Tag Archives: Rain

August 2, 2017

We built it, but they didn’t come.

Not to Mason Pastures, at least–the Cassin’s Sparrows. Over the last year how we’ve worked at preparing for them a habitat they’d never resist settling down in! How many hours did Alex, especially, fork and dig and pull Burroweed in the top end of #3 Pasture to make swaths that would fill (we hoped) with native grasses, and so create a mosaic of plant cover the Cassin’s would surely be skylarking over once The Rains began? We’ve been like royalists preparing a palace for a monarch in exile and hoping it will be found acceptable and that he deigns to live in it. But no … unlike last year and the year before there is no sad, sweet notes lowering see-saw fashion, bursting out in joy from a descending Cassin’s Sparrow. Since the morning of our first Monsoon thunderstorm drenching my ears have been listening for that so lovely a song from that so plain a bird. This heavy-sweat morning I stroll through that now very natural looking mosaic, thrilled by just how splendidly successful those native grasses are. Their masses of flowers, of Three Awns, Spike Dropseed, Cane Beardgrass and various Gramas, wave in a saturated breeze, have waved to those sparrows as those birds must have passed overhead and on north.

They didn’t go much further north, though.

Soon after Monsoon began in earnest I caught through the open truck window those uniquely beautiful notes of this sparrow as I’d drive south from El Potrero for a work day at Mason Pastures. That was in the dawn of the 17th of July, when I heard two different males letting loose their courtship song, the first near Canyon Road and the second about a third of a mile further on. While famous for being a bird of the grasslands and prairie (and that is what we have been trying to recreate for them in #3 Pasture) in Cascabel they have a penchant for mounded slopes reaching up to mesa tops, covered densely in creosote bush filled between with the lush and varied grasses of Summer, tangled morning glories, Blazing Stars and the huge, fantastically fragrant flowers of yellow Devil’s Claw. Every passing week has brought more and more of this singing. Along with the heady perfume of uncountable small huizache trees in bloom, the music lilts in through the window in turns as I drive through the territory set up by one sparrow and into the territory set up by the next, until finally I no longer try to count how many birds there might be all along the way of my daily travel to the pastures. I presume other birds keep arriving and even now are setting up their courts. By last Friday there was one singing from a shrub-top or skylarking every few hundred yards from Canyon Road all the way to our horseshoer’s yurt, then well beyond that I heard one between the River side of the paved road and The Manor House of 3-Links, as I was making my way to check on the herd we have doing tumbleweed control and growing fat on the bermudagrass exploding in the old ag bottomlands there as the rainfall mounts. Cassin’s are singing at the bottom of Pool Wash, and as I drive up the steep track to Ridge House I hear scattered individuals singing at an agreed upon distance between them up that canyon and who’d know how far east towards the massif of Muleshoe? Not one has been heard again at our own irrigated pastures, not by me at least … maybe by a raccoon or coati or bobcat when I wasn’t there … now it is weeks later than when they’d been singing at Mason’s a year ago and I expect the birds are by this time all where they’re going to be, i.e., elsewhere. I’ll have to concede that these monarchs dressed as monks didn’t look with favor on that palace we built them. Ah yes, Nature bats last and will have things Her way no matter the hubris that is our planning and, good grief, managing. I’ll keep in mind that for three seasons the Botteri’s Sparrows were with us in the pasture immediately to the south, but stayed there only so long as its management was dictated by the needs of cows; it may be coincidence, but once I switched away from cows to published land use guidelines that cater to that particular bird whose conservation has naturalists fretful over its future, no more have been heard or seen by us …

If governance or stewardship must be management, then it is inherently destructive, for the same reasons that command economies are inherently destructive. Human beings can’t know enough to manage life on earth, and efforts to subjugate and reorganize life under human command oppose and destroy the very cocreativity that’s needed to cultivate the growth of symbiotic harmonies. But the problem here is in the concept of governance or stewardship. The problem is that benign command is the slavemaster’s misconception of stewardship […]
–Jim Corbett, “Sanctuary for All Life: The Cowbalah of Jim Corbett” [2005, Daniel Baker, ed.]

By the 29th of July El Potrero had had the great gift of more than nine inches of rain in four weeks, and Pat, [a friend] and I were eager to ride up on the Saguaro-Juniper wildlands on that morning and take in the splendor of the flowers and fragrances and green velvet mountains. We saddled our horses and set out with that kind of light heart uniquely born of the return of rain and that all people who live on this desert come to know, and as soon as we got to the first gate out there we began to hear Cassin’s Sparrows. Nowhere in this north end of Cascabel do their songs carry out to the road edge and so I couldn’t be sure if there were any of the birds in these reaches until being seated on that “princely thrown” that is a horse saddle. Last year we came on a couple of the birds singing on the Cascabel Pasture when Pat and I rode one day but this time around–there was one after the other giving forth love calls, every few hundred yards along the whole of our big circle of some miles. How far across these mesas and bajadas and grassy flats and knolls of Cochise County were Cassin’s also singing?

At least a partial answer to that would come when the day before yesterday five of us (Tom, Nancy, Pat, Sue and I) set out with a steer for Willcox, early as we could to manage the likely wrecked 3-Links Road over the pass and hope the growly Monsoon would hold off long enough for us to get home without a storm cell forming overhead and getting us. It was not quite the same kind of light-hearted setting out of the horseback ride three days before that: there’d been an inch of rain the night before and so there was the promise of adventure in the air on the unpaved road that is washboard, boggy, deep-sandy and deep-muddy in startlingly quick turns. Yet light out we did, open to what the day would bring but knowing there was no guarantee the big truck and a livestock trailer with large steer on board was going to get itself to where pavement resumed on that road on the far side down in the Sulphur Springs Valley, and then get back to the relative safety of the home ranch before sunset. It simply had to be done, and we kept our mind on the gorgeous green landscapes and the spectacle of that Monsoon sky–and on the Tuesday Specials of Big Tex Barbecue in Willcox and the pistachio ice cream next door. After I nosed the Silverado onto the 3-Links Road, though, my mind turned to Cassin’s Sparrows, for no sooner had we straightened our rig and got steam up the first slope did the songs start reaching through the windows. Never mind that those vast cattle ranges are locally notorious for being overgrazed and cow-hammered, they were thoroughly occupied by these Cassin’s, whose voices continued one after the other, ever did there seem to be one coming to us on the dense, wet air. Though–I’m not sure about that unsettling stretch of wildly slidey, deep mud where we lost the bottom of the road and my thoughts got off sparrows and focused on an earthquake-long minute of wrenching the steering wheel hard right and hard left and hard right, trying to keep us from immanent perdición; no way could it be allowed to have that whole rig end up skating to the side or jackknifing into the ditch, and that steer kept from getting to the Harris family’s “Willcox Meat Packing House and Wild Game”. Or worse!–getting to the ice cream shop after it closed. There was sudden, comfortable silence for a few moments in the cab when it looked like we were going to make it on from the end of slithering up that grade, then before long my mind softened back into listening for more Cassin’s Sparrows and sure enough, they kept coming almost without pause on one side or the other for many a mile, as we came down off the saddles and passes and to the edge of Willcox town itself.

Maybe it took me a long while to become aware of and learn that song of the Cassin’s and that in reality they’ve been around here in numbers and I didn’t know it, but there seems to have been an explosion of the species in the last few years–though its range maps show it to be more a Chihuahuan than a Sonoran Desert bird. Some writers and authorities are still in 2017 referring to it as a “Species of Concern” but what I’m observing here is apparently holding true enough in other parts of its breeding territory that some time in the last year other authorities have quietly dropped the Cassin’s Sparrow off that list. This gives our work at Mason Pastures less snap, I can’t deny, since it was pretty exciting that species of this kind of interest were finding a home in our irrigated pastures. But I’ll gladly trade that importance I thought we were gaining, for those songs we now hear all around us when we’re horse mounted and when we drive. “And we shall have music wherever we go” will be true for however long these numbers stay up. Fluctuating the Cassin’s Sparrow population historically has been, not unlike that of other Aimophila sparrows like our Rufous-winged and Botteri’s (the latter have also yet to come back to Mason’s), but the scientific and conservation world seems lately to be less panicked by those ups and downs of such species. The mildness of the year, the heat, the rains that have come to us have also made a world very safe for the Cassin’s. As it changes, the climate is bringing so many “Mexican” species more frequently north over that fiction known as The Border that sightings of Slate-throated Redstarts, Rufous-capped Warblers, Flame-colored Tanagers, Tufted Flycatchers, and insects lovely or nasty too from the more tropical south don’t raise eyebrows as high as they once did. Vampire Bats are reported from less than 200 miles south of us–and we thought those now eradicated screw worms were bad for cattle. (Talk about Nature “batting” last!) I’m watching out for things rather less disturbing, like the large and magnificently-branched etcho, that cactus icon of those forests surrounding Alamos in Sonora where 30 inches of rain fall in their three months of Monsoon. Can’t wait to see those etchos shooting their arms up through the pink or yellow mist of amapa trees in bloom! At the rate it’s all changing, will that be next year?

[here’s a visual and voice recording of the species, one in North Carolina–an accidental there. It sounds like all those we’re hearing here, in arrangement and length of song …]

July 10, 2017

Rain, and our world on the banks of this dry desert river (how can a river be dry?) is thrown into life and chatter and buzz, with moving, bristling, tickling bug legs. Within hours of the first real soaking of this Monsoon they’re out and looking for something–nectar, leaves to chew, human ear lobes and eye lids, mates. On the ground of my garden-in-progress comes trotting in frantic determination not just a beetle, but a Palo Verde Beetle, a monster, hooked, barbed, with long jaws famous for latching onto the fingers of people who actually have the nerve to pick one up. It seems though, that this fearsome-looking creature has got a worse rap than maybe it deserves, since it supposedly can be handled as safely as the much more endearing Tarantula. I’m not about to get to know either one of those two neighbors that intimately but here now is that giant Longhorn Beetle crawling past right at my feet and I can’t help but follow him around. He is searching in a last-call-when-everyone-looks-beautiful-closing-time agitation, and comes to a little round hole in this garden bed terrace above a side wash of the San Pedro … stops dead for a moment then runs around and around outside the lip of the hole, and around and around, and closes ever more in on the edge in a narrowing gyre. Then he throws it into reverse and backs the tip of his long abdomen into the hole and starts spinning, front legs pulling sideways to move his body in one direction around, picks up speed while pushing his be-hind in the more deeply, then, rises a little. This allows me to make out another buggish abdomen is thrusting ever upwards from down in that dim cave, and that he’s coupling into a she-beetle. He swirls around head outwards still, picking up speed as he’s pulled inside a little more through every rotation til just his head and his front legs and his pair of outrageously long antennae are all that’s left sticking out, then just those antennae, and he almost vanishes in this whirlpool of ecstasy I swear he looks at me and sings,

Here I go fallin’ down down down,
my mind is a blank,
my head is spinnin’ around and around as I go deep into The Funnel
of Love

One last glance, and he is gone, out of sight, whirled into the earth where he like a Coleopteric Blake experiences the world in a grain of sand, eternity in his hour of beetle existence.

What a way to go.

ya just can’t run
from the Funnel of Love
it’s bound to get you someday!

August 31, 2016

People on the desert long enough
on a certain day about this time
in August feel
and taste
and see
a shift in the afternoon light and
shadows and breeze, and the
oppression of heavy air
lifts off and away
from each

and they let out a sigh
and breathe back in
a new Season
under another
desert Sun

Day after day the temperature tries to reach 100 degrees, and I take it for granted that as a diamond is said to be, the Sonoran Desert Summer is forever. But then–there is a morning like this one come, when coffee in hand I slip into the patio in the dark and wonder what is wrong, what is different. It sinks in, the world has gone silent, no notes from Purple Martins echoing down from stars, all is still and empty, not even a cricket though as the Autumn will, when it comes to its own winding down, have nights again in cricket song. We can get pretty gladly through every afternoon now that still sizzles, every still mid-morning with its drenching humidity, for we know we’re on our way to one of those months whose weather the World must envy, months that bookend that hot time the snowbirds famously flee in panic. This year there have been few storms violent enough to alarm much, nor did the house get hit by lightning and neither did the power pole and lines so no blackouts of more than a few minutes, the WiFi box never got fried once much less its usual several times, no tornado-like microbursts to upend and throw the patio furniture around.

The wide drifts on every flat and mesa-top of brilliant yellow flowers of Hierba de San Nicolas (Thymophylla acerosa) aren’t making a grand show this year, though there are scattered plants low underfoot on Firesky Ridge and they are still in bud, seemingly staying in an arrested state. Neither have I noticed any vines of the naturalized, exquisitely blue Morning-glory, begin their climb through the branches of Creosote Bush along the roadside. In this area of Cascabel the rain accumulation is about an inch and a half less than last year’s Monsoon’s, could that be why we haven’t had this flower display that is one of the delights of late Summer? Or is it that the rains have come at the “wrong” moments? (Mason Pastures, only a few miles away, received much more rain as storm cells passed over them than has come to Ridge House, and their Native Grass Planting has come back to life and greenery spectacularly. It turned out all right to have taken that chance and not watered them from the irrigation well.) The crop of mesquite beans everywhere is no more than half its usual plenty, and many trees have no beans on them at all–another case of rain falling at the wrong time? Many local folk tell that a rain coming at the height of bloom will abort the work of those sweetly scented blossoms, or mold the anthers and pollen but also this year the cattle herd hasn’t gone after the pods on the ground in the manic and addictive way they always do. Perhaps the cows with their oh-so-discriminating palettes have warned the community we shouldn’t expect the flavor of this Fall’s ground flour to be any better than so-so!

At those Mason Pastures the brood of Ash-throated Flycatchers in the post have long ago hatched and fledged, and by tomorrow–September–they’ll have left for the Pacific Coast of Mexico. I’m filled with a longing to go with these birds when they leave for where Summer itself will be migrating too, let go all this Romance of Western Life …

After the Sun is up and I’m watering the flowers on the patio, what is unmistakably some vireo begins singing out on the Creosote Bush flats, and it’s one I haven’t heard before. Bob had listened to a differently-voiced vireo at his place a couple of ridges away and in much the same sort of upland desert country during Spring migration this year; he identified it as a Gray Vireo, one of the “uncommon and local” species sought out by naturalists who travel a long way to visit southern Arizona. The bird here stays close to the house a good while, long enough for me to find recordings of Gray Vireo songs on the Internet and play them right along with what was coming from a Palo Verde. The real and the recording matched note for note, and so a “Lifer” bird is delivered right to the house before I even get on all my work clothes!

Too many kingbirds on the wires with obviously notched tails, birds that haven’t read the field guides (as Ralph says)–that tail shape is supposed to be the mark of the Tropical Kingbird. They’re silent though, not like that bird at El Potrero that gave itself away with its chattering. In the study of natural history there must be art, intuition, science. Making of friends with the notion that there will be birds, butterflies and bugs, that will not be identified even if you hold them in your hand, also helps. To strive for a life solved of all mysteries is hubris.

A “bug” lands noisily on a shrub next to me, oh it’s large, frightening enough that no one would think of holding it in the hand to identify, or get too close to its mysteries. It is more than intriguing enough to demand being wondered over. Looks can be deceiving and that was what this insect unmistakably mimicking the Tarantula Hawk must be all about! I first take it for one of those Tarantula Hawks that are visiting the Graythorns but then see how its strong black legs bow out to the sides, then come back together and are held in a tight row where it clasps the stem (picture a scissors jack) and the head was that of a fly, not a wasp, with large and bulbous eyes sticking out at the sides. The colors perfectly match the wasp it must imitate–the same orange-red and black–and the pattern fools the eye of the human and I’d guess this insect’s prey. Much of the body is black, but it’s the very long, fat abdomen that is orange, rather than the wings. What the insect does on landing is fold those wings long and straight over the abdomen, the wings are clear with tiny black veins and see-through enough that it appears suddenly indeed that they are what’s orange like those of the big wasp! Have I been fooled myself all this time, or is this something appearing on this desert only lately? (Later I mention it to Kathleen, who tells she has been seeing this very monster insect the last couple of years at 3-Links and was also sure it is a Tarantula Hawk mimic. As it turns out we are not alone in seeing it, and it is indeed a newly arrived and spreading species come north from South of the Border. This “Mexican Robber Fly”, Archilestris magnificus, was first recorded north of The Border here only about 2007 and that first published photograph from Arizona then caused a sensation in the world of entomology. Lately it has suddenly crossed over from rarity to “oh, there’s another one” from Arivaca through Cochise County. It does not sip nectar or nip pollen like the Pepsis wasps, but is a voracious carnivore on the wing snagging bugs and insects who presume it is looking for either a flower or a Tarantula, not for them.

Nine teal drop out of the sky, skittering, falling, completely out of control but completely in control, land like cannonballs with such a splash that they cause a mini-tsunami against the bank of hard-grazed Barnyard Grass. One swims warily, quickly away from the truck, shows fully a wing speculum of cobalt blue … she reaches the far shore of Barnyard Grass, turns forty-five degrees and the gem of that speculum lights wildly into an emerald that would raise the avarice of a jewel thief eyeing the Topkapi. A Great Blue Heron is unmoving in this wild splash-down of Green-winged Teal though perhaps he’s grinding his mandibles over the fright it will have set off among what’s left of the huge Bullfrogs he hasn’t yet dispatched. Heron remains implacable, inscrutable. He has an image to maintain.

September, tomorrow, the month larger numbers of Great Blue Herons begin to arrive, northern birds that will stay for the Winter …

So when the shadows lengthen
leaves have turned to dust
first there’s Summer, then
I’ll let you in,
when it comes …

I watch the clouds go sailing
I watch the clock and Sun,
oh I watch myself
depending on
when it comes

–Rosanne Cash and John Levanthal, “September When It Comes”

August 4, 2016

The rain has been sent to the righteous and the unrighteous, fallen on the just and unjust. The large sign that had appeared in a bottom along the Cascabel Road, the sign that gleefully, evilly added salt into wounds never to be healed, the sign sent as harbinger of this valley’s doom by SunZia announcing it’s on its way with twin rows of powerlines that will rip out our beating hearts alive as these canyons and flats are gutted and flayed in sacrifice to their god, Video Game Console and its insatiable desire for fresh energy blood, the sign telling that a comet will come of a sudden to bash out in an instant this existence of ours so rare as never to be duplicated again, that we and the wildlife have enjoyed, the sign … is gone. Uncannily accurate was the narrow, deep flash flood that must have come down out of the arroyos to the East with Biblical flare and in determined, righteous anger swept away all before it. So direct a hit was scored on that cursed sign that it seemed there was Divinity behind the event. It was pulled and torn into shreds, which we can see deposited down this old wash that hadn’t run in years, towards The River. Seeing the mangled pieces that were left as we drove by was like having had a deep and festering splinter removed from our spirits, but this relief is, we know, to be short lived.

August 3, 2016

The level of the rain water rises still–more in the gauges, more in the ponds and dirt cattle tanks, and in the two-track road ruts. A glorious mess! It feels a real “day after”, the grader working itself everywhere too, putting the road back together, fixing up one arroyo or canyon bottom crossing after another in front of me which allowed the drive south to be made, and I increasingly wonder what has happened at Mason Pastures. I find the arroyo upstream of us that was new last year is now several times wider and with a beautifully smooth, fine-grained-sand bottom left behind. As in that big storm of the Monsoon of a year ago, this flood came roaring off from the slopes of the watershed of the ranch to the East and across the Cascabel Road and on to us, but it had to have been even deeper water this time judging by the flotsam line on shrubs and fence wires, and carrying much larger rocks and debris irresistibly along that route whereby it unconsciously tried to find the Sea of Cortez. There had been a stout berm along our side of the road, outside our fence and which was meant to keep this from happening again by shuttling the flow down the bed of the road, but that wide bank now was cut right through and broadly, and the water had swept in a torrent underneath the fencewires until it had inundated the upper reach of The Lane. When that wild new river hit the next fence across its path though, the rocks and ripped out and tangled cholla from who knows what far off range, and branches and my own tree trimming piles, had come to catch on the bottom wire of a long stretch of the bottom wire I’d intended to raise to a proper height, sometime. I guess that sometime will be now, and all other projects dropped in the face of this cow-management emergency. That piled up debris had formed a dam, and when it finally burst the water then leapt over into the next pasture in what must have looked like a tidal bore 400 feet wide … the bosque was swept pretty cleanly of shrubs and Burroweeds and grasses, as was a lot of the other land beyond for a good distance towards the River, and in the place of that verdure now was a hardscape and pavement of shining sand and gray gravels and large tumble-rounded stones. It would have been something to see, but I’d probably not have lived through it to tell the tale of it. A hundred and fifty feet of the cattle fence would have to be dismantled, the posts jacked out and re-set and all of it put back together before cattle could come to the area again, which was supposed to have been today! I did not want to see what was the state of The New Canyon, that headcut that formed along the far west fenceline at the edge of the riparian woods and that was a year ago suddenly so deep where the day before was normal looking flat pasture, that a t-post and attached fence was left dangling in the air high over its wide and deep exit to The River. Sure enough there must have been an almost inconceivable amount of water funnelled to that place from all the uplands above us, even more water than last year, plus the sheet flooding of a quickly-fallen 2″ rain that came down evenly over the whole upper end of that #3 Pasture. So now New Canyon was even deeper, and some feet wider, and a couple of the mesquite trees that had collapsed off the now even higher bank had been punched out the opening and swept into The River, as was also most of the mesquite brush we’d piled across to keep the cows from escaping during the last year into the jungled thickets in that bottom. The headcut had migrated another fifty feet upstream as well and of all these outcomes, that was the most concerning. Instead of being ripped out or undercut, the 100 feet of fence starting at the south rim of New Canyon was left buried enough that its top wire came to a level below the bottom of my belt, which meant that any number of our cows could simply step over it and into the riparian forest, and there aren’t any of a rancher’s many sins than that would be. This stretch of fence too would have to be rebuilt before the herd could go safely back into that pasture and the hole out to The River filled with a wall of thorny mesquite branches.

And so I go back up to the Tall Water Tank, letting out sighs of resignation and buckets of sweat in the close air of the morning, to start somewhere, anywhere, removing piles of cholla and sand, pulling the supply hose for the water flow out of the horribly prickly tangled mass of cholla and rocks in which it’s buried in great knots or stretched out through and under rock piles on the wrong side of the fence. I hope it functions right away soon as this is straightened out, the cattle need that metal stock tank’s level to be raised or they’ll all go into The Stockpond and churn it into a quagmire. I’m surrounded by wreckage, but can’t let myself imagine the amount of work nor exactly what it will take to bring this all aright, when we already have so many other things long waiting to be done or fixed …

Well the creek come up
took the water gap down
our yearlings were nowhere to be found
it had only taken us a week
to gather ’em all
it’d be easier
to gather ’em
the second time around
at least that’s what I thought until
I seen Shorty there lookin’ blue:
just before we’d left for town
he’d turned our horses out there too–
they went with the yearlings (heh hah) …

naw, the romance ain’t completely gone
to this cowboy life we’ve chose
but the bliss that I was countin’ on–
well it comes and then it goes …
–Gail Steiger, “The Romance of Western Life”

The Romance of Western Life
Provided to YouTube by CDBaby The Romance of Western Life · Gail Steiger The Romance Of Western Life ℗ 2007 Released on: 2007-01-01 Auto-generated by YouTube.

August 2, 2016

And the level of the rain water in the gauges rises … and rises, most every day more added. Nice rains, slowly soaking rains, lots of rains. And then–this wild day, when I holed up on Firesky Ridge to which I had speedily to flee north from Mason’s ahead of the wall of clouds whipping up from Sonora that would make the washes and arroyos run with enough violence to close off the roads behind me, and to have The River sweep down out of Mexico at last …

August 1, 2016

The chubascos come and they come, stirring the largest and most massive eruptions of flying ants I’ve ever seen hatch on the Desert. They simply fill the air, and getting through them on the roads in the truck is like driving through dark snow squalls, with black ice pellets rattling on the windshield. The sound makes my skin crawl. I race along to the Community Center under a sky that means business, walk quickly as can be managed up the rocky slope above and have some unreasonable hope that we’ve got somewhere with eliminating Buffelgrass up there and I won’t have to be delayed into being bait for the lightning that is already a-flash. And–there is no Buffelgrass! not a plant, not a seedling. Native grasses in new and surprising variety blanket everywhere, including the spaces we’d made by having pulled out Buffel over the last couple of years. A Cassin’s Sparrow sings out across the gulf of that wide arroyo as I rush into the truck! (The bird is all over the place this year, every spot but Mason’s that is, where I most expected them to return.) I have to get up the wash bottom near El Potrero to see about that formerly serious Buffelgrass colony I call Yvonne’s Buffelgrass Gulch, once full of the dangerous plants that had stair-stepped up from the sandy bottom flat right up to the mesa crest. Do I have a brain? Why do I end up doing this thing so often when there is the threat of getting turned into burnt toast by lightning? It’s not like life in these wilds isn’t thrilling enough that we need to search out even more excitement.

The lightning is coming in pairs by the time the search for clumps and seedlings of that Buffelgrass is wrapped up and the slope gives me to know the plants, here too, are gone!

July 28, 2016

Pat and I ride our horses across the higher range, forlorn of the company of cows now gone so that the native grasses can grow their flowers and seeds to sow again the hillsides and bajadas. We search out Summer flowers but the land is mostly forlorn of their company, too, the rains have been so scant. There is almost no crop of Saguaro fruit again this year, alas! and we’ll miss gobbling them down. The first blossoms of Barrel Cactus are coming on though (nothing stops them); with their varied colors, and the animated shapes of the plants’ bodies, they make for good reason to saddle and go out on a 105 degree day–as this one will be. As we climb one slope and mesa after another we come on one Cassin’s Sparrow and another singing, each having staked out a territory in this Summer of grass that has responded to and made lush by that one big rain at the beginning of the month. The thunderheads a few days ago started building at last, and the rain in the gauges slowly to rise. How we celebrate this afternoon, when three-quarters of an inch fills them!

July 2, 2016

When Monsoon after her opening fiesta lifts the hem of her skirt of clouds enough above her ankles to wade in the arroyos she’s left running, all this land lies drenched and steaming.

Over a half inch of rain begins High Summer and the temperature soars from the delight of a cool 80 degrees yesterday to well past 90 today. The smallest of effort to push myself into #3 Pasture to listen for Botteri’s Sparrows pulls sweat to wet and darken the work shirt. No, no Botteri’s–but yes, yes! for a second day comes the rich, descending, see-sawing whistles of Cassin’s. They may have been here already but they do not let go their songs until rain actually falls for if it doesn’t, why waste the swagger and the aerial dance of courtship? Will they stay even if the much rarer Botteri’s has abandoned us and apparently withdrawn to their more usual range closer to The Border? The presence of the Cassin’s Sparrows is exciting and deeply satisfying enough to us and the Forest Service and the pastures, now after so much work of the past few years has turned the wide almost sterile Burroweed flats into the kind of mosaic of those shrubs and the native grasses that this “Species of Concern” might want to call home.

Those overgrown “ducklings” of the Mexican Mallard pair head for the shore whenever the Silverado appears at The Stockpond, move up through the weeds away from me crouched almost flat to the ground, quickly and more like lizards than large birds that can fly off if they want to. Black Phoebes have appeared again in good numbers through the pastures but especially in the branches overhanging the open water, after having been absent most of the Foresummer and early Summer. Where do they come back from?

June 28, 2016

Just before midnight the sky comes undone, its seams rip open and great flashes of lightning loosed from its rents and even greater booms that shake the window glass–then the wall of rain slams into the Ridge House from the north. Everyone I know is up and figuring they might as well enjoy the drama of the first storm even if the lights of the valley have gone out soon after it all began. The world on our Desert and how we dance with it is changed, utterly, the empty glasses of a thousand thirsts forgotten in the rage of the downpours …

Merciless heat like a furnace blasting
desolate waste, no shadows casting
watch him–now his horse he’s leading …
horse is down, stretched out and dying
horseman kneels, to the sky is crying
watch him–hear the mournful pleading:
Demon Desert!…
–Sons of the San Joaquin, “Watch Him (Demon Desert)