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Invasive species are reshaping the desert

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About the cover


"Jesus Grass"

A healing discovery walking Boston Hill.

by Hiram Lewis


Editor's note: Readers who enjoyed Hiram Lewis' article and artwork about walking Silver City's Boston Hill ("A Good Walk Unspoiled," January) are in for a treat. Lewis, his dogs and his watercolor brushes are back with more adventures.


Every day, just before sunrise, my dogs, Zelda and Conan, and I walk Boston Hill. I have the entire Gila Wilderness, yet I'm satisfied with the many paths and permutations of the hill. I have seen deer, snakes, horned toads, coyotes, javelinas, tarantulas, a coatimundi and birds. A couple of years ago, I saw many black chipmunks that looked like pieces of burnt paper sailing among the rocks.

boston hill
Painting by Hiram Lewis.

Zelda is a large black-and-white female who, my vet assures me, is a purebred "New Mexican fence jumper." She lives to meet other dogs for play and conversation or to find carrion in which to roll like a teenage girl at a Nordstrom's cosmetic counter. Conan, a Corgi-Border Collie mix, lives for bicycles and runners, which he tries to herd. He waits for them to pass and then he closes fast, nipping at heels and tires while barking frantically. Conan is not very popular.

Last fall the dogs and I met a woman with three dogs on the trail. Two were very friendly and enthusiastic. The other was a dignified Greyhound rescue. One, a playful male, jumped on me and raked my leg, which bled freely. Blood was running into my shoe so I grabbed some dry grass and slapped it on the wounds. I held the grass in place for 10 seconds and let go. It stuck — the bleeding had stopped. I brushed the grass off my leg. Not only had the bleeding stopped, but the cuts were closed. I collected a pocketful and put it in a jar. I wrote "clot grass" and "blood clot" on the jar.


The grass is distinctive. It starts as a small bunch and as it ages the center dies and the outer edges spread like a small wildfire, creating circles, ovals and designs as intricate and convoluted as any coastline on earth. No one has been able to name the grass for me. Everyone has given it a different name. even though it seems to be one of the more common grasses on Boston Hill.

The other day I called it "Jesus grass" because it heals. A man told me that he once knew its name but could not bring it to mind. Another man said it was "bunch grass," another "deer grass" and another "round muhly." My friend John, who illustrates botanical books, said that grasses are extremely complex.

I finally made it to the library. On page 23 of Common Grasses of Grant and Catron Counties, New Mexico, I found it: Ring muhly, ringgrass, Muhlenbergia torreyi, "a tufted perennial grass 10 to 30 centimeters tall... Stems slender, curving upward to erect from a reclining base."

I had hopes that "torreyi" came from the Latin for "torqueo: to twist, curl, rack, torture, torment, distort, test," since the grass looks twisted and tortured — a grass that is always running away from itself. But this tortured grass is actually named for two men, Gotthilf Muhlenberg and John Torrey. Mulhenberg took notes on the grass and Torrey collected a sample. As far as I know, neither man used it to stanch a wound. I have no idea why anyone would dummy up a Latin-sounding name for anything. It is not descriptive and points to ownership rather than partnership.

Perhaps all the muhly grasses have similar astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. I don't know. I do know that none of them is touted for that. Ring muhly stanches bleeding within seconds, closes the wound and promotes healing faster than anything I have ever seen. This is not scientific analysis on my part. My observations and conclusions are based on personal experience.

If you live in the Southwest between 4,000 and 7,000 feet in the piñon-juniper zone, you know of this grass. If you are a rancher, you dislike this grass. It indicates that the land has been overgrazed. It is poor feed for cattle. Still, it can save your life.

I have not tried it on arterial bleeding, but I have faith in it, hence the name "Jesus grass." If I have not suffered a major gash soon — a three-stitch wound at least — I will nick myself with a razor blade and pack the gash with Jesus grass. I would prefer testimonials.



Hiram Lewis lives in Silver City at the base of Chihuahua Hill. He paints and writes. You can read his earlier essay on Boston Hill and see more of his paintings online at www.desertexposure.com/201301/201301_painting_boston_hill.php.




The Tumbleweeds Top 10


Who and what's been making news from New Mexico this past month, as measured by mentions in Google News (news.google.com). Trends noted are vs. last month's total hits; * indicates new to the list. Number in parenthesis indicates last month's Top 10 rank. Which will crack the top 10 first, speculation about Susana Martinez and the 2016 GOP ticket or the lesser prairie chicken, the latest threatened species to catch Rep. Steve Pearce's ire (both at 46 hits)?

  1. (1) Gov. Susana Martinez — 3,140 hits (▲)
  2. (-) New Mexico budget — 413 hits*
  3. (4) New Mexico drought — 201 hits (▲)
  4. (2) New Sen. Martin Heinrich — 168 hits (▼)
  5. (6) Virgin Galactic — 159 hits (▼)
  6. (7) Ex-Gov. Bill Richardson — 155 hits (▼)
  7. (5) New Mexico wolves — 148 hits (▼)
  8. (3) Sen. Tom Udall — 105 hits (▼)
  9. (-) New Mexico driver's licenses — 62 hits (▲)
  10. (10) New Mexico wildfires — 57 hits (▼)

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