Sunday, September 13, 2020

When it's hard to breathe, give yourself license to take it easy

The smoke from wildfire continues to hang heavy in the air, leading to unhealthy (or worse) hazard air quality index (AQI) readings. As bad as our air seems, it pales in comparison to the off-the-charts AQI values in Oregon. Portland has been in the high 400s (on a scale from 0 to 500), and some areas have reported readings in the 700s—apparently something never thought possible by the creators of the AQI scale. My heart goes out to everybody affected.

I took the following photo yesterday on Interstate 80 between Vacaville and Fairfield. This area was burning not even a month ago as part of the 350,000 acre LNU Lightning Complex fires. The hills you see in the distance are black now instead of brown.

I applied a stack of effects to this photo so you can clearly see the smoke in the air

Even though I've been known to do foolish things, I realize that the bad air might be bad for my health if I worked outdoors for any length of time. In spite of a very strong desire to be outside, acerbated by weeks of being cooped up indoors, I, for once, decided to listen to the voice of caution. For my weekly hand-watering in the front yard, a regular Saturday morning chore, I donned an N95 respirator yesterday. 

An hour and a quarter later, I'd finished watering, but I wasn't ready to slink back inside. I'd recently removed a Moroccan daisy (Rhodanthemum hosmariense) and a ×Mangave 'Red Wing' from the bed next to the front door because they'd gotten too big for the space. (No worries, they were moved elsewhere in the garden, not tossed in the yard waste.) That left some gaps that begged to be filled. Since my outside time was limited because of the air quality, this seemed like the perfect task to work on. Plus, out of all the garden chores, planting is my favorite by far.

Here's the finished result:


Below is one of two Agave pintilla in this bed. I planted them last year, but I wanted to show you a photo since they're developing great striping:


Here are the plants that went in the ground yesterday—everything...


...minus the seed-grown Agave albopilosa in the bottom right. That one has been there since November 2019.


The little guy in the next photo is a smaller Agave albopilosa, a tissue-cultured selection marketed as 'Tufts':


Plant #2 is Agave horrida, striking both for its deep green coloration and its remarkable teeth:


Plant #3 is Hechtia huamelulaensis, described in 2015 from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The Desert Garden at the Huntington has several beautiful specimens (here's one).


Plant #4 is Hechtia purhepecha, described in 2016 from the Mexican state of Michoacán. This plant is virtually non-existent in cultivation, but I was fortunate enough to get an offset from hechtia expert Andy Siekkinen.



Preparing the planting sites—adding more rocks and more succulent mix to raise the soil level a bit—and doing the actual planting didn't take long, but it made me feel like I'd achieved something. Admittedly, this was just a small thing, but after weeks of forced inactivity, it felt great. 

It also made me realize that you don't need to move mountains to let yourself feel a sense of accomplishment. It's good to let go of self-imposed expectations now and then and learn how to be satisfied with baby steps. 

Especially when, quite literally, it's hard to breathe.

The hills between Cordelia and Benecia hazy with smoke


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16 comments:

  1. Our air quality index is the same as yours about 151. I want so much to go outside to do a little grooming, but am being cautious. I creep out very early morning and do a bit of cleaning; but it really isn't any better then, it just feels good. What is so irritating is the temperature has fallen enough to be nice to be outside.

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    1. Jane, exactly! First it was that terrible heat wave that kept us inside, now it's the bad air. Ironically, temperatures have been below normal because of the smoke.

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  2. Me too. I feel suffocated indoors--and now outdoors, too. You did a great job on that area, and those are some choice plants among choice rocks. Rocks from AZ?

    The same thing here--a little watering and puttering. It was absolutely silent outside--no one was out, no cars went by--just the occasional bird song. That part was wonderful, the smoke, not. Now I'm wheezing. :(

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    1. The larger rocks came from a local rock yard. The smaller ones I found in Mount Shasta. I like them all because they look like they could have come from Arizona :).

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  3. Such horrifying conditions. Can't imagine what it feels to be experiencing it first hand. Love the little A. pintilla. Looks similar to a A. regineae. Hope the fires are being brought under control.

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    1. Agave pintilla is in the victoria-reginae complex, with victoria-reginae proper and nickelsiae. Small plants are very difficult to keep apart, at least for me.

      The air has gotten slightly better but many fires are still burning, sadly.

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  4. Those photos are so striking. The headline in yesterday's LA Times was "California's Climate Apocalypse" - your photos would have provided a compelling illustration. I've been doing little bits and pieces too. Early morning is generally best here but when breezes intensify the smoke smell, I retreat.

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    1. You've had remarkably bad air, too. I would have thought the ocean breezes would give you better air. 2020 is cursed, what can I say?

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  5. I feel your pain! After our windstorm of last week thrashed the garden I haven't been able to go out and clean it up and it's killing me. Stuck inside since Wednesday afternoon. Today the air quality is down to 406... still not okay to be out there for any length of time. I love your new plantings!

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    1. You're in the midst of bad air hell. Are you guys wearing masks inside the house as well? I hope you'll get some relief soon. I bet our air would seem like a huge improvement!

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  6. Beautiful photos despite the hardship of smoke.
    It's difficult to be cooped up in the house: running out of small tasks. Must remind myself that for some folks, life is tremendously more difficult and tragic, and boredom doesn't seem too bad in comparison.

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    1. You made a very good point: A lot of people have far bigger challenges to deal with than many of us do. It's good practice to put your own situation into perspective every now and then!

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  7. Under 100 aqi this evening for the first time in so long. You are so right about the irony of the cool temps with too much smoke to enjoy it. I will be moving some of my container Agaves and Aloes into the ground this fall..I had some concrete removed this summer and the exposed soil(if you can call it that) it very gravelly which I hope to take advantage of.

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    1. I don't want to jinx it, but it looks like this weekend will be the first in a long time when good air and relatively mild temperatures converge. Time to get some things done!

      Looking forward to seeing your agave and aloe installation. In the ground, they're tough.

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  8. The worst here in the Bay Area was never as bad as Oregon with AQI's of 400+ - so for that I'm thankful - but still those days of a heatwave AND oppressive smoke were bad. There's a very light drizzle here this morning! hoping that washes away some of our troubles.

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    1. ...if not our troubles, at least some of the layer of dirt and grime that's on everything! We're not so lucky here in the rain department - dry as a bone. But at least the AQI is in the 50s this morning. For that I'm very grateful. In 2020, it's the little things that make life better :-)

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