A most pleasant, warm day range riding the Sonoran Desert uplands, basking on horseback in 80 degrees. The season progresses undeniably, though, the colors of the dried and drying forbs, shrubs and grass autumnal. Most everything is fading from whatever color they were, towards a universal straw and bronze–even the Creosote Bush leaves–the Fairy Duster is purple, the Morning Glories are open brown stars holding seeds, they’re a haze of fuzz catching the light and as decorative as when the large blue flowers were open in a wetter time. Wind hisses through thorns in the narrow passages among one Saguaro’s impossible number of arms. Yet, the arroyo floors are bright green, where Palo Verdes and even the mesquites aren’t bothering to ready themselves for Winter. The main bed of the Rio San Pedro, much farther below, is still as lush and Cottonwoods down there as sparkling green as on any Summer day.
Individual leaves on Old Man Hackberry by The Stockpond are turning yellow, dropping slowly one by one from the mostly green canopies to the ground. The cows are wild for them, crunch them up like bright little potato chips. A Buckeye Butterfly soars over the leaf litter, camouflaged by its wonderfully complex and colorful wing patterns of eyes, spots and bars.
The whistles of four unseeable Bluebirds drift down from high overhead (Winter!), yet there are Rattlesnakes still in the road (Summer!)
Red-winged Grasshoppers are on the decline, but still very noticeable.
Dozens of those pipits land around me as I set up the lines to guide for Joel when he soon comes to give another try at cultivating for the winter pasture planting, and a dozen Javelina come to drink at The Cienega there. Russet the Harrier floats by me, with such grace that no one can have helped yelping out like I, “Oh! Oh, oh!” Then all the Meadowlarks fly in, join this wildlife samba rolling down the Pasture around me.
It’s an evening of delightful balminess, a Bahamian 80 degrees at sundown. A Red-tail out there looks like it’s stomping grapes, then flies off with a snake dangling long from its talons, flies low over the pasture and vanishes along with the light into the bosque.
Doves, wave upon wave of them, come flapping loudly and wing-whistling loudly … volleys of 30 or 40 birds at a time, in low over the pasture to the North, come vaulting over the mesquite tree tops. Hundreds–countless–they come, they come, they come, landing among others already rimming the entire pond, two or three at every cow pog full of water. So crowded do they become that some hover and teeter barely above the water out in the middle with bills thrust down to sip like hummers, almost falling in. The air is so full of the loudness of all this, and the whipping around of wings, and the silhouettes of ever more arriving doves, I for a moment can imagine why some people could become unsettled or even feel panic with such a level of wild activity, remember Boris Karloff’s presentation of “Pigeons from Hell” that revisted me in nightmares for most of Third Grade. You know you’re in trouble when they stop cooing.
Sky is music itself–“Chick chack chick! Chick chack chick! Chick chack chick!”, down from the passing Brewer’s Blackbirds … “Sweet sweet sweet sweet”, from the Pipits … “Chick chack chick!” … “Sweet sweet!”
The largest Tarantula Hawk ever comes thirsty to The Stockpond, where there are lots of dragonflies, damselflies and Snout Butterflies today. A relaxed covey of Gambel’s Quail drink, too, and then from the bank behind them most unwelcomingly comes popping up a Cooper’s Hawk, bringing chaos to replace the innocent peace and I can almost hear the hawk let loose a rakish “Bleuh!” just before it snags one of the quail, as if in vampire cape of approaching Halloween.
An owl hoots, in the warm 75 degrees of last light. Poorwill is friendly, not at all put out by the truck in The Lane, bounces its head up and down then rises and with fine acrobatics catches a moth bright in the headlights. We whistle and chirp, one with the other for a while until I wish it a good night’s day, then make a last stop before utter dark at The Stockpond where swallow-like bats are right at its surface taking drinks and moving across like rocks being skipped. As they fly by in zig-zag fashion they seem to flash on and off; they’re very pale, and there are very many of them.
A big hatching of insects, suspended, each one catching the light of lowering Sun–this still happening despite mornings of frost.
Still, Moon is full, rises in truly night-dark sky tonight. Under Her the horizon above half of Earth is glowing and lit: the wide desert sand and reflective cliffs and billions of glossy leaves of Creosote shining back the moonbeams must cause the incandescence. Moon rises higher, dazzling in an inky sky She robs of stars.
Dawn Moon, old ivory, glowing, cupped between the Rincon and Mt. Lemmon.
The first Barn Swallow in three weeks wings in, does not linger, is gone–and so with it are they all. It leaves behind a Great Blue Heron motionless in The Stockpond. Avian migrants on the way South, human migrants on the way North, viajeros on these multi-level highways running North and South piercing that bubble-fiction called “The Borderline”. Creatures move. It’s what we do.
Deep, dry borders of the recently arrived “African Grass” (Enneapogon) shine silver and white as late sun passes through them, beyond the River’s edge fence where the cattle can’t reach, and before a backdrop of light and dark green Cottonwoods. On every steep hill and high mesa to the West of that gallery forest of alamos, the Ocotillo have already dropped their leaves that had given their own brief but subtly exquisite fall foliage show of yellow and orange. Autumnal shadows of Creosote Bush streak long down those slopes, and drip over edges into darkening arroyos.
Full Moon, new ivory, a crown atop a rounded peak, rises into that deep blue penumbra cast by Earth out into fathomless Space. Above Moon, all the sky is pink, and as She is almost let free by mountain crown of Muleshoe wilderness, Moon seems held aloft by some priest or holy woman, a Eucharist coming to be made sanctified. Moon hovers just above the mountain, in ancient symbol, Egyptian, Hohokam, Japanese. The Creosote Bush glow.
The pastures are hushed, cold. Ice stalagmites balance on the ground below the flush valves that had drained and dripped out in the night and I hope their passages and the many small pipe fixtures aren’t blocked with ice chunks when I get to turn on the water. Mexican General Grasshoppers are still to be found motionless and stupefied on mesquite tips while the cold shadow remains thrown across to The River by the ridge to the east. Russett Harrier would find that huge grasshopper more than a morsel–it would be more like lobster tail–if the bird spies it. Many Vesper Sparrows tseep their little notes from the tangles of dried and drying amaranth, saltweed and other forbs, and Brewer’s Blackbirds alight, the females softly and subtly beautiful.
Life perks up, becomes more enthusiastic with the day, which by mid-afternoon registers above 80 degrees. The year’s last Turkey Vulture has apparently found the year’s last rising thermal wind current, and sails overhead, south … there’ll be no more of this, with that favorite avian mascot of ours. It wants to find a soft corpse for a morning meal, not something that needs to thaw. Brindle will be relieved. Adios, amigo Zopilote–saludos a Mexico! Kestrel, though, wants fresh and moving prey. He’s out hunting, and he dive-bombs a Meadowlark I guess just for the devil of it, the Meadowlark lets out panicked whistles, and alights on the tip of an electric line post with consummate grace and complains about the indignity of it all.
A lone Cassin’s Kingbird chatters farewell, the coming night that will be in the mid-20s will be too much for its temperate tastes and so no more will grace these fencelines. Every butterfly will probably be hard won from now, too, what ones the Kingbirds haven’t eaten; a Red Admiral races by, is nervous in that way of theirs.
The wide rings of Three Awn (Aristida) grass that edge the ant circles in #3 Pasture have taken on the rich colors of Autumn: within, the low walls of stems and leaves are rusty and green, and without are the palest of brown-yellow. Gazing into the depths of these wonderful natural circular sculptures is like gazing into the depths of a crystal.
Full Moon, already pendant in opalescent sky, balances within a cup in the mountain skyline when I top out on the ridge, almost “home”. The wild walls of the Galiuro, the Muleshoe, Sierra Blanca, the Mae West Peaks–all of them the color of the merlot I’m looking forward to pouring …
Although about to lose this home, still I am comfortable for some nights more, holding a glass of wine the color of those mountains, windows to shut and make cozy the room, but out there? Out there it is different, out across those bajadas marching endlessly to each horizon, on arroyo floors and in washes, the cold air will be flowing in the Sonoran Desert nights down mercilessly over beacon-drawn migrants paying a price for the starry tales they hold on to, migrants praying for a home, praying for roses to grow in a patio their own …
A False Dawn, in wintry silence on The Ridge.
One can forget that the Mallard, that every-duck, is also one of the most beautiful of waterfowl. This morning an incredibly handsome male is palling around with a little Teal on The Stockpond water; I wonder if that one in eclipse plumage of four days ago is this one, now come into its own with a brand new, very natty courting outfit.
Joel gives a go at rototilling a stretch of mesquite-cleared pasture, to see if it’s moist enough to receive the tines deeply enough, but it’s not and more watering will have to be done. I watch the days go on, and the optimum window for winter graze planting slowly being closed. Fifty or more Chihuahuan Ravens materialize from nowhere, descend on that plot, and look it over hoping to find our oats and barley, only they don’t realize we haven’t planted any yet. The Ravens know we do this every year and can read the sign that will be hung out for the easy feast … they will have their pound of seed, and that must be worked into our sowing rate!
Cooper’s Hawks are terrorizing both ponds, thrilled with the constant arrival of more thirsty birds out of the North. Migrant “traps”, all right! I know not to bother trying to find anything around them if those Cooper’s are about.
Vermillion Flycatcher numbers are up again, all immatures, but no Kingbirds to be seen now for a couple of days. Tail-pumping Gray Flycatchers are looking green and not their namesake color, in their fresh Fall plumage.
Checkerspot Butterflies are on that #3 Pasture Burroweed, even though the crowns of the plants are offering mostly fluffy seed heads to the wind, and hardly any nectar to insects. There is much coupling of grasshoppers … scandal!
The pressure on the irrigation pump seems a bit low, and I wonder if the fix we did on the deep underground main in #4 has maintained its seal. The shaft down to the break was left unfilled so that it all could be easily watched for a while, but instead of water down there (and I’m happy about that) what I do find to my alarm is a hole-bottom filled with Box Turtles that had fallen in and couldn’t get back out. They are all very much alive and don’t seem worse for their ordeal, and they scurry smartly off in every direction when they’re got out of there. That shaft will be filled in but pronto!
Lots of Devil’s Claw in that overgrown field that we don’t irrigate, the plants luxuriated in the wonderful, now gone Monsoon. Their fruits are everywhere, dangling and green still (and looking like some exotic vegetable only to be found in the trendiest of farmer’s markets) or brown and dried, and scattered about …
Dusk comes on, a pair of Peregrine Falcons tussle with each other in the air over the roof of the truck while I wait at the pump at The Stockpond for it to use up the last of the lower electric rate minutes of the day. I turn it off, and make the rounds of emptying waterlines, a chore of real winter: it is going to freeze tonight, though I can’t tell how deeply and can’t chance swelling ice breaking the fabric of the hoses. It is almost dark when the last of that work is done, and the Mourning Doves are sailing in from all sides to drink at The Cienega. In the Bottomlands moves a cold like the breathed presence of a malevolant spirit by whom Summer has been overpowered, is helpless–taken–but such brutality will never keep Summer down, not in these Spanish Borderlands.