The bird who holds “Summer” in his very name and in his hot colors, a fine red male Summer Tanager, is singing in the edge of #1 Pasture but–he takes his season with him today, is the last of his kind I will see at all until the sun comes to warm this hemisphere again in a new year. A Dusky-capped Flycatcher is alone in the mesquite edge a little further along, and it will also be the last. Many kingbirds however are still putting on such thrilling aerial feats that it seems they have no plans of departing, not soon anyway; after all, it’s still 92 degrees today.
A friendly Shrike keeps me company as I dig and dig mesquite from these Augean Pastures, he is perched in lookout at the top of a piled jumble of the despatched mesquite that are to be hauled off. All the while the bird fusses, babbles merrily, calls, scorns his “SHREE Shree shreeee”, or cooes much like a Budgie who sits contentedly with its reflection in a little mirror. That Shrike is of Winter, will not leave us, then, until just about that week when the first Summer Tanagers will return to the bosque of Cascabel.
A late day ride on-range. The sky is Arizona Blue, a darker hue than that palest of blue that arches over the Mojave to the West, but paler than the blue that far to the East will stun the eye over enchanting New Mexico where flickering gold Cottonwoods will soon be set against it. The Light itself is of a different quality now, as it passes through air that through the day swings in temperature from 45 degrees to 95 degrees, air that is soaked in humidity in the morning but by the time a late sun slants through it, comes to feel parched. The clarity of the mountains and the immensely complicated and convoluted canyons and ridges all around us and above us is startling; there is much to distract from the stone piles, nasty Cholla stubs and Catclaw hooks and badger holes we need carefully to guide our horses around. The lands march away and upwards, blue ridge on endless blue ridge, layered, feathered. When we turn for home and our souls have taken in as much beauty as they seem able to bear, Old El Sol has lowered himself to that angle where every drying out plant, spine, fruit, seed and pod is set to incandescence, dangling or held above the golden carpets of Needle and Six-weeks Gramagrass that have now also dried and catch every particle of light. Tall Saguaro are each haloed in this light passing through their spines, the Creosote Bush hold their billions of fuzzy but glittering diamonds, Spiderlings have become drifts of twigs lit and glowing yellow on the ground, and everywhere in the fading mesquite are dense white silk webs that also shine in that low sun in front of us–another beautiful thing in that most beautiful light but I suspect the roving (and dreaded) venomous Burn Worms of the Mesquite Buckmoth have something to do with the sudden appearance of these bright silky tangles. Scattered everywhere are the Barrel Cactus, their flowers gone, crowned in fruit of a green that dances, the color is so bright; they look now more like they’re wearing Carmen Miranda headdresses than they did only a couple months back when in their bright colors of silky petals they looked more like they were wearing Sunday gospel hats. “Aren’t we lucky to be able to see This Arizona?” Pat says with a contented sigh. Though it is still nicely warm (well, outdoor-living Arizonans feel chilly if there comes a drop below 80 degrees …) there are no sounds of Summer, no cicadas, no werping flycatchers–just grasshopper-like tsking of Brewer’s Sparrows that have just arrived and flit from most every lit-up Creosote Bush …