Dia de los Birds of Prey, this must be. My eyes come to be welded to a Merlin doing a thrilling slow, then rocketing, then suspended-in-air ballet and when I turn my head to the side what I look right into are the eyes of a Harrier sailing in straight for my face, something that’s become a real habit of this bird! It tilts slightly, glides over my head, as laid back as a stoned hippie. It obviously doesn’t care what my business may be, and goes about its own chores unperturbed by my presence. A short while later there comes a Peregrine in a stoop down over the pastures, it races over the Meadowlarks who scream out and bolt blindly off in different directions to be anywhere but there.
The globs of silk webs that have lately been appearing at the tips of small mesquites in the pastures are decorated with the tiny dried mesquite leaflets, much as are the coverings of bagworms. Inside there is no worm or larva–but spiders, very showy spiders, black with white stripes and spots. Their silk hiding place must be a tight little shanty for them on these cold nights.
Mesquite seeds are still sprouting fresh green pairs of cotyledons from cow poop, to give us joyous chores of some Christmas Yet to Come when the trees they’ve grown into have to be pulled with incomparably more effort.
Not a grasshopper, not a dragonfly. These fields can be almost motionless for days, and silent, and then suddenly as happens today a tree will fill with Lark Sparrows and their whistles, cheeps and bright chattering.
Lots of ducks whistling in, and fast–Mexican Mallards and Northern Mallards and everything on the “hybrid” continuum between the two. A few small Bronze Dragonflies are about, and the giant Great Blue Heron who might want to snatch them out of the air.
Over the pastures: a Kestrel, yellow-green grasshoppers, a single pale yellow small butterfly, a single war-torn Pipevine Swallowtail, and Polka Dot Beetles seemingly well adapted to nights below freezing. Large flocks of Winter plumaged Red-winged Blackbirds that hide in the silver-and-gold bermudagrass take off and do aerial moves wondrous to see, “pit-tickkk! pit-tickk!” they chatter. They may not be as colorful as they are in Summer, but they’re just as elegant in their seasonally appropriate tweeds that set off so beautifully their black, much fanned. They move around constantly, all fly out of sight, all fly back–but they’re less frantic to go to another pasture if the cows are with them. The flocks come along horizontally, in a flat, broad bunches, then every bird drops suddenly like a stone and vanishes in the tall grass.
Dawn is sparkling clean, a Great Blue Heron is at The Stockpond and the new snows on Mount Lemmon and the Rincon peaks shine down from that giddily high country. Even down here the morning air is a deeply cold 20 degrees, but by 9:00 am when the irrigation can be started it’s enough above freezing that the water systems can function. The big hoses will certainly have to be emptied this evening! Though Vernal Winter is looking more like plain old Winter, there are moths lit in the headlights at day’s end.
Passing squalls … sun … blue sky … squalls … clouds piled high on those mountains a mile above this valley’s floor. In place of Sweat Bees, a half inch of water lies in the bottom of the rain gauge.
Rained in the night, the dawn is colder, the rain continues through morning. The cold increasing as the hours move along tells it is the moment, then, when Autumnal Spring becomes Vernal Winter. The high of 55 in the wet feels downright frigid.
I wake in the Cowboy Caravan (the RV most everyone else calls, “The Chateau”) in a cozy, humid warmth, with rain pattering down through mesquite, rain that brings in the delirious fragrance of Creosote Bush drifting from far off in the deserts that surrounds us. It is dark all day.
The Arthropods have stripes today, including a spider in a web in the little mesquites, with zebra legs. Rain could be felt a-building, maybe not today but the sky all around and the odd light on the land announced it, and I check the rain gauge to empty it of dead flies. There are no flies, but instead in the bottom are two dead little bees, and two that still live. One is frantic, angry, half of it metallic Mallard green with the other, rear half black and white zebra-striped: that most perfectly named Metallic Green Sweat Bee. The two dead ones lie curled up below, their bodies instead are ultramarine though equally metallic, equally beautiful.
It’s still pleasantly warm enough that frogs are jumping into The Stockpond at my approach, the cold that will come at the trailing edge of the expected storm will put an end to their very long party and these are the last I’ll see and hear. No dragonflies buzz along over the frog-rippled water today.
As I scurry about opening hydrants to get the day’s seedling pasture watering started, I spy something that stops me cold for a second: what looks like a puppy obviously dead, out in the field edge quite far from the road. Once the irrigation chore is got into motion, it cannot be stopped without dire consequences and I can tell from the angle of the limbs that the poor fella will be no less dead if I concentrate on getting the irrigation properly going. In some little while I hesitantly approach it, only to see that it isn’t something that had ever been animate: it’s a stuffed toy! How, oh how, did this end up there? I find something else to do on purpose and so stall returning until I’m nagged too much by curiosity, and with a mixture of fascination and creepiness I walk up to it with a long stick, and turn it over. Will it blow up? Did it fall from a plane? Was it dropped by a Mexican child who had to let it go and is right now suffering from the loss of this friend … or suffering far worse things? It’s not a puppy. It’s a cow, and not just any cow, but a purple cow! Well, actually a white Holstein with large lavender spots. I name it Ogden. I just can’t bring myself to touch it for most of the day, it’s all so disturbing. Finally I come back and carry Ogden to the fence along The Lane and leave it still within the pasture, and plan to pick it up from there later. Our cow Mycha, however, in the meantime had noticed there’s something new there, and when I come back later I find her with her head pushed as far as she can stretch it right through the barbed wire fence, with Ogden’s head inside her mouth, and she’s chewing him like cud. “Damn it, heyyyyy! Get out of there!” I bark … Mycha has chewed off both of Ogden’s little Holstein horns, nearly severed the left ear, and eaten off his right eye though he is rather cleaner from all the slobber.
I take Ogden home and sit him upright on a shelf in the window of the new Cowboy Caravan, despite the risk of his coming alive at Midnight. If he does he’ll be able to function pretty normally, after Pat made him new horns and got one ear reattached …
It’s not cold, oddly, after the “winter front” passes through. Is it a specter of Global Warming, and what does that portend? Instead, the day soars to 80 degrees and this brings out great numbers of dragonflies around The Stockpond, and massive flights of the little Polka Dot Beetle. Some of those beetles sport brilliant blue abdomens.
The miniature annual “Mediterranean Grass” (a Schismus sp.), most beautifully green, is germinating in every bare spot across the pastures. It is tiny, but the cows will avidly seek it out.
Only two Poorwills in the road dust on my twilight drive home–and they will be the last of these mysterious yet engaging birds that either take a long winter’s nap here, or slip into Mexico in the night while we ourselves sleep.
The day’s range of temperatures spans only 15 degrees–neither cold nor hot–and so with this second Pacific front the Sonoran Desert year’s quiet season’s weather pattern is set. A sprinkle comes to us and our ranges, but no more than that; all that’s really to be had from this storm is a high and annoying wind who desiccates the germinating pasture grasses. A few dragonflies manage to hover on through it all.
Mesquites are sprouting from the seeds left behind by cows in piles of manure. London Rocket (mustard), too, showing millions of pairs of cotyledons; Sweet Clover is in lush, sudden renewal low to the ground in #2 Pasture; the handsome flat rosettes of what will be tall Gaura next warm season suddenly are just there, having scattered themselves through the native grass plantings. So are woven together this year and next, on the loom Arizona’s multiple and complex seasons, a marvelously eye-catching quilt that decorates no other land but ours. Just now it is Autumnal Spring–sometimes long lasting, always delightful, sometimes regrettably short.