whole swaths of landscape look deceptively lush. Until the the grass plants dry out and die a few weeks later, and shatter, scattering their abundant seeds and leaving the soil bare. It cheats grazers of forage and cheats the landscape of nutrients. 

Me, weeding cheatgrass from under the cottonwood trees at the entrance of my neighborhood. 

Helping control the invasive weeds in my neighborhood is my way of giving back to these high-desert landscapes for the gifts they give me. The bird-song, coyote choruses, the wildflowers in spring, the butterflies and hummingbirds now fluttering and hovering past my window. Weeding helps keep the relationships that sustain the world I love intact and healthy. It's also deeply rewarding to see the wildflowers return in the space I've freed for them. 

As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in the journal Humans and Nature:

Ecological restoration is an act of reciprocity, and the Earth asks us to turn our gifts to healing the damage we have done. The Earth-shaping prowess that we thoughtlessly use to sicken the land can be used to heal it. It is not just the land that is broken, but our relationship with land. We can be partners in renewal; we can be medicine for the Earth.

Pulling invasive weeds is my way of being partner in renewal; it is medicine both for Earth and for my battered spirit. 

What is your way of being medicine for this living planet, the only home our species has ever known?