Monthly Archives: September 2014

September 15, 2013

Three-quarter Moon in its move towards setting drops in the West below the thick cloud of the day’s coming storm and into open sky, and a perfect lunar rainbow springs onto the opposite horizon over Muleshoe where dawn will come. It’s the last morning of tending to irrigation at sunrise, for the electric rates for the pumping change over today to “winter hours” and cannot be engaged except in the middle part of the day.

A flock of returning Brewer’s Blackbirds passes overhead, telling of Fall no matter how much the workday’s challenging heat and sweat denies it.

Grosbeaks and Bell’s Vireos might still be about as pastorale fades after a spectacular sunset, but there isn’t a nighthawk to be seen at The Stockpond. Not very long ago the Chats would’ve been tuning their orchestra under such a Moon, but there is no singing now but from the mosquitoes. Dove wings come whistling through the muggy air, in the heat that is stupefying even after dark.

September 14, 2013

A “false dawn” brightens the eastern sky, long before the real dawn is due–the wide swath of celestial light rises from the horizon against midnight blue and far up into the stars at a 45 degree angle, leaning towards the south; it is much brighter if not looked at directly but noticeable no matter how it is approached by the eye. Stars reach down to the horizon on every point, and no clouds show but the flashes of lightning fortell another Monsoon storm is collecting itself, and which we may hope does arrive. How many more rains can there be? “How many more almost utterly dark nights will there be to enjoy like this?” I wonder as I hear an announcement of the success of solar “ranches” and wind “farms” on regional-grid scale, wonder if those things might end our Southwest, as they come to this desert that once forbid all who couldn’t live with Her as she presented Herself before air conditioning, pinata subdivisions and the opiate of video games.

A first year Gray Hawk in brown immature plumage perches tamely in a low mesquite branch in The Lane, while another Monsoon storm builds but will be smaller than the one last week–both bird and the rains will abandon us soon, move off south, evaporate. Perched on a wheel line is an early arrival of the next shift, a Say’s Phoebe, none of which were to be seen over the hot summer at least on this bottomland, and there is a Loggerhead Shrike returned to Mason’s, too. Above, the September sky: the most beautiful of the year now the world dries out longer between the temporales, and the clouds take a few days to gather and build their individual mass against the blue. I don’t have to be so keen to have three weeks’ supplies in the cupboards if the road going afuera is less likely to be mangled or destroyed on most any afternoon. In the evenings the clouds are piled so high that their bases are steel blue in earth shadow, their crests sun-dazzling in white or rose, patterned this way like tourmaline crystals, or look like some fine old cameo carved from a helmet shell. Below, the Galiuros and the Mae West Peaks are cabernet and rose themselves.

September 13, 2013

A Poorwill-sung dawn, with a warmth that has Chris E., James C. and I on the early side saddling up the horses we’ll ride today on range–Chris on my Loompy, James on his Clu, and I on Pat’s Nimby. It will be in the 90s before we turn back on the trail home to El Potrero, the Barrel Cactus are still in their center-crown, late summer orange-petalled splendor, and of all the astonishing things that give one to know that Summer doesn’t let go, we find a Saguaro still in bloom. We pick our way carefully down a long rocky slope from a saddle between ridges, and come down into a broad, white sand bottom and when I nudge Nimby up that canyon to continue our ride just a bit further in the direction away from home, that horse I’m sitting decides to go into a run–backwards, towards home where he thought it was more reasonable to be going. Angry he didn’t get his way with a rider with whom he had almost no experience? Did he see a Jackrabbit, which can make him jump so that I’ve come to call them “Jack(theRipper)rabbits” or “Death Bunnies” as Pat calls them? A couple of hard bucks quickly following one on the other and my left foot is lost from the stirrup as the scenery and time fly past me only now in reverse … I’m still somehow upright in the saddle when his croup knows a sudden and violent comeuppance as we hit a deep wall of Catclaw trees and the sharp bank of the canyon bottom they’re growing against. He rears, tumbles, all is dust and billows of shaken-loose acacia leaflets, then I re-materialize out of that bronc-made haboob among splintering thorny branches and more rising dust, sitting in the arroyo sand with my legs spread out as wide as they were on either side of his flanks only a few calm, but very long-ago moments before. I’ve come to a standstill; Nimby has not. His is a body tending to stay in motion … his be-hind thud-lands between my far spread legs as he, continuing backwards, trips over a low horizontal branch but somehow even though it is Friday the 13th the horse hasn’t crushed me yet. Up he rises again, and up and up, towering into the sky or so it looks from my vantage point where I’m still trapped at his rear and flattened out on the ground. I concentrate on getting my right foot from the off-side stirrup, don’t know why it’s still stuck in there, but then every shred of my being comes welded to the vision of a black horse with head straight up, pawing into the empty air as if swimming for his life, he balancing there like that for a slowed-down second or two. The hands on my pocket watch stand still while he does. I stare up the line of his backbone–it’s not a question of whether he’ll topple, but which way will he topple. Something keeps me from getting out from behind him, maybe I’m frozen there in acceptance of my fate: if he comes back all the way it will split me right up through my middle, from stem-to-sternum, lengthwise, with saddle horn sunk into my chest as if I were a vampire. When for half a second that backbone of his begins tottering my way my thought is simple and resigned: “I’m about to be in the dark.” I’m still unhurt I think, but also still stuck, I scream out a long death wail, I know the last noise I might ever make and it’s from a place deeper in my soul than any where I’d ever brought anything up from or that I’d ever known was there to plumb. I guess there will be no more entries made in the nature journal. The scream startles him and he sways forward a bit, just enough that when he does come backwards it is now to the side, and all that wild horseflesh with its four flailing limbs plows into the sweet soft sand a little ways off my left shoulder. I don’t know how he misses me, he rolls away from me, jumps up, and is gone from my sight behind, down the canyon and I presume, home the way he wanted to go the whole time. My regular horse, Loompy, who together with Chris on his back has been watching, must have thought, “God, what a display. Tsk, tsk, tsk.” I wonder what rule of riding, or knowledge of horses I’m still ignorant of, has played a part in bringing about this wreck.

I live. No broken bones that I can feel, and my organs seem to be left whole, too. My spurs are shoved deeply in the sand, but I totter upwards myself and turn to see the horse not far off at all. He’s running in circles trying to get away from a wide Catclaw branch that’s deeply tangled in his tail and whose thorny twigs are poking the insides of both his legs … I give silent thanks when I see his reins didn’t break off, so I grab them but he keeps spinning away from me as I try to reach back for the branch that appears to be hopelessly knotted into his long tail. Finally I can grab the thick, woody end of that branch and yank hard, and the moment Nimby knows it’s gone he comes to a standstill. Nothing appears wrong with him, though myself I’m already feeling like I’ve been rear-ended at a stoplight with my head having popped out a back windshield; I turn him up-canyon and away from home, and with a laughably painful challenge I mount, and then as if not much happened we continue on our way, go to check whether the watergap fence at Saguaro Juniper’s border has remained intact through the flash floods of this Monsoon. “Do you compete in the rodeo?”, a woman once asked me. “No Ma’am, not if I can help it. That’s the kind of thing we pray at dawn Monday morning won’t happen this week, and on Saturday night following give thanks hadn’t …” […]

The morning excitement worn off, I go back to Mason’s to dig mesquite in the to-be winter pasture, and in the golden light of late Summer. There’s a pair of Mexican Mallard on The Stockpond and four Teal, and then I spot a huge turtle–probably ten inches across its shell–sitting on top a rock a bit off the mud bank out in the water. Trying to sneak up on it for a better look is useless, what with those ducks taking wing in an explosion and I am distracted by the splendor of those Teal spinning over me, turning to show blue shoulders, turning then to show their white underwings with black fore-edge. The turtle, which I’m never able to identify as anything native, is gone. How did it get there? I’m never to see it again, either.

Out where I head to start pulling mesquite, a pair of Chihuahuan Ravens are standing aside a cow manure pile, one bird on watch, the other picking apart the poop chunks and as I approach, the one not at work lets out an obvious warning, “Cheese it! The cops!”, and they both fly off squawling. This would not be the last time I’d find the birds doing this, for as long as the herd vacuums up mesquite pods, and shoot the now-shucked beans out their back ends, Ravens will come to pull out those beans the cattle kind have so nicely prepared, and gobble them down–all the fewer seedlings for us to contend with later! There is a reprise of White-lined Sphinx Moth larvae, now scattered over the grasses and larger than any that’ve come before, but I don’t see Ravens going for them.

A flycatcher I might take for an Ash-throated (which species has been strangely sparse here this year), comes for a few moments into the big mesquite edge, just long enough for me to end up thinking there was something … different about it. A Dusky-capped, down from the mountains and thence south far into Mexico, or migrating down from a bit further north in Arizona?

September 12, 2013

Poorwill calls his “4:00 am, all’s still well,” and I turn on the coffee.

Young, greenish Summer Tanagers are wheezing in the mesquites at The Stockpond, hoping parents are still willing to give them their hand-outs. It’s been a good long time since any hummers have come there to drink, though there are still a number of them to be seen around the valley.

Seems to be a lull in grasshopper population and activity in general, except for the gigantic Lubbers, which have arrived at Mason Pastures and put on more and more of a show with those pink underwings of theirs flashing in their high, arching flight. Only Queen Butterflies, still no Monarchs–and as it would turn out, no Monarchs that I would ever see will cross these pastures the whole year.

Verdolagas are in bloom, these with extra large yellow flowers, mix beautifully with the magenta of a tiny flowered Four-o’-clock creeping among them. There are almost no toads out and about on the pastures by now, but what’s there have grown larger still and jump into wider-mouthed burrows when my passing shadow alarms them.

Time to see what autumnal winged insects are gathering in #3 Pasture, in its upper end where there are so many native plants and wildflowers and its Burroweed quarter is coming into its first flowering. A fully-plumaged Blue Grosbeak shimmers from the tip of a mesquite on the edge of the Dirt Tank, sings out as if it were the height of Summer. In past years the butterflies have made a real show here, but today they’re sparse (and it will turn out that they’ll remain sparse the rest of the season–there was a real decline in butterflies on The River for the whole year, to my eye.) A few Sulphurs and a Checkerspot come around the tiny, petal-less Burroweed flowers, and there are a number of Queens, one of which is an extra rich dark orange. I watch another Queen that’s not far away and through the binoculars I can make out the smallest and prettiest details, but … as I watch, it suddenly slumps over backwards, folds its wings together, drops from a blossom to the ground. I run the few feet to it, in time to see it give a couple twitches–and then it dies. No predator brought eternity to this little spark of life, I watched that happen of a moment its own. I’d never seen the likes of so Ecclesiastes an event … turn … turn … turn.

Although Burroweed can bring real problems to cattle if a rancher is careless in management, I also don’t want to see this flat of them in #3 Pasture eradicated: it’s a generous pollen and nectar bank that could be an ace in the hole for many Sonoran Desert insects each one of which is seemingly more jewel-like than those on the last bush I pass. The commonest by far is a Blister Beetle (the critter, a Pyrota sp., I dare not touch!), ochre and shining gold, with black spots at the tips of the wing covers, and other black spots on the upper back. It’s one of a number of these justly feared insects we have here, all of them beautiful and interesting (in that way that Poison Dart Frogs are beautiful and interesting), in their various genera and species found from Moosejaw to Mexico.

Mesquite, however, is something I do want to see eliminated there, but it is besting us again on that pasture, and looks like it will win the battle it has with us for land for expanding its forest–land we want for a grass community instead. At least I can get some satisfaction from pulling out a few Cocklebur, and, with exasperation after all our invasive weed eradication work I find about a dozen scattered Bull Thistle that are a foot or less tall, and one of about 18 inches. Those future problems, at least, get literally “nipped in the bud”. Camphorweed is in beautiful bright yellow bloom, and a few are already in seed. A passing Swainson’s Hawk is high high high, drifts off to hang in the sun on the horizon.

At the east end of this pasture the most beautiful wild Buckwheat (Eriogonum) I’ve ever seen has come into bloom, adding yet one more species to the growing list of native forbs that are coming into that area on their own. It holds shell-pink flowers in mounds over blue-gray foliage, each petal striped down its center with a deeper pink color. Livestock duties allow enough time to stop and admire, make a note or two, but not enough to key it out to species even if I had the manual to do so, not enough time to make a specimen for the herbarium, thus its identity will remain an enjoyable mystery, and that allows the experience of it and familiarity with it remain with a directness and immediacy that is a gift for those working directly on The Land. We know these beings mobile and immobile, despite not knowing how they’re named, or by whom.

As I leave, I go over to the ephemeral Dirt Tank in the corner of the next pasture to the south, and find the shore jumping with Yellow Warblers–the last of this species this year, heading south I guess. “See you next Spring … if we’re spared.” A single, half-toned Common Yellowthroat is also jumping through the drowned mesquite saplings, a Gila Woodpecker flies through, and an Empidonax with two broad buffy wingbars perches on those bare dead branches: the famous (or infamous?) Willow Flycatcher. Since they are untellable one from the other in the field, and especially at migration, no way can I say whether the bird is our summer resident “Southwestern Willow Flycatcher”, or one of the migrants coming through from the north where the species itself is considered merely uncommon rather than endangered. The tank remains filled with water, thanks to the continuing generosity of this year’s Monsoon, enough to where I’m thinking of this pond less and less as “ephemeral”.

The day ends as it almost always does, with a swing around the “real” Stockpond, the one I keep constantly water-filled down near The Green Gate. Female Lazuli Buntings are there on its shore, their blue tails making them stand out from the other brown finchy birds. Lesser Goldfinches are pecking off and eating bits of salt from the cattle mineral block!

September 11, 2013

Swainson’s Hawks, scattered across the agricultural lands through the Summer, now are in numbers noticeably on the increase, and they must be in the swing of their famous migration. Below them the Morning Glory petals are shot through by the sun, as if azure blown glass salvers had been strung along the roadside.

A Kingfisher splashes at The Stockpond, and the Blue Grosbeaks are still around though seem less conspicuous. In the Picnic Tree mesquite, lots of young Vermillion Flycatchers that haven’t realized they’ve grown too large to be cheeping like hatchlings, are still harrying their parents who must’ve just about had it with them by now.

Poorwill calls his “8:00 o’clock, all’s well,” and I turn out the light.

September 10, 2013

Slept under the sheet again but this time with the window closed. 60 degrees!

We saddle the horses, ride up onto the range, and find the last Summer calendar page of Barrel Cactus bloom has precious few days on it before it too must be torn away: only the inmost circle of flowers on them are open to be admired, after a month of their delighting the heart of a rider. Sun is changing, the world turned, a different glow passes through the Ocotillo wands. We scare up a Scaled Quail, whose “cotton top” catches this wonderful (dare I call it this out loud?) autumnal light.

September 9, 2013

A lone duck on The Stockpond, another Teal … with bill broad and black, edged with yellow … rather tame, it seems unbothered by me and stretches a wing out lazily to show a large blue wing patch and green speculum, beautiful. I’ll take this for a first year Cinnamon Teal, that hasn’t yet learned there is benefit in wariness.

Wild Clematis drapes lacy white veils of seed plumes high in the roadside bosque and down to the ground, in places so thickly the cows on the pasture beyond can’t be seen from the truck through them.

September 8, 2013

Monsoon yet holds her orb and scepter: it’s been raining now for a couple afternoons, her moisture bringing crickets to give near deafening music in the evenings. House windows still open through to the dawn let in the song tonight, and I sleep under a sheet til sunrise for the first time even though it is hardly what others would call cool. Towards the end of such a Summer of heat, I am made to shiver.

September 6, 2013

An odd bobbing and fluttering of a bird, like that of a Spotted Sandpiper and on the bank where one of those might be expected, caught my eye at The Stockpond but no, it is not a sandpiper. It’s a Northern Waterthrush! Immediately after, there arrived another Solitary Sandpiper in butterfly flight, pretty tail spread.

I’m joined at lunch at The Stockpond by a single Barn Swallow come to dip its bill in the water, and I realize that I’ve hardly seen one of them here since May. Not that they aren’t present nearby–indeed they nest abundantly (and some say, make themselves a nuisance) in patio eaves and barns all around us. With so much water flowing in The River, it’s there out of my sight where they’ve probably spent the summer coming to drink. The Waterthrush that arrived this morning is jumpy, flies off into the bosque whenever I move, but the hunger of the trip it must have been on to get here overcomes its fears. Dragonflies docked in pairs are dropping eggs just off the muddy edges, and a young Great Blue Heron comes to spend the afternoon.

September 5, 2013

“No, no, it’s Summer!”, chatter and sass the Bell’s Vireos in the River bosque and in The Lane, as they will do every day for the rest of September.

Predatory Stink Bugs (now there’s a righteous name for an insect!), midnight blue and marked with bright red diamond-shapes, are on the bermudagrass doing what they do best, stalking. Red-winged Grasshoppers are in mating dance again …

Where this year’s winter pasture is to be sown, Bob E. and I clear mesquite in the morning of a day that will reach 98 degrees, and is sultry still from the rain of a couple days ago. We are getting all as ready for the Marsh Wrens as we are for our cattle.

Families of Chihuahuan Raven are joining up, and of a sudden are forming large flocks.