Mary Beth Writes

I said, I wrote three fables but then I only posted two. I don’t like my last one so it’s not happening. But this is what I learned about Creosote.

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Creosote, sometimes called greasewood or chapparal, is a plant that looks like a bunch of sticks with small leaves; it grows in small to middling clumps. In the spring and summer there are some scrappy yellow flowers. Creosote is native to the arid deserts of Southwest US and northern Mexico.

The most interesting characteristic is not the unimpressive bush you see in front of you, but its roots. Creosote roots are incredibly efficient at absorbing dew, rain, and whatever moisture runs deep in desert soil. The root systems are so efficient that fallen seeds nearby cannot accumulate enough moisture to germinate, effectively creating dead zones around every creosote plant - which makes the desert topography that some of us remember as High Chapparal.

As a creosote matures its oldest branches die and its crown – the top of the plant which is simply the tallest sticks in the clump - splits into separate crowns. The new crowns/tops become the new plant, although it is a clonal colony from the previous plant. In the desert you can see that some bushes seem to grow in a ring around a bare spot – that bare place was where the original plant grew. There is a "King Clone" creosote ring in the Mojave Desert that is estimated to be the oldest living organisms on Earth at 11,700 years.

It takes decades for creosote bushes to grow; in average desert conditions a 1-foot plant is about ten years old. So don’t clear it away for flimsy reasons; cleared desert does not regenerate quickly or with the same hardy desert plants that were bulldozed for whatever reason.

Why is it called creosote? It smells like ozone, like the creosote compounds distilled from coal tar.

Who eats eat creosote? Jackrabbits will eat its leaves if there are no other choices. Desert iguanas and chuckwalla (a stocky desert fella) munch creosote. And, curiously, in the mid-19th century the US military (including Jefferson Davis BEFORE the Civil War) imported camels to the American southwest to help carry equipment; this effort was called the United States Camel Corps.

The camels shipped from northern Africa were happy to eat American creosote. It’s theorized that this meeting of camels and creosote reestablished a biological relationship that was broken when American camels became extinct a hundred thousand years ago - making this strange relationship between camels and creosote an evolutionary anachronism.

Ancestral Pueblo people used creosote for many kinds of medicines and poultices. Research continues on creosote to this day, although experts warn it may cause as much cancer as it might cure, so don’t experiment on your own.

And there’s this. The Papago held their feet above smoldering creosote branches to ease the pain from sore feet.

The Pima inhaled smoke from burning creosote as a remedy for laziness. Like: “Hey, Pa, light me a creosote stick, I can’t seem to get out of bed this morning.”

I love old scrappy things that endure.

It's hot; it’s 95 degrees in my backyard. I have a hanging dish that I try to keep full of water; today birds are lined up to get a drink. They somehow suck up a wee bit of water in their beaks, then they tip their heads back to let it run down their little birdy throats. If you are very, very quiet you can hear them sigh and smack their lips.

In the last two weeks I’ve read three crime/mystery books by Abir Mukherjee. https://abirmukherjee.com/ These novels are set in 1920’s Calcutta, India. The books are non-sentimental, well written, and deal unflinchingly with the racism and politics of British rule trammeling and exploiting human rights. Also, the murders are rather astonishing, and I never know who ‘done it’ until close to the end. There’s a 4th novel and I just put it on hold so if you are in Waukesha, you can’t have it until I’m done.

Len and I are going places. Yesterday we went into Milwaukee, hung out a while at Boswell’s Bookstore, then walked to the Hollander for dinner. We were going to sit outside at the patio but the wind was so strong the umbrella was shaking the table and us. So we went inside and sat in a booth for a lovely meal.  

I still feel that bit of uncertainty. Can we really just go places and be indoors? We wear masks. I love not getting colds and will be wearing a mask going forward. 

I have two thoughts. 1. We are damn lucky Biden won the election (for a zillion reasons). There are efforts that need to be coordinated on a federal level and Holy Cow, it has been done. We went from “You’re on your own, baby.” to having the largest percentage of citizens vaccinated of any nation on earth. Am I right? Grateful and astounded.

2. I keep reading about people receiving taunts and sarcasm for wearing masks now. I know this is true. I know there are still judgmental people out there who think it’s their right to toss their bad karma at others.

But it has never happened to Len or to me. Not even once.  No thrown shade, no weird comments, no one rolling their eyes at us. I wear a mask in the gym at the Y and no one says anything, even when I’m the only person masked up.

I guess I want to remind us to live in reality. Sometimes we are victims but pretty often we are not.

 

Comments

Leonard's picture

I like learning more about stuff that's all around.

Fascinating…thanks for mukherjee tip too…new to me

Since moving to AZ, I learned about creosote, and when it rains during monsoon (not often lately) the plant smells and people here look forward to that smell in the air.
Mary Beth's picture

That sounds romantic. Waiting for the pungent scent of a desert plant.

Love learning through your posts. And, YES! We are damn lucky Biden won! I don't venture out much, but when I do, I am masked. So are most people around me. Masks will remain in my life. Be well. Patricia

I met a couple friends for lunch in a cafe the other day. First time eating somewhere for me since all this began. I was a bit uneasy about the whole thing but then such a sense of normalcy overwhelmed me, I kind of wallowed in it for a bit looking around at all the smiling faces. We still are being cautious - wearing masks while running errands in the grocery store, pharmacy, library etc. I'm in New England and most people in my particular area are still wearing masks in stores. Thanks for the book recommendation.

That is an amazing plant. I have some fellow plant nerd friends who will love to read about this. Thank You!

Very interesting! Love that “fresh from Meijers” mask.

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