Saturday, July 28, 2012


LB Grazing II

On a quiet Shabbat morning as I took a rare cup of coffee on the porch I noticed it. I was looking across at LB, who had left the corral and was grazing on the bank of Freedom Ridge Draw.

Because of last year’s drought we are still feeding the cattle at the corral, and usually they stay there all morning, moving across to water in the early afternoon. But here was LB, grazing in the morning. The valley and the hillsides are greening finally, after three weeks of monsoon winds bringing moisture over from the Gulf of California, lifting it up across the Arizona desert,  building the clouds heavy over the Mogollon Rim, and dropping the monsoon rains down upon the Mogollon Slope and Continental Divide. This year a good monsoon season has begun, the clear, cool mornings with a hint of moisture and the clouds beginning to build to the west-southwest by 10 o’clock. In the afternoon, wave after wave of heavy clouds begin to move across our ridges and valley, some of them dropping showers and on some days, a cloudburst. It is a good start for the monsoon, clouds every afternoon, and showers and storms three or four days out of seven.

The greening season here in Southwestern New Mexico is different from where I grew up in Central Illinois. In Illinois, spring is the season of tender green shoots and new grass, with the deep yellow of dandelion flowers hailing the end of winter in March. The corn grows high, there, each plant cycling a quart of water or more a day, bringing the muggy dog days of August, the hottest part of the summer. As the corn matures, the days dry out, gold and brown in the fall.

In New Mexico, the spring is windy and dry, brown with dust and sand—Arizona blowing over to Texas—one of the two dry seasons, following the winter snow that falls mostly over the mountains. The warming days and wind, the return of the birds are harbingers of summer. But here on the Mogollon slope, there is no green, no soft colors. The land is hard and bright, straw and brown. 

When the winds die down in June, we have our hottest summer days. The heat comes up from the desert, south winds from Mexico, and descends into the valleys. Ours is a dry heat, and you can get relief in the shade, if you can find any. In good years, by the end of June, the winds shift, coming from the southwest, and we see towering white clouds forming in the southwest, moving slowly across the Continental Divide to the north. Nights become humid, and our evaporative coolers don’t work for a week of two. But if all goes well with the trade winds coming up from the tropics and across these horse latitudes, in a few weeks the afternoon humidity will become afternoon thunderstorms, making coolers unnecessary as they wash the humidity into the dusty earth, clearing the air, and greening the land.

Some years are La Nina years, and the Monsoon winds fail, and we have drought. Last summer, the clouds built and we got a few feeble showers in July, and then it stayed dry until September. The feeble trades dropped their sparse moisture quickly over the Mogollon Rim but did not reach New Mexico. Last year, we had late rains and early snows in September and October, as the days grew shorter, and so the land never greened up, and the grasses did  not grow tall. We had drought and fires, drought and fires.

This year, the monsoon seems full of promise. The land is greening, the first I have seen these two years. May the monsoon continue and grow in strength this year, breaking the drought and bringing life-giving water to a dry and weary land.

The greening of the land is rest for the eye.

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