The Mourning Cloak, in so many other places the harbinger of Spring, appears today as if its alarm clock hadn’t gone off and everyone else has arrived already, but no matter, seeing the first of them will always give thrill to a naturalist’s inner child, and stoke memories. Red-brown dragonflies with blue-tinted wings are buoyed on air that already approaches what are summer temperatures in many places, and I wonder if we won’t hit 80 degrees today. A bobbing out there on the water, and a sending out of rings of tiny waves in all directions catches my eye: a large moth, on its back (the Lepidopteran Backstroke, I suppose) is trying to get to a bank, but how did it just fall into The Stockpond? What beauty … with forewings having two diagonal white bars across them over gray, pink lower underwings, a bright red-brown body. This must be the Tricolor Buckmoth, a species special to the Greater Southwest on both sides of The Border from Carlsbad through Sonora to the Baja and Arizona.
The tiny grasshoppers in their thousands are still on the irrigation hoses.
A pair of Red-tailed Hawks swing in tandem, mirror each others steps and romantic dance moves in what I can only think is honeymoon glee and grace. They race across the fields and then in a couple of broad circles high and then low shoot into the Saguaro Canyon and out of it again, come over me, bank hard and head back to the dividing ridges. Their shadows, cast sideways by the horizontal light of late day, race up, up and up the slope and close in on the pair they’re chasing, until those shadows meet the birds and fold themselves into them them as the hawks come almost to brush the ground at the rocky crest, and vanish then down into the next canyon.
Even though the nights are near freezing the windows of the Caravan must be left open, or else the inside will heat too uncomfortably through the day–and it’s not even mid-February yet.
Cottonwoods are filling out rapidly, are the same color now as those Cucumber Beetles that are flying again in numbers over the pastures.
Friend Heron lies dead in the tall grass of #3 Pasture, it feels a stun to my own neck to see it there crumpled in heaps of huge feathers, its body core ripped out, gone, its bird-flesh probably now being turned into Odalisque the Bobcat, who is likely offstage picking her teeth. I look greedily at an exquisite broad gray plume, the fullest of feathers and with a fine and unexpected halo of marabou towards its base. I’m sure I’m not supposed to “have” it, what with our modern forgetfulness of the 4th Amendment when such a thing is found in one’s possession but I try it out for a moment in the Stetson’s hatband … nah, wouldn’t work there anyway, a little too Oscar Wilde. Maggots are quickly transforming the little flesh left of the Great Blue into other things that can also fly!
Red dawn, the kind I think will be coming through my old window in Alamos right now at the other reach of this far-flung Sonoran Desert in Mexico. Before sunrise over Mason Pastures it is 38 degrees, by noon, 75.
The whiffling of bluebirds: so high are they that they are invisible, only their notes pass overhead, and fall all around me. Gnatcatchers wheeze in the dense mesquite twigs.
Large saffron ants, in mounds and islands three or four bodies deep, are going in and out of their cavern but not carrying anything. Do they wait along the procession route of Persephone hoping for a glimpse–surely she is returned? They’re late, the goddess is already abroad: Bob tells that he’s heard a Poorwill calling in the evening already … Cardinals are singing of Spring joyously at El Potrero, dragonflies fly there as well, the Malta Starthistle is becoming too obviously still present and their mumbled threat can be heard, “I’m gonna get you, and your little pasture too!”, and the first bat comes out in the evening over the Cowboy Caravan.
The Sun is … different. Spring.
Lots of tiny flies; a butterfly with highly scalloped forewings with a white spot at their tips, entire-edged rearwings with a forward placed black triangle; Bronze Dragonflies.
A sudden rain awakens me in the Cowboy Caravan, is brief, gone, Venus rises and is a spectacle. The deep dust outside isn’t much ruffled by the big drops.
Before sliding into chaps, buckling on spurs and saddling horses with Pat to ride for cows on range, I speed down to the winter green fields to set the day’s watering. A Gray Fox with orange-red legs and a red head is out on one pasture, staring and staring, or sneaking up to the burrows of one critter or another … mice? gophers? jackrabbits?
On range we find the wildflowers much progressed, so much so that it seems we’re promised a colorful Spring. It’s often prematurely announced that there will be! but–the Bladderpod are fat, healthy, and are even showing flower scapes already, and this gives hope.
Five Green-winged Teal dabble in our shallow pond, while on the “dirt tank” of our fence neighbor ranch to the south, a Redhead makes a startling appearance but that pond is deep enough to attract such diving ducks.
A fearless Ruby-crowned Kinglet comes to work over the mesquite tips where I’m still rather frantically trying to reset T-posts and raise wire along Cascabel Road so our cows don’t go on a walkabout this summer to vacuum the sweet, tasty trillion of mesquite beans that will fall on the gravel roadway. For the first time I ever heard one here, a Cactus Wren’s raspy chortling comes from the dry slopes and Saguaros rising from the opposite side of the roadway. It makes me think the mystery bird in there is not some species of wren after all; I don’t know if I’ll ever hear it again to be able to seek it out at last and identify it.
The Cottonwoods oh the Cottonwoods on The River oh how can it be that no, I haven’t been imagining those tiniest of changes coming over them already before midwinter has come? Glances in passing for the past few days have left me wondering, “Are they still bare?” and neighbors are asking, “My gosh, can the Cottonwoods be leafing out??” I wanted to believe they were still bare and would stay that way a while, for one can hardly get enough of the sleeping beauty of the translucent, filigreed crowns and the galleries of white trunks and limbs. But now it’s undeniable: the trees are indeed pale green, the long forests of them are bands of the soft color, the land above them and the shrubby edges below them a gray even softer, with snow high over them white on wilderness slopes.
Tansy Mustard, in bloom already at the pastures’ edges. There is much marveling in Cascabel over the many plants coming into flower weeks earlier than anyone remembers. And now a “Polka Dot Beetle” with twelve spots … which should I suppose be well and truly called Cucumber Beetle, whatever the identity of the earlier, fewer-spotted ones. Will it be a thirteen-spotted one tomorrow?
True evening Winter splendor tonight … the Galiuro ramparts are dark, all the ridges that rim, protect and tell us what is our “Cascabel” are dark, and alone out of the middle of this vast shadow-world rises Sierra Blanca from Saguaro-Juniper’s high ranges to the northeast, dazzling for some moments in the last full rays of Sun, as white as a sand dune and shaped like one, the shadows on its peak milky-green. I turn away from this grand mural hung before, over and around me, and see that Bobcat has come to join me in the pasture. It lounges, serenely, like an odalisque behind the bar in an old cow town saloon. As if a switch were thrown darkness comes, and the hovering mirage of Sierra Blanca vanishes in an instant.
Twenty-four degrees this clear blue morning, a cold to assure that Winter, though much threatened, is not yet an extinct species. The new snow dust gives The Rincon a pale shimmer in the first sunrays.
Not much going on at the edge of the cold Stockpond, just a Rock Squirrel stretched out almost flat trying to reach the water, and a few nondescript sparrows I decide are not Brewer’s on the strength of their having gray rumps, but think instead they must be “Pale 1st winter” (as Sibley puts it) Chipping Sparrows. The book says they don’t weigh much … imagine, at less than half an ounce they are yet creatures complete.
Haven’t seen the beautiful Polka Dot Beetles for more than a couple weeks, the cold of the nights must have set them groggy, but in the late light during as much warmth as is going to be mustered by the day (50s) one of them appears–it carries not six black spots, but eleven! (One entomologist has sent word that what has been seen over most of the winter with those six spots were just a form of the common and universally-resented garden Cucumber Beetle, and this new one today certainly looks a lot more like any illustration one might find of that pest. Yet another entomologist, whose specialty is beetles of southern Arizona, tells that he doesn’t believe Cucumber Beetles would have one race with a very different number of spots active the first half of their season, and change over to one with almost double the number during the second. He thinks it’s a different, maybe even undescribed, species. I wonder which I’ll be seeing from here on, and for how long into spring …)
A wet-in-wet watercolor sunrise, above very cold fields frosted white, but all is beautifully warm by 1:00 in the afternoon for long enough that a new, glossy green and bronze beetle appears on the wheel line hoses where it can soak up warmth it must find so welcome.
Not long later, though … storms and blackness, coming in from each quarter and I cannot get warm no matter the physical work, then snow curtains billow along the lower slopes of The Rincon though they don’t spill over the lip of the high canyon wall and onto us. The highest peaks are veiled from sight by the drifting and sidling white squalls, the mountains are gone, in the gray.
Sue reports that above her house poppies are blooming on the mesa skirting Hot Springs Canyon: earliest February, when Winter spars with Spring, and Spring will spar with Winter …
… and see what this morrow brings: passing showers, a little bit more “accumulation” than yesterday’s trace of rain (well, call today’s not quite a double-trace, then) and strangely for Winter, a tall and thick Dust Devil whirling a moment of Foresummer into our priceless cold weeks, as if Global Warming wants to toss this season about and plant me firmly head down into the irrigation mud.