Early light. The air is frigid, in these lowest of flats to which the cold of every mountain range east and west drains and pools. Mallard is unbothered with his feet wet in his pond, but I know what it will be like to open the hydrants for the wheel lines and get soaked by the wide fountains of water that’ll shoot up the sleeves of my workshirt and into the tops of my rubber boots. The silence is near unearthly, no migrants from the tropics stir or warble or scold. What was greening mesquite is collapsed everywhere and melting in dribbles, from their tree tops down to every last small one sprouted out across the pastures; their growth they’d put on so far this spring won’t make it through to turn dark green now, or expand. It will all have to be pushed out again from nothing. So much for the oft-heard truism that mesquites know when to leave out, for none of these apparently did! I wonder how many times I’ve seen this happen with them of an April, and though I didn’t plant by them as some do, I regret that this year will not be one of that sweet green, stained-glass light in the bosque for a few days while the leaflets are still small and pale and the canopy shimmers and glows. We can’t depend on a yearly show of wildflowers, and we can’t depend on having this pleasure every spring, either.
Holding the freezing metal handles of the irrigation risers while turning them to open the water is itself trial enough, but my wetted hands then go to aching deeply, and then go to numbness seconds after the water comes flying out the more explosively as the valve is opened wider. The sprinklers came up to full pressure, shooting out in arcs of about 50 ft. and turning their big circles, and already within three revolutions the weeds, grass, and now-wrecked mesquites are encrusted with filigrees and lace of shining white frost and ice crystals that appeared so quickly that it seemed some spell of the Sierra Madre had been chanted out by an hechicero offstage and unseen. It is surely lower than 20 degrees F., but I don’t need to know. I just want the sun to rise.
Come up it does, and as the day warms by fifty degrees or more, a vast array of plants begins to turn odd colors and twist up, then fall to the ground and flatten themselves. Oats … sow thistle … conaigre … melilotus … desert mallow … bindweed … tansy mustard … Wright’s saltweed … conyza … bull thistle and star thistle … the bermuda grass that was coming along so robustly to give cows a wider buffet soon–all collapsed and will not recover. But spring cannot be stopped and the afternoon warmth brought out a huge native black bee, and the first deep amythyst flowers of Silver-leaf Nightshade on a plant that wasn’t affected in the least by the sub-freezing night. Winter finches were in their comfort zone–Vesper Sparrows on every barbed wire fence and in the grassy edges, and the Savannah Sparrows weren’t shy at all today. I scared up a few Marsh Wrens, even though they all should have been on the 3:10 to Yuma four days ago.
A fine Cassin’s Kingbird perched atop a close-by wheel of the irrigators as all was being closed down in the pleasantly warm afternoon, its belly bright, lemon dot-candy yellow.