Morning. Crystalline. Cloudless. Blue. The mercury has dropped through the floor of the 30s, to my fascinated horror it is trying to arrow on down right through all the 20s without a stop, and into the teens but stays just shy of that in the early sunrise hour. The pastures are scattered with ice and I’m glad that their big irrigation hoses were emptied last night. The wide swaths of Barnyard Grass I cross are still green but frost edges each blade–it is all so sun-dazzling that were it to take any more time getting to the other side of the pasture I’d come out from it snow blind.
The scenes change before my eyes, the visions of the pastures quiver as I watch ice begin to drip and hoarfrost vanish and the edges of all things dissolve. Quickly strengthening Sun like an orchestra leader raises his baton, and the mercury responds: the First of November, the first day of the Sonoran Second Spring, whose arrival is told by the European Foxtail Grass and the annual rye volunteered by last year’s plantings, now re-sprouting suddenly and massively over half of #2 Pasture. The grass returning to the wide pradera is already an inch tall … when did that happen?! I didn’t notice it yesterday!
By noon a drowsy warmth is coming on, but rounds of chores are such that I don’t get to eat lunch for a good while; a Great Horned Owl calls in the hot 2 o’clock hour when I get to settle back into a steep bank of The Stockpond and open the lunch mochila. It is almost 80 degrees; it is almost 60 degrees above the temperature at dawn. All the water is a startling algal bloom color of antifreeze, and the heat has brought awake from their morning’s frozen stupor many insects to come to drink from it: Tarantula Hawks, dragonflies varied and beautiful, a Painted Lady butterfly. What will it take to put them finally into dormancy, or death?
I doze off with head tilted back comfortably into a hollow in the level top of the dusty pond bank, winter Stetson lowered over my face to the nose. Nothing matches the pleasure of such a nap mid-work in so peaceful a haven, nothing so good at restoring ambition! Something wakes me, maybe my own snoring … and in the moment before I open my eyes I hear a huffing and growling even deeper than my snore, close by, and getting closer. I lift the hat and stretch my head backwards for a nervous look, without turning over, and see a world of upside-down mesquite trees on blue sky, and the long face and little eyes of an upside-down champion-size Javelina coming at me all a-bristle, grunting, angry and meaning business, about ten feet away. “WaaaaaahhhHHHHH!”, I belt out my own growl, flip sideways and let out another, but the single-minded critter’s brain seems to have shut down and it comes forward even more aggressively. In another try at returning the animal’s belligerence in hopes of scaring it off ( <*<yawn>*> … how tedious to have lost my nap …) I stretch up standing as tall as I can, curve high my arms and open wide my hands while screeching like the mythical Onza and take a step towards the Javelina, but on comes the bedeviled thing that wants back this waterhole for its troupe. I wonder if those animals drew lots to see who’d go do this–they sure picked the right one. I back up a couple steps, do the bear impersonation again, the Javelina bristles up even more and quickens its step forward. One more try at this bluff and I’ve backed into the edge of the pond, and the realization sets in with a sickening mental squall that there’s no choice but to run into the water–backwards–so I could keep steady eye on the situation, or at least try to. Onward the unhappy thing comes, right to the edge of the water as I keep stumbling in reverse but now splashing and kicking up swirls of the blackest goo, blind to what is behind me, and I guess I’m going to have to skip out backwards into the middle of that mud and water I have never wanted to touch. Just when Cousin Javelina starts to come on in after me, I hit a trip wire: barbed strands that stretch the tall pond-filling riser to the air pocket releasing sniffer a little ways down the water main that’s buried in the mud. And … over … I … go, still screeching out, sideways and down and fall flat into water that must be a soup of intestinal parasites and who knows what else in the deep bottom of an age’s accumulation of black and syrupy cattle manure. Oh the smell that welled into the air … the wild splashing to find the footing to get back up standing … the wave of black muck that covered me with an odor that makes me retch–NOW the Javelina decides this creature it’s decided to attack might better have been avoided, and after a quick panicked snort of “Why, just look at the time!”, it trots off fast and huffing, to the extended family on the other side of the grove of mesquites, and they’re gone. The irrigation is running, and I realize I can turn the handle on that pond riser hydrant to get such a blast of water that I’m peeled of the mud covering boots, Wranglers, shirt, and what little skin that’s ever exposed anyway to the Sonoran Desert sun. Though I’m clean in not much more than an instant with the convenient power washing, a certain miasmic smell lingers, as does an ear-pounding, worked-up tension that will take its time to fade off. It’s not the first such event, and won’t be the last, I think to myself, and I also think to myself that the reason cowboys wore a side arm was to drop or scare off the Adventure of the Day–keep his skin, keep his life going long enough for the next horse to try to drag him across the rocks and cactus and that he must stop literally dead in its track if he is to live, or until the next skunk or bobcat wants to tear him up and get those clever rabies bugs into him, or stop a Mojave Rattler who has experienced a loss of composure and comes zinging after him.
More bugs, beetles, and spiders fill the air and creep in the grassland in the strong afternoon sun–around The Cienega, blue or green or deep copper dragonflies and one small one that’s pale bronze and very shiny, and blue damselflies … a gigantic katydid … a pale brown, very small jumping spider. No matter the November date some of these are ones I haven’t seen heretofore, and that I suspect are just now starting their flickering candle quickly extinguished life on the planet. Among the new ones in the bermudagrass are a few brilliantly colored, small beetles in shape like a blister beetle, green, with three pairs of black polka dots showing down the length of the “back” when the insects are at rest. Afraid they are indeed blister beetles, I dare not harry them; I name them “Polka Dot Beetles”.
I am distracted by a Vermillion Flycatcher still hanging on in the valley, and almost step square onto the back of a Striped Skunk who–I am so thankful!–merely ambles off grumbling about its klutzy human neighbor. I’ve lost count of the number of similar encounters I’ve had with skunks in the pastures on both sides of The River over the years, all of them without having come to an unhappy end. Luck? or do skunks have a mostly undeserved bad rap, at least if they’re not rabid?