Embroidered Desert Sun

My Sabbatical quilt story continues. We spent the spring months in the Southwest deserts, both high and low. Lots of sunshine, lots of burning sun prompted me to embroider three different versions of the sun on my quilt top. For this one I used overlapping wave stitches that radiate from the center which gives a textured effect, somewhat three dimensional. The group of French knots at the center adds to the richness.

In my last Blog I described our stay in Death Valley and the absence or presence of plant cover. That’s when the concept of plant communities took on great importance in my view. To explain the concept of plant communities let me take you on a drive across Nevada, which we did several times on Sabbatical year. Starting out from California we traveled east over the Cascade/Sierra range and turned onto Highway 50, “the loneliest road in America.” (Read the full story: https://www.janiceekirk.com/the-road-to-beaver-park/)

This beautiful drive goes straight across the middle of Nevada and is a showcase for Basin and Range topography. Departing Reno/Sparks, then Fallon, we came to the first long basin of sagebrush/grassland dotted with grazing cattle. The road led onward to a “sky island,” a short mountain range that runs north and south. Unconnected to any other mountains it became an “island” completely surrounded by sagebrush “ocean.” We climbed the steep mountain grade and watched the vegetation change. Grasses and sagebrush thinned out on the hillsides, juniper trees began to appear. As we drove higher and out of the juniper I could spot aspen groves in ravines and on certain hills. At the summit we found pine trees. The whole range was a botanical showcase of plant communities.

We descended the other side of the mountain and noted that the plant communities reversed themselves. We dropped out of the pine trees, the aspen disappeared, and we were back in juniper again. At length the sage encroached and grasses took over as we emerged from the mountainside onto another wide desert valley, a basin.

When I talk to flat-landers about plant communities I find it hard to explain. Without experiencing the highs and lows of elevation changes we generally don’t notice changes in vegetation. A friend remarked about a visit to China, where she observed rice fields at low elevations, then ascended into bamboo forest, and above that were the tea plantations. Continuing the climb brought them into tall trees, both deciduous and evergreen. In the American West one can drive high enough to get into Alpine communities. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park summits about 12,000 feet in elevation. (https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/trail_ridge_road.htm)

The elevation makes the difference in vegetation because the temperature gets colder the higher one goes. Hours of sun, temperature highs and lows, moisture, soils, all are components suited to particular plants. Thus, the plant cover changes from bottom to top. The same effect happens when we drive north into Canada. The average temperatures get colder, and the plant cover changes. Different species become dominant, more suited to the colder climate.

As an example, here’s a list of the vegetation zones in Great Basin National Park, Nevada:

Great Basin National Park has seven major zones of habitats, depending on the elevation:

Forest blending into Alpine Zone on Wheeler Peak, Nevada

My fascination with plant communities has to do with the fact that not only are they at the bottom of the food chain, they are the bottom of the food chain. Green plants and algae are the primary producers of food. Through the process of photosynthesis, they take energy from the sun and turn it into plant material, and as a bonus they release oxygen for all of us animals to breathe. Everything depends on plants. Animals depend on plants. Animals eat animals, yes, but at the bottom of the meat-eater lifeline you will find a mouse or other critter that eats plants.

All plants engage in photosynthesis. These food-making plants grow in communities. Plants have neighbors—other plants. Living together offers mutual benefits. We can identify plant communities because the same plants are found together in repeated patterns over a landscape that offers the right conditions for growth. Each particular kind of soil and site is suitable to certain locally available plants. They can be found together.[2] Plant communities are the core of Vegetation Zones (see Great Basin examples above), which in turn form large general areas called Biomes (aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, tundra) that cover continents. Ecosystems include more than plants—not only animals and habitats, but physical elements of soil, moisture, climate, et al.

Why is this important to our question, “how then shall we live?” In order to draw closer to nature on a personal level, I suggest we retrieve the term “plant communities” from botanical archives and put it back into use. “Plant communities” sounds friendlier than say, “ecosystem” or “biome.” It’s hard to feel an emotional or spiritual connection with an ecosystem; it remains at arm’s length as too scientific, too diversified to grasp. Conversely, when I walk through a group of plants, I can touch, feel textures, smell the fragrance, enjoy the diversity of forms, stop and take close look, step back and absorb the nature of things—it affects me personally. That’s when I begin to care about the plants. We study ecosystems to know how they work, but I can belong to a plant community. I will grow to love it. I will go back to enjoy it, and I will be moved to take care of it.

Making a quilt helped me gather together vibrant images of places that gave food for thought and wonderful memories. Check back next month for another Quilt Story.


Nature notes: What is your nature address? What plant communities or vegetation zones have you lived in? Early years I lived in a maritime area, then Northwest rainforest and grassland, but most of my life my home address was Mediterranean Scrub of No. Calif. What is your nature address?

Gospel Life Style: Honor God with a garden. Plant lots of green plants and contribute to the photosynthesis food bank for the earth.


[1] (https://www.nps.gov/grba/learn/nature/great-basin-flora.htm)

[2] https://cals.arizona.edu/backyards/sites/cals.arizona.edu.backyards/files/b12winterspring_p11.pdf


Read the Sabbatical story: The Road to Beaver Park, Painting, Perception, and Pilgrimage is available: http://Indiebound.org.   http://amazon.com.  http://barnesandnoble.com  http://christianbook.com


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