The Fourth of July, or, Gringo Monsoon.
After turning off the irrigation at 5:00 am and letting the pipes drain, I start the engine on the line, throw the joystick forward and get the whole long train of sprinkler sections wheeling their way north sixty feet so they’ll be in place for the next watering to start at just about sunset. At one whole revolution (it takes four to move to the next spot) I catch a large, dark, out-of-place spot in a corner of my right vision and just in the last moment realize that the broad horizontal axle of the irrigator unit is going to bash a mass of bees hanging delicately from a small mesquite branch, on one of those trees that have sprouted from seeds sewn in bovine Jiffy Plops. A ship’s alarm whoop goes off loudly inside my head and I hear a mental order yelled, “Dead stop! Dead stop! Reverse!” It isn’t too late, though was only a hair-breadth of an escape; I shut down the engine, and back away very carefully, one step at a time. Africanized Honey Bees? It’s best always now to assume so, anyway it is widely believed and told around that there are no “pure” honey bees left in Arizona and all bees in a mass should be feared, a truly twisted case of an alien species being at one time wholly acceptable to people in the landscape, and that alien species being made monstrous with the arrival of yet a different one that interbred with it. I have to find other things to do through the day, and keep coming back to have a look from a safe distance with binoculars to see if that swarm in transit to a new home had gone its way. If I’m really lucky it won’t find the hollow pipe axles of the wheels on the line-tractor an irresistible place to get into and start constructing a comb immediately. The hanging ball of bees is visible from far off and eventually I decide I’ll work on pruning the large “Picnic Mesquite” on the edge of that pasture far enough away that I’d feel safe, which chore would allow the cows to stand comfortably in the tree’s wonderful shade, allow the spray of the irrigators to reach far under its far-spreading boughs and get the bermuda lush and deep, and allow us to make our lunches in that soft green carpet of grass beneath while we enjoy the splendid views of hills and mountains all around the edges of these wide pastures.
While I’m shaping the mesquite tree with aim to please the eye, the cows, the grass, and our skin, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo sings out from the River bosque’s countless many more of the trees. A large, spectacularly beautiful red-and-black Velvet Ant (if such a sized insect can be considered spectacular, at least other than in its sting–and this one reportedly has one of the world’s worst) in a fever searches the ground under the tree, I guess for pupae of another wasp or bee to parasitize, but then it does something I’ve never seen one do: she heads to the base of the trunk of the large mesquite, and races up and up, out onto a mid-level branch and doesn’t stop until she gets to the tips of the outmost leaves. There she makes a tour of every leaflet, going very nimbly around the outside edges of those compound leaves, searching, searching, but for what? She’s uninterested in getting nectar from the blossoms elsewhere–is there a honeydew exuded from such leaflets that she might find a treat? She checks out methodically every last leaf cluster out to the ends of the whole big branch. While I watch her through binoculars (and take glances again to see what the bees in that swarm are up to), I nearly step on another one of the dozens of Arizona species of these always arresting if alarming insects, a Thistle Down Velvet Ant–a large one, too, and very showy, with a furry white head, velvety black middle and wide golden abdomen. These wasps might be worse than “regular” ants to have at one’s picnic, considering the sting, but they mind their own business and are uninterested in burritos.
In late afternoon I finally give up on the big ball of bees leaving today, and I go back to Ridge House for a supper, return in enough time that if the swarm is gone, that line can still be moved in time to get water up soon after seven o’clock. And–they are gone! They’re happy, the bermuda will be happy, I’m happy.
A black Tarantula I can appropriately call spectacular crosses the road in the headlights as I wend my way back home in the dark. Back in the mid 1990s, great armadas of them used to be on the Cascabel Road, going in one direction from one side to the other. These spider parades would about have to be waited out as one waits out a flash flood crossing at an arroyo or canyon unless one wanted to hear the squishes of their fat bodies as tires crushed a path through them. Has drought put an end to this wonder we just don’t see any more but that everyone remembers? Too many vehicles on this now much more used deep country road? Or are we simply not catching them on their grand walk-about nights?