Harbingers

Heading up my driveway, on my way to town, I glanced toward the barn and there, nestled against the weather wood boards, were six glowing dandelion flowers. A small jolt of joy ran through me and I greeted them as I passed – and then laughed to myself as I considered the huge expense of time and money commonly directed, in other areas of the country, to the eradication of these small blossoms I was so happy to see.

Everything is relative! In my deeply drought-stricken area of the high-mountain southwest, anything that manages to flower is a delight, even what some people consider to be a pernicious, pestilential weed. Up to the morning I saw the dandelions, we had had just a smattering of rain – what here we call a six inch rain – six inches between drops when one looks at the ground upon which the moisture has settled. We had a couple of these ‘scattered showers’ over the month of May, but not enough in one place or at one time to seem to have any effect. Certainly the foresters report our mountain trees are at an all-time low level of moisture content, and ripe for continued wildfire explosions. The grasslands remain dun-colored, or silvery, where last year’s dry stems still stand. Much of my pasture, and that uphill from me, is just brown – bare earth with nothing showing. No new spring green. So those six sunny flowers are a welcome hint that the scant raindrops were not totally for naught.

Fire exploded, smoke choked, and then – miraculously – we got dumped on, hail initially, enough to make everything winter white, and then a decent rainstorm two days in a row. Because of the lack of plant life to catch the water, it turned into rivers, cutting channels in the pasture and bringing a load of silt down across my front walk from the hillside behind my house. Mud everywhere. Judging by the reaction of my dogs, glorious mud, to be splashed through and liberally distributed around their sleeping porch. It is drying and apt to become dust once again, as the weather is predicted to be once again hot and dry for the coming weeks. Maybe, just maybe, nonetheless, we may see tenacious wildflowers later in the season.

For now, I have to accept that natural color is mostly limited to what I see on the feathered visitors to my bird feeder. I’m a bit of a bird watcher, but not a bird identifier, so I can’t list the ones that visit, only note when there are new species that I haven’t seen here before. Perhaps because of the drought? At the moment the feeder is dominated by small, familiar, finch-like brown birds with red above their beaks and down their breasts. They make me aware that I have not seen robins so far this year – but have been startled to see bright Baltimore orioles, which are only occasional visitors to this area. Doves and scrub jays routinely fly in and push the smaller birds aside. Now a raven has sent the doves and jays scattering to the ground, to collect what they can find that has dropped over the edge of the feeder.

As I write, clouds are building again, and there’s at least a hint of promise they may coalesce into the dark grey which promises rain. We used to see these clouds, beginning in early July and appearing all summer. They indicated a monsoon pattern that brought us our summer rains. We’d wake to a clear, sunny sky and know we needed to do outdoor activities – go for a horseback ride, weed the garden, get laundry out on the line – finished before lunch time, when the clouds would gather and bless us with moisture. It’s been ten years or more since we’ve had to time activities to the weather. Ten years, instead, of sniffing the air for early signs of fire, of watching the sky anxiously, as wisps of white turned to grey – not wet grey but burning grey. Weeks of smoky air, damaging to breathe, forcing us to stay inside with doors and windows closed despite high daytime heat. Few homes in my area have air conditioning because we’ve been accustomed to daily breezes and cool night time temperatures to regulate the indoor atmosphere.

Maybe this season will be different? More like “it used to be”? That row of smiling mini-suns by the barn, and the rains of these past few days, suggest the possibility of a break in the drought, in the fires, in the smoke and danger and loss. It’s going to be a big year for cicadas on the East Coast. Might we hope for it to be a big year for thunder clouds and rains out here in the far-too-dry Southwest?

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3 Responses to “Harbingers”

  1. Armand Saiia Says:

    Trying to grow and make my living in this drought has been life changing . Drought has changed the South west and it’s inhabitance for maybe 10,000 years so my challenges are not new. Non the less working to build a reliable local food network is no walk in the park . Come visit INFINITY FARM and see for yourself .

  2. Ron Maltais Says:

    Harbingers reminded me how sensitive we are to subtle changes in our environment in the southwest. As a native of the northeast I now marvel at the abundance of water in New England and the intense greens those inhabitants enjoy throughout the summer months. Here we could easily worship a single blade of grass which might magically appear during our prolonged dry periods. A few years ago we finally got some regular rains in mid July and the wildflowers quickly sprouted only to be zapped by the first frost in the fall just as their flower buds were beginning to open. That was certainly cause for requiem music. The subtle desert colors appeal to me now in ways they didn’t when I arrived here 12 years ago. When I travel to the more lush environments elsewhere, my eyes almost feel assaulted by the intense colors of trees, lawns and flowers which are nearly ignored by many. As a gardener here I must be satisfied with occasional small successes, often after numerous failures; not an invaluable life lesson.

    • chelawriter Says:

      I recall that assault of intense color from my last visit to Boston in the autumn. I reveled in the variety of foliage colors, as I have done in the range of vivid flower colors when I go to San Diego each February. What I also associated with those visits ismy response to the seemingly endless supply of moisture in the air… my skin goes “aaahhh”, and my joints go “ouch”! Overall, I prefer to have happy joints, so I choose to live in a dry climate.

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