First true leaves have come shooting from out the oats cotyledons. Mid-November, and the chartreuse and black grasshoppers, those Polka Dot Beetles of mine, and the Red-winged Grasshoppers are still abundant.
A Phainopepla, after the sun is gone, calls a soft, “Pert … Puurrt …” from the mesquites that mark the borders of his own querencia.
Pastures are noticeably green, their winter forage now well-sprouted.
The vibrant blue sky of morning turns to a limp gray, and a strange light like that of a solar eclipse comes over everything: a dust storm, haboob, tormenta de polvo. The Galiuros fade into ghosts, their peaks into wraiths there and not there. Ravens knew that the aerial surf was up and where they’d catch righteous waves, and 50 of them come to roll in the wind and clamor out their fun. Were they still-photographed, the dozens in the flock would look like a Liszt musical score, if filmed as a motion picture would look like a symphony playing a wild rhapsody, with how the birds move in great wheels, always some to be seen rising, always others falling, others weaving together the whole.
A Great Egret–pure water-reflected magnificence in The Stockpond–hunts delectables in a lively manner for it must have worked up quite an appetite by the time it found this unlikely wet and muddy place.
Rusty Harrier, owl-like in movement, aspect, and silence, from far off comes directly to me. I stand still, and it veers at almost the last moment it could, but only to correct its course so it doesn’t hit me in the face.
The big, late day bug hatches continue and as I do the last work of the day with all those insects also barely missing my face, the sun goes. I still have wheel lines to move, but it is not a bad thing to be out with such chores that shouldn’t be left for tomorrow: the sight of the Galiuros in their evening smoking jackets of mulberry and peach is a rich reward for the overtime. I am descended on by doves, who come to The Cienega just before complete night.
A few minutes rest at The Stockpond is in order before I tackle the much longer road to where I’m now living. I drive up to the water and turn off the pickup engine. The quiet is wondrous. Crickets murmur around the edges where Egret had spent the daylight hours, a single Coyote woof-barks far off, for all the world like a dog. Half Moon over all, in the balmy dark and a breeze that is only enough to be called a caress.
A Teal on The Stockpond, it’s been weeks since the last one stopped in.
After holding water for more than four months, the dirt tank has finally dried and is likely to remain empty and cracked until next year’s Monsoon will gather into it the splash and runoff from waters roaring down from those ridges to the East. Coyote comes to check for even a single gulp left him, but he finds none and goes on.
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.)
Ravens playfully chase after a Red-tailed Hawk, they’re too smart, too agile, or too revolting in taste for the hawk to bother itself with them I suppose. In the warm morning after a night without a freeze, the little black spiders of Summer are out on their usual perches on the surface of the irrigation hoses, and among them are dark grasshoppers (or crickets?) apparently just hatched and impossibly minute in size.
Autumnal slanting sunrays are caught in everything, light up everything … the broad, high and long avenues of watersprays of the wheel line irrigators made incandescent by them … a large pink dragonfly … the wings of the Pipits … some insect so fast of wing that they look like tiny hovering balls of light, the air over the whole broad pasture is full of them. The ridges piled high toward that lowering Sun are dark mounds, each sharply defined by crests white, shining.
An exquisite Hawk Moth lands on the front of my shirt, and hovering there, shows hind wings of cinnabar. It is caught in a stiff wind that pulls it away, is gone instantly. I wonder if I’ll ever see another. A large Fritillary and Checkerspots come to the pond mud with orange Sulphurs, and this makes for quite a show of sipping butterflies. Ninety-one degrees! Despite that, I am immersed in the notes of American Pipits, the largest number of the birds I’ve ever seen winter-ing in the Borderlands. Wintering?
Low 20s at the early pastures–what a seesaw! The “Layered Look” is an invention of Arizona ranch hands. The expected rise of 60 degrees by afternoon comes along, fills out the grasslands with Red-winged Grasshoppers again; a Gray Fox lopes across the native grass plots. Frogs are still leaping from The Stockpond’s edge, splashing in and swimming away well under water.
Time of gold, not of green, the season’s colors over the wilds around us are truly changed. The day is stuck in a Summer time warp, however, and is another one hot and stuffy and so the race across the pastures to get irrigating done is uncomfortable. Good for the new crop of Winter pasture, though, and only five days after the watering on them was started the pastures are noticeably sprouting single wonderfully-green blades of oats or barley. Insects have come again to add bright dashes of color: cobalt blue dragonflies with silvery wings, and a few blue damsels (though these damselflies will be the last of that kind to be seen …), Red-winged Grasshoppers are as abundant as the wintering sparrows I flush out with them.
Poorwills are all along the road on the much further drive home I now have, they fly up into the headlight beams with a flash of white glowing in their tails and then hunker down in the deep dust that still holds the day’s 85 degree warmth. The sky flashing in lightning as a thunderstorm sweeps in from the North promises that the first deep cold will arrive soon as the front clears out towards the East.