At El Potrero, I hear a call so unfamiliar to me that I don’t even have an idea what family of birds to think singer fits into. It’s loud, yet grasshopper like and chattering and then I see it–a kingbird and not just any kingbird, but a Tropical Kingbird. The thing displays and displays until I’m sure of what I’m looking at and then flies into a large mesquite shading my winter quarters there and promptly a Western Kingbird comes screaming through the air and dive-bombs the exotic visitor, chases it off, and there’s no time to pursue. Is it in post-breeding dispersal wanderlust, as it and many of its relatives take up? or has it been there all Summer, outside my awareness?
Two very gray-looking White-faced Ibis fly wing tip to wing tip low over my head at The Stockpond but are not tempted to land on the mud of its shore; they keep on their straight-southward path.
If not Autumn, then late sumer is icumen in: now who is an old and looked for friend rises and flashes and clicks over the grass–the first Red-winged Grasshopper. It speaks of livestock Fall Works to come, and that it’s time for pastures to be grazed down to their bones then tilled and planted in oats, wheat, barley and rye, and of the intense and wearying chores of irrigating them and getting them to sprout. The snapping of the Red-winged Grasshopper speaks of getting herd arranged in the upland country, the weaning of calves before their mammas go without them on that annual trek …
It is still Summer: a Rufous-winged Sparrow perches for a moment on a fencepost near me, and it’s carrying nesting material in its beak, flies off into the Saguaro Canyon across the road. I wonder again if this sparrow’s long breeding period from early Spring to the late Monsoon, and the fact that it is in one of its high-population phases now for a couple years, doesn’t have an effect on the other rarer sparrows’ Summer presence here. Do the Cassin’s keep checking back and find that the Rufous-winged have yet to check out, so they keep looking further?
A dragonfly different from all I’ve ever seen, comes to The Stockpond for one day: the “Widow Skimmer”, with wings banded in black and very pale azure at the tips so bright those spots appeared to be white; the body is dark. It would be a dragonfly collector’s treasure …
More Gray Flycatchers (but looking rather more green than gray), I hear their friendly and familiar, frequently called out “chee-bik! chee-bik!” in most every kind of cover, or fenceline.
A Western Wood Peewee now, down from the higher, moister canyons and mountain parks a full month earlier than the arrival of that species a year ago. An autumnal August indeed but the wobbles back and forth around the 100 degrees mark. The bugs are awful. Send more Peewees, please!
Still another winter resident bird returning: the Gray Flycatcher, a little bit ahead of his crowd. Yes, August must be rethought as much a month of Autumn as it is a month of Summer.
Seven young Mexican Mallards splash in The Stockpond, and a Great Blue Heron is frozen-still, aware of a Bull Frog … and there’s a splendid, be-plumed Snowy Egret …
The first returned Loggerhead Shrike fusses and chatters a sassy greeting down to me from a mesquite top at the edge of the Dirt Tank. “Wull what’s takin’ ya so long ta git that fence rebuilt? I need to hang some meat!”
The rain has been sent to the righteous and the unrighteous, fallen on the just and unjust. The large sign that had appeared in a bottom along the Cascabel Road, the sign that gleefully, evilly added salt into wounds never to be healed, the sign sent as harbinger of this valley’s doom by SunZia announcing it’s on its way with twin rows of powerlines that will rip out our beating hearts alive as these canyons and flats are gutted and flayed in sacrifice to their god, Video Game Console and its insatiable desire for fresh energy blood, the sign telling that a comet will come of a sudden to bash out in an instant this existence of ours so rare as never to be duplicated again, that we and the wildlife have enjoyed, the sign … is gone. Uncannily accurate was the narrow, deep flash flood that must have come down out of the arroyos to the East with Biblical flare and in determined, righteous anger swept away all before it. So direct a hit was scored on that cursed sign that it seemed there was Divinity behind the event. It was pulled and torn into shreds, which we can see deposited down this old wash that hadn’t run in years, towards The River. Seeing the mangled pieces that were left as we drove by was like having had a deep and festering splinter removed from our spirits, but this relief is, we know, to be short lived.
The level of the rain water rises still–more in the gauges, more in the ponds and dirt cattle tanks, and in the two-track road ruts. A glorious mess! It feels a real “day after”, the grader working itself everywhere too, putting the road back together, fixing up one arroyo or canyon bottom crossing after another in front of me which allowed the drive south to be made, and I increasingly wonder what has happened at Mason Pastures. I find the arroyo upstream of us that was new last year is now several times wider and with a beautifully smooth, fine-grained-sand bottom left behind. As in that big storm of the Monsoon of a year ago, this flood came roaring off from the slopes of the watershed of the ranch to the East and across the Cascabel Road and on to us, but it had to have been even deeper water this time judging by the flotsam line on shrubs and fence wires, and carrying much larger rocks and debris irresistibly along that route whereby it unconsciously tried to find the Sea of Cortez. There had been a stout berm along our side of the road, outside our fence and which was meant to keep this from happening again by shuttling the flow down the bed of the road, but that wide bank now was cut right through and broadly, and the water had swept in a torrent underneath the fencewires until it had inundated the upper reach of The Lane. When that wild new river hit the next fence across its path though, the rocks and ripped out and tangled cholla from who knows what far off range, and branches and my own tree trimming piles, had come to catch on the bottom wire of a long stretch of the bottom wire I’d intended to raise to a proper height, sometime. I guess that sometime will be now, and all other projects dropped in the face of this cow-management emergency. That piled up debris had formed a dam, and when it finally burst the water then leapt over into the next pasture in what must have looked like a tidal bore 400 feet wide … the bosque was swept pretty cleanly of shrubs and Burroweeds and grasses, as was a lot of the other land beyond for a good distance towards the River, and in the place of that verdure now was a hardscape and pavement of shining sand and gray gravels and large tumble-rounded stones. It would have been something to see, but I’d probably not have lived through it to tell the tale of it. A hundred and fifty feet of the cattle fence would have to be dismantled, the posts jacked out and re-set and all of it put back together before cattle could come to the area again, which was supposed to have been today! I did not want to see what was the state of The New Canyon, that headcut that formed along the far west fenceline at the edge of the riparian woods and that was a year ago suddenly so deep where the day before was normal looking flat pasture, that a t-post and attached fence was left dangling in the air high over its wide and deep exit to The River. Sure enough there must have been an almost inconceivable amount of water funnelled to that place from all the uplands above us, even more water than last year, plus the sheet flooding of a quickly-fallen 2″ rain that came down evenly over the whole upper end of that #3 Pasture. So now New Canyon was even deeper, and some feet wider, and a couple of the mesquite trees that had collapsed off the now even higher bank had been punched out the opening and swept into The River, as was also most of the mesquite brush we’d piled across to keep the cows from escaping during the last year into the jungled thickets in that bottom. The headcut had migrated another fifty feet upstream as well and of all these outcomes, that was the most concerning. Instead of being ripped out or undercut, the 100 feet of fence starting at the south rim of New Canyon was left buried enough that its top wire came to a level below the bottom of my belt, which meant that any number of our cows could simply step over it and into the riparian forest, and there aren’t any of a rancher’s many sins than that would be. This stretch of fence too would have to be rebuilt before the herd could go safely back into that pasture and the hole out to The River filled with a wall of thorny mesquite branches.
And so I go back up to the Tall Water Tank, letting out sighs of resignation and buckets of sweat in the close air of the morning, to start somewhere, anywhere, removing piles of cholla and sand, pulling the supply hose for the water flow out of the horribly prickly tangled mass of cholla and rocks in which it’s buried in great knots or stretched out through and under rock piles on the wrong side of the fence. I hope it functions right away soon as this is straightened out, the cattle need that metal stock tank’s level to be raised or they’ll all go into The Stockpond and churn it into a quagmire. I’m surrounded by wreckage, but can’t let myself imagine the amount of work nor exactly what it will take to bring this all aright, when we already have so many other things long waiting to be done or fixed …
Well the creek come up
took the water gap down
our yearlings were nowhere to be found
it had only taken us a week
to gather ’em all
it’d be easier
to gather ’em
the second time around
at least that’s what I thought until
I seen Shorty there lookin’ blue:
just before we’d left for town
he’d turned our horses out there too–
they went with the yearlings (heh hah) …
naw, the romance ain’t completely gone
to this cowboy life we’ve chose
but the bliss that I was countin’ on–
well it comes and then it goes …
–Gail Steiger, “The Romance of Western Life”
The Romance of Western Life
Provided to YouTube by CDBaby The Romance of Western Life · Gail Steiger The Romance Of Western Life ℗ 2007 Released on: 2007-01-01 Auto-generated by YouTube.
And the level of the rain water in the gauges rises … and rises, most every day more added. Nice rains, slowly soaking rains, lots of rains. And then–this wild day, when I holed up on Firesky Ridge to which I had speedily to flee north from Mason’s ahead of the wall of clouds whipping up from Sonora that would make the washes and arroyos run with enough violence to close off the roads behind me, and to have The River sweep down out of Mexico at last …