Sometimes I’m so busy thinking about what I find most interesting in New Mexico that I forget to notice the obvious. Like a lot of other people, I move as quickly as possible through my life. Last Friday I drove to Logan to help my mom with the Mother’s Day flower rush, a ritual as familiar in my life now as returning for Christmas or the 4th of July. It is a gathering of sorts where my siblings and nieces and daughter and I come together to help in whatever way we can. Not difficult, not exciting, not anything in particular other than a thing we do every year. In fact, I was so tied up in getting there and helping with everything that I totally forgot to say, “Happy Mother’s Day” to my mother until I was on the way home. I was in one of my customary flurries.
On Saturday afternoon, when all the orders were filled and we were having a last glass of iced tea before I hit the road back to Santa Fe, my brother Klee, who works on a ranch, started talking about Spring finally being here, maybe. There was some general disgruntled talk about the wind, which seems to be incessant in eastern New Mexico at the moment (as it is every Spring), and then he said, “But the mesquites are beautiful. They’re like a wave of flourescent green across the pastures everywhere.”
And my Dad said, “Well, I guess that means it’s time to plant the garden.”
The mesquites blooming have always been the sign to folks in my neck of the woods that there won’t be another frost. I don’t know of a year when the mesquites bloomed and then there was a hard freeze, ever. And all the years I lived in Logan, I waited anxiously for that sign, the one that signaled winter was definitely over. The one that said my tomatoes could go in the ground outside.
I have to say that I’m a bit of a mesquite nut. When I bought my lake house in Logan, my family was clearing the yard and someone said, “We sure need to grub that mesquite back in the corner.”
“No!” I said, “The mesquite stays. I love the way they look when they’re blooming.” And for years I mowed around very carefully around the long thorns and pulled the extra shoots each year because the one thing I always wanted in my yard was one very healthy mesquite bush.
On the road back to Santa Fe last Saturday, I paid attention. The same road I was on the day before felt completely different to me because now I was actually noticing the landscape. I travel that road so frequently that I sometimes feel I do it in my sleep. Because the Santa Fe to Clines Corners drive is so beautiful, I think I discount the rest of the drive, especially the dry dusty run from about Montoya to Logan. It’s so familiar. I just never LOOK.
But I looked this time. And Klee was right. We have had a brutally dry year, but the mesquites are a bright, rich green against the blue sky, a sharp contrast to the sand beneath. There was what looked like a carpet of mesquite green between Logan and Tucumcari, and then all the way to Newkirk I wanted to stop every mile or two and capture what I was seeing on film. I was excited about the drive because I was really paying attention.
Oddly enough, the mesquites starting running out just west of Newkirk. At Cuervo there were almost none. A few more cropped up around Santa Rosa for a while, but then they were gone. I realized that in the over 50 years that I’ve traveled this road, first when it was Highway 66 and then after it became I-40, I’ve never notice that the mesquite, which is ubiquitous in Logan, doesn’t even exist in the north central part of the state.
So the mesquites are blooming in Quay County. Go ahead and plant your tomatoes. I don’t know what the signs are elsewhere. . .do the chamisas green up before or after the last frost? When does nature give us that particular signal in Santa Fe? I have a tomato plant that I’m tending in the kitchen. . .
I spend an inordinate amount of time behind the wheel. I’m lucky in that I get to spend it driving through New Mexico. My plan next time is to spend less time thinking about what’s down the road and more time paying attention to what’s in front of me. Not a bad thing to learn on a Saturday afternoon in eastern New Mexico.