How I spent the Blizzard of 2011

Joshua Tree


I’m just about to plant a large portion of my garden – tomatoes, peppers, onions & broccoli – in flats, but am reflecting a bit. My wife & I returned from a week’s vacation in southern California to find more than two feet of snow on the ground. Chicago really got hit hard by the Blizzard of 2011.

We spent quite a bit of time in the desert, particularly the Mojave Desert at Joshua Tree National Park. As rugged, harsh and lifeless as this vast expanse seems to be, the desert is a land of extreme fragility with a very delicate balance. Just like my Illinois garden, invasive species can be very detrimental. Small changes can throw it out of whack. Invasive red brome and cheatgrass can spread fire by covering large areas at Joshua Tree.

Although wildflowers, fan palms, junipers, pinyons, desert willows, yuccas, teddy-bear chollas and other trees and bushes are native here, it is the Joshua Tree that I found most interesting. Early explorer John Fremont described them as “…the most repulsive tree in the vegetable Kingdom.” A Mormon legend says the limbs of the Joshua tree resembles the outstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the promised land.

I find humor in their human likenesses.

It’s sometimes easy for me to forget the value that my garden will receive from all that snow piled up around and over it. Unlike the desert plants we visited, my tomatoes need a lot of water. Although different ecosystems have different requirements for sustaining life, it’s clear that they are all changing and more delicate than I had imagined.

Joshua tree at Joshua Tree National Park

a harsh ecosystem

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