Bats and Nighthawks are taking their final sips as their shift ends, the woods around is dark and the creatures themselves invisible, but the pond surface catches enough dawn to show their reflections and so I can only see them upside down. Nothing is as it seems in the crepuscule.
I go about the usual circles, opening the irrigation, back to the pump to turn it on, out to the pastures to see that all is operating well and efficiently using that priceless water, adjust sprinklers, unscrew nozzles to clear out grit and pebbles the pump has sucked up and that will clog an opening (and so I get the usual soaking which still feels cold with the dawn standing at 50 degrees), then swing on back to The Stockpond to see who has come now the sun is heading towards the cliff bottoms. Just the usual neighbors hangin’ out at the cafe: warblers, sparrows, tanagers. Ernest Tubb undoubtedly in a cowboy hat twangs out from the dashboard and from 1950, “I Love You Because”. I sip coffee, munch a tortilla, munch on the day’s cow chores, munch on all the fences that are also twanging out and popping off their posts. I think back to when a ranch visitor almost twenty years ago asked me one dawn in the cooktent if I thought it was going to rain, and I answered him, “Yessir, eventually.”
No Western Tanagers, they seem to have left en masse.
The dark shade of large and dense mesquites invites me to take lunch up on the rim of an old stocktank that still collects the runoff from the hills across the road if a storm cell dumps water in just the right canyon above. I can look down from that bank top at the wheel lines and can see their watering stop when the pump shuts itself off before the 1 pm peak hour rates begin. The scenes below on the fields and above on the hills and mountains and the cool shade invite a siesta though I must beware the large ants foraging around me. At least I must not roll over on any. An orange from some place far from this foodshed is my desert, the peels are left for a favorite steer who has learned to eat them. A thought comes: we humans are no less (and no less legitimate) recyclers of biomass than are those mahogany-colored ants (or gophers for that matter), the difference being only of scale. We do it on a continental, even planetary, scale. I’ve been at the bottom of those orange skins becoming the humus of a spot very far from where they were brought into being by the natural processes and cycles in their homeland, or bioregion if you will, and I’ve been responsible for their being added to the biomass (and decomposing litter) in this one. Humus is neither created nor destroyed, but transferred from one place to another? Multiply that by the rest of what I eat in a day, and that again by 7 billion of us, and we will know that indeed we are changing more than just the Earth’s climate. Will the result be any less “natural” an outcome than what should have happened here without us?
The mesquites are gravid with pods, though many trees are still in bloom and I take in delicious, deep drafts of the sweetness, allergies be damned. The calves are eating the flower spikes as if they were popsicles, their mammas reaching higher for the even headier and protein-rich catkins of Catclaw Acacia, with blossoms that fill the air with an indescribably rich fragrance one might only come on in perfume shops hidden down tangled alleys of old Mombasa.
Seven almost-grown Mule Deer join me on the pasture as I head out across to turn down the risers to conserve untold thousands of gallons of water that would keep flowing out if I didn’t. It is always a big hassle to do this, but I don’t dare waver from the chore. The deer are unsure of me yet also quite unafraid and they let me approach closely as I tend to my own business at hand. They come to graze on the yellow sweet-clover which in its tall drifts is loudly abuzz with honeybees, and there is the maturing barley, oats, wheat and rye, the globemallow, bermudagrass and saltweed for them and the javelina, Coues’ Deer, jackrabbits and cottontails–and the cattle.
These Mule Deer have the same power to enchant as the Catclaw blooming at the pastures’ edges, are so startling in their near-tameness as to seem visitors from one of the Yaqui ania “dream worlds” (if dream they be) where all is flowery and the streams do run. The Yaquis would understand how all in the crepuscule here is not as it appears, living as they do at the other book-end of this Sonoran Desert where their own rio comes to the sea, or at least used to. As I learned from spending a winter in the extreme south of Sonora, everyday life at the opposite shore of this desert is in many ways like ours, at least here in this wild valley of unpaved roads and people who know that as with the word “cowboy”, “neighbor” is both noun and verb.
The physical surroundings of that far land in Sonora take little adjusting to if once you have become at-home on the San Pedro, and I look up from the Mule Deer to hills and peaks that remind me of that beloved part of Mexico. The colors at this season, above the lush riverbottom flats I and the deer stand on, are the same grays and pale browns of the monte mojino–the “tropical deciduous forest”–of Alamos, only here the trees and shrubs are shorter, with no closed canopy because we are much colder though that is hard to remember just now with the afternoon temperatures always in the 90s and very soon in the 100s. Our grays and browns are even more pronounced than usual, because the last rains of any note fell eight months ago on this range. We end up with no closed canopy here on our hills not only because of the cold, but because of the dryness: it looks like every last Foothills Paloverde up there has gone from green to brown and died outright from the drought. The O’odham believe that saguaros we see had once been individual people, and so I can imagine the few of these cactus trees that we look up at on those heat-shattered hills among the dead paloverdes are longing for the arrival of the temporales. The saguaros struggled to bloom this year, and none of them flowered right around here. Will it rain this summer? Will it ever rain again? Yessir, eventually.