The wildlfower seedlings on range are making it, despite no rain for more than a month! From high on our horses the billions of plantlets look so tiny, so fragile, but a green haze steals across the mesa tops and bajadas. That great hope of most every Southwestern stockman of these tierras calientes, that gives extra strength to the graze of Winter and Spring–the Filaree (a naturalized species of Stork’s Bill “geranium”)–is promising to save us from bringing the herd down sooner than we’d like. The broad flats of it could all disappear tomorrow, though, in just the way they have time and time again during other Springs when the Pacific fronts and their equipatas rains were their fickle selves and uncaring of the wants of us no account humans.
Alex and I hike on up the scree and loose rock and ledges above those deep arroyos on our higher range that rises from the edge of the Cascabel Road, and we’re delighted to find that there are so few buffelgrass plants that it takes some hunting to come up with any, and even better, none show evidence of having let seeds go into the wind. We’ve caught this lot before it could get into that invasive species’s gleeful mischief! They were all green, actively growing, several even with fresh purple inflorescences that would soon enough bear and drop those dreaded viable seeds. Heads with that propagation potential are nipped off and go into the trash bag, the plant from which it comes grubbed out with a dandelion fork and left to dry, die, and return its nutrients to the native wildflowers whose space it intended to usurp. Those wildflowers, by the way, are really developing! Lupines vigorous though still small, and lots of seedlngs of poppies, and green lacy seedlings of Phacelia. Oh, somehow to get those wildflowers their next drink, before it’s too late, but there’s nothing to give hope in the 10-day forecast. We come up with only eight buffelgrass plants in the whole area, none of them very large, all of them despite the precarious footing for us humans are easily, um, neutralized.
Christmas Eve. On range, on the mesa tops, we find the first seedlings of wildflowers of Spring to come, a sure green that keeps thought of life and growth. If the cow that’s missing is off giving birth as we suspect, shall we name the calf Jesusito–or Jesusita?
More Red-winged Blackbirds are joining the herd and me at Mason’s–and they’re very welcome–and more Milk Thistles are germinating–and they’re very unwelcome! Tansy Mustard seedlings are also appearing.
One disaster after another, and I find myself out late, with the day almost gone to its rest. The Galiuros look alone in the gray sky with the way they’re set in the dark shadowed broad landscape–those peaks and sheer faces below them are white, glowing, and across those miles they cast light towards me in beams like a full Moon. They’re colored in gentle brush strokes of sage green, and bay. In a moment all are dusky violet-blue and shady pink, as if a switch were thrown and in the next moment the sky is lit afire overhead, and the land, hills, pastures old and sprouting are for a moment or two all a rose incandescence.
In the shimmering blue morning most of the Cottonwoods are now appearing in their delicate gray winter cloaks, leafless, and some of these look a bit like they’re even in bloom (though they’re not, but who knows how long it will take for that very thing to happen in early December with the way Winter is changing …) New cotyledons of annual weeds are still appearing, and to my dismay I find Milk Thistle in this stage in #2(south) Pasture. Is this a new infestation arrived from afar? Even after these repeated temperatures in the mid-teens of the last few nights, the Caribbean Horseweed is still green–it obviously can adapt to more adverse conditions than its Canadian cousin. The bosque itself also remains green despite the freezes! Only one dragonfly ventures out along The Stockpond edges.
Pyrrhuloxias male and female, and Chipping Sparrows, drink among dragonflies at The Stockpond. Seedlings wild and encouraged are developing rapidly in the Vernal Winter: oats and barley have shot out two or three true leaves, the rye shows one or two, and out of the fresh mounds of gopher-dug soil spring grass seedlings with stems and blades fully formed. Millions of perfect Valentine hearts of Cheeseweed Mallow cotyledons are making green patches on the wide, open ground. Javelina are already grazing heavily on the fruit of our works long before cows will get the chance!
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.
The last few nights have been mild, no ice and the days are more quickly warming through the morning and so they start off with a grand chorus of crickets. In these the six more subdued months, bird song is low on the pastures and not high overhead, not of the woods of the riverbottom and side canyons and washes. The Meadowlark is the voice of the goddess worshipped by human snowbirds, Winter Sun. The pastures are getting greener, but not from seeds sprouting: it is from bermudagrass that’s come back to life after only a few days with temperatures hovering at 90. Millions of heart-shaped cotyledons of Mallows are also adding verdure, the frogs are active, and the aluminum flow pipes for the irrigators come back to being too hot to pick up with bare hands. It is so warm at sunset that the cold air stealing down the bottoms is something refreshing and welcome. Ah but the Vermillion Flycatchers are not deceived by all this and give up the idea of staying on and winterkeeping with us, and today they move out entirely, southward, knowing as it seems they must of the predicted cold for tomorrow when the mercury is unlikely to break 70 degrees. (When those flycatchers have spent a winter away, and return in flaming new waistcoats and black Zorro masks, we Cascabelenses will remark on it with joy, and spread the news.)
A most pleasant, warm day range riding the Sonoran Desert uplands, basking on horseback in 80 degrees. The season progresses undeniably, though, the colors of the dried and drying forbs, shrubs and grass autumnal. Most everything is fading from whatever color they were, towards a universal straw and bronze–even the Creosote Bush leaves–the Fairy Duster is purple, the Morning Glories are open brown stars holding seeds, they’re a haze of fuzz catching the light and as decorative as when the large blue flowers were open in a wetter time. Wind hisses through thorns in the narrow passages among one Saguaro’s impossible number of arms. Yet, the arroyo floors are bright green, where Palo Verdes and even the mesquites aren’t bothering to ready themselves for Winter. The main bed of the Rio San Pedro, much farther below, is still as lush and Cottonwoods down there as sparkling green as on any Summer day.
Dawn Moon, old ivory, glowing, cupped between the Rincon and Mt. Lemmon.
The first Barn Swallow in three weeks wings in, does not linger, is gone–and so with it are they all. It leaves behind a Great Blue Heron motionless in The Stockpond. Avian migrants on the way South, human migrants on the way North, viajeros on these multi-level highways running North and South piercing that bubble-fiction called “The Borderline”. Creatures move. It’s what we do.
Deep, dry borders of the recently arrived “African Grass” (Enneapogon) shine silver and white as late sun passes through them, beyond the River’s edge fence where the cattle can’t reach, and before a backdrop of light and dark green Cottonwoods. On every steep hill and high mesa to the West of that gallery forest of alamos, the Ocotillo have already dropped their leaves that had given their own brief but subtly exquisite fall foliage show of yellow and orange. Autumnal shadows of Creosote Bush streak long down those slopes, and drip over edges into darkening arroyos.
Full Moon, new ivory, a crown atop a rounded peak, rises into that deep blue penumbra cast by Earth out into fathomless Space. Above Moon, all the sky is pink, and as She is almost let free by mountain crown of Muleshoe wilderness, Moon seems held aloft by some priest or holy woman, a Eucharist coming to be made sanctified. Moon hovers just above the mountain, in ancient symbol, Egyptian, Hohokam, Japanese. The Creosote Bush glow.