A couple of hours before sunrise, the patio wet … a moonless, vast land can be heard gladly sipping down into itself what that first, early wild storm of a new Monsoon Summer brought it. My lips have no trouble finding the rim of the coffee cup in the utter darkness. The invisible Purple Martins swirl overhead, sing down through the balmy, soft night of a perfect 71 degrees. I wonder what I’ll find at the pastures. I wonder if there is a road left to get to them on. Now comes the season that folds a tropical saturated air into a stiff batter of monsoon heat, when one’s clothes will be drenched through, with patterns of white edges lined out on it where the salt from the body marks a high tide of sweat. Now come days when it will be 100 degrees and raining, likely to reach a peak a couple months from now when hurricanes can hurtle up from the Sea of Cortez, which after all is just beyond our horizon, and mix even more power into the usual storm cells that can materialize right overhead of us.
The washes and arroyos did run large in that single temporal, but I make it through down Cascabel Road as daylight comes on. Close to Mason’s the torrents had ripped across the gravel and dirt, then ripped back to the other side, then burst through a bank in a fulfillment of some endless memory of the land, and filled to the top with water the old earthwork stock pond that in other years had reached such a state only towards the end of a rainy season. I stop, stare in amazement at it for there was no pond there yesterday, take in the lushness, smell the fecundity and odor of the South Seas. At The Stock Pond I hold up the column of the rain gauge in a joyful disbelief: almost one inch of rain, the first rain enough to comment on since February. Imagine … rain. An inch means I can delay the resumption of the irrigation cycle on the bermuda grass, save money, work at something else, save water.
There is not a bird at The Stockpond–not a bird–though there are call notes in the mesquital, and the down-slurred, slightly peevish whistles of a Tyrannulet; the rich songs of our summer residents are all stilled after the violence of the storm. Those friends are going to try to gather again this sunset time on the banks here to take in the evening bird show that’d got cancelled on us last night by the sideways-driven rains and the lightning bolts and the threat of flash floods coming down the arroyos, but there isn’t much promise of spectacle now that today water can be had everywhere and in abundance. Then a White-throated Swift rockets through over the water, water that is noticeably deeper than at this time yesterday. A single large winged termite drops from the air above onto my thumb–they’re emerging already after only one night of rain. Another White-throated Swift swoops through, with a screaming whoosh so fast as hardly to be made out on its approach, but when it is only a couple feet from my head I get a thrilling look at this incredibly beautiful and dapper bird. The swifts don’t much like the look of the water, which is this morning wholly changed from yesterday–mud where any water open at all can be seen–most of it is carpeted with red algae. There are bubbles rising from below that are then held unburst in the thick red covering that stretches from one shore of newly sprouting Barnyard Grass to the other. Suddenly the air is all Purple Martins, but only one or two are willing to poke their bills into so nasty-looking a pool for a drink. The cattle amble in, also wholly changed after the storm in their shimmering, dust-free coats. Surely the Creature from the Black Lagoon is about to jump up through the only open water edge and snag a calf. We’ll see later in the day if the nighthawks and bats will come as they have been in such increasing numbers over the weeks of a Foresummer that now of a sudden have ended. A fiery Summer Tanager comes to a mesquite tip, sings sweetly, slowly as if he’s afraid of shattering the wet enchantment, the notes seeming to come from a bird ventriloquist, his bill moves so imperceptibly.
Chores mostly done, when Saguaro Juniper folk were drifting into the Cafe du Stockponde, I myself drift on up to see if the herd had learned from the lightning strike that scared their little hooves into a high fandango last night, and were still honoring the electric fence in that #2 Pasture. They had learned, to my relief, for if once they get over to that just water-filled old pond there on the other side of the low and flimsy portable fence, it’d be almost impossible to get them out of there again, what with how they have everything a cow could want in there and with how she can hide from a drover and parry with him back and forth on either side of many a mesquite tree. A Killdeer has come to enjoy the pond’s muddy edge, I can hear. I walk back to the truck through the deep summer grass in late day sunglow and am swept over by a vast number of Lesser Nighthawks, high and low, very near and gliding past in their odd flying style, scattered from right where I stand on out to the horizons.
Evening thunderstorms look like they’ll stay on the mountains, and back at The Stockpond the tables are set, cheese sliced and arranged, wine poured from a bottle, olives readied to be plucked from a bowl. The water is open–not a trace of red algae!–though green algae floats instead in scattered swirls. It’s all Lesser Nighthawks tonight and rather than having decreased now there are so many other places for them to drink, they arrive from the lands roundabout, and arrive, and arrive, and the air pulses and whirs with them and then … shoots down from the sky a Cooper’s Hawk, who stretches out its taloned feet and sinks those claws into either side of a nighthawk ten feet in front of our faces, the nighthawk’s wings raise and are jammed up under the wingpits of the bird of prey and both sail as one off into the bosque where hungry baby hawks watch for their next goodies. We’re just stunned and let out gasps, all the nighthawks vanish, no sound, no movement. Sue breaks the spell that’s taken over the air now empty of birds:
“God! Life’s a crap shoot!“