Tag Archives: Rain

August 31, 2016

People on the desert long enough
on a certain day about this time
in August feel
and taste
and see
a shift in the afternoon light and
shadows and breeze, and the
oppression of heavy air
lifts off and away
from each

and they let out a sigh
and breathe back in
a new Season
under another
desert Sun

Day after day the temperature tries to reach 100 degrees, and I take it for granted that as a diamond is said to be, the Sonoran Desert Summer is forever. But then–there is a morning like this one come, when coffee in hand I slip into the patio in the dark and wonder what is wrong, what is different. It sinks in, the world has gone silent, no notes from Purple Martins echoing down from stars, all is still and empty, not even a cricket though as the Autumn will, when it comes to its own winding down, have nights again in cricket song. We can get pretty gladly through every afternoon now that still sizzles, every still mid-morning with its drenching humidity, for we know we’re on our way to one of those months whose weather the World must envy, months that bookend that hot time the snowbirds famously flee in panic. This year there have been few storms violent enough to alarm much, nor did the house get hit by lightning and neither did the power pole and lines so no blackouts of more than a few minutes, the WiFi box never got fried once much less its usual several times, no tornado-like microbursts to upend and throw the patio furniture around.

The wide drifts on every flat and mesa-top of brilliant yellow flowers of Hierba de San Nicolas (Thymophylla acerosa) aren’t making a grand show this year, though there are scattered plants low underfoot on Firesky Ridge and they are still in bud, seemingly staying in an arrested state. Neither have I noticed any vines of the naturalized, exquisitely blue Morning-glory, begin their climb through the branches of Creosote Bush along the roadside. In this area of Cascabel the rain accumulation is about an inch and a half less than last year’s Monsoon’s, could that be why we haven’t had this flower display that is one of the delights of late Summer? Or is it that the rains have come at the “wrong” moments? (Mason Pastures, only a few miles away, received much more rain as storm cells passed over them than has come to Ridge House, and their Native Grass Planting has come back to life and greenery spectacularly. It turned out all right to have taken that chance and not watered them from the irrigation well.) The crop of mesquite beans everywhere is no more than half its usual plenty, and many trees have no beans on them at all–another case of rain falling at the wrong time? Many local folk tell that a rain coming at the height of bloom will abort the work of those sweetly scented blossoms, or mold the anthers and pollen but also this year the cattle herd hasn’t gone after the pods on the ground in the manic and addictive way they always do. Perhaps the cows with their oh-so-discriminating palettes have warned the community we shouldn’t expect the flavor of this Fall’s ground flour to be any better than so-so!

At those Mason Pastures the brood of Ash-throated Flycatchers in the post have long ago hatched and fledged, and by tomorrow–September–they’ll have left for the Pacific Coast of Mexico. I’m filled with a longing to go with these birds when they leave for where Summer itself will be migrating too, let go all this Romance of Western Life …

After the Sun is up and I’m watering the flowers on the patio, what is unmistakably some vireo begins singing out on the Creosote Bush flats, and it’s one I haven’t heard before. Bob had listened to a differently-voiced vireo at his place a couple of ridges away and in much the same sort of upland desert country during Spring migration this year; he identified it as a Gray Vireo, one of the “uncommon and local” species sought out by naturalists who travel a long way to visit southern Arizona. The bird here stays close to the house a good while, long enough for me to find recordings of Gray Vireo songs on the Internet and play them right along with what was coming from a Palo Verde. The real and the recording matched note for note, and so a “Lifer” bird is delivered right to the house before I even get on all my work clothes!

Too many kingbirds on the wires with obviously notched tails, birds that haven’t read the field guides (as Ralph says)–that tail shape is supposed to be the mark of the Tropical Kingbird. They’re silent though, not like that bird at El Potrero that gave itself away with its chattering. In the study of natural history there must be art, intuition, science. Making of friends with the notion that there will be birds, butterflies and bugs, that will not be identified even if you hold them in your hand, also helps. To strive for a life solved of all mysteries is hubris.

A “bug” lands noisily on a shrub next to me, oh it’s large, frightening enough that no one would think of holding it in the hand to identify, or get too close to its mysteries. It is more than intriguing enough to demand being wondered over. Looks can be deceiving and that was what this insect unmistakably mimicking the Tarantula Hawk must be all about! I first take it for one of those Tarantula Hawks that are visiting the Graythorns but then see how its strong black legs bow out to the sides, then come back together and are held in a tight row where it clasps the stem (picture a scissors jack) and the head was that of a fly, not a wasp, with large and bulbous eyes sticking out at the sides. The colors perfectly match the wasp it must imitate–the same orange-red and black–and the pattern fools the eye of the human and I’d guess this insect’s prey. Much of the body is black, but it’s the very long, fat abdomen that is orange, rather than the wings. What the insect does on landing is fold those wings long and straight over the abdomen, the wings are clear with tiny black veins and see-through enough that it appears suddenly indeed that they are what’s orange like those of the big wasp! Have I been fooled myself all this time, or is this something appearing on this desert only lately? (Later I mention it to Kathleen, who tells she has been seeing this very monster insect the last couple of years at 3-Links and was also sure it is a Tarantula Hawk mimic. As it turns out we are not alone in seeing it, and it is indeed a newly arrived and spreading species come north from South of the Border. This “Mexican Robber Fly”, Archilestris magnificus, was first recorded north of The Border here only about 2007 and that first published photograph from Arizona then caused a sensation in the world of entomology. Lately it has suddenly crossed over from rarity to “oh, there’s another one” from Arivaca through Cochise County. It does not sip nectar or nip pollen like the Pepsis wasps, but is a voracious carnivore on the wing snagging bugs and insects who presume it is looking for either a flower or a Tarantula, not for them.

Nine teal drop out of the sky, skittering, falling, completely out of control but completely in control, land like cannonballs with such a splash that they cause a mini-tsunami against the bank of hard-grazed Barnyard Grass. One swims warily, quickly away from the truck, shows fully a wing speculum of cobalt blue … she reaches the far shore of Barnyard Grass, turns forty-five degrees and the gem of that speculum lights wildly into an emerald that would raise the avarice of a jewel thief eyeing the Topkapi. A Great Blue Heron is unmoving in this wild splash-down of Green-winged Teal though perhaps he’s grinding his mandibles over the fright it will have set off among what’s left of the huge Bullfrogs he hasn’t yet dispatched. Heron remains implacable, inscrutable. He has an image to maintain.

September, tomorrow, the month larger numbers of Great Blue Herons begin to arrive, northern birds that will stay for the Winter …

So when the shadows lengthen
leaves have turned to dust
first there’s Summer, then
I’ll let you in,
September,
when it comes …

I watch the clouds go sailing
I watch the clock and Sun,
oh I watch myself
depending on
September,
when it comes

–Rosanne Cash and John Levanthal, “September When It Comes”

August 4, 2016

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.

August 3, 2016

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
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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.

August 2, 2016

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 …

August 1, 2016

The chubascos come and they come, stirring the largest and most massive eruptions of flying ants I’ve ever seen hatch on the Desert. They simply fill the air, and getting through them on the roads in the truck is like driving through dark snow squalls, with black ice pellets rattling on the windshield. The sound makes my skin crawl. I race along to the Community Center under a sky that means business, walk quickly as can be managed up the rocky slope above and have some unreasonable hope that we’ve got somewhere with eliminating Buffelgrass up there and I won’t have to be delayed into being bait for the lightning that is already a-flash. And–there is no Buffelgrass! not a plant, not a seedling. Native grasses in new and surprising variety blanket everywhere, including the spaces we’d made by having pulled out Buffel over the last couple of years. A Cassin’s Sparrow sings out across the gulf of that wide arroyo as I rush into the truck! (The bird is all over the place this year, every spot but Mason’s that is, where I most expected them to return.) I have to get up the wash bottom near El Potrero to see about that formerly serious Buffelgrass colony I call Yvonne’s Buffelgrass Gulch, once full of the dangerous plants that had stair-stepped up from the sandy bottom flat right up to the mesa crest. Do I have a brain? Why do I end up doing this thing so often when there is the threat of getting turned into burnt toast by lightning? It’s not like life in these wilds isn’t thrilling enough that we need to search out even more excitement.

The lightning is coming in pairs by the time the search for clumps and seedlings of that Buffelgrass is wrapped up and the slope gives me to know the plants, here too, are gone!

July 28, 2016

Pat and I ride our horses across the higher range, forlorn of the company of cows now gone so that the native grasses can grow their flowers and seeds to sow again the hillsides and bajadas. We search out Summer flowers but the land is mostly forlorn of their company, too, the rains have been so scant. There is almost no crop of Saguaro fruit again this year, alas! and we’ll miss gobbling them down. The first blossoms of Barrel Cactus are coming on though (nothing stops them); with their varied colors, and the animated shapes of the plants’ bodies, they make for good reason to saddle and go out on a 105 degree day–as this one will be. As we climb one slope and mesa after another we come on one Cassin’s Sparrow and another singing, each having staked out a territory in this Summer of grass that has responded to and made lush by that one big rain at the beginning of the month. The thunderheads a few days ago started building at last, and the rain in the gauges slowly to rise. How we celebrate this afternoon, when three-quarters of an inch fills them!

July 2, 2016

When Monsoon after her opening fiesta lifts the hem of her skirt of clouds enough above her ankles to wade in the arroyos she’s left running, all this land lies drenched and steaming.

Over a half inch of rain begins High Summer and the temperature soars from the delight of a cool 80 degrees yesterday to well past 90 today. The smallest of effort to push myself into #3 Pasture to listen for Botteri’s Sparrows pulls sweat to wet and darken the work shirt. No, no Botteri’s–but yes, yes! for a second day comes the rich, descending, see-sawing whistles of Cassin’s. They may have been here already but they do not let go their songs until rain actually falls for if it doesn’t, why waste the swagger and the aerial dance of courtship? Will they stay even if the much rarer Botteri’s has abandoned us and apparently withdrawn to their more usual range closer to The Border? The presence of the Cassin’s Sparrows is exciting and deeply satisfying enough to us and the Forest Service and the pastures, now after so much work of the past few years has turned the wide almost sterile Burroweed flats into the kind of mosaic of those shrubs and the native grasses that this “Species of Concern” might want to call home.

Those overgrown “ducklings” of the Mexican Mallard pair head for the shore whenever the Silverado appears at The Stockpond, move up through the weeds away from me crouched almost flat to the ground, quickly and more like lizards than large birds that can fly off if they want to. Black Phoebes have appeared again in good numbers through the pastures but especially in the branches overhanging the open water, after having been absent most of the Foresummer and early Summer. Where do they come back from?

June 28, 2016

Just before midnight the sky comes undone, its seams rip open and great flashes of lightning loosed from its rents and even greater booms that shake the window glass–then the wall of rain slams into the Ridge House from the north. Everyone I know is up and figuring they might as well enjoy the drama of the first storm even if the lights of the valley have gone out soon after it all began. The world on our Desert and how we dance with it is changed, utterly, the empty glasses of a thousand thirsts forgotten in the rage of the downpours …

Merciless heat like a furnace blasting
desolate waste, no shadows casting
watch him–now his horse he’s leading …
horse is down, stretched out and dying
horseman kneels, to the sky is crying
watch him–hear the mournful pleading:
Demon Desert!…
–Sons of the San Joaquin, “Watch Him (Demon Desert)

June 1, 2016

I built me a homestead
way out on a desert
a great sandy desert
and I didn’t know why
and when it was finished
I sat on my doorstep
and stared at my desert
and stared at my sky …

–cowboy song collected by Tucson’s Katie Lee, in her “Ten Thousand Goddam Cattle”

In their timetable precision Yellow-billed Cuckoos–the “Rain Crow” of my father’s long ago Virginia country childhood–have arrived and call out around all the bosque of El Potrero. Rain would indeed be nice and if the birds will bring some well by Heaven, we’ll take it! In the whole of May all of 0.03″ fell on us. I heard my first cuckoo of the year at Mason Pastures yesterday, and Kathleen reports one from the day before that. One has to be careful in this because the Yellow-breasted Chats and even the Mockingbirds have worked the cuckoo chortles into their mimid repertoires. They are one of those birds that are either here or they aren’t, of a sudden on the first of this month that people brace themselves for, the cuckoos seem to drop out of the sky all at once and over the whole of the San Pedro. They complete the cycle of arrival of Summer residents and Spring migrants and tell that the fun and expectations of the avian parade is now brought to fullness for the year already and that yes, Foresummer and its splendid challenges is upon all us animals.

Gorgeous Western Tanagers all around The Pond, in the branches, on the water’s edge. A pair of Great Blue Heron fly off, perch each atop adjacent wheels of the side roll irrigator in the Native Grass Area beyond the barbed wire fence. Balancing on a cinder block jutting from the water, I go to open the fill-valve of the pond but a movement catches my eye, and through the now clear water (The Pond has for a year been mostly left unroiled by the cattle who now water at the refurbished metal tank some distance away) I see a large turtle, somewhat egg shaped in outline, lying flat and comfortable on the mud bottom grazing on a beautiful “new” aquatic weed that colonized The Pond after the herd stopped defecating into it. There are a dozen or more aquatic plants Arizona Game & Fish is on the watch for as invasive, is this yet another? Is the turtle? Taking its size into consideration I think the turtle most likely is. It’s gray with sediment built up on its shell and it would have to be caught and scrubbed if the marks diagnostic for the species were to be seen … I don’t think of trying, it’s hard to believe it’s let me get this close without zooming off out of sight into deeper water. It stays submerged as happily as any submarine, unbothered by my hovering over it.

October 19, 2015

When did we notice we weren’t noticing Monarchs any more?  At last! … yesterday Pat and I were returning to El Potrero over the uplands of our Cascabel Pasture and revelling in the splendor of this year’s range with thunderstorms round about the east and south horizons, when suddenly my attention was focussed away from getting toasted by a bolt of lightning to a single Monarch Buttefly sitting out on the tip of a Palo Verde branch.  Like many of us, I grew up with Monarchs: in mid 20th century they were as ubiquitous as white bread, so much so that a kid butterfly collector couldn’t be bothered with chasing, preparing and mounting one or giving one space in a display frame.  For Monarchs, all you had to do was look outside.  Who’d ever have thought that in our lifetime the taken-for-granted creature would become poster-bug of the environmentalist set?  Yet even I, who test for faddishness every threatened and endangered alarm that “trends”, was stopped in my and Loompy’s tracks by the shimmering and orange and black and leaded-glass window wings of old friend Monarch.  “Where have the decades gone?”, I asked him.  While I’ve watched and watched and watched over the summers and autumns, I was never able to turn any of our common Queen Butterflies into this now-charismatic Monarch.  I had forgotten how startlingly different the two species look one from the other, until yesterday when even from a good distance this butterfly was so obviously neither a Queen nor a Viceroy but yes, a Monarch.  It sailed off, looking for more nectar, which it sure won’t be having any hard time finding, the range is so in bloom and has been straight through from those first wildflowers of February to now even in October and likely on into November.  This seems to be another Spring for a number of those same earlier species!  I don’t see milkweeds in those uplands, however, though there is a boom in climbing Sarcostemma below in the valley bottoms for them.  We’re still riding Nimby and Loompy through gardens and seemingly arranged displays of pink Fairy Duster, purple, yellow, or blue “composites” in near overwhelming array, and even Ocotillo and desert Sumac coming back into flower.  It just fills one with wonder.