Apr 032011

Spring in the Country of Lichen & Spines: Fragments of Home

by Kiva Rose


Warm temperatures have arrived early in my corner of the Gila, with the Golden Smoke blooming sooner this year than I’ve ever previously seen. This follows a cold (-35F is plenty cold for me, thank you) and dry Winter. Now our seasonal winds blow the sand up in spiraling circles until it dances like the shifting forms of whirling dervishes against New Mexico’s lapis colored sky. The skeletal limbs of shattered Russian Thistles caught up in these little whirlwinds give sharp edges to the dancers.

Golden Smoke (Corydalis aurea)


The Canyon trees bend in the same wild winds and yet last year’s withered purple Juniper berries cling to their branches as they’re tossed about in the breeze. They retain their pungent yet sweet flavor as well, a little drier perhaps, but still strong with the distinct magic that comes only with being the fruit of a Red Cedar tree.

One Seeded Juniper (Juniperus monosperma)


Even in drought these mountains remain a country fraught with magic. If anything, the enchantment is turned up enough in these extreme conditions. Walking among the apricot and lavender colored volcanic rock I often find myself with a sense of the surreal, or more accurately, the hyperreal. The contrast of the barbed tips of white and black cactus spines draped in swaths of green Usnea fallen from the limbs of tall Pines is in itself strange enough to be disorienting at times. The sharp wrapped up in the soft, the colors blending and emerging as something altogether new.


Mountain Candytuft is our first showy flower each and every year since I’ve come to the Canyon. It’s purplish leaves and violet to white flowers dot the mountainsides and draw the first butterflies. A member of the Brassicaceae, the spicy-sweet taste of its flowerheads is reminiscent of a more flavorful broccoli and I’m always so excited to add it to my Spring soups and salads.

Mountain Candytuft (Noccaea fendleri subsp. glauca)

Mountain Candytuft (Noccaea fendleri subsp. glauca)


The Cane Cholla is blushed a vivid pink from the cold temperatures but will return to its usual green color before producing flowers in a month or so. Clambering up and down the arroyos and dry creekbed, I peek under likely boulders looking for a few fronds of green and rust colored ferns and run my fingers along the ragged margins of the many-colored lichens that grow from almost every stone surface here.

Cane Cholla (Cylindropuntia spinosior)


The New Mexico Olive has just begun blooming and it’s golden spray of flowers will eventually give way to the bittersweet blue-purple fruits that Loba and I will harvest and brine and use as tiny but flavorful olives in our meals. When I stopped on my way home to photograph the flowers a spring-mad hare leapt from the brush and went galloping off in typical jackrabbit fashion, too quick for me to even snap a picture.

New Mexico Olive (Forestiera pubescens) in flower.


Moonwort emerges from dust and sand, its silvery leaves streaking the landscape with a tenacious grace and filling the air with the warm sagey fragrance so peculiar to the West. The sweet butterscotch scent of Ponderosa resin mingles with the Moonwort and makes the canyon air at once heady and sensual. Crouching down in the leaf litter as I gather the Moonwort leaves and chunks of pine resin to infuse into warm oil, I press my face against the puzzle piece bark of a Ponderosa and breathe in the medicine of place. I sit back on my heels to absorb the whiplash power of something so simple, so fragile as awareness of this unbroken moment where I remember that this is what I’ve always wanted – all my stories and songs unraveling in the face of amber-skinned trees and downy bitter leaves. Sometimes the beauty of life just can’t be comprehended as anything rational, my body (including my brain) just have to experience it as this tactile, skin-shivering beast that it is. Fuck analysis for a moment, just drink it up.

Moonwort (Artemisia carruthii)


Arizona Sycamores raise their tangle of bone-white branches to the sun and drink in the cold water that curls down the mountains to pool around their roots. The first hummingbirds beat the air with a breakneck rhythm that well suits their warrior ways yet also belies the expectations sometimes created by their seemingly delicate beauty. Like the land itself, what appears fragile at first glance may be reinforced with a deeper strength.

On the Catwalk, near Glenwood, NM

Femail Broad-Tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus)


My home is a fierce place, fragrant with the scent of aromatic plants well adapted to aridity, populated with the varied songs of the myriad birds that take refuge in the trees and long grasses and sparkling with the glint of the Southwest sun on a thousand volcanic rocks forming these cliffs and arroyos. The Canyon is wild with the tracks of mountain lions and coatimundi, the soundless rush of opening flowers and the singing winds that circle and play among the emerging leaves.


In the river, blue mica glimmers among the sand as the fish gather and part, gather and part with the tidal impulse of all things that love water. Spring in the country of lichen and spines feels warm under my bare feet this evening, and I dance to its strange, liquid music.

Bluestem Willow (Salix irrorata) staminate catkins

All Photos ©2011 Kiva Rose

  9 Responses to “Spring in the Country of Lichen and Spines: Fragments of Home”

  1. Beautiful Kiva! Thanks for enveloping us in your fairy tale.

  2. Lovely!

  3. Dear Kiva,

    Truly beautiful, and truly magical, indeed! I love your colorful world.



  4. Ahhh. That left me feeling dreamy and calm 🙂

  5. These articles are beautiful to look at and winsome on the ears and eyes Thank you for being the poet naturalist canyonist that you are Kiva. The way you bring story and color to where you live helps me extend that where I live. I start to notice more birds and brown wind-blown stems and furtive night critters. You and your canyon are lucky to have each other.

  6. Most basic to us is experiencing life around us, in our bodies. How rich is this!

  7. Your words describing the gorgeous natural place you live and thrive in are so beautiful! I shared with my friends on Facebook. Thank you so much for painting this picture with words, and also for the beautiful photographs!

    May you find more and more beauty with each blossoming season!

    Love, Darshana
    Menlo Park, California

  8. O my! So breathlessly beautiful… and your canyon walk inspires the same wonder and magic it did four or five years ago, when I first came across your blog. My eyes are tearful and my heart is happy, because I Know that Love! Sending heartfelt smiles your way !♥

  9. “…the soundless rush of opening flowers.” Perfect word medicine.

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