Meditating on 6th Extinction with Desert Critters, Creosol and Mesquite

Blog post by David M. Boje, July 14, 2019 updated July 15 2019

 

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I am part of Extinction Rebellion (ExR). We want politicians to engage to declare a climate emergency, then make the kinds of policy changes that will avert extinction. Global warming changes the water cycle. Raising average global temperature changes the water cycle. It also changes the vegetation existent in the water cycle at higher temperatures. Two specifies we in the southwest in the heat of the desert,  can learn from are the creosol bush and the mesquite tree. Two critters we can learn from are rattle snakes and tarantula. They live simply on less water. Here I am meditating on water, and the arrival of Sixth Extinction.

Storytelling Research of Climate Change, Water Cycle and Vegetation Colonies

The basic problem I want to address is how globally warming the water cycle, and Sixth Extinction are quite long term phenomenon, but our democracies are adapted to making short-term investments that benefit the surplus-value extraction by corporations, supplying election monies to political candidates.  We clearly are on a short-term path, a water binge, with no apparent way to avert Sixth Extinction. The 1% are oriented to short-term gains in their wealth, even at the expense of long-term preparing in advance to mitigate the climate change, including impact on water cycle and global water scarcity, water shortages, and day zeroes when tap water runs dry. We are in the throes of the Sixth Extinction, and there is no planet B to get more water that with hotter global average temperature is in the water vapor atmosphere rather than falling to nourish life on land (Boje, 2019a, 2019c).

We will have to learn to care for water, reuse it, not pollute it, but the preparations to prevent the die-off of five billion humans, most of marine and land species, is inevitable without dramatic change in consumerism and production activities. To learn, I am using storytelling methods (Boje, 2019b) especially self-correcting ‘storytelling science’ methods, to study my own complicity in global warming, the degrading water cycle, and the kinds of vegetation that  colonize the Southwest desert where I live in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  I hope to learn how to regreen the desert, how to live more simply with less water, and leave water for others, such as desert critters, and bring back grassland from the cresol and mesquite, which we can also learn from. Before we get to creosol and mesquite, let’s be clear how global warming and the water cycle crisis of the southwest and globally, are related.

How does climate change impact the water cycle?

Climate change intensifies the water cycle. As air temperatures increase, more water evaporates into the air. Warmer air can hold more water vapor, which can lead to more intense rainstorms, causing major problems like extreme flooding in coastal communities around the world. As the southwest turns more arid, the creosol and mesquite tree invade, displacing the grass and other semi-arid species.

The water cycle is very dependent upon global temperatures. Put simply the water cycle is how water evaporates from land and sea, then returns to Earth as rain and snow. Climate change increases both droughts and heavy rains.  Global warming of air temperature is affecting things like water vapor concentrations in the atmosphere, precipitation rates, and stream flows. Warmer air holds more water vapor in the atmosphere, resulting in more intense rain storms and flooding in some areas and where I live in New Mexico, more dry air is held in the atmosphere as water vapor, and less falls to Earth. This results in more drought, as evaporation increases our soil dry out, and the desert transforms from semi-arid to arid. In New Mexico, we now get 10 inches of rain a year. So when rare rains do come, the soil is so hard, and cannot penetrate the ground, and evaporates even more rapidly. Rain water runs off quicker and quicker, taking with it the top soil. As water gathers speed, it cuts deep arroyos into the land, and water does not spread to surrounding ground.

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Figure 1: Observing the Arroyo Near our Ranch on East Mesa just beyond Las Cruces New Mexico

This arroyo is a frequent walk I make with dog, Sparkles (and with Sparky & Honey till they passed). The arroyo has dug about 75 feed into the earth. Along the ridges creosote and mesquite grows. But in the basin, you get a sense of the grassland and types of vegetation that existed before Spanish contact, before the overgrazing, and if regreening the desert is possible, these grass and shallow-root plants could come back to the landscape above.

Here is another view of the same arroyo against background of the Organ Mountains.

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Figure 2: Another view of the Arroyo with Organ Mountains

The  prolific creosote bushes in the foreground and not much some else anywhere is from the way the arroyo cuts deep into the land, so water does not spread out, and the topsoil has all run off. It is a downward spiral of climate change brought on by human activities, as a tipping point happened and invasive species out competed the grassland. 

How do we observe and interact with the water catastrophes of the water cycle?

To spend time observing water’s relation to vegetation in a changing climate is a form of mediation. It is mediation that sinks us into our own living story practices (See Boje’s What is Living Story Web at https://davidboje.com/Boje/What%20is%20Living%20Story.htm.

A living story has a place, time, and a mind. This is a mediation in silence and contemplation of the circle of life. Water has an aura that is shown in every living thing, even the creosote and mesquite of an arid desert.  Water energy can be quite violent, such as when the monsoon rain burst onto the land, and the water runs fast cutting arroyos deeper into the landscape. The wind manifest dust devils that will peel the paint off your car. Water descends in hail storms, that dent the cars, and create business opportunities for dent-removal. Water mediation is about entanglement with all kinds of nature.

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Figure 3: Pond near Ranch, Full after Monsoon Rainfall

There is a pond nearby. I often walk there, and during the dry season, no water, only trash from the people using it as a shooting gallery or a place to try out their four wheel drive. There are amazing critters coming to drink, such as dragon flies. There are dormant creatures, like the spade foot toad and tadpole shrimpe that come to life when the monsoon fills the pond.

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Figure 4: I see these all the time in the Pond when its Full

“The tadpole shrimp colonizes freshwater temporary ponds, such as dry lakes and vernal pools, throughout the Southwest. Females lay eggs that can survive in the sand or dried mud, dormant for several years. When placed in water the eggs hatch over a period of time and the cycle begins again” (https://newscenter.nmsu.edu/Articles/view/10495/secrets-in-the-soil-nmsu-scientists-research-desert-s-tadpole-shrimp).

After a week or so, of no rain, the pond water evaporates.

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Figure 5: Pond empty in dry spell used a play area for SUVs and Shooters

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Figure 6 A & B: Pond Trashed (top photo taken last year after rain; lower photo taken July 15 2019 8AM, not enough rain to fill pond)

It’s always sad when Sparkles and I walk to the pond and find it trashed. The county raised its landfill rate, so poor people are dumping more trash in the desert. You can see above the pond is about empty.  I think people with no reverence for water or life, just toss their trash here because the sense the energy. They seem to toss the trash in the most high energy places. It could be they sense the positive energy, and out of ignorance have to pollute it. My dad always told me, ‘leave a place better than you found it’ and ‘pack out whatever you pack in.’ Sparkles and I usually carry a canvas bag and collect the trash. This will take a few trips. Sometimes the boy scouts will come out and help. One of my students wrote the No Throw App. Download it and do the right thing.

The desert can be quite beautiful. Let’s keep it that way. Here we see a double rainbow, and the promise of rain to bring life to pond and all the desert life.

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Figure 7: A Double Rainbow above the Desert Vegetation at our Small Horse Ranch in New Mexico

It begins with observation, meditation, and interaction with water cycle and vegetation, where we work and live. There is much beauty to observe, such as this double rainbow above the creosote and mesquite, and the drank rain cloud that bring life is water to the desert.

Take an inventory of our water and vegetation habits as individuals, community, organizations, and societies where we work and live. Climate and water scientists say that its our human activities of production and consumption that are changing since the Industrial Revolution, since World War II, since the introduction of plastic, since our life and work changed our water footprints again and again.

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Figure 8: Shade I made on July 14 to keep the sun off when I meditate and observe

Shade from reused aluminum from recycled solar water heater. I added a chair frame I put a seat on from the county’s landfill. In the yellow bucket I am drying mesquite beans. Pick them when they turn golden in the sun.

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Figure 9: Demi Lune (half moon) birm to harvest rainwater

Climate, Water and Vegetation Meditation

We can learn from desert species, such as the creosote bush and mesquite trees taking over the southwest desert. As the heavy cattle grazing escalated after Spanish contact, the desert Southwest turns the climate atmosphere hotter and landscape drier, the semi-arid grasslands,, those flowing carpets of grass (Muhly [Muhlenbergia porteri]) were slowly replaced by the two vegetative colonizers, the creosol bushes.mesquite trees. Projections of future climate changes, these plants and trees colonize the desert, how much water and carbon are we losing to these quite aggressive and tough species dominating the landscape (https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/mesquite-trees-displacing-southwestern-grasslands).  Once initiated by overgrazing, then propelled by global warming the creosote and mesquite trees benefit from higher temperatures and greater variability in rainfall, displacing the grassland, that had voluntarily, also adapted to hot and dry conditions. Creosote and mesquite roots reach much deeper than the grass roots, to access deeper water sources.  There are benefits of these colonizers, from shade, attracting wild life, and carbon capture, but it is encroachment at the cost of water regional ecohydrology, and water uses. 

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Figure 9: A clump of grass growing beneath a Mesquite Tree in Southern New Mexico on our Small Horse Ranch

How does a clump of grass survive. Above this clump of grass grows in the shade of a mesquite tree. I am observing the creosote and mesquite tree activity before and after the rain, including the monsoon rains, and the dry periods between. Remaining rain water, deep underground cannot nurture the shallow-rooted plants.

Water has massing positive energy. All life needs water to survive. Living a simpler water life lets all critters and vegetation have water for life. Water stress affects all life. Interesting critters live in the desert heat, the sandy soil, among the mesquite and creosote.

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Figure 10: Western Diamond back Rattlesnake on way near where we live 

I observed this diamond back headed to the pond near where I live Rattlesnakes colonize and survive in arid habitats. This is an amazing critter. Leave it alone and it leaves you alone. Rattlesnakes do not waste water by urinating. They have great water sensemaking andcan detect water from great distances with their incredible senses of smell and tasteI see one or two a year, so I observe carefully and remain vigilant. It tries to let you know when you get too close.

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Figure 11: Tarantula in our driveway about to climb on my new book: Global Storytelling: There is no Planet Be

The Tarantula come out at night, in search of food or a mate. Some days, even during the day, they stroll by the hundreds. Amazing critters, they know how to live in the hot and dry desert. They dig holes in the desert and rest silently.  Tarantulas drink with their mouths, which is located under the fangs, and a pumping stomach, and store in the abdomen. if you notice a Tarantula’s abdomen is shriveled, make sure you give it food and water. This is a sign of under feeding and dehydration.

Mesquite trees have also mastered the art of living in the desert. They have photosynthetic metabolism at half the rate of shallow plants, regardless of hot and dry conditions (https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/mesquite-trees-displacing-southwestern-grasslands). Monsoon downpour will nature the soil, but most runs off, and evaporates quickly.  Water that does saturate the soil, the creosote and mesquite deep-roots access it. 

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Figure 12: The ‘King Clone’ Creosote Rhizome in the Mojave Desert is 11,700 years old 

Enter the Creosote 

After a rain, I can snell the creosote. The creosote expands in a circular grown pattern, and can reach fifty feet in diameter.   Larrea divaricata is thought to be the oldest living thing on earth. King Clone, a creosote bush found in the Mojave desert is estimated to have grown from a seed nearly 12,000 years ago (http://www.factmonster.com/ipka/A0932544.html): “Each giant ring of shrubs comes from its own ancestral shrub that once grew in the center of the ring. Over time the original stem crown splits into sections that continue to grow outwardly away from the center, producing new branches along their outer edge. The center wood dies and rots away over thousands of years, leaving a barren center surrounded by a ring of shrubs”.  

The creosote bush is a very tough and aggressive plant, able to sustain in droughts and intense heat of the desert where I life.  The plant excretes volatile chemical comports, some have medical properties. When soils are not dampened, and slopes of the desert are well-drained into arroyos, this invasive species, the creosote bush (larrea tridentata, larrea divaricata  and hediondilia in Sonora; part of the Zygophyllaceae species family) takes roots. It has taken over the Chihuahuan Desert, of southern New Mexico, where I live. It is also called greasewood. Layers of caliche form in the hot deserts. C

Creosote is an aggressive competitor for water, and is winning, where I live. It grows from four to twelve feet high. The yellow green leaves are adapted to conserve water and dissipate heat (dessertusa.com/creosote.html). Creosote secures more water, preening growth of native plants.  Creosote secrets lots of waxy resinous compounds, poisonous to livestock. On the plus side the compounds are used in defense against wood rats (who lose more water through their urine & feces, & get less energy from their food, increasing risks of dehydration & starvation). Creosote in the Chihuahuan, Sonoran and Mojave Deserts of North America ecosystems  vary in chromosome counts (Chihuahuan has 26, Sonoran has 52, and Sonoran has 78 chromosomes). It thrives in deserts under 5,000 feet.

Creosote orients its branches mostly to the southeast to minimize water loss in as sun moves west across the sky, and maximizing photosynthesis. The clustering branches reduces overheating, providing shade during hottest parts of the New Mexico day. As the sun rises in the east, creosote opens its stomata commence photosynthesis during early hours when evapotranspiration is at its lowest. Yes, the southeast orientation means it misses the afternoon and evening sun (see http://www.indefenseofplants.com/blog/2018/3/26/the-wild-world-of-the-creosote-bush) 

The roots of creosote run deep, accessing water table that the shallow rooted indigenous plants of semi-arid desert (e.g. grasses and the Prickly Pear cactus [Opuntia]) cannot. In limited rainfall, the shallowed rooted species cannot reach water taken up by the creosote. The granting architecture of creosote accumulates silt and debris as winds blow dust around the desert landscape. This results in elevated nutrients, shaded by the canopy of the bush. Rodents burrow into the ground beneath a large creosote shrub, and make their den, nibbling on any shallowly rooted plants that try to root under that canopy shade. At the same time the roots of the creosote (the tender bits) run so deep the rodents cannot get to theme. Rodents are therefore aiding the spread of the creosote by making it difficult for neighboring species to survive. 

Creosote reproduces from seeds and from rhizomes. The roots radiate out in a circle from the original plant, sprouting clones. On the plus side creosote provides seeds for food and flowers support myriad pollinators. Creosote gives the desert it’s distinctive delicious smell after a rain! On the downside, creosote secretes allopathic compounds that inhibit other plants from growing nearby? The roots and the dropped leaves emit chemicals that prevents self-growth and growth of other flora. Creosote blooms flowers that turn into small white fuzzy fruit with five seeds. 

On the plus side, creosote has been use as antiseptics and emetics by native indigenous peoples (deserts.com/creosote.html). The lives contain a powerful antioxidant – NDGA ((nordihydroguaiaretic acid). It has been used to sure fever, colds, stomach pains, and is a general pain killer, diuretic, helps with arthritis, skin problems, urinary track problems, tuberculosis, cancer, anemia and is an anti-diarrheal, and is antimicrobial in helping cuts, bacterial or fungal infections, but no scientific evidence to date validates any of this and is not sold in Canada as a health product (http://www.ethnoherbalist.com/southern-california-native-plants-medicinal/creosote-bush-uses/; and https://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/supplements-remedies/cleansing-with-chaparral/). A tea tastes terrible, and may actually in rare cases, promote kidney and liver dysfunction, even hepatitis.  The tea is made form creosote waxy leaves, stored in the sun, then pulverized and steeped in boiling water.  You can smoke the plant to combat infestations of desert midge.

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Figure 13: Creosote Gall Midge (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creosote_gall_midge). 

The Seri of Mexico smoked insect galls among the foliage twigs of the larrea divaricata species for pleasure. Each midge species  indices a different gall midge fungal growth. “She inserts her egg along with a fungal spore from a mycangia (a small pocket to store fungal spores). A gall forms and the fungal mycelium grows to line the inside of the gall, when the egg hatches the developing larva feeds upon the fungus” (IBID.). Gagné and Warren (1990: 649) describe “Fifteen species of gall midges of the genus Asphondylia that form complex galls on leaves, stems or buds of creosote bush (Larrea tridentata)”.  

North American Papago used smoldering larrea tridentata creosote species  branches to treat sore feet (Pennacchio, Jefferson, & Havens, 2010: 114).  On the plus side chaparral is good for topical uses. Mexican herbalists use it to treat eczema and other skin conditions. You can make you own chaparral salves and lotions by steeping the leaves in hot water until you can smell it, then soak on a cloth and apply to affected area. 

Joy and Crespi (2007) study the speciation of Larrea gall midge insect adaptation to host-plants parts (leaf, stem, flower) of creosote. Midge species are highly host-plant specific, often feeding on just one part of the single host-plant species. Rains are seasonal in New Mexico. Gall badges have short adult lives of 1-2 days. “The different species in this group are sympatric over a broad area and widely distributed across the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan deserts of North America, and up to 10 species having been collected from a single creosote bush” (IBID.).

Enter the Mesquite Tree 

Some parts of mesquite tree are toxic and can cause death. Other parts of mesquite are medicinal and a food source. There are several species (Velvet Mesquite [Prosopis velutina], Honey Mesquite [Prosopis glanulosa] & Screwbean Mesquite [Prosopis pubescens]). Mesquite tress are deciduous, with the potential to lose their leaves during dry times. Branches have thorns. Mesquite roots are within three feet of soil, but can go as deep as 160 feet (https://arizonadailyindependent.com/2013/07/07/mesquite-trees-provide-food-fuel-medicine-and-more/). Around southern New Mexico, the Honey Mesquite is common.

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Figure 14: Honey Mesquite Tree

The seed pods are not toxic, high in fiber, but can cause gastrointestinal upstate if consumed in mass quantities. Mesquite beans can be harvest after they turn hard and golden. The pods of mesquite beans are sweet, a fructose that does not require insulin to be metabolized. You can chew on a a pod to test its sweetness (https://arizonadailyindependent.com/2013/07/07/mesquite-trees-provide-food-fuel-medicine-and-more/). 

Native indigenous people sprinkled ground mesquite meal with water to form small, round cakes, that were fried like mush, used to thicken stews or eaten raw. Mesquite meal is gluten free and makes a flat bread. Mesquite seeds are 35% protein, and pods have 25% fiber. Mesquite flour can be used to make a refreshing drink, and allowed to foment (mixed with meters) produces a fizzy alcoholic drink.

Mesquite flowers can be collected and boiled to make tea or roasted and pressed into ball as a food course.

Spa from mesquite trees can be boiled and diluted with water for eye wash antiseptic for open woulds, lip sores, chapped skin, sunburn lotion,  and to treat venarial disease (https://arizonadailyindependent.com/2013/07/07/mesquite-trees-provide-food-fuel-medicine-and-more/).  Boiling the inner bark is used as a laxative and emetic. Mesquite tea from the leaves is good for headaches and stomach trouble, and to cure conjunctivitis and heal painful gums.

Mesquite wood was used as firewood, or for early blacksmithing. Prima Indians used mesquite black tar as a hair dye by covering the hair with the mud overnight. The resin from mesquite tree makes a glue to mend pottery, or when boiled and diluted, a paint for pottery. Inner bark of mesquite tree is used for basketry. Mesquite wood makes beautiful furniture. 

References

Boje, D. M. (2019a). Global Storytelling: There is No Planet B. Singapore/London/NY: World Scientific.

Boje, D. M. (2019b). Organizational Research: Storytelling In Action. London/NY: Routledge.

Boje, D. M. (2019c, in press). Storytelling Interventions in Global Water Crisis. Singapore/London/NY: World Scientific. Link to download Word file.

Boje, D. M.; Rosile, G. A. (2019, in review). Doing storytelling sciience with self-correction. Singapore/London/NY: World Scientific. Link to download Word file.

Gagné, R. J., & Waring, G. L. (1990). The Asphondylia (Cecidomyiidae: Diptera) of creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) in north America. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington, 92(4), 649-671.

Joy, J. B., & Crespi, B. J. (2007). Adaptive radiation of gall‐inducing insects within a single host‐plant species. Evolution: International Journal of Organic Evolution, 61(4), 784-795.

Pennacchio, M., Jefferson, L., & Havens, K. (2010). Uses and abuses of plant-derived smoke: Its ethnobotany as hallucinogen, perfume, incense, and medicine. Oxford University Press.

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