August 14, 2013

A Great Blue Heron that’s supposed to be uncommon in the summer here is at the northern dirt tank catchment pond, the water is clean and clear now there’s been no storm or wild muddy runoff from the canyons for a few days. The bird is beautifully reflected. Off across all the pastures to the south is the buzz and murmur of crickets, grasshoppers, katydids. Moisture is enough that with the decaying plant matter come very showy mushrooms popping up: stems of pure white, jet black caps speckled white. There is a little similarly colored and patterned butterfly, black, with a crescent of white stars on its forewings, the delightfully named Funereal Duskywing. It has taken up life in that area where we’re coaxing the native grasses to sprout from seeds.

I notice that suddenly the Brown-crested Flycatchers aren’t flying and hawking around in the pastures and desert edge any more. I was just thinking it must be time to take stock of the birds here, now has come the Ides of Summer when the breeding birds are all still showing themselves and none have left but may be about to, and fall transients and winter residents are still far off. Sure enough, a look in the bird calendar for Southeastern Arizona reveals that the “neotropical” Brown-crested would be the first to leave, and precipitously: once the first of August has come the species goes from common to uncommon, and by the end of the first week, to be rare though a few may hang on til mid-September.

I make the mistake of leaving on the ground and out in the sun the nails for a fence repair I’d like to get done before the storm approaching from the horizon gets here. It’s 102 degrees, and the nails are too hot to pick up with bare fingers, and have to be splashed with canteen water as if they’ve just come out of a forge! When the mesquite pods start falling and stir into the air the sound of a kalimba as they hit the ground and bounce off each other, plainly it’s time to get out of here and through all the washes and outflows of canyons and besides, all the windows and doors are open back at the house! I just arrive there and don’t get them all closed before It hits, the Mother of all Monsoon Storms this Summer. It’s been on its way up from the South, and from the East, and from this high spot I watch each valley and ridge and washbottom vanishing from sight in its oncoming, go completely gray in a wall of wild rain from the ground up as high as can be seen, and it’s not slowing down or thinning. I get to the door on the south side of the house a moment after the house is slammed by the front, the door is hard to close and click against it and the space that narrows as I push funnels the air and wet into the room the harder, increasing the blast that sweeps everything off the kitchen table, and for at least the third time this rainy season, the refrigerator is cleared of most of the pictures and mementos held there by magnets. The sun still shines for a little while through the pounding sheets of rain, the landscape 360 degrees around the house glows as if it sits inside an incandescent bulb. Suddenly, all becomes much darkened. The Creosote Bush outside is bent in the wind to the point of almost being flattened to the ground, though I can’t see beyond a few feet from the windows so much like a blizzard has this come to be look. I can’t believe the eaves are able to stay attached to the house … and then, it’s all gone as quickly as it came, moving along in a way that the windows on each side are battered and draining water and when the storm cell reaches the bottomlands to the West, all that land fills like a newly laid out lake, one that later reflects the glow of the sunset for weeks.

Over the course of the storm the temperature has dropped to 74–almost thirty degrees cooler than an hour before and in that hour, 1.35 inches of rain has fallen. Doubtless no one will be able to get in or out of here for a while … when it’s done and the rumbling is drifting off to the northwest, I can hear and see that this long ridge has become an island: Pool Wash and Sierra Blanca wash are white and rushing and their murmur comes up to me from below, water boring wildly past me on either side. I can see trucks and a stocktrailer for now stranded down there but hoping to be able to cross when the grader comes or more people with shovels in their vehicles do (most carry one for this kind of affair)–but there’s more trouble this time than usual, because the electric company left a bunch of line poles in the bed of the arroyo last week, up stream from the crossing. All of those creosoted poles are now gone and swept west down and to the San Pedro, except for one, which is left a anchored lengthwise crossing the road. That’s gotta be fun! Cascabel folk will talk about this great storm for days, about the mess and the damage and the glorious refill of rain which everyone will take any time and any how it will be offered even if it comes with ripped off porch ceiling fans and lawn chairs lifted, taken, and dropped off in the desert. Bob E. reports that his house was saved by his anemometer: lightning hit it, and followed the metal pole it was attached to down to the ground. He couldn’t tell what the blasts of wind ever ended up registering in speed because the bolt shattered everything into pieces. The wind couldn’t have been less than 60 mph …[…]